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.