Heather Schoell Written Testimony – DCPS Budget Hearing – April 19, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to share my perspective. I’m the parent of a 10th grader at Eastern and an 8th grader at Eliot-Hine. I’m the PTO secretary at the former, the PTO president at the latter, and LSAT secretary for both schools. I have been involved in improving public schools since 2005.

Middle School Outcomes. I want to bring to your attention the struggle of middle schools and why the funding allocation is a square peg. Middle schools have only three years to work with students. Eliot-Hine, the feeder school for Maury, Miner, Payne, and SWS @ Goding, has not typically gotten the top-performing students from each feeder’s 5th grade. (Those kids are often taken out of their elementary school at 5th in favor of charters.) Two-thirds of the Eliot-Hine student population comes from Wards 7 and 8. Wherever they come from, Eliot-Hine inherits kids who read significantly below grade level, and staff has only three years to try to mitigate the deficiency.

That’s the way it’s been for years. How is that fair, then, to hold Eliot-Hine to a funding standard as they work to undo the damage that’s been done to these kids, when elementary schools (or other middle schools if they’ve transferred in) have failed to teach them to read? Reading is fundamental. We can’t expect academic success when children aren’t reading at or near grade level, let alone when they’re four or more grade levels behind. And when they can’t read, they can’t do math, social studies, or science. Reading is everything. It’s a struggle to thrive when you feel ashamed, and know that these kids absolutely feel shame about their reading levels.

Until someone stands up for these kids and does something different at both the elementary level for prevention and the middle school level for remediation, we can expect the same outcomes in middle and high school (and beyond). We can expect low levels of academic success, and we can continue to pour money into the same baseline budget formulas based on enrollment, and parents of the top students can continue to choose schools outside of their neighborhood, citing low test scores and/or the unrenovated building.

Funding can remain the same, or you can step up and right this wrong. Make the commitment to show that these kids are worth the investment. Fund a full-time librarian so she can continue to help students find the books that will inspire them to read and help them to do successful research for their IB projects. Fund City Year for Eliot-Hine, which will not only help with small-group differentiation in the classrooms, but would also serve as mentors. Mentors can alter the path of a child’s life.

Heath and Welfare. I’ve testified about this before, but I’ll say it again and again. Take the mental health and social worker positions out of the schools’ budgets! Put the onus on DBH and CFSA to embed their people in schools so students get the help they need and schools can hire teachers instead of social workers. This way it’s more equitable and needs-based, and more direct. This would help with attendance, too, as so much time is wasted in the process of noting chronic absence and doing something to address and mitigate it. And of course, good mental health and welfare directly correlates with the level of academic success. We need to have the courage to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working and fix it.

Conclusion. One thing is for sure: we can’t do the same thing and expect different outcomes. We’re talking about the same problems this year as we did five years ago. That can’t feel good, sitting where you are. It certainly doesn’t feel good to the students who aren’t getting what they need. Invest in prevention in elementary and targeted intervention and remediation in middle school. Have the courage to make big changes that will make a difference. Raise the bar – we rise to the level of our lowest expectations.

Published by Suzanne Wells

I work at EPA, and have a son and a daughter. I commute just about everywhere by bike. I like to volunteer in my community, and to knit.


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