By: Matt Repka, Policy Analyst
Earlier this week, Councilmember David Grosso kicked off his series of education town halls in Ward 8 at the Anacostia public library. This was the first of eight such town halls, one in each ward of the city, over the summer. The town hall was led by five youth leaders, including our very own outgoing Student Representative Tallya Rhodes!
Approximately 30 community members, including students, teachers, parents, principals, and other stakeholders joined the town hall to share thoughts and ideas about schools in the District. Members of the media were present as the five students on the panel facilitated a robust discussion.
The discussion addressed what changes students want to see at their schools and in the District’s education system more broadly. Students described some of the challenges their schools and communities face, some potential solutions, and what their ideal school would look like. While the discussion was wide-ranging and covered many topics, a few recurring themes included:
- School uniforms and dress codes – Several students criticized uniform policies as a barrier to attendance, describing schools dismissing students over petty violations and enforcing codes that suppressed student expression and imposed onerous requirements on the student body. Councilmember Grosso pointed out that the recently passed Student Fair Access to School Act will prohibit schools from suspending students over dress code violations and enforce alternate penalties instead, effective next school year.
- Teacher and principal turnover – Students spoke about teachers being fired or leaving schools, sometimes for no publicly apparent reason. All students said that having stable adult leadership was a component of their ideal school. One male student also spoke about the importance of having male teachers and staff present and their value as role models and father/mentor figures to boys.
- School resources – All students said that they felt schools in Wards 7 and 8 lacked appropriate funding and resources. They talked about the availability and condition of textbooks. Several specifically cited laptop and technology availability – e.g. at one school laptops are available for 12th graders only and are outdated, and at another school the competition between classrooms for laptops is intense. Some students observed that schools’ limited wireless network capacity/bandwidth which meant that even if students had laptops they would not all be able to simultaneously use them. Several described network connectivity issues adversely impacting PARCC testing, which is done on computer. Another student spoke about her school not being able to offer dual-enrollment programming.
- School safety and neighborhood violence – Students talked about their peers who had been adversely affected, even directly harmed or killed by gun violence in the community. They spoke about the importance of safe passage to and from school. Other community members raised concerns about the availability and affordability of school resource officers.
Community members are welcome to attend any of the remaining town halls throughout the summer. The remaining town hall schedule is here:
Ward 6 – June 27, 2018, 6:00-7:30pm at Northeast Library
Ward 1 – July 9, 2018, 6:00-7:30pm at Mt. Pleasant Library
Ward 4 – July 11, 2018, 6:00-7:30pm at Shepherd Park Library
Ward 2 – July 16, 2018, 6:00-7:30pm at Georgetown Library
Ward 7 – July 18, 2018, 6:00-7:30pm at Francis Gregory Library
Ward 5 – July 24, 2018, 6:00-7:30pm at Lamond-Riggs Library
Ward 3 – July 25, 2018, 6:00-7:30pm at Cleveland Park Library