LaJoy Johnson-Law Testimony – Joint Budget Oversight Hearing for Education Agencies

TESTIMONY for Committee on Education Budget Oversight Proposed FY 21

Joint Budget Oversight Hearing for all Education Agencies

June 4, 2020

 LaJoy Johnson-Law, Ward 8 parent and disability and education advocate

Good Afternoon Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Grosso and the Committee on Education. My name is LaJoy Johnson-Law (Ms. Law), and I am a community member of the ward 8 education council, resident of “The Great Ward 8, but most importantly, I am Abria’s mom. I advocate because of Abria, my miracle baby, but I am here to share the voices of my community, as many of them are unable to speak before you today. It is not a simple task to go to work, provide for your household, homeschool and collaborate with the school for your child, manage the digital divide, and ensure a family’s health, safety, and emotional well-being. Ward 8 families deserve the assurance that their needs are at the forefront of all policy and budget decisions that will directly impact their families. COVID-19 has shown us that we can no longer have multiple equity gaps in our education system.

We call for you to acknowledge that Ward 8 students are equitably accounted for. Many of the asks today are for a reinstatement of funds cut from the budget, and these cuts disproportionately impact Ward 8 communities. How can we claim to care for Ward 8 when we’ve made such cuts? It’s time that we rectify these oversights by implementing the following asks:

Equitable Budget Allocation for Ward 8 Schools, Parents, and Students:

  1. Increase at-risk weight from .225 to 0.37, close gap of $68.8 million. Not increasing the at-risk funding is a mistake- many of our children in Ward 8 are at-risk students and these dollars are needed to ensure they obtain equity.
  2. Fully fund DBH school-based mental health expansion with a $16 million budget allocation. The major cuts to DBH’s budget will cripple an already strained system’s ability to deploy providers to schools. It is counterproductive and potentially deadly to cut DBH’s budget when Ward 8 residents are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and as a result bear the brunt of the mental health repercussions of this pandemic.
  3. Fund safe passageways for schools in Ward 8. We understand the direct link between systemic oppression and violence in our communities, yet we’ve cut funding for existing violence prevention programs in the city. In a time of unprecedented economic and social upheaval, we must ensure that our communities have the support they need to navigate. Too many of our children have died as a result of our neglect, and we must take this opportunity to ensure Ward 8 children live to see adulthood.
  4. Support Digital Equity In DC Education’s ask to allocate an additional $11 million to fully fund a hybrid learning model and 1:1 computer access for all students in grades K-12. The Mayor’s budget does not adequately support technology (both the devices and IT support) for a hybrid learning model, in which students will spend a significant portion of time learning at home next school year.
  5. And finally, for the Council and Committee on Education to collaborate with the Ward 8 Education Council to help our families, teachers and schools.

We understand that this is a tough time for everyone and this is an unprecedented pandemic. But, in order for us to get through this together, we must include all of our stakeholders, and that includes educators, community members, and families. This public health emergency has only shown us the deep inequities that we have in our school system, inequities that we should all be ashamed of allowing to go on for so long and we should all be committed to improving these inequities immediately. It’s time to place people over politics or party and saving the lives of all students in all Wards over saving dollars. DC cannot continue to allow any more inequities in our education system. Parents and the Ward 8 community even wrote a letter which is attached to my written testimony to show that the Ward 8 Community Matters. Our Community Matters, Our Families Matter and Most of All our Children Matter!!! WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!

Thank you.

Ms. Law


Attachment

Ward 8 Parents hea broken over the lack of Parent Engagement and Representation in Distance Learning and DC Education during COVID-19

May 6, 2020

To: District of Columbia Mayor, Muriel E. Bowser

Cc: Chairman Phil Mendelson; Councilmembers Anita Bonds, David Grosso, Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, Kenyan McDuffie, Charles Allen, Vincent Gray, Trayon White Sr.

Dear Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Reopen DC Committee for Education and Child Care

We, the parents of Ward 8, community members, and concerned residents were heartbroken to hear that there were no community parents and teacher members chosen to be on the DC Reopen education recovery committee. As a city, it is imperative that we include parent voices and their perspectives since they have been home physically educating students. It is critical to have a diverse group of community members in responding to COVID-19—to establish effective measures and actions in regards to education and child care.

Parents have been homeschooling their children and have been team players throughout the public health emergency, which is why it was so disturbing to hear that we were not included in the Reopen DC Education Recovery Committee. Parents’ voices have been at the forefront during this public health emergency and we all have been collaborative with our schools and teachers to give updates on our children. It is not a simple task to go to work, provide for your household, homeschool and collaborate with the school for your child, manage the digital divide and ensure a family’s health, safety, and emotional well being is taken care of. This has been a draining and difficult time for many parents. All of these stories and needs deserve to be at the forefront of all policy and budget decisions that will impact ward 8 families.

The perspective of parents and students need to be at the decision-making table in a proactive way to help make decisions regarding how learning will continue until there are effective and accessible measures to combat COVID-19. Decisions regarding the safety and health of our students, families, and communities should not be made without centering Ward 8 communities, parents, and teacher voices. Please do not allow, this city to reopen without acknowledging and accepting the wisdom, assistance, and institutional knowledge of parents, educators, and families that work, live and learn in every ward in the District of Columbia, but especially in ward 8.

We call for you to acknowledge and please right this wrong as Ward 8 students are equally and will most likely be negatively impacted by the decisions and guidance made by this committee. Representation will be achieved through the following guidance:

Inclusion in the decision-making process for Reopening D.C.

  • Immediately appoint community parent members to the recovery education committee representing each ward especially for Ward 8
  • Make equity and transparency the center in all decisions especially for Ward 8
  • Ensure the health and welfare of students, families, staff at all schools and recreation and child care facilities
  • Ensure a centralized entity that provides collaboration between families, schools and educational leadership in the city (DME, OSSE, SBOE, DCPS, PCSB, and all LEAs) for the recovery
  • Ensure every child has access to digital devices and tools ( Laptops, Chromebooks, internet, etc)
  • Ensure uniformed guidance on recapping the end of SY19-20 at the beginning of SY20-21
  • Ensure Clear, System-Wide Communication and policies between ALL LEAs

Equitable Budget Allocation for Ward 8 Schools, Parents, and Students

  • Include ward 8 parent voice in any upcoming budget decisions
  • Include ward 8 parent voice in creating a budget for the state board of education and OSSE to develop and create a standard distance learning protocol for the future and ensure community, school, and family collaboration for each LEA.
  • Ensure there are NO budget cuts for Ward 8 schools and at-risk funding
  • Fund safe passageways for schools in Ward 8

We understand that this is a tough time for everyone and this is an unprecedented pandemic, but in order for us to get through this together, we must include all of our stakeholders, and that includes educators, community members, and families. This public health emergency has only shown us the deep inequities that we have in our school system. All students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers deserve leadership and vision. It’s time to place people over politics or party and saving the lives of all students over saving dollars. DC cannot allow any more inequities in our education system. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Ward 8 Families, Teachers, Educators, and Community

Yolanda Mcleod, Cindy McNeil, Jacque Patterson, Sr., Mechellelee Edwards, Lanet Scott, Tameka Garner Barry Vanessa Lemme, Etta Johnston, Adoshia Robinson, Gabrielle Alston, Wendy Glenn, Yolanda Powers, Crystal Gray, LaTasha Morgan, Yolanda Corbett, Lakendra brown, Nikkeishia Parmely, Markina Hall, Patria Bursey, Chioma Oruh, Maka Taylor, Zakiya Duvall, Dr. Lois Void, Claudia Barragan, Camille Campbell, Lewis Newton, Ramona Barber, Sherrie Essix, Gloria Powell, Crystal Bowman, Caroline Coleman, Teresa Greene, Samantha Leach, Fred Hill, Charles Boston, Frenchie Anthony, Christy Webster, LaJoy Johnson-Law

Suzanne Wells Testimony – Joint Budget Oversight Hearing for Education Agencies

Committee of the Whole

Committee on Education

Joint Budget Oversight Hearing for all Education Agencies

June 4, 2020

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today at the joint budget oversight hearing for all education agencies.  My name is Suzanne Wells, and I’m the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO).  Our organization is a member of the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities (C4DC).

As our city develops the FY21 budget while dealing with the economic impacts from covid-19, the W6PSPO is deeply appreciative of the commitment the city has to funding education, particularly our public schools.  We recognize the city has many serious needs, and reduced revenues make the choices of what to fund very difficult.  We know meeting these needs isn’t going to be easy. But both covid-19 and the national cries for racial justice show the important responsibility our city has to reimagine our public school system.  We must not let inertia or lack of will allow us to continue doing business as usual.  We must find ways to address deep needs while wisely using public funds.

Unfortunately, what stands out about the education budget for both DCPS and the charter sector is how much it is business as usual.  DC’s dual system of schools of by right and charter schools is costly, with duplicative offerings and dispersed enrollment resulting in many inadequately resourced schools.  This continues with the FY21 budget.  We can no longer afford the experiment of opening new schools to provide a lottery chance for families to choose a school. The unregulated growth of DC charters in the last 20 years has been out of proportion to DC’s student population. This has resulted in a 40% school closure rate, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on schools that closed, and thousands of unfilled seats, including 10 new schools opening in 2020 that currently have a fraction of their seats filled. Each empty seat means resources are spread more thinly across existing schools.

Significant municipal savings could be realized by investing and growing our by-right public school system, and ensuring every student has a high-quality neighborhood school regardless of where they live. Encouraging increasing enrollment at DCPS schools of right will provide a return on investment in existing infrastructure, reduce per pupil charter school facility allowances, and save money budgeted for the Kids Ride Free program.  A commitment to our by-right public school system will begin to allow us to use our city’s education funds in more meaningful ways that support students.

There are several things we encourage the City to do to reimagine our public school system.  First is to more accurately project enrollment counts to reflect the fact that DCPS receives more students after the October enrollment count than they are funded for; thereby allowing DCPS to better serve the students it receives.  Second, enact a moratorium on the approval and opening of any DCPS or charter school for FY21, unless needed to ensure a DCPS by-right choice for families.   Third, is to stop the expansion of new campuses for existing charter schools for five years.  We also believe the City should commit to no school closures for FY21, thereby ensuring stability and reducing trauma.

We must reimagine the FY21 budget so there are no cuts for schools educating the highest percentages or numbers of our at-risk students. Investments in supports for these schools to address digital divide issues, food insecurity, lack of access to high-quality health care and behavioral support, and lack of special education services, while also ensuring those schools have equitable teacher training, experience, and retention.

One particular part of the Mayor’s proposed a budget that is glaring in its business as usual approach is the funding for technology.  The proposed budget sticks to DCPS’s pre covid-19 plan to provide computers to every student in grades 3-12 over three years.  SY20/21 will be year two of the three-year plan to provide a 1:1 device to student ratio.  This plan is totally inadequate for the new reality of education, in which learning will occur at home and in school. We must get to a 1:1 ratio this coming school year.  The Digital Equity in DC Education Coalition estimates it will take an approximately $11 million investment in computers and IT support in FY21 to get to the 1:1 ratio.  Without this investment, we risk having students whose families can’t provide them with computers fall further behind.  We also urge the city to establish a Digital Divide Coalition that can develop recommendations for providing wifi connectivity throughout the city.

Another area that needs to be reimagined is school libraries (Attachment A).  In the FY21 school level budgets, it appears 18 schools (primarily at east-of-the river schools) petitioned out their librarians, including Miner Elementary in Ward 6. These schools didn’t petition out their librarians because they think librarians aren’t important, rather they didn’t have the funding to support all the positions they need to provide their students with a well-rounded education.  We strongly encourage the DCPS budget be reimagined so that librarians are funded for every DCPS school.

We ask the Council to strike Subtitle B (Education Facility Colocation Amendment Act of 2020) from the Budget Support Act. Once school reopens, DCPS will need its entire school inventory to allow for social distancing as DCPS finds ways to bring back the most students it safely can.  Co-location is an important issue, and shouldn’t be slipped through in a budget amendment.  If the Council believes co-location is important, it should hold a public hearing on it in the future.

While it is not a budget issue, we strongly encourage DCPS to communicate with parents sooner rather than later about what the school schedule will be for the coming year.  For the most part, I have not heard parents express preferences for any particular schedule, but rather parents need to know as soon as possible what the schedule will be so they can begin planning for distance learning at home, before and after school options, and child care.

In closing, these difficult times require us not to continue doing business as usual.  The education budget must be reimagined in ways that will promote equity and ensure there is a high quality by-right education choice in all parts of the city.  We can and must reimagine the education budget.


Attachment A

DCPS Librarians

  1. Full-time certified librarian staffed in every DCPS school.
  2. Schools with over 300 students must employ a full-time librarian.
  3. Increased funding for print and e-books for general and special education populations.
  4. Timely delivery of funding for library books.  DCPS librarians did not receive the promised library books for their collections due to budget/purchase order delays.  This crippled and marginalized many programs last school year.
  5. Funding for general technology.  Some library programs do not have projectors, SMART Boards, laptops for self-checkout, laptops/desktops for student research.  Some are even struggling with the poor or lack of circulation desk computer to check out books through the online vendor, Follett Books.
  6. Confirm receipt of the Empowered Learners Initiative (ELI) computers – some schools have not given the librarian the DCPS issued ELI laptops designated for the librarians.  This is a citywide technology program and librarians were included in the original design and implementation.
  7. Funding for Makerspace activities and projects.  DCPS librarians have been charged to create Makerspace activities and projects for students, but unfortunately expected to pay for all supplies.
  8. Funding for office supplies.  Librarians need to be included in the general supply list for departments within a school rather than as teachers.  DCPS librarians have clerical supply needs that exceed beyond the yearly allotment of supply funds teachers receive each year.

 

Sarah Wolf Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

Sarah Wolf, Peabody Elementary School 

Testimony to the DCPS Public Budget Hearing, October 29, 2019

Good evening Chancellor Ferebee and Deputy Chancellor Maisterra

My name is Sarah Wolf and I am the parent of a kindergarten student at Peabody Elementary School. I have been a DC resident since 2003 and currently live in Ward 6. I am also a member of the Peabody School Improvement Team, which was set up in September 2019 to address safety and maintenance concerns on the school playground.

Peabody is the early education campus of the Capitol Hill Cluster School in Ward 6. It educates 226 students in grades PK3, PK4 and Kindergarten. Peabody is a diverse school that draws students primarily from the Capitol Hill neighborhood: 81 percent of students attending are in-boundary. Eight percent of students are economically disadvantaged and five percent have special needs.

In 2018, when our son Roman was offered a PK4 spot at Peabody through the DCPS lottery we were delighted. Peabody prides itself on providing a joyful learning environment for kids ages 3-6 years old. The school is a bright, cheerful place decorated with kids’ artwork, the teachers are kind, and the program provides a gentle introduction to school life. My son loves it.

So, you can imagine my shock on the first day of school, at dismissal, to see Peabody staff attempting to drive out of their parking spaces in a playground full of little children. The situation struck me as potentially dangerous and not at all in keeping with the safe, supportive learning environment that Peabody endeavors to provide.

Over the course of the last and this academic year, I, along with other parents, have witnessed many close calls between kids and cars. The school has a policy of “honk and freeze.” The teachers honk their horns, the kids are supposed to freeze. However, we have seen kids completely ignore the honk and instead of freezing, run straight towards the moving car. We have witnessed kids obey the honk and freeze but freeze behind a car that is backing up. We have seen 10-12 cars that are double parked, maneuver through a busy playground with parents and caregivers trying to direct traffic and kids still run in front of cars. We have helped cars to back up, only to see a three year old on a tricycle ride behind the cars. In all cases, accidents were avoided due to the efforts of parents and drivers working together to keep kids safe. But other times, it was pure luck that the child running behind the car did not get hit. These close calls are too frequent and put our children in an unnecessarily risky situation. 

Playgrounds were established to provide a safe place for kids to play that is free from cars. I cannot believe that if the city were designing a new playground today, they would place cars within it with no barriers or fencing to separate the kids. The Mayor’s Vision Zero Initiative seeks to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities involving pedestrians. I find it inconsistent that the city focuses on pedestrian safety on the way to and from school, but once at the school site, there are no such safety or traffic measures in place.

In addition to parents worrying about keeping their kids safe from cars, the playground itself has become over the years, unsafe. There are three main problems that are leading to injuries including scrapes, bruises and broken bones.

  1. The playground surfacing includes blacktop, poured rubber and wood chips. The blacktop and poured rubber have uneven surfaces, gaps and sinkholes, and provides insufficient padding in some places, especially under ladders. A week ago, a Peabody parent reported that her four year old daughter tripped on the surfacing and fell onto the corner of a picnic table getting a black eye. The same week, a four year old Peabody boy fell off a ladder and badly scraped his forehead. Another Peabody parent says her PK3 and Kindergarten kids come home almost every day with scrapes on knees and elbows from falling on the blacktop.

  2. The playground equipment is between 15-25 years old and no longer meets current safety standards. One structure in particular (orange/blue) is not age appropriate for students who are three and four years old — who are the majority of Peabody students.

    According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Public Playground Safety Handbook, monkey bars are not intended for children ages three or younger, and for children ages four and above, the structure should be no higher than 60 inches. The Peabody monkey bars are 77 inches in height. A Peabody parent reports that in 2017 her four year old daughter fell off the monkey bars and fractured her elbow. A three year old boy also fell off the same monkey bars and had severe bruising. His mother says the only reason he didn’t break his arm was because he is such a tall and heavy child. The same handbook says sliding poles should not be used in playgrounds for preschool students. The Peabody playground has three sliding poles measuring between 85-100 inches in height. In 2017, a five year old boy fell off the pole and broke his elbow in two places. He had to be hospitalized and had three pins inserted into his arm.

  3. In addition to the equipment not meeting current safety standards, the equipment itself is old and not well maintained. The coating on the play structures is peeling off, exposing rust and creating sharp edges that poke into kids’ hands. For awhile, yellow safety tape was put up on the chain climbers. It seems to have been removed yet the sharp edges remain.

In summary, the playground is in need of an overhaul.

In 2013, Peabody received funding for Phase 1 Modernization under the 10-year DCPS School Modernization Plan. The Education Spec included renovating floors and ceilings, improving lighting and electrical, and upgrading IT, water lines, service lines and HVAC systems. The playground was not included.

I understand that DCPS has abandoned the phased modernization process and now uses the PACE model to prioritize schools for modernization. Given Peabody’s current rank of #30 (out of 32) on the modernization priority list, we would not receive full modernization funding until at least 2024 but likely many years later as there are higher priority schools. However, I am aware that outside of modernization funding, there is a city-wide Capital Improvement Plan as well as stabilization funding available to address repairs of school buildings and athletic fields.

One solution to the car safety problem would be to create a daytime school parking zone under the law that was passed last year. We are working with our ANC Commissioner and gathering data to submit a formal request. Another solution is to redesign the Peabody site to include separate spaces for cars to park and for kids to play. There also needs to be an interim solution that does not rely on children ages 3-6 to be always conscious of cars. The playground is supposed to be space for kids to play, exercise their bodies, and stretch their imaginations without worrying about moving cars. We cannot wait for an accident to happen.

I, representing the Peabody community, urge the Education Chancellor to address the Peabody safety concerns in the next DCPS budget. 

Suzanne Wells Testimony – Digital Equity and Financial Literacy Council Hearing

Education Committee

Public Hearing

District of Columbia Public Schools Student Technology Equity Act of 2019, B23-0196

November 6, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name is Suzanne Wells, and I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization.

Ward 6 parents have been at the forefront of advocating for adequate and reliable technology in our schools.  Last year four of our school PTAs (Miner Elementary, Payne Elementary, Amidon-Bowen Elementary, and JO Wilson Elementary) were founding members of a parent advocacy effort to address the unreliable technology in DCPS.  They have since formed a city-wide coalition of parents who have been advocating for additional funding and support for school technology, as well as a long-range technology plan.

Ward 6 schools have struggled to maintain working technology. Ward 6 schools don’t just use computers for testing, they also use them for learning. Several Ward 6 schools use blended learning programs that combine digital learning with traditional teaching. Having Central Office provide devices for grades 3-12 will help support our schools.  Having a comprehensive technology plan will help to ensure there is a multi-year, sustainable plan for funding and providing technology to schools, not just a short-term initiative.

I believe the DCPS Student Technology Equity Act is needed because it recognizes DCPS has not done an adequate job in providing technology throughout the school system.  The bill places aggressive, but achievable timelines for conducting a needs assessment, and developing a comprehensive technology plan.  My remaining comments focus on questions for the Education Committee about the Act.

  • The Act seems focused on student computers, tablets and similar devices. Schools today use Smartboards in classrooms, and teachers need laptops to do their work. Because technology such as Smartboards is not included, and teachers are not mentioned in the bill, is it the intention of the Education Committee that these not be included in the comprehensive technology plan?

I believe the Act should be flexible and broad enough to cover a wide range of technology outside of computers and tablets, and written in a way that acknowledges there will likely be new developments in technology we don’t even know about today.  I would also caution the Committee in using overly prescriptive words such as “a plan to achieve or maintain a one-to-one-device-to-student ratio for grades 3 – 12,” and instead use language that seeks to optimize the use of technology in the classroom to support student learning.

  • The Act gives significant responsibility to the Technology Steering Committee. The Committee is tasked to contract with a DC-based partner, conduct the technology needs assessment, and develop a comprehensive technology plan.  As I read the bill, I was struck by how much responsibility is given to the Technology Steering Committee instead of to DCPS.

Many, many organizations have technology plans that are developed in-house. Of course, many of the members of the Technology Steering Committee members will undoubtedly be DCPS staff.  Yet, I could also envision a successful path forward where DCPS is directed to do many, if not all, of the responsibilities described in this Act, and the Technology Steering Committee advices DCPS on the technology audit and the comprehensive technology plan.

Can the Education Committee explain why it believes placing the responsibilities in the hands of the Technology Steering Committee rather than DCPS will be the best approach?

  • Finally, implementation of a comprehensive technology plan will require funding. I would hate to see DCPS have to reduce teaching staff or cut out other vital needs in the school to fund technology.  I encourage the Education Committee to work with DCPS to find the funding to implement this Act.

Scott Goldstein Testimony – Digital Equity and Financial Literacy Council Hearing

Testimony on Digital Equity and Financial Literacy in Washington, DC

EMpoweredScott Goldstein- Executive Director, EmpowerEd

November 5, 2019

 

Good Afternoon Chairman Grosso and Chairman Mendelson.

I am here to support and call for strengthening the Student Technology Equity Act before you today. I also strongly support the financial literacy bill and its pilot program, but will focus my testimony today on digital equity.  This bill is a basic starting point- providing for a full audit and needs assessment of the technology and access in our school system right now. The council is on the right track to prioritize digital equity and establish a starting point that enables us to layout a blueprint for action.  As a result of the excellent advocacy from parents and allies, DCPS has already taken positive steps in this direction.

For a moment, I want to back up to why this matters. In 1950, it took nearly 150 years for the amount of knowledge in the world to double.  In 2013, the amount of knowledge in the world doubled every 12 months.  Now, in 2019, it’s every 12 HOURS.  There is a basic canon of knowledge our students need to be prepare to exercise citizenship, but given the rapidly expanding universe of content in the world, what is perhaps more important is for students to know how to sift through that knowledge, to search for it, extrapolate what they need and analyze it effectively.  If that’s not reason enough, the influence of social media, online advertising and its recent effect on our national elections should be enough to convince us we need to take digital literacy and media literacy very seriously.  It’s also why it’s essential that we not focus only on how many laptops, tablets, etc… that we have but also on how we’re using them.

I remember very well as a teacher when each spring rolled around and with it, testing season.  But it wasn’t necessarily the schedule changes that came with it that bothered me most.  Instead, it was that I was now facing two months (yes, that’s how long the testing window often is) with no access to laptops since every available laptop was going to be used for PARCC testing. That was around the time of year that I did one of my favorite projects- a social movement project that allowed students to take on a social movement from history and dive deep into it, analyze it and think about how it continues today. That required deep research and was made nearly impossible without laptops.  So what did I do?  I bought tablets for my whole class- digging into my own pocket and getting help from friends and family.  Then, once I got the project underway, I was told by administrators that I couldn’t use the tablets I bought anyway for my project because the wireless network couldn’t stand having all the students testing plus students doing research on tablets.  So for a whole two months- no internet access, no in school research for our students. It so happens that in many content areas, the curriculum demands teachers teach units that include research, video access and more during that very testing window, and yet we can’t teach the required curriculum when we don’t have access to the technology called for in our curriculum.   That’s not an acceptable status quo for our students.

When I did have access- what mattered most to me was not just the content my students could access, but building in my students the ability to access and analyze the world of information at their fingertips.  Students often did not know what to write in a google search to get the right result, how to weed through thousands of results, how to determine source credibility- all essential skills. This bill should be strengthened to audit technology use and the current practices in educating our students for digital literacy in addition to access to the hardware itself. As always, given that half of our students attend the District’s Public Charter Schools, I would hope the council would not shy away from ensuring that technology equity is not a promise we make only to half of our students.  Access to this technology and to the skills needed to navigate it are essential for our students current and future success. Thank you.

Jessica Sutter Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

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.

Thank you.

Cathy Reilly Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

DCPS Public Budget Hearing

October 29, 2019

Cathy Reilly for the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators

Thank you for this opportunity

I am here as the Executive Director of SHAPPE. I also facilitate the Ward 4 Ed Alliance and am a member of C4DC (Communities for DC Public Schools (C4DC)

We are in favor of a robust comprehensive staffing model that truly provides funding for required staff complimented by enrollment staffing.  It is our understanding that there will be more transparency this year.  I appreciate your outreach on both a budget and a potential strategic planning committee and welcome the opportunity to work closely with you.

Congratulations on the enrollment increase for DCPS and particularly on your statement at the press conference that more families are choosing their in boundary DCPS school.

Last year DCPS added application seats the high school level by opening Bard DC, and expanding Banneker.  Bard families are legitimately concerned about the promises made and how their building needs will be met.

It is my hope that this year there will be a focus on how to build on attracting families to the schools of right – strengthening the feeder patterns and strengthening the staffing and options at the neighborhood high schools.  These are difficult issues to balance between new schools DCPS has opened and its obligations to the schools of right.  We strongly support a 5 year DCPS master education planning process that would inform a master facility plan for DCPS. It could provide criteria and input as well as predictability and stability.

The priorities expressed in our SHAPPE meetings and echoed in other meetings:

  • Roosevelt HS Global Studies School and Roosevelt STAY have outgrown their ability to partner as currently configured day programs at the Roosevelt campus.  Roosevelt STAY has demonstrated their need for their own space as an Opportunity Academy operating during the day.  WE are working hard in Ward 4 to attract families at the secondary level.  Roosevelt HS had to close enrollment to any out of boundary students, they continue to take in boundary. The crowding and limited use of the building is hurting the program. Roosevelt STAY has also had to stop enrollment students.  We need a plan for next year, formulated now.
  • MacFarland, Ida B Wells, Coolidge and Roosevelt’s success in continuing to attract more students than predicted is good news for honoring the Student Assignment Committee’s recommendation for middle schools in Wards 1, 4 and 7.  This will strengthen the feeder patterns for Cardozo and Woodson.
  • A number of the comprehensive high schools spoke about the inadequacy of the special education funding and thus staffing especially in schools that surpassed their enrollment projection.  This concern came from many who are not part of that community but see the need.  Students qualifying for these funds represent a substantial percentage of the population in many of our high schools.  The dyslexia hearing made clear that we can do better at the ECE and elementary level in screening and supporting these students as well.
  • With the enrollment increase there has been a demand for additional teachers that has been impossible to meet in the fall.  A suggestion is to reinstate a provisional certification for otherwise qualified candidates.  Also teachers excessed even if they have taken the bonus in the past may be on a contact list that could be available.
  • Planning periods are not taken into account in the staffing formula at the secondary level.  This means there is little flexibility and we have large classes especially in crowded schools.
  • We hope the budget for next year can look at how to equitably support programs across our high schools with a long and stable view.  They are minimally supported now through some NAF or CTE funds.
  • We would also like to see more support for translation in schools with large populations of families who do not speak English. Currently this is dependent on the generosity of a staff member.
  • Stability matters, the cost of turnover is high not only teacher and principal turnover but turnover at the administrative offices in central.  We would like to work with you in the budget and planning process to communicate investment and value to the DCPS team along with accountability.

DCPS is a city agency dependent on other agencies for different services.  While we will continue to advocate to the mayor and the Council on issues, we also need your voice.  For example with DGS, we are dependent on DGS for critical repairs like the HVAC system at Roosevelt and the fact that there are still areas of the building without a PA system. Roosevelt is not alone in having problems with a PA system. This is the only way of notifying a school community of danger.  It is a critical safety issue.  Elementary schools in our feeder patterns that received a phase one modernization are hurting now as those repairs age out.  How can your input into the capital budget support them.

With the expansion of schools, now at some levels with more seats than there are children in the city who can fill them, we need your voice in support of DCPS as the infrastructure system of right in our city.

In closing, I look forward to working with you to build on the momentum of this enrollment increase, and to continue supporting our DC public schools. Thank you

Rebecca Davis Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

DCPS Public Budget Hearing

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Maury Elementary School

Thank-you for having a slide on EQUIITY, SUSTAINABIILITY & TRANSPARENCY since that is what II would like to address with regards to science education in DC Public Schools.

My name is Rebecca Davis I am an environmental education consultant and live in Ward 1 and work in Washington D.C.  I am contractor for MWCOG Clean Air Partners, and work on air quality and climate change education regionally. I am also a member of the DC Environmental Education Consortium- DCEEC one of the DCPS Science team Community Partners and as such have volunteered as a teacher trainer for Engineering is Elementary- EiE cornerstones.

I run the 1 min Climate Change film challenge with some funding from OSSE. And through OSSE ‘s Environmental Literacy Advancement Grant-ELAG funding I co-teach (Clean Air Partners) and Casey Trees a set of four investigations on air quality, its impact on our health and the role trees have in sequestering carbon and absorbing pollutants to 5th graders.

I stand before you as a witness to DCPS and DCPCS science education for the past 14 years. Equitable access to science education has been and continues to be an issue in DCPS.

I am excited that there are new science teaching requirements as of 2019 from The Office of Teaching and Learning. Science must now be taught (as a standalone subject) at minimum for:

  • 45 minutes/day (for the equivalent of at least one semester) in grades K-2
  • 30 minutes/day (for the entire school year) in grades 3-5

To understand DCPS’ commitment to this change I would like to make sure we appropriate the  funding necessary to the DCPS science team to enable them to sustain this change. To provide  professional development to ES teachers so that this additional 2 1/2hr of science instruction per week is valuable. And that a mechanism is put in place to hold ES accountable to implementing this new requirement.

It is the responsibility of a society that depends on science and technology, to educate and prepare its youths with basic science and engineering principles. It is our responsibility to have a student…

  • who has asthma know the basic structure and function of their respiratory system and know what triggers his/er asthma?
  • that understand food web and bioaccumulation so as to know not to eats fish s/he catches in the Anacostia?
  • to understand how trees grow and therefore understand how planting tree can mitigate climate change?
  • to know that phytoplankton provide more than half of the oxygen we breathe on Earth and therefore acts on keeping our ocean’s healthy?

Humans are born curious. I see my granddaughter less than a year old, testing the difference between a refrigerator sticker and a magnet, testing gravity with objects, testing velocity and friction with her body on playground slides. She doesn’t know yet, but she is playing with scientific principles or methods.

Our job as educators and parents is simple, it is to encourage curiosity and observations, embolden youths to ask a million questions (whether we know the answer or not) and support their countless experiments that follow. But let us be clear scientist don’t just do science experiments to test their hypothesis, they read about science, they write about science, and talk science. We can encourage our students to do the same. Science education is not an either-or, teaching science explicitly supports literacy and numeracy development and achievement.

Our job is to find ways to keep students interested in sciences as they finish elementary school when we see a significant drop off interest in science. Our job is to find ways to encourage interest in sciences and engineering through MS and HS , to create scientifically literate citizens who understand and can act on important issues  that will be facing their generation such as Climate Change and perhaps more importantly understanding health disparities  “life expectancy being shorter than their parents”.

We can do this by 1) increasing and having transparency regarding the science budget for DC public school if not in dollar amount then at least percentage compared to ELA, Math and Social Studies  2) developing ready set science cornerstones for all grade bands and providing PD  3)  assessing/measuring the success of the changes made to the Elementary Science Scheduling Requirements. As of 2019 The Office of Teaching and Learning requires that science be taught (as a standalone subject) at minimum for:

  • 45 minutes/day (for the equivalent of at least one semester) in grades K-2
  • 30 minutes/day (for the entire school year) in grades 3-5

As Neil deGrasse Tyson stated “ The problem in society is not kids not knowing science. The problem is adults not knowing science. They outnumber kids 5 to 1, they wield power, they write legislation. When you have scientifically illiterate adults, you have undermined the very fabric of what makes a nation wealthy and strong. “

Thank you for allowing me to address this important topic.

Rebecca Davis- rnjidavis (at) gmail (dot) com

 

 

 

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.

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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.