Suzanne Wells Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

DCPS Public Budget Hearing

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Maury Elementary School

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify this evening.  My name is Suzanne Wells.  I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization, and our organization is a member of the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities or C4DC.

First, I want to congratulate DCPS on the enrollment increase it saw for SY 2019-2020. DCPS now enrolls more than 51,000 students, and there was a 4% growth in in-boundary enrollment.  This enrollment growth is due to the hard work of principals and teachers, the efforts of the DCPS enrollment team to promote feeder patterns, the modernization of our city’s school buildings, the confidence families have in DCPS and much more.  This year’s enrollment growth gives us hope DCPS will meet, and hopefully exceed, it’s enrollment target of 54,000 by 2022.  This hard work must continue because there is still much work to be done to ensure every neighborhood has a high-quality, by-right school.  It can’t be emphasized enough that enrollment growth is important because school budgets are determined primarily by a school’s enrollment.

Currently, schools are allocated funds to support a Comprehensive Staffing Model.  This model ensures a baseline number of teachers, administrators, related arts teachers, and other staff.  The City Council has proposed legislation, and there have been discussions at DCPS, to move towards a School Based Budgeting model.  Ensuring all schools have librarians, music, art and PE teachers is important to ensuring a well-rounded education for children.  I strongly encourage DCPS to conduct careful analyses on comparisons between the Comprehensive Staffing Model and any new budget model considered in order to fully understand any trade-offs made before moving to a new model.  I encourage DCPS to engage stakeholders early in the process of analyzing the impacts of a new model.

Members of our organization have been very involved in ensuring at-risk funds are used in ways that are expected to improve student achievement. In the past, at-risk funds have been used for purposes not directly related to supporting at-risk youth.  I encourage DCPS to share more with schools the available research-based evidence as to what has been impactful in raising performance among at-risk youth to help inform school-based decisions, and to ensure school budgets are transparent about how at-risk funds are used.

Our members have also advocated for DCPS to continue funding for school technology and the Empowered Learners Initiative in the 2021 budget. We will not achieve digital equity until students in all grades have access to working computers, as well as support for becoming computer literate.

Finally, in looking at the FY2019 approved budget for the Public Education System, it lists over $63 million for non-public tuition and $90 million for special education transportation.  I believe these line numbers are directly related to DCPS not providing adequate educational services for special education youth at our neighborhood schools.  As DCPS works to strengthen its by right public school system, I encourage DCPS to always use its lens of promoting equity and work to support more students with special needs at our neighborhood schools.

Grace Hu Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

Grace Hu

October 29, 2019

Digital Equity in DC Education

DigitalEquityDC@gmail.com

DCPS Budget Hearing

Good evening. My name is Grace Hu and I am a parent and LSAT member at Amidon-Bowen Elementary in Southwest DC. Today I am here on behalf of Digital Equity in DC Education, a citywide coalition of parents, to discuss the continuing technology gaps in our schools.

More Work Needed to Achieve Digital Equity

Last year we began an advocacy effort to address the unreliable and outdated technology in a school system that is heavily reliant on computer-based testing–from everything from reading and math intervention programs, to beginning- and end-of-year assessments in multiple subjects and the high-stakes PARCC test. Despite this reliance on computers, the burden has been on individual schools to find the money to refresh their technology and many have struggled to do this.

While we appreciate the $4.6 million in the mayor’s 2020 budget for student computers (as part of DCPS’s new Empowered Learners Initiative), one-year funding is not enough for closing the digital divide in our schools. We urge DCPS to follow through and provide funding in the 2021 budget to continue to move schools to a 1:1 student-device ratio. Additionally, we urge DCPS to take the following into consideration:

  1. Empowering Students to Use Technology

Simply providing computer hardware won’t result in digital equity. While many kids use smartphones and social media, they lack knowledge on the range of technology applications such as word processing, Powerpoint, and e-mail. We need DCPS to look closely at the support (or lack of) for providing students with technology skills they will need for the jobs of the 21st century. Since the announcement of Amazon’s selection of Arlington as a new headquarters, neighboring localities have decided to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in regional institutions of higher education for technology research and education. Will DCPS graduates be prepared to take advantage of these local opportunities?

  1. Support for Teachers

We also need DCPS to look closely at support for training teachers to effectively incorporate technology into instruction. This is an issue with scaling up—while DCPS currently offers some voluntary professional development opportunities for teachers, it is not sufficient to ensure the whole teacher workforce is equipped to use technology effectively (to achieve educational goals). We also continue to hear that some teachers are not issued a laptop by their school because the school cannot afford to purchase laptops for its staff.

  1. Continued Inequity Requires Holistic Approach to Solve

Lastly, as part of the Empowered Learners Initiative, additional tasks/requirements have been placed on our schools, such as having to regularly update school technology inventories and plan for device distribution. This work is being placed on current school staff. As we saw last year, some schools struggled to complete their technology inventories due to lack of staff capacity, and IT support for fixing computers is still inadequate. If computer devices are NOT paired with adequate support for managing them at the school level, we will continue to have an equity issue, as the schools with the last staffing capacity and resources will be the most disadvantaged.

For a technology initiative that truly empowers our students and teaching staff, we need an ecosystem of supports—not just computer hardware. In the addendum to my testimony, I have included our top five areas where attention is needed in implementing the Empowered Learners’ Initiative Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

Addendum: Our parent coalition has identified five areas where attention is needed.
Parent Priorities for Implementation of Empowered Learners Initiative

 

  1. Adequate support for technology at the school level: This includes adequate staffing and resources at the school level for taking inventory of the school’s existing computers, handling device rollout, and maintaining and fixing technology.

 

  1. Devices provided in a timely manner to schools: A number of approvals are needed to finalize the new DCPS contract for computers. Every month that goes by without having the computers at schools is a lost opportunity for our students, especially those in testing grades who are expected to take the online PARCC test in the spring.

 

  1. Equitable and transparent allocation of devices to schools: Each school community should be informed of the number of new computers and other technology assets that will be allocated to their school and how this number was determined.

 

  1. Transparent and timely communication to schools (including school leadership, staff/teachers, parents): DCPS has developed planning guides and other resources to support schools, but it’s not clear that most school communities have seen and are using these resources. In some schools, staff continue to ask PTAs to raise money for technology. Everyone–school leaders, teachers, and parents–needs to be on the same page regarding what assets and support will be provided to schools by DCPS’s central office and when they will be provided.

 

  1. Training for teachers and students: School staff and students should be properly trained to use and maintain their equipment, including best practices for incorporating digital learning into classrooms and preventing misuse of technology. This issue is about scaling up: while some optional professional development opportunities are being offered by DCPS’s central office, it will take more work and resources to ensure all teachers and students are prepared to use technology effectively.

 

Rebecca Reina and Emily Gasoi Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

Joint testimony of

Rebecca Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council and

Emily Gasoi, State Board of Education, Ward 1 Representative

to the District of Columbus Public Schools Public Budget Hearing

Maury Elementary School

Tuesday, October, 29, 2019

I am Becky Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council. Our Education Council is a volunteer organization that brings together parents, educators, students, and community members to share information and to advocate for a stronger public education system that supports all our students and families, while ensuring we safeguard our by-right neighborhood schools and work for greater resources, equity, transparency, fairness, and safety across both public educational sectors. Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the DCPS budget. I am sharing this testimony with Emily Gasoi, the Ward 1 Representative on the State Board of Education. She will take up where I end today.

DCPS schools in Ward 1, like DCPS schools throughout the city, are struggling with their yearly budgets:

At the Ward 1 Education Council meeting in March, we asked for a show of hands from DCPS stakeholders whose schools were losing one or more staff position due to inadequate funding in their SY19-20 budget. Reps from ten of the twelve DCPS schools in attendance raised their hands (not all of them Ward 1 schools).

Cleveland, a Title 1 elementary school serving 310 students, 21% ELL and 51% At-Risk, does not have a general reading interventionist and has only two special education teachers to serve the entire school.

H.D. Cooke, a Title 1 elementary school serving 395 students, 46% ELL and 58% At-Risk, struggles to provide appropriate supports for its many English Language Learners.

Tubman, a Title 1 elementary school serving 566 students, 53% ELL and 63% At-Risk, lost eight positions going into this school year, despite an enrollment increase. Tubman was projected to have 534 students this fall and funded for that level, although enrollment has not been under 550 in years.

Bancroft ES was unable to cover the cost for two early childhood intervention staff positions in their initial budget. Bancroft is a Dual-Language school serving 550 students, 56% ELL and 35% At Risk.

CHEC, one of the largest schools in the city and a Title 1 educational campus serving 1,210 students, 35% ELL and 65% At Risk, sees its per-pupil funding go down each year. A CHEC staffer emailed: “If we can’t right-size our budget, we are looking at cutting 2 staff members and we won’t be able to hire the social worker and other essential support staff we so desperately need.”  He went on to explain that this will mean increasing class sizes for ELL students who need more, not less individualized attention. This will mean that the school’s one middle school social worker who last year was managing 7+ homeless referrals, 40 PGT referrals, 15 504 cases, 21 IEP cases and has administered 80 special education eligibility assessments, will continue to be stretched dangerously thin. And it will mean that some of our city’s most vulnerable students will continue to have referral wait times of 8 to 10 weeks to see a school-based therapist.

Cardozo EC, a 6th through 12th grade campus of 757 students, 44% ELL and 83% At-Risk, must figure out how to staff multiple, distinct programs with largely inflexible budgeting, while their International Academy student population falls precipitously – which is no surprise given the current national climate – and its 9th and 10th grade mainstream classes simultaneously swell.

Schools struggle with their operating budgets as well:

The Cardozo community alerted us to the fact that all DCPS schools must deal with a purchasing freeze period lasting over a month from late September to early November every year. While the budget office’s reasons vary yearly – this year it is Central Office staffing – the yearly Student Activities Fund and P Card freeze and the budget office’s unresponsiveness does not vary.

School facilities maintenance is inadequate:

Tubman has been waiting for an HVAC renovation and roof repair for three years.

Although Cardozo’s building is managed by RDW Consulting, neither DGS nor RDW responds to maintenance requests in a timely manner. Door locks and elevators remain broken.

Playground repairs requested by Cleveland last school year remain unfinished.

Lead abatement of pour-in-place playground surfaces remain unresolved throughout the city.

Holes remain in the Capital Improvements Plan:

Washington Metropolitan, the last unmodernized DCPS high school, has been dropped from the CIP without clarity on the future of that program.

Anna Beers Elementary School in Ward 7 is not in the Capital budget.

An additional Ward 7 middle school needs to be opened to feed Woodson HS and strengthen that feeder pattern.

Shaw Middle School at 800 Euclid St NW, needs to be added to the CIP to strengthen the Cardozo feeder pattern, improve DCPS middle grade programming, and continue the very strong DCPS enrollment gains in Ward 4 and alleviate crowding and impending crowding surrounding Ward 1 at Deal, Hardy, School Without Walls at Francis Stevens, and MacFarland Middle Schools.

Additionally, the Banneker HS modernization should not include a football field. That school and neighborhood communities both far prefer a track.

//

Emily Gasoi will provide suggestions to these issues when she finishes this testimony.  Thank you.

//

My name is Emily Gasoi and I am the Ward 1 Representative on the State Board of Education. As W1EC chair Becky Reina explained, I will pick up our testimony where she left off to discuss some of the broader issues underlying individual school struggles and to offer some solutions:

To start, there are several now predictable practices that cause general budget instability for our schools, making it difficult for them to invest the time and thought that budgeting decisions require.

  1. Last school year’s late release of school budgets and the unreasonably short turnaround time schools had to return them was not conducive to thoughtful decision-making for any leadership team. But especially for schools with budgets that do not adequately cover costs, having to rush decisions about which positions to cut is detrimental to student learning and to the morale of the entire school community. Of course, a greater effort should be made to get budgets to schools on time. But when they are late, school leaders have advised me that they need a minimum of two weeks to fully review them with their teams and make the best decisions for their school communities.
  1. That said, schools might not need as much time to turn their budgets around if the budgeting process were more stable and predictable. Starting from zero each year while relying on imperfect enrollment projection methods has led to an unhealthy level of instability for schools. The city school count day is in October, even as there is predictable student mobility, mostly from Charters to DCPS schools, throughout the school year. This handcuffs DCPS’s systemwide budget from the city, inadequately providing for our schools of right, but it need not be directly reflected in DCPS individual school budgets. We recommend using different enrollment projections can be used for different purposes and the internal enrollment projections used to fund our schools of right must be improved.

 

  1. While all types of schools are impacted by such budget instability, as Becky pointed out in her testimony about CHEC and several of our elementaries serving fewer than 500 students the CSM is most predictably harmful to our largest and smallest schools. In fact, we have learned that one of the few things that large schools like CHEC and small schools like Cleveland ES can count on when it comes to their annual budgets is that funding will not adequately cover their basic staffing costs. This predictable inadequacy in our budgeting process needs to be addressed.

We know DCPS is evaluating whether to move away from the CSM. Before we throw out this admittedly imperfect funding model, we should first try to fully fund our DCPS schools, which would include taking some of the following steps:

  • The UPSFF should be raised to keep pace with rising costs, in line with the city’s past adequacy study, which according to DC FPI would require an 8% increase.
  • At minimum, the CSM should be followed, with each school receiving the promised baseline, and it should be retooled to provide differentiated supports for our largest and smallest schools.
  • At-Risk funds should supplement funds for core school functions, not be used to supplant them.
  • Stabilization funds should be correctly allocated, and not gamed by adding new costs into individual school budgets.

I  would like to add that many Ward 1 schools offer Specialty programming – including but not limited to dual language, international baccalaureate, and International Academies – and should therefore receive additional funding.  Specialty programming requires program coordinator staff, trainings, and materials, all of which cost money which school leaders should not be forced to steal from funding core school functions.

Finally, as with most everything education-related, this is an equity issue. While a majority of Ward 1 schools have to haggle each year or “get creative” with their budgets, our sister schools in Wards 7 and 8 were hit hardest in the budgets for FY20. Schools east of the river are more likely to have declining enrollment and to be forced to absorb the most significant budget reductions — which directly impacts their ability to serve their remaining student population and to attract more students, thus leading them to enter a “death spiral.”

A system in which there are winners and losers is not, and never will be, an equitable system. When problems are predictable as all of these budget issues are, there is no excuse to continue on with business as usual. Additionally, while DCPS teachers’ salaries look very generous when viewed in a vacuum, when adjusted for DC’s cost of living, our salaries fall squarely in the middle of the pack nationally.  Those salaries should never be used as an excuse for inadequately funding the education of our children. It’s time to make the changes necessary to bring stability and equity to our funding process so that all our schools, from Ward 1 to Ward 8 are fully and fairly funded.

Thank you.

 

Laura Fuchs Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

DC Public Schools Budget Testimony:

Laura Fuchs, Teacher, HD Woodson HS, Chair of the Washington Teacher’s Union’s Committee on Political Education, WTU Recording Secretary, Executive Board Member of Ward 7 Education Council, Executive Board Member of Empower DC and member of LSAT of HD Woodson HS, Ward 5 Resident

Delivered: Tuesday, October 29, 2019

My name is Laura Fuchs, and I am in my 13th year teaching at HD Woodson SHS. Today I would like to focus on highlighting the budget where it concerns serving the needs of our Special Education students. Because our schools are budgeted based on projected enrollment we know that the system will not be perfect. The students we serve in Ward 7 are highly mobile and are often going through a lot that can cause them to move from school to school. This year our school is already over 67 students beyond our overall projected enrollment, and our special education population appears to have a similar percentage over-enrolled. When it comes to special education the challenges deepen because we also do not know in advance what programs nor how many hours of services our students will need in order to fulfill their IEPs. This year HD Woodson has seen a noticeable uptick in the total number of hours required on the IEPs (i.e., we usually used to see 10 hours and now are seeing 15).

We accept that DCPS cannot predict with 100% accuracy who will walk through the doors in August each year. But DCPS needs to be better prepared and more flexible to guarantee that our schools will have the teachers, services, and personnel required to meet the IEPs of our students when they do arrive. To that end, I want to suggest that we end the practice of “Mutual Consent” that Michelle Rhee bargained for in 2009. If we allow excessed teachers, who have good evaluation scores, to stay in a “pool” of available teachers, they can then be placed at a school immediately when a need arises. Currently the system severs them from the system if they don’t find a job at the end of the summer, making them unavailable to hire at all! Then, if a school has more students than they predicted, or the students have more hours, or we need an additional staff member for a particular program, that need can be met as fast as possible so our students don’t get negatively affected. On top of that, if we run out of teachers from that pool we can then pull from existing central office staff, who should be required to keep up their teaching licensure, so that they are serving kids directly rather than doing who knows what in an over-bloated administrative black hole.

Next we need to bring back the Special Education Coordinator to the Comprehensive Staffing Model funding formula for any school that has over a certain percentage and/or number of special education students. I won’t claim to be the expert on what the threshold should fairly be, but the fact is that a school like HD Woodson, where close to 30% of the population on any given year is receiving special education services, a Special Education Coordinator is not optional staffing. We do not receive enough discretionary funds to afford it, and we lost our position in this past year. That is not acceptable.

Furthermore, DCPS needs to better indicate what funds are Special Education funds and can only be spent in that department both as incoming funds and then as how we spend them. It should be broken down clearly how those funds were calculated, what programs they are to be used for, etcetera, so that our teachers and coordinator can verify that they are correct. Having served in LSATs for the past 10 years, I can attest that it is often very confusing as to where the money is coming from and if we are correctly spending it, and that often appears to lead to our school not getting adequate general funds and then compensating for them with special education funds, like what was happening with At-Risk Funds. This is a potential massive lawsuit that could be avoided with increased transparency and training for our LSATs.

When it comes to calculating what funds our local schools should get they should be based on special education teachers automatically getting 2 planning periods per day – one for academic planning and one for case management. Caseloads should be based on the amount of hours and work it will take to service the IEP, not simply total number of students, it should be made clear how that is being calculated so that our school can use them appropriately. DCPS should work with our teams in advance to learn how difficult it can be to service all our students and then staff and fund the programs appropriately so that we are set up to be successful.

It is our moral duty to service our students with special education needs. We must set up our schools to be successful but adequately funding and staffing them. Anything less is unacceptable.

Status

W6PSPO Meeting Notes – October 15, 2019

W6PSPO Meeting Notes

October 15, 2019

Eastern High School

 

1. Eastern High School – Principal Brown

Dialogue on where we want to see Eastern 10 years. EHS is at phase zero of the planning – they are collecting information and want to hear from us.

Core values:

PRIDE of Capitol Hill: Passion, Respect, Innovation, Determination, Excellence

Academic and Other Programming

EHS is an IB World School diploma program for 11th and 12th grades. They are working on being authorized as a “MYP” (Middle Years Programme) for 9th and 10th grade that prepares them for the diploma program. Even if they aren’t in the IB diploma program, a student can take the challenging IB courses.  All 9th and 10th graders would be in the MYP.

EHS is also now a NAF-recognized health sciences school.

There are many extracurricular activities including band, choir, JROTC, sports, Mighty Greens, Chess Club and more.

Adding more pathways, like music, arts and humanities, to encourage more interest-driven programming during the school day to engage them throughout their years at Eastern. They also have a 9th grade academy.

Outcomes

In ELA, 25% of Eastern students scoring at 4 or 5 (8% increase over last year). In math, 0% are at 4 or 5.

EHS graduation rate is 78%, at high end of the comprehensive high schools.

Enrollment is on the rise at 792 (target was 754). More feeders moving in and more in-boundary staying at EHS. (Feeders are: Brown EC, Stuart Hobson, Jefferson, Eliot Hine, Kelly Miller and CHML)

Challenges:

  • Vertical articulation with middle schools is not something that is regularly happening. But, Eastern is starting to do more to understand the students coming from the middle schools, particularly with Stuart Hobson. Making feeder school engagement more intentional, focus on bringing in Eliot Hine and Jefferson students this year, and need to strengthen ties with Brown and Kelly Miller.
  • Shifting curriculum and lack of training. Need stability and continuity for curriculum to make sure it builds all the way through high school.
  • Students not getting support they need BEFORE coming to HS. Students need to learn early how to resolve conflict peacefully and cope with issues. They are not getting enough of that and it carries into high school – inside or outside the school. Eastern has partners to help including a restorative justice program. They also have weapons/mace abatement policy. The school also works closely with WMATA, MPD and resource officers to create strong relationships and understandings.

What can parents do?

  • Notify EHS early whether your child is going to enroll.

Questions to parents: What should Eastern accomplish in the next 10 years? How should Eastern achieve it? How can we help?

  • Promote more all that it is doing for kids
  • Do more to ensure the students are safe and the culture is positive and safe
  • Are there other types of academies or strands to ensure all kids are connected and focused, engaged during the day?
  • Invite middle school kids earlier into Eastern activities – as classes – before 8th Because they choose with their peers and the kids are making the decisions in many cases, not the adults, on where they go to school. And they are doing it in the 7th grade.
  • Performance should include safe, caring environment; stable leadership; and growth (we should look at the reading level of kids coming in here and selective schools). We should make that case with DCPS.
  • Need to find the way to engage more parents at the high school level – and what are the best ways to do that? And what is the reason that parents should come when kids are much more self-sufficient?

2. Student Safety Task Force

Parent and W6PSPO member, Danica Petroshius, is serving on the DCPS Student Safety Task Force. The next meeting is October 30th from 6-8 pm at DCPS where they will give input on policies and how to best implement them. Danica is asking for input on what recommendations she should bring to the Task Force. She has asked that you provide input to incorporate into the feedback by October 27th. You can email her at dpetroshius@yahoo.com. The policies DCPS is asking for feedback on are:

 

3. Ideas for Future Meetings

Suzanne asked for quick-response ideas for future meeting topics. Members suggested the following topics:

Parent Advocacy

  • Strategy discussion on how to recruit more members and what we want people to do with the information we all share
  • How to advocate – training, discussion, effective strategies
  • How can W6PSPO be more visible?

Feeder Patterns

  • How do we help our feeder patterns be more successful and make more connections across our schools?

Budget

  • Budget – updated schedule this year and the how-to’s of the budget process
  • Discussion of At-Risk funds and how LSATs should understand and use the information
  • Understand how central office supports programs within school and how it affects school budgets and budget planning

Sharing Information Among Schools

  • Best practices, lessons learned in schools such as communications in schools, tools, school improvement, etc. Maybe get feedback ahead of time on schools that are struggling with certain issues to focus the discussion
  • Discuss how to create a clearinghouse on tools or things that work well

How to Collaborate More with Other Groups

  • Have EmpowerEd present on their work and discuss collaboration possibilities
  • Have C4DC present on their work and discuss collaboration possibilities

 

Next W6PSPO Meeting: November 19, 2019

Upcoming Events

October 21, 11 am, Committee on Education, Dyslexia and Other Reading Disabilities Screening and Prevention Pilot Program Act of 2019.  Sign up to testify.

October 21, 11 am, Committee on Recreation and Youth Affairs, Public Oversight Roundtable on Access to the Public Field at Jelleff Recreation Center. Contact RYA@dccouncil.us to testify.

October 29, 4 pm, Committee on Education, Annual Youth Roundtable on Safe Passage and Other Issues Facing DC Youth.  Opportunity for students PK3 – 12 to testify.  Sign up to testify.

November 2, 2 – 5 pm, MoTH School at Capitol Hill Day School.

November 6, 10 am, Committee on Education, District of Columbia Public Schools Student Technology Equity Act of 2019.  Sign up to testify.

Status

W6PSPO Meets Tuesday Oct 15, 2019 @ Eastern High School

The Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization will meet on Tuesday, October 15, at 6:30 pm at Eastern High School, 1700 East Capitol St., NE. We will be joined by Eastern Principal Sah Brown. Principal Brown will share the current efforts to update the vision for Eastern High School, and we will have the opportunity to share our ideas about the vision. We will also have an update on the advocacy efforts around the recent sexual assault allegations. Finally, we will discuss ideas for future topics for W6PSPO meetings, and elections for W6PSPO officers.

Hope to see you on Tuesday.

Suzanne Wells

101519 W6PSPO

Nzinga Tull Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019

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.