- we will present the background on Shaw@B,
- host a presentation by Cardozo EC Principal Arthur Mola on the current middle school program at Cardozo, and discuss how the community can support his school,
- dig into the result of our survey of parents on their aspirations regarding educational programming for middle schoolers, and
- discuss next steps.
Sarah Wolf, Peabody Elementary School
Testimony to the DCPS Public Budget Hearing, October 29, 2019
Good evening Chancellor Ferebee and Deputy Chancellor Maisterra
My name is Sarah Wolf and I am the parent of a kindergarten student at Peabody Elementary School. I have been a DC resident since 2003 and currently live in Ward 6. I am also a member of the Peabody School Improvement Team, which was set up in September 2019 to address safety and maintenance concerns on the school playground.
Peabody is the early education campus of the Capitol Hill Cluster School in Ward 6. It educates 226 students in grades PK3, PK4 and Kindergarten. Peabody is a diverse school that draws students primarily from the Capitol Hill neighborhood: 81 percent of students attending are in-boundary. Eight percent of students are economically disadvantaged and five percent have special needs.
In 2018, when our son Roman was offered a PK4 spot at Peabody through the DCPS lottery we were delighted. Peabody prides itself on providing a joyful learning environment for kids ages 3-6 years old. The school is a bright, cheerful place decorated with kids’ artwork, the teachers are kind, and the program provides a gentle introduction to school life. My son loves it.
So, you can imagine my shock on the first day of school, at dismissal, to see Peabody staff attempting to drive out of their parking spaces in a playground full of little children. The situation struck me as potentially dangerous and not at all in keeping with the safe, supportive learning environment that Peabody endeavors to provide.
Over the course of the last and this academic year, I, along with other parents, have witnessed many close calls between kids and cars. The school has a policy of “honk and freeze.” The teachers honk their horns, the kids are supposed to freeze. However, we have seen kids completely ignore the honk and instead of freezing, run straight towards the moving car. We have witnessed kids obey the honk and freeze but freeze behind a car that is backing up. We have seen 10-12 cars that are double parked, maneuver through a busy playground with parents and caregivers trying to direct traffic and kids still run in front of cars. We have helped cars to back up, only to see a three year old on a tricycle ride behind the cars. In all cases, accidents were avoided due to the efforts of parents and drivers working together to keep kids safe. But other times, it was pure luck that the child running behind the car did not get hit. These close calls are too frequent and put our children in an unnecessarily risky situation.
Playgrounds were established to provide a safe place for kids to play that is free from cars. I cannot believe that if the city were designing a new playground today, they would place cars within it with no barriers or fencing to separate the kids. The Mayor’s Vision Zero Initiative seeks to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities involving pedestrians. I find it inconsistent that the city focuses on pedestrian safety on the way to and from school, but once at the school site, there are no such safety or traffic measures in place.
In addition to parents worrying about keeping their kids safe from cars, the playground itself has become over the years, unsafe. There are three main problems that are leading to injuries including scrapes, bruises and broken bones.
- The playground surfacing includes blacktop, poured rubber and wood chips. The blacktop and poured rubber have uneven surfaces, gaps and sinkholes, and provides insufficient padding in some places, especially under ladders. A week ago, a Peabody parent reported that her four year old daughter tripped on the surfacing and fell onto the corner of a picnic table getting a black eye. The same week, a four year old Peabody boy fell off a ladder and badly scraped his forehead. Another Peabody parent says her PK3 and Kindergarten kids come home almost every day with scrapes on knees and elbows from falling on the blacktop.
- The playground equipment is between 15-25 years old and no longer meets current safety standards. One structure in particular (orange/blue) is not age appropriate for students who are three and four years old — who are the majority of Peabody students. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Public Playground Safety Handbook, monkey bars are not intended for children ages three or younger, and for children ages four and above, the structure should be no higher than 60 inches. The Peabody monkey bars are 77 inches in height. A Peabody parent reports that in 2017 her four year old daughter fell off the monkey bars and fractured her elbow. A three year old boy also fell off the same monkey bars and had severe bruising. His mother says the only reason he didn’t break his arm was because he is such a tall and heavy child. The same handbook says sliding poles should not be used in playgrounds for preschool students. The Peabody playground has three sliding poles measuring between 85-100 inches in height. In 2017, a five year old boy fell off the pole and broke his elbow in two places. He had to be hospitalized and had three pins inserted into his arm.
- In addition to the equipment not meeting current safety standards, the equipment itself is old and not well maintained. The coating on the play structures is peeling off, exposing rust and creating sharp edges that poke into kids’ hands. For awhile, yellow safety tape was put up on the chain climbers. It seems to have been removed yet the sharp edges remain.
In summary, the playground is in need of an overhaul.
In 2013, Peabody received funding for Phase 1 Modernization under the 10-year DCPS School Modernization Plan. The Education Spec included renovating floors and ceilings, improving lighting and electrical, and upgrading IT, water lines, service lines and HVAC systems. The playground was not included.
I understand that DCPS has abandoned the phased modernization process and now uses the PACE model to prioritize schools for modernization. Given Peabody’s current rank of #30 (out of 32) on the modernization priority list, we would not receive full modernization funding until at least 2024 but likely many years later as there are higher priority schools. However, I am aware that outside of modernization funding, there is a city-wide Capital Improvement Plan as well as stabilization funding available to address repairs of school buildings and athletic fields.
One solution to the car safety problem would be to create a daytime school parking zone under the law that was passed last year. We are working with our ANC Commissioner and gathering data to submit a formal request. Another solution is to redesign the Peabody site to include separate spaces for cars to park and for kids to play. There also needs to be an interim solution that does not rely on children ages 3-6 to be always conscious of cars. The playground is supposed to be space for kids to play, exercise their bodies, and stretch their imaginations without worrying about moving cars. We cannot wait for an accident to happen.
I, representing the Peabody community, urge the Education Chancellor to address the Peabody safety concerns in the next DCPS budget.
The Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization will meet on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, at Miner Elementary (601 15th St., NE). At our meeting we will be sharing best practices with each other on organizing PTA/PTO meetings. Representatives from Miner, Tyler, the Capitol Hill Cluster School, and Maury will kick off our discussion. We will also be joined by representatives from the Washington Teachers Union who will be sharing their FY20/21 budget priorities.
Hope to see you on Tuesday.
District of Columbia Public Schools Student Technology Equity Act of 2019, B23-0196
November 6, 2019
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Suzanne Wells, and I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization.
Ward 6 parents have been at the forefront of advocating for adequate and reliable technology in our schools. Last year four of our school PTAs (Miner Elementary, Payne Elementary, Amidon-Bowen Elementary, and JO Wilson Elementary) were founding members of a parent advocacy effort to address the unreliable technology in DCPS. They have since formed a city-wide coalition of parents who have been advocating for additional funding and support for school technology, as well as a long-range technology plan.
Ward 6 schools have struggled to maintain working technology. Ward 6 schools don’t just use computers for testing, they also use them for learning. Several Ward 6 schools use blended learning programs that combine digital learning with traditional teaching. Having Central Office provide devices for grades 3-12 will help support our schools. Having a comprehensive technology plan will help to ensure there is a multi-year, sustainable plan for funding and providing technology to schools, not just a short-term initiative.
I believe the DCPS Student Technology Equity Act is needed because it recognizes DCPS has not done an adequate job in providing technology throughout the school system. The bill places aggressive, but achievable timelines for conducting a needs assessment, and developing a comprehensive technology plan. My remaining comments focus on questions for the Education Committee about the Act.
- The Act seems focused on student computers, tablets and similar devices. Schools today use Smartboards in classrooms, and teachers need laptops to do their work. Because technology such as Smartboards is not included, and teachers are not mentioned in the bill, is it the intention of the Education Committee that these not be included in the comprehensive technology plan?
I believe the Act should be flexible and broad enough to cover a wide range of technology outside of computers and tablets, and written in a way that acknowledges there will likely be new developments in technology we don’t even know about today. I would also caution the Committee in using overly prescriptive words such as “a plan to achieve or maintain a one-to-one-device-to-student ratio for grades 3 – 12,” and instead use language that seeks to optimize the use of technology in the classroom to support student learning.
- The Act gives significant responsibility to the Technology Steering Committee. The Committee is tasked to contract with a DC-based partner, conduct the technology needs assessment, and develop a comprehensive technology plan. As I read the bill, I was struck by how much responsibility is given to the Technology Steering Committee instead of to DCPS.
Many, many organizations have technology plans that are developed in-house. Of course, many of the members of the Technology Steering Committee members will undoubtedly be DCPS staff. Yet, I could also envision a successful path forward where DCPS is directed to do many, if not all, of the responsibilities described in this Act, and the Technology Steering Committee advices DCPS on the technology audit and the comprehensive technology plan.
Can the Education Committee explain why it believes placing the responsibilities in the hands of the Technology Steering Committee rather than DCPS will be the best approach?
- Finally, implementation of a comprehensive technology plan will require funding. I would hate to see DCPS have to reduce teaching staff or cut out other vital needs in the school to fund technology. I encourage the Education Committee to work with DCPS to find the funding to implement this Act.
Testimony on Digital Equity and Financial Literacy in Washington, DC
Scott Goldstein- Executive Director, EmpowerEd
November 5, 2019
Good Afternoon Chairman Grosso and Chairman Mendelson.
I am here to support and call for strengthening the Student Technology Equity Act before you today. I also strongly support the financial literacy bill and its pilot program, but will focus my testimony today on digital equity. This bill is a basic starting point- providing for a full audit and needs assessment of the technology and access in our school system right now. The council is on the right track to prioritize digital equity and establish a starting point that enables us to layout a blueprint for action. As a result of the excellent advocacy from parents and allies, DCPS has already taken positive steps in this direction.
For a moment, I want to back up to why this matters. In 1950, it took nearly 150 years for the amount of knowledge in the world to double. In 2013, the amount of knowledge in the world doubled every 12 months. Now, in 2019, it’s every 12 HOURS. There is a basic canon of knowledge our students need to be prepare to exercise citizenship, but given the rapidly expanding universe of content in the world, what is perhaps more important is for students to know how to sift through that knowledge, to search for it, extrapolate what they need and analyze it effectively. If that’s not reason enough, the influence of social media, online advertising and its recent effect on our national elections should be enough to convince us we need to take digital literacy and media literacy very seriously. It’s also why it’s essential that we not focus only on how many laptops, tablets, etc… that we have but also on how we’re using them.
I remember very well as a teacher when each spring rolled around and with it, testing season. But it wasn’t necessarily the schedule changes that came with it that bothered me most. Instead, it was that I was now facing two months (yes, that’s how long the testing window often is) with no access to laptops since every available laptop was going to be used for PARCC testing. That was around the time of year that I did one of my favorite projects- a social movement project that allowed students to take on a social movement from history and dive deep into it, analyze it and think about how it continues today. That required deep research and was made nearly impossible without laptops. So what did I do? I bought tablets for my whole class- digging into my own pocket and getting help from friends and family. Then, once I got the project underway, I was told by administrators that I couldn’t use the tablets I bought anyway for my project because the wireless network couldn’t stand having all the students testing plus students doing research on tablets. So for a whole two months- no internet access, no in school research for our students. It so happens that in many content areas, the curriculum demands teachers teach units that include research, video access and more during that very testing window, and yet we can’t teach the required curriculum when we don’t have access to the technology called for in our curriculum. That’s not an acceptable status quo for our students.
When I did have access- what mattered most to me was not just the content my students could access, but building in my students the ability to access and analyze the world of information at their fingertips. Students often did not know what to write in a google search to get the right result, how to weed through thousands of results, how to determine source credibility- all essential skills. This bill should be strengthened to audit technology use and the current practices in educating our students for digital literacy in addition to access to the hardware itself. As always, given that half of our students attend the District’s Public Charter Schools, I would hope the council would not shy away from ensuring that technology equity is not a promise we make only to half of our students. Access to this technology and to the skills needed to navigate it are essential for our students current and future success. Thank you.
Checklist for budget legislation
Below are some priorities for future budget legislation from Ward 6 parents
On transparency of school budgets:
☐ Ensure the public has sufficient data to identify exactly how “at-risk” funds are allocated and spent at each school, for both DCPS and charter schools.
☐ Report for each school the amount of “at-risk”, special education, and English learner funding separately by category and differentiate these categories from money spent on general education (e.g., comprehensive staffing model).
☐ Create categories that allow stakeholders to easily determine how much money is spent at individual school sites, as opposed to central office administrative costs (e.g., resources such as instructional superintendents should be coded as central office).
For DCPS schools only:
☐ Require DCPS to identify separate funding amounts by school for “at-risk”, special education, English learner, and general education in initial school budgets.
☐ Require DCPS to publish the percent change in year to year school budgets after removing costs moved from central office to school budgets (e.g., school security officers) and accounting for increases in staffing costs and enrollment changes.
On how funds are allocated and spent:
☐ Enforce the law that requires “at-risk” funds to be allocated directly to school sites and to be used as supplemental funds, as opposed to using being used to back-fill general education costs.
☐ Require that charter LEAs also use “at-risk” funds to supplement instruction or services. Currently, the law only applies to DCPS schools.
For DCPS schools only:
☐ Give discretion back to school communities to determine how to allocate “at-risk” funds, within certain criteria outlined by DCPS.
☐ Require DCPS to meaningfully engage school communities before making any changes to the school budget model. Also require DCPS to publish side-by-side comparisons of each school budget under the old and new models at least one fiscal year prior to implementation.
October 31, 2019
DCPS Public Budget Hearing
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Maury Elementary School
Thank you Chancellor Ferebee for the chance to speak this evening. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am honored to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education. I am testifying today in my personal capacity.
Over the past year I’ve toured DCPS schools all across Ward 6. And as I have chatted with principals and staff, I have noticed a consistent theme about resources in our schools – inequity.
We talk about “neighborhood public schools of right” as though they are an equal opportunity public resource. But, touring our Ward 6 schools makes it clear: our neighborhood schools are resourced in inequitable ways. Much of that inequity is driven by unequal access to resources outside of the UPSFF.
Maury Elementary, where we sit today, is my zoned neighborhood school. I toured this beautiful new facility earlier this month and listened as parent tour guides educated community members about the school. I learned that every classroom has a teacher’s aide and that the PTA fundraises to hire those staff. I also learned that Maury students have Chinese language instruction as a special and that every 5th grader gets to go to space camp, again thanks to the generosity of a year-long fundraising effort. These are wonderful assets for a public school and ones I would be thrilled to see every child in the District be able to access. But, since these assets are outside our funding formula, students and families at Maury have a different experience of public education than schools without an active and dedicated PTA with significant fundraising capacity.
At Van Ness Elementary, an intentional school design focused on the whole child guides every decision about work in the school building – including budgeting. The core of the model is a thoughtful vision for elementary education: student well-being, students as makers & student ownership of learning. As I toured Van Ness with their partner organization, Transcend Learning, I saw joyful students in calm, productive classrooms designed to set just the right tone for helping students focus on the work of learning each day. I also learned that Van Ness has a full-time psychologist, a full-time social worker and two behavior techs with support from a consulting Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Principal Robinson-Rivers is candid about the outside grants they’ve secured to cover the cost of both the additional staffing and training for all school staff to make a model like theirs work, but she is also candid about her belief that this staffing is needed for ALL schools to adequately serve students.
As DCPS plans its budget for FY2021, I hope that the system will begin from a vision-level, rather than starting from the inequity we all know exists. What does it look like to serve the whole child in all of our schools in ways that are truly equitable? What kind of compensatory funding is needed to provide adequate staffing and capacity-building resources to schools that do not have the outside support of PTAs or innovation grants? What could it look like to make a model like Maury’s or Van Ness’ available to all students in all neighborhoods of all wards of the District? And what stands in our way?
If we fail, again, to view every school and student as worthy of opportunities, to start from an equitable foundation, we will continue to fail our students.