Keep The Public In Our Public Schools & Sign Up For Focus Groups On Cross Sector Task Force Recommendations

The cross-sector task force is gearing up to consult with the public about its latest (draft) recommendations for action, concerning at risk students and opening, closing, and siting schools.

Below is a list of the dates and times of the focus groups (click on the links for those you wish to sign up for):

School Leader and Principal Focus Group, Wednesday, February 7, 5:30 pm, Capitol View Library (5001 Central Ave. SE)

Family and Advocacy Focus Groups: Friday, February 9, 9:30 am, Mt. Pleasant Library (3160 16th St. NW); Tuesday, February 13, 6:00 pm, Capitol View Library (5001 Central Ave. SE)

Policy Expert Focus Group, Wednesday, February 14, 9:30 am, Shaw Library (1630 7th St. NW)

Teacher and School Staff Focus Group, Wednesday, February 28, 6:00 pm, Benning (Dorothy Height) Library (3935 Benning Rd. NE)

Citywide Meeting: Tuesday, March 13, 6:00 pm, Columbia Heights Education Campus (3101 16th St. NW)

Citywide Meeting: Wednesday, March 21, 7:00 pm, Thurgood Marshall PCS (2427 MLK Jr Ave. SE)

There’s just one little hitch:

Many of the draft recommendations (see links below) appear to not have been created by the task force.

To be sure, the draft at-risk recommendations seem to have arisen, somewhat, from discussions that subgroup of the task force had over several months, with staff members from the deputy mayor for education (DME)’s office filling in (a lot of) blanks.

But the first glimpse anyone, including task force members, got of the draft recommendations of the opening, closing, and siting subgroup was just the other day, to be discussed at the task force’s next meeting, on January 30.

So: how is it that task force members–who are expected to go out in the city soon to discuss these recommendations created under their names–didn’t substantively create them?

As we have seen, this is nothing new: creating by right charter schools was presented to the task force by the DME, Jennifer Niles, who serves as the task force’s co-chair. It was then shopped to the city as a creation of the task force. (Never mind that some task force members appeared to be more than ready and willing to divvy up DCPS properties for the purpose–smooth!)

In this case, the draft recommendations are just detailed enough to appear fulsome, but general enough to ensure that no one can know what will actually be done under their rubric.

Nor can anyone really gauge how public response to them will be used to justify and bolster those official actions.

To be sure, this strangely anti-democratic pursuit–using the public to promulgate what the public is almost entirely disconnected from–is not new for the DME’s office. (Recall what happened with the charter school walkability preference.)

Now (perhaps appropriately for our times), this pursuit comes with its own Trumpian spin. Take the exchange below, from the notes of the December task force phone call.

That call was to talk about how to engage the public in responding to the draft recommendations (only one set of which was in existence at that point). The call had just 4 task force members (15% of the total task force membership):

“Taskforce Member: There are some Taskforce members we haven’t seen for quite some time. What are we doing about that?

“Facilitator [DME staffer Ramin Taheri]: There are Taskforce members who have never come to a meeting.

“Taskforce: There are Taskforce members who used to come, but it’s often the same names.

“Facilitator: That’s true, but we can’t compel them to come. If they haven’t come to the meetings, they wouldn’t likely come to the community engagement events. But I hope everyone else who has been participating will have a hand in the community engagement process, from the perspectives of workload and credibility.

“Taskforce: Do you know why these people aren’t coming?

“Facilitator: Unfortunately, I have not been able to meet one-on-one with the people who haven’t been coming. I’m always happy to bring people back into the fold if they are interested. We’ve had good participation from a core group.

“Taskforce: I wonder if the problem is, since they haven’t participated, is it possible they might come back to enter the process at the end?

“Faciltiator: I would like to make sure there’s more participation, but I can’t get everyone to do that. It’s a good question. If you have suggestions for what to do, we could talk offline.”

Turns out, one of the (formerly present and now apparently unknowable and unconcerning) task force members is DCPS parent Caryn Ernst.

On November 17, she and two other members of the cross sector task force sent a letter to their fellow members. In it, they noted the perversion and outright omission of initial task force goals, including not truly identifying common ground; putting closure decisions in the hands of a small group to discuss privately; and not necessarily addressing the needs of at risk students but simply re-distributing them to other schools.

At the November cross sector task force meeting, this letter was mentioned–for less than 5 minutes. Here are the notes of that moment, which are accurate in my recollection:

“Facilitator Ramin Taheri reviewed the agenda and goals for the meeting. Discussed a memo sent to the group by some task force members. Noted that Deputy Mayor Niles responded and shared some thoughts, agreed it’s essential to identify common ground. One of the first things the taskforce did was try to establish common ground. There are a lot of issues not in the center of the Venn Diagram, which can be frustrating, but the Task Force has been making a lot of progress, and we don’t want to lose momentum.”

To be sure, such a polite dismissal is all of a piece with the DME’s own response to the letter–which implied that any disagreement with the group’s (nonconsensual) consensus amounts to a “partisan view.”

So, slow the ongoing erasure of the public from its own schools by signing up for one of those public sessions above.

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