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David Grosso [council education committee chair] to Kaya Henderson, DCPS chancellor and government witness, March 4, minute 28:47 of the DCPS performance oversight hearing:

“So middle schools was one of your three priority areas for FY 15 budget and you’ve made the investments . . . [but] DCPS still has not seen a turnaround in terms of middle grades enrollment . . . I am sure you saw the WAMU article [which discussed depopulation of 5th grade DCPS elementaries relative to charters]. . . . One of the schools they talked about in the article was Brent Elementary. About one third are black and Latino students and two thirds are white students. . . . By 5th grade, it doesn’t look that way. And then at Jefferson Academy [the feeder middle school for Brent] the student body is almost entirely African American or black students. Honestly I don’t know how we fix this. Because while some will say it’s about the building or rigor and school culture [Henderson chuckles], we know there are some seemingly unspoken issues at play. Perception and reputation are really hard to turn around . . . Have you had specific conversations around this question with parents? And what would it take for them to make this leap? . . . Jefferson has had renovation work, it has a dynamic principal, it has a wonderful band going on, it has good rigor, it has academic successes, but it is mostly out of boundary children who are going there who are young black kids. What’s the problem? Why can’t we get people from the Hill, people in Brent Elementary to go there? What are your thoughts on that? This is a hard conversation, and I don’t want to pretend like it’s an easy one. I think that we should be challenging ourselves on this conversation. . . . We have to start calling it out . . . As a city we have to recognize that there are serious issues when it comes to race and economics–and what do we do to make it work? And the answer we have heard from people is that when we just knock down all the excuses one after the next about why they won’t go somewhere like Jefferson . . . the final answer always is “I want my child to be in a diverse school,” but diversity to that parent means “I don’t want my child to be the only white kid in that school.”

Henderson: “We have made significant investments in middle grades . . . We have put in many of the things [parents wanted] . . . We made commitments to improve middle grades in Ward 6 based on what parents said. . . . I will never forget a particular Brent parent . . . He said, “At the end of the day, yes, you did what we asked you to do–I just can’t send my kid there.” Diversity is not a problem that schools solve. Diversity is a problem that communities solve. . . . How does Jefferson GET diversity? When families actually throw in and go together. . . . There is no switch for me to flip to make Jefferson more diverse. . . . We’ve got to be really clear about the fact that we are in a situation where families don’t want to be in schools that are too black or too poor. Well, you don’t get diversity unless we all throw in together.”

[NB: The cross sector task force might want to take note of this little tidbit from the same hearing at minute 34:

Henderson: “There’s one other point that I want to make that I think speaks to the lack of coordination between the charter sector and DCPS. We have about 6500 middle grades students. There are about 6900 charter school middle grade students. . . . There is no coordination of planning. So will we open three more charter middle schools next year? . . . To the extent that we have more capacity and more choice, then nobody ever has to get over the perception [issue] because they don’t have to take the time to do it. . . . I also want people to understand how in this discussion they exacerbate this divide. What are black families at Jefferson supposed to think when they hear families saying “I don’t want to send my kids there”?”

Grosso: “It’s the same conversation I have heard around saying well, we just need to build bigger buildings in neighborhoods where we can have diversity. But I have plenty of really nice big buildings in neighborhoods where there could be diversity if we just went to our neighborhood schools.”

Not sure how that fits into the DME’s goals for the task force, but maybe they can take it on at their next meeting on March 21.]

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