Testimony For April 17, 2013 Council Hearing On School Budget By Committee On Education – By Laura Marks

Testimony of

Laura Hansen Marks

634 D Street, NE

Washington, DC  20002

Council of the District of Columbia: Committee On Education

Councilmember David Catania, Chairman 

Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Hearing

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Room 500, John A. Wilson Building

My name is Laura Marks.  I am a resident of Ward 6 and have lived in the District for seventeen years.  I am a parent of two young children, one in Kindergarten and one in second grade at Watkins Elementary, a 527-student school serving grades 1 through 5 as part of the Capitol Hill Cluster School.  I am also a neighbor of Stuart-Hobson Middle School, the third campus of the Capitol Hill Cluster School.

My husband and I both attended public schools for the entirety of our K-12 educations, and we very much want the same for our children.  This is our fifth year as DCPS parents and we would be thrilled to see both our children continue on to graduate from an excellent DC public high school after many great years in DCPS elementary and middle schools.

That vision, however, is in grave jeopardy for our family and for many others.  We are greatly concerned by what feels like a concerted effort to push families like ours from DC Public Schools.  The budget DCPS has proposed for Watkins ES and Stuart-Hobson MS will do just that unless changes are made to recover the enormous cuts being considered for both programs.

Watkins Elementary School – Capitol Hill Cluster School

Watkins ES is facing the loss of four full-time staff positions next year – two reading resource teachers, one math resource teacher, and our guidance counselor.  These positions play crucial roles within our school supporting differentiated instruction, a positive school culture, and providing the hands-on facilitation of essential daily activities like lunch and recess.

Without resource teachers to remediate students working below grade level, I fail to see how our exceptional classroom teachers will be able to continue their very successful differentiated learning groups, a rare opportunity to offer kids working above grade level more challenging material.  Watkins’ differentiated instruction efforts are exactly the kind of programming that will keep families like mine in DCPS and instead of seeing them praised and replicated, I see them being imperiled with no discussion and little explanation.

These cuts will leave Watkins so short-staffed they will no longer be able to supervise grade-level lunch periods, necessitating multi-grade combined lunch periods with over 200 children trying to access a single point of sale in the cafeteria during one lunch period.  Overcrowded seating, excessive noise levels, and inadequate time for eating are just a few of the consequences of these proposed staff cuts at Watkins.  I am left to wonder whether these conditions place DCPS in violation of the terms of the DC Healthy Schools Act and the Federal School Lunch Program.

I can guarantee you that families will leave Watkins based on the dramatic quality of life impact on their children of having to navigate a lunchroom so chaotic, rushed, loud, and unpleasant that kids dread their time there.  Combined with similarly chaotic and crowded recess conditions, you have a sure recipe for miserable kids and equally dissatisfied parents.

Stuart-Hobson Middle School – Capitol Hill Cluster School

As alarming as the cuts at Watkins ES are, the proposed cuts at Stuart-Hobson are staggering.  The loss of the entire world language program there has been described by many Cluster parents as a “deal killer.”  For students looking ahead to application-only high schools, very few parents would send their child to a middle school with no core language instruction.  Again, if you’re looking to drive parents to charters en masse, look no further than slashing world language and technology instruction at the middle school level.

Further, Stuart-Hobson modernization should be fully funded and completed to make that building function as designed and in service to the Museum & Arts Integration Program for which it was planned.  Leaving this effort half finished is unacceptable.  The 1200 students of the Capitol Hill Cluster School deserve a completed, modernized middle school building with arts, athletics, and classroom spaces adequate to the school’s needs and appropriate to the mission of the museum curriculum.

DCPS Parent Gag Order   

Finally, I would be remiss not to raise the issue of what can only be described as a “gag order” on parents by DCPS’ top leadership.  Parents at a number of Capitol Hill DCPS schools have reported that their principals’ jobs have been threatened for failing to squelch parent advocacy on behalf of their schools.  The mere idea that our school system’s leadership would entertain that notion is incredibly insulting, wrong-headed, and anti-democratic in the extreme.

I am proud of the parents here today, taking time out of their busy lives to speak out for not just their own children but all of DC’s children.  I am proud of the hardworking principals across DC whose leadership and courage are so key to our schools’ progress.  I am, however, appalled by the idea that parents exercising their right to free speech on behalf of their children’s school would be so alarming to DCPS that they would resort to such inexcusable, authoritarian tactics.

Over the past few years, DCPS has hired some of the best principals in the country.  We have some amazing talent leading our schools, men and women with incredibly hard jobs who are achieving some spectacular gains.  To threaten them simply for the sake of political expediency is truly reprehensible.  To have so little respect for free speech and the democratic process is deeply offensive.  To so publicly demonstrate such a low opinion of parents is, unfortunately, revealing.

Shame on DCPS and shame on all of us who fail to hold them accountable.

For Immediate Release: Parents and Students Protest DCPS Cuts to Libraries


Sunday, May 20, 2012


Contact:  Peter MacPherson, pmacpher@aol.com, 202-315-8155


Parents and Students Protest DCPS Cuts to Libraries


Washington, DC- On Monday, May 21, 2012, parents and students from across Washington, DC will be protesting school librarian cuts by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) in the FY13 budget.  The event will take place in front of DCPS headquarters at 1200 First Street, N.E. between 1pm and 6pm.

In the FY13 DCPS budget, important changes were made that dramatically impact school libraries:


  • No funding was provided for the school librarian position for schools with 299 or fewer students.
  • Funding was provided for the school librarian position for schools with an enrollment of 300 or more students, BUT:
    • The school librarian position was moved from “core” staff to “flexible” staff.
      • This allows principals to choose whether or not to have a school librarian.  Principals can now use the school librarian allocation for other positions.

As a result of the new Budget Guidelines for 2013, 34 additional schools did not fund school librarians for 2013 bringing the total number of schools without a school librarian to 57.  In 2013, almost 50% of the DC public schools will be without librarians.  Over 16,000 students will be without a school library, if these cuts go through.


Research has shown school libraries positively impact teacher effectiveness, increase the likelihood that students will become literate and independent learners, and support at-risk students.  Yet DCPS is choosing to ignore this research, and make deep cuts to its school libraries.


The Breakdown

57 schools with no school librarian budgeted for 2013 by Ward.

Ward 1 Ward 2 Ward 3 Ward 4 Ward 5 Ward 6 Ward 7 Ward 8









57 schools with no school librarians budgeted for 2013 by grade level.
Elementary (63) Education Campus(20) Middle (13) High (18) Alternative (10)
      24             9      7   7       10
Chancellor Henderson is being asked to: 

  • provide a ½ time librarian at schools with 299 or fewer students;
  • move the librarian position to the core staff category; and
  • provide a per student allocation for the libraries dedicated to support collection development and other necessary materials.



Cutting Libraries During a Recession is Like Cutting Hospitals During a Plague.  Eleanor Crumblehulme

5/30 at 7 pm — FREE Community Screening of “Cafeteria Man”

Do you care what our kids are eating at school?


Wednesday, May 30 – 7:00 pm

The Hill Center – 921 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE

Find out what other schools are doing to make the change to locally-grown, freshly-prepared meals.  Stay for a discussion after the film with filmmaker Richard Chisolm and some of DC’s leading school food experts.


Tony Geraci, as food-service director for Baltimore’s public schools, embarked on an ambitious project: to “green” the lunches of the city’s 83,000 students by replacing pre-plated, processed foods with locally-grown, freshly prepared meals. A charismatic chef from New Orleans, Geraci describes himself as a “little bit lunch lady, a lot P.T. Barnum.” His bold vision includes school vegetable gardens, student-designed meals, meatless Mondays and nutrition education in the classroom. Over the course of two years, the film documents the efforts of parents, teachers, administrators, farmers, chefs and dozens of creative and motivated students to overhaul a dysfunctional nutritional system. Healthy food advocates Michael Pollan and Will Allen and First Lady Michelle Obama also make appearances.  Directed and produced by Richard Chisolm and Sheila Kinkade.

This is a FREE event but please reserve your seat as space is limited: http://hillcenterdc.org/home/programs/238  

Sponsored by Capitol Hill Public School Parent Organization

CHPSPO Meeting Agenda: Tuesday, April 17, 6:30 pm at Maury ES

Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization
Maury Elementary School
1250 Constitution Avenue, NE
April 17, 2012
6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Mission Statement – To promote cooperation among the parent organizations of the public schools on Capitol Hill in order to improve the education received by all children attending our schools.

6:30 pm Welcome and introductions

6:35 pm DC Food Service Issues, Laura Marks

6:55 pm Middle School Thinking Groups Report Outs
– Outreach (Joe Weedon, Andrea Ryan, Barbara Riehle, Isabella Harris)
– Out-of-School Time/Partnerships (Suzanne Wells, Julie Schofield, Sandra Moscoso-Mills)

7:25 pm National Bike to School Day, May 9

7:40 pm Librarian Update
– CHPSPO Testimony at DC Budget Hearing, articles
– Next steps

7:55 pm Wrap up and Next Steps

Next CHPSPO Meeting: May 15, 2012

Upcoming Events:

April 21, Earth Day Clean up April 21, ABCs of Family Biking, Capitol Hill Montessori @ Logan, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
April 27, Montessori Night’s Dream
April 28, Laps Around Lincoln sponsored by Tyler Elementary
May 9, National Bike-to-School Day

Visit CHPSPO on the web at http://chpspo.org

Help kick start the Watkins ES Teaching Kitchen!

Watkins Elementary benefits from the FoodPrints Program, funded by the non-profit FRESHFARM Markets.  FoodPrints integrates our delicious, edible garden into weekly classroom lessons that inspire and educate our students and their families about the importance of eating fresh, simple, nutritious food.  Each year, this program reaches more than 200 1st and 3rd grade students and we plan to expand to 5th grade by Fall 2011!

FoodPrints has already allowed our urban school to build the fenced in, flourishing 1700 square foot classroom kitchen garden, and hire a part time teacher, Jennifer Mampara, who conducts and manages the program.  Jennifer has developed a year-long classroom curriculum that supports local and national standards.   Our volunteer master gardener, Barbara Percival, cares for and manages our garden program.  Each FoodPrints class teaches our kids the importance of good nutrition, about our essential eco-systems and plant biology, and exposes them to the joys of eating local, seasonal food.  Each two hour class ends with a hands-on cooking lesson and a simple, shared meal.  (By the end of this summer, the FoodPrints Curriculum will be finalized and available to the public on the FRESHFARM website at no charge.)

Despite all these positives, we are still missing an integral part of our FoodPrints program and we need your help to change that.  Before the school year starts in Fall 2011, we must transform our classroom space into a proper teaching kitchen. We need to raise the money now so that the kitchen construction can be done during the summer. Currently, we cook on portable hot plates, have no oven or dishwasher, and wash our fresh, garden produce in a tiny science lab sink.  With your help, we believe we can raise enough money to supplement the in kind donations and labor already pledged.

We need a teaching kitchen!

Many people have asked us how they can help support the FoodPrints program. Two parents have already donated their architectural services to create the design plan for the kitchen. Another parent has pledged his firm’s services for demolition and disposal to prepare for the kitchen construction.  Now, we need funds to build the teaching kitchen.   We hope that both our parent community and the DC community at large will join our Kickstarter campaign and help turn our dreams into reality, in just a month.

Our classroom teaching kitchen will include:

·   hand washing sinks for kids and a large sink for garden veggies

·   induction cook top with a mirror so that everyone can see inside the pot

·   ovens which will allow us to bake for the first time

·   100 square feet of shelving lit with grow lights to begin seeds indoors

·   mobile, indoor composting unit

·    large kitchen island with child height counters on one side to allow students to safely work near the cook top.

Our deadline is Wednesday, June 15th.  Once we achieve our goal, we can announce the news to all of our students before they leave for summer break. When they return to school in the fall, the kitchen will be fully operational!

Help us turn Watkins Elementary into a place where children go home understanding that it is COOL to eat kale salad and sweet potato quesadillas–two of their favorite recipes this year!


– Post the link to our Kickstarter campaign to your business and personal Facebook friends.

– Email this message to friends, family, colleagues, neighbors who would support us.  The more people who see our Kickstarter page, the more likely we are to meet our goal.

– Embed our Kickstarter link into your signature from now until Wednesday, June 15!


3/12/11 — Tyler’s Alchemy of Great Taste

Tickets: $50 advance purchase*:

Buy tickets online now for $50* — or purchase at the event for $65.

Share on Facebook! The Alchemy of Great Taste is Tyler Elementary’s flagship fundraiser that offers a fun-filled casual evening of great food from local restaurants paired with a range of beers and wines geared toward all palates.

The event will also feature live music and dancing, original artwork by Tyler Elementary students, fantastic raffle and auction items and much, much more.