How Might ANCs Deal with School Issues?

As representative bodies in DC, ANCs are hyper-local. But not all ANCs get into the nitty gritty of schools in the same way.

One ANC on Capitol Hill, ANC6A, held an education summit on September 10. Individual commissioners reached out to schools in their districts, with gratifying results.

Here, schools activist Heather Schoell reports what went down. How does your ANC compare?

ANC6A Education Summit, by Heather Schoell:

ANC6A Chair Phil Toomajian brought together Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, Ward 6 School Board Rep Joe Weedon, and local school leaders — principals and parents — in an educational summit within their general meeting on September 10, and it was awesome! Community members were able to ask questions of the principals, which was great because it’s kind of awkward to go to a school when you don’t have a particular reason to be there. And the community cares about schools (or should!), even if they don’t have kids. Those students are our future neighborhood leaders, community members, and taxpaying workforce (hopefully)!

Toomajian began by thanking participants for coming to what he thought would be fruitful. He began with Councilmember Allen, who talked about how Ward 6’s capital budget was gutted — $300 million less than last year. He was able to secure $3 million for planning future renovations at Eliot-Hine and Jefferson middle schools. For Maury, there is strong support at the Council and among parents for expansion to accommodate the huge boundary increase [a result of changes in boundaries city-wide vj] for such a physically small space. With Miner Elementary, Allen expressed concern with after-hours security on school grounds (more on that in a minute). For Ludlow-Taylor, although it is in ANC6C, it is right on the boundary and part of our community, so he wants to follow up on turning their concrete into a green playspace. As for policy changes, Allen wants to make sure that with at risk funding, a per-pupil allocation, that the money follows the student.

Next up was Joe Weedon, Ward 6 state board of education rep., who explained that he sees himself as the voice of Ward 6 on school issues. Are there books in the libraries? Are needs being met in schools? Are schools hitting academic benchmarks, how and why? He also works with Allen on the budget. The school board is currently looking at high school graduation standards, moving from the old way (you must take Spanish I – IV) to a more competency-based model (native Spanish speakers don’t need Spanish I). They’re looking at the ramification of GEDs. They’re exploring PARCC testing with the Office of the State Superintendent  of Education (OSSE): does testing take away focus from science and other worthy subjects, and how are they coming up with the points that determine a below basic score from basic from proficient from advanced?

The state board of education is looking at federal dollars as well: how money is being spent in schools, and what’s working (or isn’t). Finally, school modernizations: that parents need to speak up for their schools if they want modernization, and that while modernization itself will not solve everything, it is important for school success.

It is such a rarity that we get school leaders in a single room, which is too bad, because communication leads to collaboration, which brings community and solutions. Exhibit A: Miner Elementary’s play space. It was set fire to last year, and the replacement hasn’t happened yet, even though there’s money in the budget for it. Allen discreetly sent a couple of texts during the meeting, and got that (melted) ball rolling.

All local school roads lead to Eastern High School, so Principal Rachel Skerritt kicked off that discussion. Her first 9th grade after Eastern re-launched are now in their first year of college, and she’s heard back that their IB classes have really come through for them. She wants to hear from the community about her students in the neighborhood — if they’re doing something unbecoming, she’ll get in her car and be there in a minute (it’s true — I’ve seen it). She noted the challenge of old-school views of Eastern, and asked that the community like them and follow them on social media, and help spread the word of the great things their students are accomplishing.

Eliot-Hine Middle School’s Principal Tynika Young spoke of their work as an International Baccalaureate candidate school (up for authorization this fall). They were the only IB 8th grade in DC to do the 8th Grade Service Project last year as part of graduation requirements, and will continue that this year. They are working on getting all students to be “articulate communicators”, which she said is a gap that needs to be bridged, as is math — some students will double up on math so they are ready for high school algebra. At the same time, she wants it to be fun and give students a chance to grow, learn from mistakes, and have the opportunity to correct them during what is probably the most awkward time of their lives. They have a radio and live-stream TV station (the only one in DC), art, music, band, and technology. Councilmember Allen added that they’ll have to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony when the new science labs are complete this fall.

Miner Elementary’s Dr. Anne Evans is in her 3rd year there, focusing on Reggio Emilia, and having students explore and explain their community through art, drama, and writing — what is called 100 Languages. They’re partnered with the Kennedy Center, the State Dept., and Howard University Capstone. They’re working with DCPS to strengthen their big picture, according to Maurice Wilkins, the DCPS Ward 6 liaison, whether that’s IB, Mandarin, or whatever, in addition to “easy lifts”. Evans said they’re looking at IB because they feed into IB schools Eliot-Hine and Eastern.

Maury’s Principal Carolyne Albert-Garvey spoke of their Readers and Writers Workshop, differentiated learning, and guided reading. They pay for Singapore Math because it is effective, but not part of the DCPS curriculum, and also have to raise money for their Think Tank (hands-on science) and Space Camp for all 5th graders. They offer Chinese language this year, in addition to music and art. Maury is a Changemaker School — that’s all about teaching empathy (and living it). They really focus on excellence in teaching, with every year a new focus (this year it’s how you check for understanding).

Ms. Albert-Garvey is lending her voice to the issue of keeping elementary school students in elementary school for 5th grade, so they aren’t pressured into middle school too early. ANC6A05 Commissioner Patrick Malone seemed a little hot under the collar on behalf of his constituents who can’t get into Maury for preschool and pre-k, even though they’re in bounds. Allen pointed out that matter of right to a school begins at kindergarten. Weedon added that our neighborhood is only one of a few places with robust early education, and that he would argue that at-risk kids should have first right to it to get them ready.

SWS at Goding, a lottery-only school that goes from preschool through 4th grade, focuses on each child, meeting them where they are. Principal John Burst was there to say they’re building a community of connectivity, and like Miner, teach through the Reggio Emilia method. They also use Readers and Writers Workshop, and have started a strings program — ukuleles and the like. They also are part of the Foodprints program, collaborating with local farms. Students learn about where food comes from, and even prepare and eat what they have grown and harvested.

Ludlow-Taylor, another Reggio Emilia elementary school, was represented by Paul Gay, a parent, as Principal Debra Bell had to be at their back to school night. LT has an autism program, and is a good-sized school with 366 kids. They focus on arts-integration, as well as excellence in teaching. Their challenge is that they don’t have the parent-driven fundraising efforts that other schools have (Maury and SWS mentioned specifically), so they can’t hire science teachers and classroom aides, and they have “operational funding challenges”. Because their A/C was “poorly-constructed”, six classrooms are leaking. Councilmember Allen was unaware of this, but will follow up.

JO Wilson’s principal Heidi Haggerty was slated to attend, but had a funeral.

I hope that we can make this a regular thing – it’s really worthwhile.

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