Thank you for the opportunity to speak today at the DCPS Oversight hearing. I am Danica Petroshius, a parent of a second grader and a fourth grader at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (CHML) and Co-Vice President of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO).
I echo the calls of my fellow CHML parents for the Council to fully fund our school’s modernization and to call for funding to fix all schools urgently.
This week we got pretty real and raw. Now, owning and accepting our truths can help set a new course for improvement and progress for all.
Truth #1: Trust with our city leadership has been cracking and is now fully broken. We have had a political ecosystem that allows scandals and cheating to be covered up, percolate and fester. The Mayor has a long road ahead to rebuild the trust of parents. Trust is not a privilege or assumed – it is built over time, and are back to the starting line. The top-down-only model no longer works.
Truth #2. We need to resist quick-fix “changes.” Change is easy – change your clothes, change your hair. What is hard – and what we need – are leaders who will focus on and support long-term improvement and progress with integrity and urgency.
Truth #3: The former Chancellor’s actions illuminated that while we describe DC as a choice system, at its core, DC is a neighborhood school system. If choice doesn’t work because you don’t get a spot in the lottery for a school you want, you have a child that has special needs not being served, or the school your child is in is just not working for you, then you attend your neighborhood school. Neighborhood schools all over our city that are educating generations of families-some well and some need additional resources. I could not get into my neighborhood school during the lottery. Yet the former Chancellor has left a cloud over our neighborhood schools – naming one not good enough for his child. Our reality is that the DCPS schools are the backbone of our education system – the schools that on any day have to and will welcome every child. That is the truth that should be the base of our policies and practices.
Truth #4. Our system of public accountability and oversight is broken. Incompetence and scandal has been the headline. We must take stock of the roles we have played in being too quiet and too complacent for too long.
We have a tremendous opportunity now to turn the corner and all play our appropriate roles and urge a more authentic, parent-, educator-, and student-based approach.
I ask the Mayor to start now to earn back our trust beginning with building a leadership team focused on honesty, transparency, deep community and parent engagement, equity and measured, continuous improvement. We must never again accept backroom deals, breaking the rules and promoting gaming the system in the name of success. I echo Councilmember Robert White’s calls for “a thorough examination of the strengths and weaknesses of our education strategy” and take that deep look across both of our public systems equally. As Councilmember Silverman said, “We can’t treat these as two separate education silos.” It’s time to have the same transparency, accountability and oversight over both DCPS and charter systems.
I ask the Council to re-energize its role in oversight and to exercise it vigilantly and vigorously. The tradition of giving new staff or new Administration officials a “honeymoon” on oversight must end. Oversight has been given a bad name when it should be a welcomed and revered part of the process that gives voice to further understanding, additional data and honesty. Oversight may seem hard when there is wrong-doing. At that moment, for students and families, oversight is our savior.
I ask the Council to consider ways to empower the elected State Board of Education more in oversight. This is an all hands-on-deck moment and we need everyone asking questions and fueling transparency.
Finally, we members of the public must engage more too. We must share our experiences, give voice to concerns and celebrate our successes with you.
Our two systems will only work for all kids if everyone is focused on improvement, working to earn and build trust and maximizing their role in the process.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.