By Sara Gopalkrishna, Policy Fellow
I had the opportunity to visit Digital Pioneers Academy (DPA) as part of First Fridays—a series of monthly learning tours that spotlight D.C. charter schools. The description “digital pioneer” aptly describes this school. The public charter middle school is the first-ever computer science focused middle school in the District. Deliberately grounded in Ward 7, Mashea Ashton, the school’s founder, and her staff are rounding the corner on the inaugural year of the school, alongside the 120 sixth-grade scholars, mostly local to the Hillcrest community, where the school resides.
With a 1-to-1 ratio of computers to students and with teachers and students using technology tools with ease, everyone in this school is a pioneer. Students at DPA have a 55-minute computer science class every day, but they use their computers all day long. This is striking when, nationally, only 31 percent of seventh and eighth graders use a computer at school every day. 
By: Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst
This month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its effort to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The February 2019 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from Chiefs for Change on the importance of implementing high-quality, culturally relevant curriculum and a second from the American Academy of Pediatrics on chronic absenteeism and student health.
As we did last month, SBOE will discuss the key findings of each report, as well as explain the implication of the reports on the State Board’s work and priorities.
“Honoring Origins and Helping Students Succeed: The Case for Cultural Relevance in High-Quality Instructional Materials” – Chiefs for Change, February 21, 2019
Summary: With an increasingly diverse student population and a predominantly white educator workforce, the implementation of high-quality, culturally relevant curriculum and instructional materials “can play an important role in helping to systematically remove prejudices about race and class and in honoring students’ diverse backgrounds.” In urban districts, students of color now represent 80 percent of the student body—and people of color make up only about one-fifth of all teachers and principals. Chiefs for Change highlights the work of forward-thinking districts and states that are transitioning to rigorous instructional materials that honor the origins and experiences of their diverse students. The report makes three recommendations for states and districts seeking to incorporate cultural relevance into high-quality curriculum and instructional materials:
By Frazier O’Leary, Ward 4 SBOE Representative
In nearly fifty years of educating District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) students, I have learned that all students can achieve academic excellence if given the guidance and expertise of dedicated teachers and staff. I’ve learned that all students deserve equal access to 21st-century learning resources and that the ever-changing demographics of our city have nothing to do with student success. I’ve learned that adults must be able to adjust to our evolving world and our students’ different learning styles and needs. Above all, students can be helped by caring, dedicated educators to hurdle obstacles and meet their challenges.
During my tenure at Cardozo Education Campus, I had the privilege of teaching a very challenging Advanced Placement (AP) English literature course and showing students how to organize their lives for success. I learned the importance of giving my teenage students more time and encouragement to learn. My students rarely passed the AP exam, but they did much more writing than they would have done in a regular course—and they had a much better chance for success in college and the workplace.
Campaign Platform and Priorities
As a strong advocate for equity for all students, regardless of their background, I am excited about my work ahead with the State Board. I want to share my knowledge and experience to help make decisions that prepare our students to become productive members of society. Below are some areas I will prioritize as a member of the DC State Board of Education (SBOE).
- Teacher Turnover – We know that there is an issue with teacher turnover at DCPS and the District’s public charter schools. I am concerned by the high numbers of teachers leaving our school systems in the first years of their career. I believe there is too much focus on proficiency in the STAR Framework (found on dcschoolreportcard.org) and an inordinate amount of time spent by teachers on test preparation due to the IMPACT teacher evaluation system.
- Equity and Diversity – As someone who taught in a school that had almost half of its students with an English-language learner (ELL) background and many students with special needs, I am a firm believer in making sure that all students have equitable access. Our students should have access to rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for lives after high school. All children should be able to better themselves given the opportunity and resources. Our curriculum should be evolving to reflect the monumental diversity changes that are occurring across our city. It is our duty to make sure that our system is willing and able to provide whatever is needed to ensure success in school.
- Transparency – Our traditional public school and public charter school systems must be completely transparent about their finances and about what goes on in each school. In order to make the most informed decisions, the public must have access to a whole, unobstructed picture.
- STAR Framework – The District’s accountability framework submitted per requirements outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes a summative rating (i.e., 1–5 star rating). I believe that the current construction of the STAR Framework needs some essential reconstruction with growth being more heavily weighted and school climate being included.
- Early Childhood Education – During my campaign, I was struck by the number of young families enrolling their children in pre-K programs in Ward 4. My wife, Myra, was a Head Start teacher in an inclusion classroom for students with special needs; these students were a part of a tight-knit learning community. I want to make sure every young learner has this early boost to their education.
I am honored to serve the students and families of Ward 4 and I see the years ahead as an opportunity for me to continue listening and learning from the talented educators, administrators, and school leaders in our city. I look forward to leading and working alongside my fellow board members as an advocate for every student at every level in our city.
Since 1987, The We the People: Citizen & the Constitution Program has brought civic responsibility directly into the minds of students. By simulating a congressional hearing with students in the role of expert witnesses, the program enables students to explore constitutional concepts and apply them to their life and the world around them.
The DC State Board of Education was pleased to host this year’s middle and high school District-wide competitions at One Judiciary Square. The location enabled students to present the information they had researched and prepared in sight of the U.S. Capitol Building and other major federal landmarks.
By Emily Gasoi, Ward 1 SBOE Representative
I started as a classroom teacher in 1995 and I’ve been working in the field of education ever since. While every new chapter in my career has shaped my professional life, perhaps my most formative experience came when I had the opportunity to help start the democratically-governed Mission Hill School (MHS) in Boston.
My colleagues and I worked alongside visionary educator Deborah Meier, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Recipient. We crafted the school’s mission statement and developed integrated, project-based curriculum, formative assessments of student learning, peer-review processes for teacher evaluation, and structures that would build and support a culture of democratic participation among the entire school community. The underlying purpose of all that we did was to help students develop their own talents and interests in preparation for empowered civic engagement.
Running for SBOE
My seven years at MHS greatly influenced my understanding of what the role of public education in a democratic society should be and, by extension, the direction that education reform should take. Despite a whole lot of thinking and doing in this realm, however, nothing could have prepared me for the most recent stretch of my professional journey: running for office.
By Jessica Sutter, Ward 6 SBOE Representative
I love school. I’ve loved school since my first day of preschool when I walked in and never looked back to say goodbye to my mom. I’ve loved every school I’ve had the privilege to teach in. I’ve loved when school filled my heart with joy, like when my eighth graders got their letters of acceptance to high schools. I loved school even when it broke my heart after losing a student to gun violence in my first year of teaching.
I have worked in education for the past 20 years and have called Ward 6 my home for more than a decade. I’ve spent time teaching in classrooms in Chicago’s West Side, in East Los Angeles, and in our nation’s capital at the Blue Castle at Eighth and M Streets SE right here in Ward 6 where I taught eighth grade social studies and literature. In my work at DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, and as a consultant I’ve been lucky enough to visit hundreds of schools and classrooms throughout the District.
By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist
Earlier this month, Langley Elementary School Principal Vanessa Drumm-Canepa and PTSA President Christina Svolopoulos Robbins welcomed State Board members Ruth Wattenberg, Ashley MacLeay, Jessica Sutter, and some of my SBOE staff colleagues to tour their school. Langley ES is a PK–5 neighborhood DCPS school with approximately 300 students, located in the District’s Northeast neighborhood of Eckington in Ward 5.
During the first portion of the visit, we sat down with Principal Drumm-Canepa and Ms. Svolopoulos Robbins to learn more about the programs offered at Langley. Principal Drumm-Canepa and Assistant Principal Shaunte Jennings have transformed Langley in the past two and a half years through the implementation of a social-emotional learning (SEL) program called Conscious Discipline.
By: Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst
Ensuring research and policy concepts are accessible to all stakeholders in our communities is important. Think tanks and policy-based organizations release reports and their findings on a regular basis, but some times the information contained within these reports can be difficult to navigate and understand to a more novice reader or layperson.
Each month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) will feature and summarize a collection of reports highlighting trends and issues in education policy. SBOE will discuss the key findings, as well as explain the implication of the reports to the State Board’s work and priorities. This month we feature two reports: one from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) on the importance of teacher diversity and a second from the National School Climate Center (NSCC) on creating school communities.
“A Vision and Guidance for a Diverse and Learner-Ready Teacher Workforce” – Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), January 10, 2019
Summary: Students benefit when their teachers come from varying backgrounds—racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic. Today, nearly 50 percent of American public school students identify as people of color, compared to only 20 percent of their teachers. CCSSO highlights research that demonstrates “students exposure to people who are different from themselves, and the ideas and challenges that such exposure brings, leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” The CCSSO report discusses the need for “deliberate attention to build current as well as future teachers’ capacity to enact pedagogies and practices that recognize and embrace students’ cultures as assets in the classroom.” CCSSO suggests that all teachers be “learner-ready”—meaning teachers have developed the deep knowledge of their content and how to teach it, understand differing needs amongst students, and demonstrate leadership and shared responsibility. The CCSSO report casts a vision for what education systems look like when there is a diverse and learner-ready workforce, and outlines a series of preservice and in-service policy recommendations for achieving their vision.
By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist
After an extensive search process, the SBOE announces the selection of Serena Hayes as the next District of Columbia Ombudsman for Public Education. Hayes is the third person ever to serve as the District of Columbia’s Ombudsman for Public Education, succeeding Joyanna Smith. The position was originally established as a critical component of the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 and was reestablished as part of the State Board in 2014. The Office of the Ombudsman is an impartial, independent, and neutral office that uses mediation and conflict resolution to resolve complaints and concerns for parents and families regarding public education in the District of Columbia.
Hayes, a resident of Ward 5, is a graduate of the Howard University Law School and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, and anthropology from Washington and Lee University. Ms. Hayes has coached individuals and groups on conflict resolution strategies, and empowered families in developing self-awareness, and find and use their voice. She has provided training across the District in conflict management and has provided re-entry mediation services at the D.C. Jail. She received the 2017 Lorig Charkoudian Volunteer of the Year award for commitment to mediation, for exemplifying quality in the delivery of mediation, and dedication to furthering her mediation skills. Ms. Hayes also facilitated large group discussion for the Consent Decree issued after the death of Freddie Gray, where listening sessions were held for Baltimoreans to generate criteria that would be used to monitor police conduct and improve the relationship between police and the city residents.
Ms. Hayes was appointed to her new role at tonight’s SBOE public meeting for a term of five years beginning on January 22, 2019.
By: Brian Robinson, Policy Fellow
Last week the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) hosted about two-dozen school leaders from across the city to talk about ways they have built a positive school climate. The National School Climate Center defines school climate as “the quality and character of school life.” When schools have a positive school climate, students are more likely to want to attend school, feel safe at school, develop positive relationships with peers and adults, and be engaged with teaching and learning.
Center City PCS – Brightwood Campus was applauded by PCSB for having one of the highest attendance and lowest chronic absenteeism rates in the charter sector. This was true across all subgroups (i.e., special education, at-risk, black, Hispanic students). Some strategies they credit for their success include:
- Engaging all stakeholders in monitoring attendance. The school’s counselor and operations manager meet twice a week to review attendance data. Teachers flag absences, particularly from students who aren’t usually absent. Parents know the school takes attendance seriously and alert them for planned absences.
- Using varying strategies for different families. Strategies include daily wake-up calls, home visits, and personalized solutions to encourage students to come to school.
Friendship Tech Prep PCS was credited for increasing academic outcomes, as well as its high attendance and low suspension rates. School administration realized their practice of suspending students was overused and ineffective, so they evaluated different models of addressing student behavior. Most importantly, they included students in these conversations asking them how they want to learn, why they are absent, and how to make school “lit”. Out of these conversations, they made some changes including:
- Switching to project-based learning, allowing students to engage with their learning in a more practical way.
- Created committees led by students. The uniform committee created uniforms that students would actually want to wear. The attendance committee made administration aware of issues with bus transportation.
- Implemented Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) where students receive rewards for early attendance or being “caught” doing good, as well as “dollars” to be redeemed for privileges such as “dress down Fridays”.