Empowering Student Voice in Policy Development and Discussions

By Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst

Our education system is more student-centered and student-driven than ever before. This means that policymakers and decision-makers must ensure student voice is elevated and actively heard.

Watch: Empowering the Student Voice

Since 2006, the D.C. State Board of Education has appointed two students to serve as representatives on the State Board. The student representatives are high school students in the District’s traditional public or public charter schools, and they each serve one-year terms. Each student representative is selected from a pool of applicants by the elected members of the State Board. They participate in all meetings and committees of the State Board by providing policy recommendations and testimony, and they co-lead the drafting of written reports; their votes are always recorded, but do not affect the outcome of a State Board action.

My colleagues and I had the opportunity to share the work of our impressive student representatives and the power of student voice and representation while at the 2019 iNACOL Symposium in Palm Springs, California. We led a session titled, “Empowering Student Voice in Policy Development and Discussions”  which featured a virtual panel of three former student representatives—Brian Contreras, Tallya Rhodes, and Tatiana Robinson. They discussed the role of the State Board’s student representatives, the leadership they provided as co-chairs of the District’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC), and the policy-facing work they accomplished on college readiness, teacher retention, and school equity.

Brian Contreras, SY14–15 and SY15–16 Student Representative and current senior at Stanford University, shared one of his favorite memories from his time on the State Board.

My favorite State Board memory is from the first meeting of the inaugural Student Advisory Committee (SAC). All the student members brought three topics they were interested in using the SAC to address and we discussed the merits of each one in depth, ultimately settling on teacher accountability.

 It was the first real forum I had seen for students from all different schools—traditional public and public charter—to explore all the issues they had with their education and then reaching a consensus.

 I would definitely consider my work on the SAC as my biggest impact as a student representative. Looking over the current SAC webpage now, I would bet that every issue that has been addressed in the years since the SAC’s inaugural year was raised at that first meeting, which I think illustrates the persistence of these issues and the importance of having a standing, student-led committee exploring them.”

The State Board continues to be impressed by the work and leadership of our student representatives and the SAC. The SAC meets on the first Monday of every month at 4:30 p.m. at 441 4thStreet NW.

Elevating the Hidden Voices of a Community: Equity and Authentic Stakeholder Engagement

By Matt Repka, Policy Analyst

In late October, the State Board attended the iNACOL Symposium in Palm Springs, California.

iNACOL, short for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, is a D.C.-area organization that advocates for online, competency-based, and personalized learning opportunities for students. Since 2017, the organization has expanded to focus more broadly on personalized learning and promote policies that advance student-centered experiences.

On the first day, we attended pre-conference workshops, an opening keynote, and a surprise: iNACOL itself would be undergoing a surprise rebrand—effective immediately. Now known as the Aurora Institute, the organization formerly known as iNACOL would continue to focus on innovation and the transformation of education systems, but under a new banner that reflects its expanded, not-just-online-learning focus.

Over the next two days, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to sit in on keynote addresses, conference breakout sessions, and workshops with incredible people from all over the country (and beyond). But we were also there to lead two sessions of our own: one workshop on empowering student voice in policy discussions led by SBOE policy analyst Alex Jue and one on stakeholder engagement in education and the work of the State Board’s task forces.

In “Elevating the Hidden Voices of a Community: Equity and Authentic Stakeholder Engagement,” we had the opportunity to break down some of the work the State Board has accomplished in the District over the past two years with respect to community voice and stakeholder engagement around state-level education policy.

State Board members presenting to small group at Aurora Symposium

In a role-playing exercise, we assigned titles and schools to each of our attendees and asked them to consider the ramifications of a new school rating systems, the changes they would like to see implemented in their schools, and the barriers they might face. We ended the presentation with a discussion of the real work that the State Board has done on high school graduation requirements and implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, bringing community voices into the discussion and working closely with state and local-level education officials to ensure residents are included in the policymaking process.

All of us at SBOE are proud of the work we’ve been able to do on behalf of District residents over the past few years, and I’m thankful that we were given the opportunity to share it with educators and policymakers from all over the country last month. I hope to have the chance to return next year, when the Aurora Institute Symposium will take place in San Antonio, Texas.

 

A Voice for Change: Dayja Burton, Student Representative

By Dayja Burton, SY2019–20 Student Representative

At first, I had no idea what the role of Student Representative of the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) would entail or that it even existed. But, after my teachers at McKinley Technology High School introduced me to the opportunity, I knew this would align with my personality and life goals.

My name is Dayja Burton and I am a senior at McKinley Technology High School. My school focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (S.T.E.M.) and I participate in the information technology (I.T.) department with a concentration in networking/cybersecurity. This program provides me with a hands on education and opportunities that will help me in college and later in my career. Outside of the classroom, I am a member of the flag football team and the editor-in-chief of the YMCA Youth and Government program. My involvement with various organizations correlates to something that is important to me.

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Fulfilling My Civic Duty: Alex O’Sullivan, Student Representative

By Alex O’Sullivan, SY2019–20 Student Representative

I applied to be a SY2019–20 student representative on the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) because I know the importance—now more than ever—of fulfilling my civic duty by actively engaging with my community, and serving with elected officials and driven high school students to provide voices for youth throughout the city is a great way to do so.

I am a sophomore at BASIS DC PCS where my favorite classes are English Language, US Government, and Calculus. Outside of school, I play baseball, and am an avid fan of other sports such as basketball and football. I enjoy politics, and I am a board member and delegation leader of YMCA’s ‘Youth and Government’ program, a mock youth form of city government. I also write poetry and serve as the co-founder and President of my school’s poetry club. I love math and I tutor third-grade students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in English and Math, and this school year I will be a member of the NSBE Jr. (National Society of Black Engineers), where I will participate in math-related competitions. Throughout the school year, I participate in youth speech competitions, and in 2019 I won the 2019 BIG (Blacks in Government) Youth Oratorical Chapter Competition on the injustices of the American judicial system.

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A Letter from the Chief Student Advocate – Faith Gibson Hubbard

Dear Colleagues, Partners, and Friends,

After four years, I am leaving my role as Chief Student Advocate for the District of Columbia.

In May 2015, I opened the doors of the Office of the Student Advocate and became the first Chief Student Advocate for the District of Columbia. This experience has been life-changing for me. In our work, we support families in navigating the complexity of public education in the District and work to demystify our city systems in order to remove barriers and provide access for families. We partner with families and other education stakeholders to identify problems and work toward solutions. We work diligently to equip families with the information, resources, and tools they need to be their own best advocates. We collaborate with agencies, offices, and other partners to advocate and work toward the best possible outcomes for students. I am so proud of the great work we’ve accomplished during my tenure, and I am excited about the great work on the horizon.

As we all work for a more inclusive and equitable system, I ask that you continue to direct people to the great resources and support the Office of the Student Advocate has to offer. During this time of transition, I am confident that the work of the office will continue at a high level and deepen in its reach and scope.  I have a phenomenal staff who live and breathe this work in the same way that I do.  The vision of the office is not mine alone – it is ours – and I know, without a doubt, they will continue to do great things under the leadership of Dan Davis, who currently serves as my deputy.  Dan’s career in this space spans over 12 years, and he has served as my deputy for almost three of those years. He is an amazing servant leader and will continue our work as the interim Chief Student Advocate.

I wholeheartedly believe students and families are the foundation of a quality public education system and the catalyst moving us forward to the prosperity everyone in our city deserves to experience. As Chief Student Advocate, I have been fortunate enough to witness families activate the power they inherently possess. We must recognize and value the voice, access, and power of families as it is what will continue to move our great city forward. My departure is bittersweet, but I am excited to continue my service to District families and communities as the first Executive Director of Thrive by Five DC. I look forward to our paths crossing again in my new capacity.

I am humbled to have served as the first Chief Student Advocate, and I thank you all for your partnership in this work.

Warmly,

Faith Gibson Hubbard
Outgoing Chief Student Advocate for Office of the Student Advocate

We the People!

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.

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SBOE Submits Student-focused Recommendations on DCPS Chancellor Search

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

Today, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE), including the Student Representatives and Student Advisory Committee, urged Mayor Muriel Bowser to make certain that any candidate for chancellor of DC Public Schools (DCPS) possess at least six qualities. Many of the SBOE recommended qualities have been echoed in community forums and meetings across the District. The SBOE wants every student to be valued and have the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to become informed, competent, and contributing global citizens.

The summary of recommended qualities for the mayor to consider when selecting the next chancellor was sent in a letter to Bowser this morning. The selected candidate must be insightful and proactive, committed to analyzing and sharing data with the public, committed to incorporating public trust from families, willing to innovate, capable and committed to championing DCPS, and focused on building relationships and rebuilding trust.

The State Board looks forward to  working alongside the Interim Deputy Mayor for Education and the Our Schools Leadership Committee as they work on synthesizing findings and recommendations prior to the selection.

A Letter from the Ombudsman – Joyanna Smith

Dear Colleagues, Partners, and Friends,

After nearly five years, I am leaving the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education. I have learned so much from my incredible colleagues at the State Board, charter schools and DCPS schools, advocacy partners, education organizations, and students and families.  With my colleagues, we were able to re-establish an office that supported thousands of families, the majority of which represent the most disenfranchised in our city, particularly in Wards 5, 7, and 8. Through the office, we have demonstrated that establishing trust and ensuring confidentiality between schools and families can result in positive outcomes for students.

In the Office of the Ombudsman, we addressed issues that were brought to our attention by providing direct intervention; we also addressed these same issues on the systemic level through our engagement with local, state, and national education leaders. Our office became a venue for parents, students, and families to have a real voice in addressing systemic inequities that are causing our children, particularly children of color, to fail.  We implemented a dispute resolution system with the vision that educational equity extends beyond formal equality and promotes a barrier free system in which students have the opportunity to benefit fully from their public school systems.

Our office’s work has been recognized nationally, and our recommendations have been implemented locally. Over the years, as the Education Ombudsman, I have observed positive changes in this city, and though a number of challenges remain, these changes indicate that disruption of inequitable systems is not only possible, it’s starting to happen every day.

I look forward to my new role as the DC Regional Director of Rocketship Public Schools as it gives me an opportunity to continue the important work of advancing educational equity by taking lessons learned through thousands of interactions with schools and families to promoting the growth of quality schools in Washington, DC.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you as the second Education Ombudsman in DC.

Warmly,

Joyanna

Outgoing Ombudsman for Public Education

Putting #StudentsFirst: Our Vote on Credit Recovery

Credit recovery is supposed to provide students that have already failed a course the opportunity to make up or recover the credit. The regulations submitted to the State Board by OSSE were an attempt to provide statewide guardrails on a chaotic mix of programs, varied interpretations of policies or the complete absence of policies. The State Board unanimously rejected the proposal because, in our view, they would not provide any change in the practice of credit recovery in the District of Columbia.

The State Board believes we need to begin a long overdue conversation about how state agencies are better able to support excellent classrooms. It is a conversation that our caregivers, teachers, and students have been asking for: how do we harness the power of government and public education to ensure equity of opportunity for all students.

Credit recovery is a last resort. Every time a teacher acts with a student that is struggling, we need to be there to provide support. Every time a student falls behind, we need to be there to catch them up. A student that is struggling in a class shouldn’t have to fail the course before the teacher and the school can help. That is a failure of the system, not the student.

On the fundamentals, we agree with OSSE that credit recovery needs clear guidelines and rules, but not without a larger discussion about how the education system is serving individual students. Working together, as a community, we must ensure that the state agencies are supporting caregivers, teachers, and school leaders to provide students with the help they need to prosper by reducing barriers and ensuring equity of access and opportunity. We must hold our school leaders and agencies, not just teachers responsible for student outcomes, and empower our students and their caregivers to be decision-makers in education.

The State Board rejected the proposed regulations to put students, not the system, first.

State Board in the Community: April 2018

By: Kit Faiella, Policy Fellow

While the weather has been stubbornly cold, the cherry blossoms are due to hit peak bloom by this coming weekend. Spring will spring soon! Throughout the month of March, State Board members have been active in the community and continue to be a voice for education in the District.

Ruth Wattenberg (Ward 3) spent a morning reading to students at Murch Elementary School.

 

Vice President Jack Jacobson (Ward 2) was on the Kojo Nnamdi show discussing the recent challenges within DC Public Schools, and specifically how only 42% of students are on-track to graduate.

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