Testimony before the DC Council Committee on Education
On B23-0199 (School Transparency)
By Nzinga Tull
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Good Afternoon Councilmembers,
My name is Nzinga Tull. I am a native Washingtonian and a proud graduate of DCPS. I was raised in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Ward 7 and have made my home as an adult in Ward 7’s Dupont Park. I am doting and committed aunt to my niece and nephew who are 1st and 4th graders at Watkins. I am the play auntie to the children of a number of my closest friends. And, as a long-time Ward-7 resident, I am deeply invested in how the children in my neighborhood experience school. This investment was the driver for me to become active in the Ward 7 Education Council (W7EC), including serving as the Corresponding Secretary on the organization’s Executive Committee for the past 5 years.
I am grateful that the Council has continued to invest the time and attention to issues of transparency and accountability for public schools. When I reflect on my experience as a DCPS student, one of the most powerful and meaningful aspects was the sense of school community. I frequently overheard conversations between my parents or between my parents and my friends’ parents or between my teachers. And while different parents, teachers and administrators may have had different approaches to solving problems, two things were clear to me: (1) the grown-ups had a common goal doing what the best things for us kids and (2) the grown-ups believed that they could work with each other and within the system to figure out what those “best things” looked like. I don’t recall the terms “transparency” and “accountability” being used, but the spirit of transparency and accountability is what drove the sense of community that was so important: the belief that everyone was operating with the honorable intentions and that formal channels existed to investigate and create remedies if this belief was challenged.
Transparency is a crucial component of building and sustaining trust needed for healthy school communities. We simply cannot sustain improvement in the relationships between our children’s caretakers, our educators and our policy makers if we don’t normalize transparency and the insight and the oversight that come along with it. We have to have policies in place that support a culture of community and mutual responsibility. The bills that we are addressing today have the power to move our school cultures in this direction by requiring charters to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings, requiring open government training for charters, and requesting more information be published by the Charter authority on large contracts.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify.