Farewell to Outgoing State Board Members

The D.C. State Board of Education is the only independent education agency with elected representatives. Board members’ terms are four years and are staggered so no more than five board members are selected in any one election. As we welcome our new State Board members, we would like to recognize and thank our outgoing members. Their contributions to the State Board have helped shape public education in the District for the better, and we are incredibly thankful for that. Below you will find remarks from each of the outgoing State Board members about their time on the State Board.

Farewell to Outgoing Board Members

Jack Jacobson Ward 2

Jack Jacobson was first elected in 2012 and reelected in 2016 to represent Ward 2. He served as President of the State Board in 2015 and 2016, Vice President in 2017 and 2018, and as chair of numerous committees created by the State Board to improve education in the District of Columbia. His leadership on the State Board saw the adoption of new Health Education Standards that address bullying, addiction, sexual and mental health issues and provide students with a framework for building the skills they need to be healthy for the rest of their lives. Additionally, under his leadership, the State Board established new policies and procedures, hired additional staff and strived for transparency in its work, helping to create a robust and independent agency that represents all District residents. Before his election to the State Board, Jack had served on the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

“As I look back on my last 13 years of elected service to the District, I’m filled with gratitude. Gratitude to the voters that placed their trust in me, gratitude to the staff and colleagues I’ve had the opportunity to learn from, and gratitude to the District of Columbia, which afforded me the chance to make a difference for our students and in the future of this great city.”

Karen Williams, a native Washingtonian and graduate of Ballou Senior High School, was first elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016 as Ward 7’s representative. She served as President of the State Board in 2017 and 2018 and Vice  President in 2015 and 2016, and reformed the agency’s administrative functions and  hiring procedures, successfully hiring its first Executive Director, Ombudsman for Public Education and Chief Student Advocate. Karen’s leadership on the State Board saw the adoption of the first statewide accountability system that allows parents to compare schools across sectors easily and the adoption of credit flexibility regulations and shepherding the creation of a State Diploma for students completing the GED or NEDP programs, opening many opportunities for adult students. Karen is a former special education teacher in DC Public Schools (DCPS) and has also previously worked with the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Washington Parent Fund Group as an executive assistant and grant administrator. 

Karen Williams
Ward 7

“It has been a great honor serving on the State Board as a member, as Vice President and as President. Through my eight years on the State Board, we approved new education standards that students were deeply involved in creating about subjects they said were important, approved a State Diploma so that finally adult students could be recognized as equals to their younger peers. Elected office was never in my plans when I was growing up in Ward 7. Most of you know, that I have lived in Washington my entire life. This city is more than a place to me, it is home, and I am deeply grateful to the residents who entrusted me with service on the State Board.”

Ashley MacLeay
At-Large

Ashley MacLeay took office in 2017 as the State Board’s At-Large Representative. Ashley has served as the State Board’s representative on the Every Day Counts! Task Force, led by the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Education, that brings together all agencies involved in student supports and attendance related issues. Additionally, she has served as a member of the advisory council for the Washington Literacy Center and has endeavored to use her seat on the State Board to promote literacy initiatives across the District.

“As I reflect upon my term in office, I think about the opportunity I had to make a difference in the lives of others and be a role model in the eyes of young women thinking about running for office in their own communities. Change starts at home and I’m elated to see more women running for office, serving in office, and adding their much-needed opinion on the issues affecting our towns, cities, states, and nation today.”

Markus Batchelor was first elected to the State Board in November 2016 and took office in January 2017 as Ward 8’s representative. Prior to his election to the Board, Markus served as the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for District 8C04 and had previously served as a liaison to Ward 8 with the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services. Markus is the youngest-ever elected member of the Board and is a native Washingtonian, being a student at Martin Luther King Elementary School, Hardy Middle School and Thurgood Marshall Academy. He was elected twice as Vice President for the State Board in 2019 and 2020 and has been one of the State Board’s leading voices for increasing support for community schools, safe passage, police-free schools, physical and mental health, culturally responsive and anti-racist education, and efforts to improve teacher retention.

Markus Batchelor
Ward 8

“My last D.C. State Board of Education meeting is over. With all my heart, I want to thank my Ward 8 neighbors for taking a chance on a kid from Congress Heights wanting to fight for our community. Thanks to my colleagues for your support, and allowing me to serve twice as VP. It’s been an honor. A special thanks to all of the educators, families, students, and concerned community members who leaned into this work with me over the last 4 years — making our government & our system more responsive and more equitable. There’s much more work to do, and I’ll be there beside you.”

We are truly grateful to these outgoing members who have worked tirelessly to support all students, teachers, and families in D.C. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs on the new State Board members!

2020 in Review Part 3: D.C. State Board of Education Annual Report

Dear Residents of the District of Columbia,

This is not the year we expected. Our city, our school communities, and the State Board’s agenda planned for 2020 were changed in unprecedented ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, schools were forced to suddenly close this spring, and, as of now, our city is still struggling with how to re-open them safely and productively, at least for some students.

The pandemic also exposed in many ways our system’s weak mechanisms to build connection or be responsive to our families and communities. It made it more difficult to provide equitable support for students navigating distance learning and to adequately engage students, families, educators, and school leaders as we map a plan for reopening. A time like this requires a strong, independent, truly representative voice to influence decision-making and account for the diverse needs and views of our communities. Complicated challenges like re-imagining education under COVID can’t be met with top-down solutions; they require solutions that are built from the ground up.

While the elected members of the State Board do not have the authority to make operational decisions on reopening and other vital issues, we have strived to provide a public forum where community voices could be heard. Our monthly public meetings routinely address one or more key educational issues facing our students and provide a public comment period, at which any DC resident can comment on educational issues. Since the start of distance learning alone, the State Board has heard over 23 hours of testimony and public comment from students, parents, school staff, teachers, public health experts, education policy researchers. We seamlessly moved our public, working and committee meetings online, maintaining our commitment to transparency and accessibility to the public – and shattered meeting attendance records in the process.

With its authority to approve/disapprove city-proposed policies on certain issues, including how school quality is rated and attendance rules, the State Board worked this year with our partner state agency, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, to pass temporary changes to our attendance requirements to better fit the realities of distance learning in the wake of COVID-19.

Ruth Wattenberg, President and Ward 3 Representative
Markus Batchelor, Vice President and Ward 8 Representative
*

Summary: State Board Priorities

In 2020, the State Board continued to advance many of its priorities from the previous year, as listed in SR19-5, “On Establishment of Priorities,” strengthening its commitment and efforts to the following items:
• Serving as a voice for D.C. families on key educational issues
• Reviewing and leading the revision of D.C.’s Social Studies Standards
• Teacher and Principal Attrition in the District
• Reviewing the STAR Framework and related issues
• Well-Rounded Education
• Centering equity through the Equity Statement and Framework

In addition to these priorities as established by SR19-5, the State Board has continued to support the leadership and work of its Student Advisory Committee (SAC), a cohort of students from high schools across the District that advises the State Board of education policy issues, and its two sister offices, the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education and the Office of the Student Advocate.

Continue to read below to learn more about the State Board’s work throughout 2020.

Continue reading “2020 in Review Part 3: D.C. State Board of Education Annual Report”

2020 in Review Part 2: Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education Annual Report

By: The Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education

What is an Ombudsman?

The word “ombudsman” is derived from a Swedish word meaning “entrusted person” or “grievance representative.” The word has come to denote a trusted agent who looks after the interests of a group.

The Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education is an independent, impartial office that helps parents and students resolve school complaints individually and collectively, transforming problems into solutions that compel systemic progress for all public education in D.C. As established by law, the our mission is to be a “single office” that coordinates “transparency and accountability” by helping D.C. families navigate the education agencies that govern and operate the public schools in D.C.

Learn more about our office with this short video:

Overview of Cases During SY 2019–20

In SY2019–20, we processed the second-highest number of cases since our inception. During distance learning, however, we experienced a decline in call volume for the remainder of the school year.

The data presented in our annual report shows the same trends reported in SY 2018-19.  Communication and Engagement, Bullying/Student Safety, and Special Education/Disability remain the top three topics.  Approximately 50 percent of the students that our office opened cases for are students with disabilities.  The Office received complaints from all eight wards and most of the complaints are from residents of Wards 5, 7, and 8.   

The Office undertook several initiatives to support families this school year.  The Office partnered with SchoolTalk to facilitate community circles for families with differently-abled children.  Families came together and discussed a variety of topics, such as the highs and lows of distance learning, the intersectionality of racism and special education while building a supportive network.  We also provided families with resources to build their emotional vocabulary and have difficult conversations with their children.

During this school year, the Office also partnered with the Office of the Attorney General to provide mediation services as an intervention for families of students who were experiencing issues with school attendance. The goals of those mediations were to discuss the barriers preventing the students from attending school regularly, to connect the families with resources to help decrease or remove those barriers, and to develop plans for successful attendance for the next 90 days.

We served 26 families in that capacity. When discussing the factors that prevented the students from successful school attendance, a third of the families revealed their struggles with homelessness; a third discussed issues with employment; a third shared issues with the student’s mental health; and a third shared concerns with special education. Transportation was the most common barrier discussed. This is true despite most families living within walking distance from the school. In some cases, transportation became a barrier because there were multiple children in the family attending different schools located in the opposite direction. In other cases, transportation was a barrier because the parent’s physical health condition restricted the parent’s mobility and the child was too young to walk to-and-from school independently. On average, each family shared about three barriers that impacted school attendance.

Continue reading “2020 in Review Part 2: Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education Annual Report”

2020 in Review Part 1: Office of the Student Advocate Annual Report

By: Office of the Student Advocate

What is the Office of the Student Advocate?

The DC Office of the Student Advocate guides and supports students, parents, families, and community members in navigating the public school system in D.C. Our mission is to empower D.C. residents to achieve equal access to public education through advocacy, outreach, and information services. Our hope is to continue to challenge the notion that public education is not only a public asset and right but is something that should be community-focused and community-informed.

A Year in Review

During School Year (SY) 2019-20, our office continued to expand our scope of resources and supports to all education stakeholders across the District of Columbia. We prioritized our role as connectors and collaborators to amplify the voices of students and families in the DC education landscape. As a result, we were able to accomplish the following tasks during SY 2019-20:

Our social-media based resource, “Don’t Mute Mental Health.”
  • Received 401 unduplicated requests for assistance, via our live answered hotline, addressing education-related questions and providing resources, referrals, and one-on-one coaching on all public education issues.
  • Distributed more than 4,850 resources in English, Spanish, and Amharic across every ward in the District.
  • Engaged with more than 3,000 education stakeholders through outreach and engagement, beyond our RFA line. We focused on students, families, service providers, and government agencies, and participate in more than 100 in-person and virtual meetings and events citywide.
  • Engaged with more than 1,250 students, families, and stakeholders virtually in compliance with social distancing orders.
  • Developed a social media-based resource dedicated to discussing topics related to mental health and student success. Weekly sessions were hosted on our social media pages and viewed by more than 500 listeners.
Continue reading “2020 in Review Part 1: Office of the Student Advocate Annual Report”

Key Takeaways: Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child During Hybrid Learning Webinar #1 – Family Engagement

By Jhoselin Beltran Contreras, Policy Fellow

On October 28, the D.C. State Board of Education held its inaugural Well-Rounded Education webinar series “Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child During Hybrid Learning.”  This webinar series focuses on meeting the needs of the whole child, including providing social and emotional learning (SEL), mental health, technology support and engagement, and a well-rounded education during distance learning. 

This first webinar focused on creating and supporting strong school-family relationships during the pandemic. Panelists included Jessica Morales (Principal, Bancroft Elementary School, Ward 1), Maisha Riddlesprigger (Principal, Ketcham ES, Ward 8), Markita Bryant (Parent, Thomson Elementary, Ward 2), and Cassandra Gentry (Grandparent, Inspired Teaching Public Charter School, Ward 5). For most schools, reaching out to parents, engaging with them, and meeting their expectations can prove to be challenging. Keeping them regularly updated is an additional challenge that schools have to deal with. Families and schools are fighting to maintain strong relationships throughout the pandemic with creativity and technology. 

Prior to the pandemic, many schools throughout D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) were engaging with their families through home visits, monthly coffee meetups with principals, and in-person events. Below you will find highlights from Episode 1 of our series “Meeting the Needs of the Whole Child During Hybrid Learning.” You can also watch the webinar on the State Board of Education’s YouTube Channel in English and in Spanish.

Strategies and Challenges Panelists Overcame

Both Principal Maisha Riddlesprigger and Principal Morales discussed the challenge of ensuring that all their families had the devices, the WiFi, and the tech support they needed to ensure that all students could participate in learning. But they also discussed the importance that tech has played in maintaining strong families connections –that, and having earned families’ trust before the pandemic hit last spring.

“We are very proud of the relationships we established in 2019,” said Principal Riddlesprigger (Ketcham received the Together with Families award at the DC Standing Ovation ceremony last year). Ketcham has been a Flamboyan partner-school for several years and making home visits was part of the annual tradition. “Before, we could visit households, hold fresh fruit markets at the school, and have regular family nights. Because of COVID-19, we had to stop previous strategies in family engagement and get creative,” Principal Riddlesprigger explained.

Similarly, Principal Morales talked about the work her team had done at Bancroft to build family engagement, especially among the school’s Spanish-speaking families whose children make up approximately 65% of the student population. “I have to ensure that all voices are heard and not just those that are most present or the loudest. We need to help families who might not otherwise feel comfortable know that their voices are valuable,” Principal Morales shared. Bancroft started a group called Café con Padres (Coffee with Parents) for Spanish-speaking families to come together each week and to work together with the PTO  to support the whole school community. 

Once the pandemic began, both principals also spoke about the need to adapt family engagement strategies to fit a virtual platform. As Principal Riddlesprigger explained, “We used to do annual in-person home visits. In order to participate online with families, we replaced home visits and converted them into virtual visits where we ask parents and family to join our community. We have frequent Town House meetings for specific or general issues so that families can raise concerns or watch our virtual school in action[1]. Virtual interactions can be challenging. We try to give a guide for parents about online platforms and communicating through there.”

Principal Morales shared a similar approach, “In every video, every source of communication, we try to ensure parents that we are always available to talk. We also had a parent’s coffee where they received information and resources. Now in a virtual setting, we have town halls. There we’ve talked about racism, COVID-19, and general world topics. It’s important to give families a platform to use their voice and to share their opinion. We have also aligned ourselves with Kindred. We are in the middle of Mt. Pleasant, and I have to ensure that all voices are heard and that they know they are valuable. Our PTO supported many of our parents who were undocumented, lost their jobs, deported, etc. All of us came together during this time. I’m very proud to the extent my school has gone to ensure our families support from the start to now.”

Both Ms. Bryant and Ms. Gentry, DCPS parent and public charter school grandparent, agreed that communication with the principals at their children’s schools improved after virtual learning began. Ms. Bryant stated that the teachers had one-on-one support with parents on math using Eureka, making it easier. She also shared that teachers communicating with parents lessons a week ahead of time was a boon to online learning. 

The biggest challenge Ms. Bryant mentioned was trying to figure out how to help her child turn in assignments when schools first closed in spring. She said that in the fall, the school made improvements in communicating with parents how to upload assignments using Class Dojo, and when assignments were due. Her main takeaways were to be prepared, make it fun, and make it competitive in an enjoyable way for parents. Ms. Bryant added that her school offered Spanish and Chinese translations for virtual parent events. 

Ms. Gentry shared her experience launching the Plaza West Grandfamilies program. When she found out how many grandfamilies there were in DC, it prompted her to start this organization. The program is currently at 50 units of grandfamilies, with two to three- bedroom units. In regards to housing, she is still learning the needs of the community, such as access and use of technology. Grandparents are now communicating more with their schools.

Unity is needed

This pandemic has been difficult for everyone—families, teachers, community members. Many families must make significant changes to the daily patterns, arrangements, and rhythms of their individual and family lives.  Ms. Gentry talked about schools offering more support to vulnerable families.

All of the principals agreed on a need for unity in decision making,  training and support in a range of areas, and transparency. Principal Morales even mentioned wanting “less politics” involved in decision making. 

Policy Recommendations

Principal Riddlesprigger immediately addressed the digital divide between affluent and less affluent families. Devices for students have been a heavily discussed issue throughout DCPS. However, Principal Riddlesprigger discovered the silver lining of this situation that many of her students, that previously weren’t technologically adapted, now are able to access these devices thoroughly. She mentioned technology education is just as important, and that it should not be an if/and situation where schools miss out on other opportunities because of this new technology education. Principal Morales recommended allocating funds to improve family engagement with teachers and educational support staff. 

One word moving forward: Hope

When asked for a one-word summary of how they felt, each panelist expressed sentiments of hope. While this pandemic has been challenging for many school communities, all of the panelists still felt connected with their schools. We look forward to sharing on that hope through our future webinars. 

Next Webinar: ReOpening Right: Putting School Community at the Center

Join the D.C. State Board for a webinar focused on reopening for hybrid learning that puts students and their school communities at the center. Panelists representing DCPS and public charter schools from across the city will discuss how they assessed which students to invite back for small group, in-person learning and how they tailored safe, hybrid learning to meet the needs of their students and families, teaching and support staff during this challenging time.

The webinar will take place on December 10, from 3:30- 5:00pm. Click here to register, and please share this event with friends, families, and educators. Please reach out to the State Board if you prefer live Spanish translations by emailing sboe@dc.gov, or calling (202) 741-0888.

[1] Ketcham uses Class Dojo, an online school platform to perform these virtual visits.

School-Based Behavioral Health, Community of Practice, and More: Resource Sharing from OSSE’s Technical Assistance Calls

By Rachel Duff, Policy Fellow

Since July 2020, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has been hosting virtual webinars and meetings on a variety of topics for local education agencies and school leaders (registration can be found here). On September 15, OSSE brought in a panel of experts to focus on mental health in the District. Panelists discussed a range of programs and resources currently available to District residents.

Dr. Charneta Scott began the panel by discussing school-based behavioral health services. School-based behavioral health services cover the ways we respond and intervene for students regarding behavior rather than implementing punitive and authoritarian systems of behavior response. Behavioral health services are critical in disrupting the school to prison pipeline by providing our students opportunities to access resources that serve the whole child rather than just a perceived negative behavior. Dr. Scott explained that a phased approach to school-based behavior health services is in the works, which is an approach that focuses on prevention and is an early intervention level of service. This phased approach is currently in its third cohort. Originally. it was slated to include 60 schools, but due to COVID-19’s impact, it is currently serving 47 schools. This program, which places behavioral health clinicians in public schools complements services already offered to students and families, works within existing support services in schools to cultivate a safe and supportive environment, and provides support for teachers and staff. Lastly, Dr. Scott discussed the Department of Behavioral Health’s Parent Support Program. This program seeks to enhance the resilience of District families by providing coping tools and consultation services to help parents manage the stressors they are experiencing during this time of virtual learning. Within this parent support network, parents are able to access one to three individual consultation sessions at no charge, engage in Wellness Wednesdays (online every Wednesday at 5:30 pm, parents can join here: https://bit.ly/31JpYiv), and have access to weekly parenting tips through the on-demand video library. This support network includes parents of traditional public, public charter, and private school students. Dr. Scott pointed out that it could be an especially beneficial resource for parents who are also teachers themselves.

The second panelist, Dr. Olga Acosta-Price, then moved the dialogue towards community-based practices. She explained that the basis of this particular research is called the “Community of Practice,” which is essentially a group of individuals who are experts in their respective fields and collectively approach an issue in order to create a shared body of knowledge. She explained that in order to provide best practices, we must learn from and with each other to create a multi-tiered system of support. Dr. Acosta-Price further explained that to define a shared vision is to create accountability and community input, determining who we are, what we aim to do, and how we measure success. She emphasized that shared leadership is key to include community members for co-creation of solutions.

              For District schools specifically, Dr. Acosta-Price continued to say that each school should identify a behavioral health coordinator to serve as a liaison with these experts on best practices. This year, 166 schools are represented in the Community of Practice model. Within this model, there are created spaces for educators, children and families, and the community. For instance, there are teacher wellness groups that meet monthly to discuss barriers to self-wellbeing and best practices in the time of virtual mental health services. There are also social learning spaces for children and families and these groups also meet monthly in a virtual setting. Lastly, there are monthly practice groups for the entire community to develop skills like social-emotional learning and crisis intervention/response.

              Lastly, Cathleen Millar completed the panel by reviewing Kognito, a DC youth behavioral health program that provides training simulations to teachers and school-based staff. She reminded the audience that it is a biennial training year and that in order to be in compliance, educators must complete three mental health and suicide prevention modules before December 15, 2020. The training will be trauma-informed, grounded in social-emotional learning and aligned with the goals of school behavioral interventions. This will also satisfy the suicide prevention training. If educators need assistance they can contact Cathleen Millar at Cathleen.Millar@Kognito.com.

Overall, I found this session to be informative and a good introduction to some of the mental health initiatives and services the District offers. If you’re interested in attending one of OSSE’s webinars, don’t forget that you can sign up here! The next two webinars are scheduled for October 5 and 19 from 1 to 2 p.m. EDT.

Sandra’s Top 3 Favorite Memories with the State Board

I began working for the State Board as a Policy Fellow in February 2020, and was fortunate enough to spend a few weeks in the office before the COVID-19 pandemic began. It was one of my favorite professional experiences, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to engage with educational issues in the District firsthand. When the pandemic started, I felt like our work at the State Board became about so much more than just school—it became about meeting families’ basic needs, finding ways of learning that work for everyone, and addressing equity issues head-on. While this has been a difficult situation, I’ve been able to see how all of these concerns intersect and what we as a State Board can do to improve things for others. Education policy is complex, but I’ve seen that there are people who care about serving students and families above all else, and who will work to create a more equitable world however they can. 

I hope to bring all of the experiences, learning moments, and professional growth from my time at the State Board along with me. With that, here are my top three favorite memories from my time at the State Board:

  1. Bubble tea outing

We had a Working Session during my first week at the State Board, and to prep for these meetings, the team would often take a quick afternoon walk to grab some coffee or tea to fuel up for the evening ahead. This time, we got some bubble tea from a nearby spot, which was a great pick-me-up during a bleak winter afternoon. It was such a fun way to get to know everyone and be welcomed into the team right away.

  1. Tour of Educational Programming at D.C. Jail

Working at the State Board means that you often get to do site visits at schools across the District. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the educational programs offered at the D.C. Jail, which was a new initiative only begun in the past couple of years. The most impactful thing for me was talking directly with the inmates and hearing how they felt about the educational programs. They spoke highly of the classes offered in partnership with local universities, the technical skills they learned that they’d be able to use as soon as they re-entered the workforce, and the positive impact their professors had on them. We also got to tour the library in the building. D.C. Public Library has a partnership with D.C. Jail, which means they treat the library the same as any other branch in the city, full stocking it with thousands of titles.

  1. State Board Public Meetings

I’m lucky that I was able to experience a few public meetings in person before we had to shift to holding them remotely. It was inspiring to see so many District residents spending time after work to advocate for issues that mattered to them. When our meetings shifted online and we had many more public witnesses sign up than usual, I was humbled by how some of them stayed online until 9 or 10 pm at night to share their thoughts with us. Constituents are engaged, resourceful, and hardworking, and it was a privilege to be able to interact with them in this way. Their vital role in education policy, and the policymaking process in general, is something I will take with me wherever I go in public service.

State Board Staff Share Teacher Retention Findings at 11th Annual DC Data Summit

By Simone Wright, Policy Fellow

On July 22, 2020, Ward 4 Representative and Teacher Retention Committee Chairperson, Frazier O’ Leary, and policy staff, Alexander Jue, Darren Fleischer, and Simone Wright shared findings with DC Public School (DCPS) and public charter school teachers, leaders, and staff at the 11th Annual DC Data Summit. The State Board’s goals during its 90-minute session were to build awareness around teacher attrition challenges and start to brainstorm next steps to address this challenge across the District of Columbia. 

The DC State Board of Education (SBOE) started to explore challenges around teacher and principal retention in May 2018, by contracting with local education researcher, Mary Levy, to produce a report around which public-school teachers are leaving their schools in the District. The State Board’s October 2018 report functioned as a primer for deeper investigation. 

In December 2019, the State Board partnered with an independent survey researcher, Bayne LLC, to administer a 70+ question electronic/online survey to 2,000 (250 responses received) recently exited teachers, as well as to conduct qualitative focus groups (22 participants) and 13 follow-up interviews. The goal of this survey research was to determine why teachers were leaving their schools and what could have potentially kept them at their schools. 

In March of 2020, the State Board published these survey results in the 2020 D.C. Teacher Attrition Survey

Presenting at the DC Data Summit allowed the State Board staff to increase awareness across the District around one of its key priority areas. In developing this virtual session, the State Board set out to gather information that may not have been accounted for in the current study, while seeking feedback on how to support organizations and agencies across the District to address teacher attrition.

The State Board’s approach to gathering insight from participants was to utilize small group discussions. Participants in each group shared their initial reactions to the data  shared by the State Board’s two Policy Analysts, Alexander Jue and Darren Fleischer, then transitioned to thinking through how they could address teacher attrition in the District, their LEAs, and their schools. As small group facilitators, the State Board’s policy staff built in time for participants to provide the State Board with feedback around information that was not currently considered in the study. 

Participants brought an array of perspectives to the conversation due to their various roles and backgrounds—from teachers across different LEAs to analysts and data gurus from different agencies and organizations in the District. Initial reactions from participants varied from curiosity to familiarity. Each small group seemed to have a high level of engagement: some groups were a space to raise more questions and others provided additional context or solutions to moving the work forward in addressing teacher attrition. Much dialogue raised how lack of teacher support contributes to teachers leaving the profession. This reaction very much aligns with the research shared by research entities like the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) around causes of teacher attrition on a national scale. One small group shared how DCPS could use roles outside of administration to fill gaps in teacher support.

In the small group discussions, participants inquired about administration as a lever for change in terms of addressing teacher attrition. More explicitly, they questioned the rationale for digging into teacher evaluation and not administration evaluation. Participants shared the need to be more descriptive around what is meant or necessary in terms of “support” for teachers around workload or culture. One of the most insightful charges to the State Board was to revisit this study with considerations around the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic is bringing about numerous challenges for teachers, as the State Board and other key education stakeholders are currently deciding the most effective mode for students to participate in school. 

The State Board would love your thought partnership in addressing teacher attrition in the District of Columbia, especially considering the potential impact that COVID-19 has had on exasperating this particular challenge. The State Board is grateful for the active engagement and varied perspectives we received from participants in our session and encourages members of the public to attend our Teacher Retention Committee meetings via our YouTube Channel and sending any insights or questions via email to sboe@dc.gov.

School Climate in the District and Beyond

By Sandra Mansour, Policy Fellow

School climate has always been an important area in education, but given the global COVID-19 pandemic, education officials are giving this area of schooling increasingly more attention. School climate does not refer to whether a school’s temperature is hot or cold, as the name might entail. Rather, while there is no single definition for school climate, it is commonly understood as encompassing the learning environment—how respected and supported students feel in schools, how much they feel like they belong at their school, and how safe they feel in their school. 

Policymakers believe schools that were already focused on improving their school climate may be in a better position to deal with the pandemic because those educators have experience in creating supportive learning environments and maintaining relationships with their students and families. School climate also includes areas such as students’ social-emotional wellbeing or the availability of mental health services. Research has shown that a strong school climate is associated with many positive educational outcomes for students, such as increased attendance, engagement, and learning. It can even counteract the negative effects of poverty on academic achievement.

Under the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), every state must evaluate a school on at least one school success/school quality (SQSS) measure and states have the discretion in deciding how to measure SQSS. In some states, the SQSS measures include a quantitative and/or qualitative evaluation of “school climate” (as defined above), like a survey.

Some states have included school climate surveys as the way to measure SQSS in their state-based accountability frameworks, while others have not included surveys in the official framework, but use them to guide school improvement efforts. Some states are wary about the accuracy of surveys to reflect the true quality of schools, and therefore do not implement them at all. 

According to the National Association of State Board of Education (NASBE), as of January 2020, eight states officially use school climate surveys in their accountability frameworks: Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Carolina. In these states, the surveys only account for about 5–10 percent of the accountability formula, which is a way of taking the results into account but not giving them too much weight in the final school ratings, as surveys are a relatively new tool. In half of these states, school climate surveys are the only way states measure SQSS. In the other half, school climate surveys are paired with other school climate measures, such as chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness, or access to a well-rounded curriculum.

Other states focus on other measures of school climate or implement different initiatives to lead improvement efforts. Rhode Island, for example, includes student suspension rates as part of its SQSS indicator. The goal is not to punish schools for high suspension rates but rather to enable their education department to provide schools with resources that reduce the need for disciplinary actions like suspensions. Such resources might include mental health services, mentoring, school counseling, and positive behavioral interventions.

Minnesota established a School Safety Technical Assistance Center within their education department to implement statewide bullying prevention and evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL). The Center (now called the School Climate Center) provides training, technical assistance, and guidance to support district efforts, including school climate initiatives in rural districts. The initiatives include professional development for culturally responsive SEL, equitable discipline policies emphasizing restorative practices, and mental health services.

Pennsylvania launched a School Climate Leadership Initiative in order to support education leaders in improvement efforts. The initiative helped build leadership capacity and established a leadership network at the school and district level by working with the National School Climate Center and with regional resource centers. The state encourages—but does not require—schools to use its school climate survey and has recently passed legislation that requires school safety and assessment criteria to include trauma-informed education, behavioral health, suicide and bullying prevention, and substance use.

Over the past few years, D.C. schools have administered a variety of school climate surveys. Starting in 2016, the D.C. Council passed the Youth Suicide Prevention and School Climate Survey Amendment Act, which required the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to pilot school climate surveys in schools and develop a plan for implementing the surveys in all schools serving grades 6–12—both traditional public schools and public charter schools—beginning in school year 2020–21. A 2020 report from OSSE includes a list of high quality surveys that could be used and next steps that should be taken to support schools in fully administering school climate surveys.

Meanwhile, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) currently administers the Panorama Survey to students, teachers, and staff, and has been doing so since the 2017–18 school year. The survey asks about SEL, school climate, school satisfaction, and engagement. Separately, in school years 2017–18 and 2018–19, Wilson High School individually piloted the School Climate Assessment Instrument (SCAI), which was found to have the highest predictive validity of any school climate survey. Anacostia High School, Beer Elementary School, and Ketcham Elementary School followed suit and administered SCAI in the 2019–20 school year.  

By focusing on the whole child and the entire school experience, the District and states across the nation are on their way to improving learning for every student.

Photo Credit: By Kobe Michael via Pexels

Sarah’s Top 5 Favorite Moments at the State Board

By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow

I started my policy fellowship with the State Board in September 2019. Since my first day, I have grown professionally and as an advocate for equitable education. Through supporting the State Board’s public meetings I’ve learned the importance of elevating the community’s voice in all aspects of public education. Through conducting and synthesizing research on the issues raised by community members I’ve learned what it means to put in the work to create change. And through the support of my team, I’ve learned what it feels like to be surrounded by people who are fierce advocates for the community that they serve.

I will miss my team and working for the State Board and I will always be grateful for the opportunities and guidance they have given me over the past year. Here are some of my favorite moments from my time at the State Board:

  1. Coffee outings

On days when we had long meetings ahead of us, the staff would walk to a coffee shop nearby to fuel up on caffeine. Well, actually I am not a huge caffeine fan as my coworkers will tell you, but those outings were great opportunities to bond with my coworkers and to prepare for the State Board’s public meetings. We went to different coffee shops including Starbucks and Compass Coffee, but my favorite was our outing to Sharetea to get bubble tea. It was experiences like these that infused joy into the culture of our office.

2. School visits

Each month, the State Board and staff took trips to local schools to engage with the school’s community. These trips are some of my favorite memories because they allowed me to interact with the people whom I serve through my work. The visits were an opportunity to hear directly from the community about the work schools do to support students and the challenges they might be facing. One of the most memorable school visits was to the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, an all-boys school in Ward 7. We were able to talk to students about the programs and support their school provides them as well as their plans for the future. It was clear that cared deeply for their school and their community. The school visits reminded me of the hard work that schools put in to help their students succeed.

3. #LunchTimeLive

When COVID-19 struck and we were forced to start working from home, the State Board quickly came up with a new plan to ensure that community voices were still heard during this unprecedented time. The result of the plan was to hold our first ever Instagram Live event, which we called #LunchTimeLive. For the first #LunchTimeLive, we invited students and teachers to join Social Studies Standards Committee Chair and Ward 6 Representative, Jessica Sutter, to discuss their experiences with social studies in the District. The event gave us great insight into the community’s thoughts about the social studies standards and what the State Board should be doing to change them. The event also showed me how dynamic the State Board is when it comes to shifting its work and procedures to better serve the community.

Continue reading “Sarah’s Top 5 Favorite Moments at the State Board”