Farewell from Ward 6 Representative Jessica Sutter

It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve my neighbors, the students, and the schools of Ward 6 for the past four years. Being trusted by my colleagues to serve as State Board President for the last year of the term was the icing on the cake of a wonderful experience of public service.

As a member, I am deeply proud of our work as a State Board and with our partners at OSSE to revise the D.C. Social Studies Standards to ensure that all students in the District have access to knowledge and skills that are up-to-date and can serve as windows and mirrors for them to learn about the world and their place in it. I am also exceptionally proud of our collective work to update the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan to make it more equitable and responsive to feedback received by D.C. stakeholders over the first five years of implementation.

I am grateful to my colleagues for their willingness to focus on and advocate for greater student safety – en route to school, at school, after school, and in their communities. We called for improvements in Safe Passage, Safe Routes to School, reporting on issues of sexual assault in schools, and coordination between agencies and community partners seeking to reduce violence amongst young people. I hope that our work continues to yield improvements for children and families in the years ahead.

I most valued my interaction with our Student Representatives and Student Advisory Committee over the past four years. Student voice has a real place in the work of our State Board and that is due to the hard work and staunch advocacy of our student representatives.

Finally, I am incredibly proud of the work I was able to do with Vice President Eboni-Rose Thompson and the staff of our State Board to hire a new Executive Director, Bernice Butler, to further grow the staff team to include an Education Standards Specialist, and to seek recognition for our staff, students and work at forums like the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). Our team is the best in D.C. government and our work is a testament to their efforts.

Farewell from Ward 5 Representative Zachary Parker

As my time ends on the D.C. State Board of Education, I am proud to reflect on the tremendous impact the State Board has had on the D.C. education landscape in recent years. In my first year on the State Board, I authored a resolution calling on more robust support for students with learning disabilities, and since, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) launched a virtual resource hub and is now preparing a brick-and-mortar location.

I was proud to serve as a member of the Social Studies Committee and support the State Board’s work updating our social studies standards for the first time in 14 years. I joined colleagues in pushing back on the ways D.C.’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan and D.C. School Report Card reinforced inequities, perpetuated segregation within our schools, and harmed schools with high numbers of students designated at-risk. I am proud of the State Board’s work to update D.C.’s ESSA Plan and Report Card, which now does a better job of rewarding schools’ growth and holding schools accountable to its most vulnerable students. We also eliminated the problematic STAR Framework.

Most of all, I’m proud of the work I led to strengthen the State Board’s institutional foundations. In addition to authoring the State Board’s Equity Framework, it was under my leadership and through my proposal that the State Board:

  1. Expanded the number of Student Representatives from 2 to 4, now requiring one student representative who lives east of the river;
  2. Created Standing Committees, which standardized the State Board’s work;
  3. Updated and modernized the State Board’s website, making it more accessible to families; and 
  4. Expanded the budget, allowing the State Board to hire more staff to facilitate our work. 

While my time is ending on the State Board, I look forward to championing educational equity on the D.C. Council and in my beloved Ward 5 community.

Farewell from Ward 3 Representative Ruth Wattenberg

When I joined the State Board eight years ago, the State Board itself was just eight years old! It had been rightly and urgently focused on initial tasks, like getting the city’s first academic standards written and approved. It was not really an arena for elevating issues and voices. Under our rules at the time, if public witnesses testified at State Board meetings, members couldn’t engage with questions or comments! State Board business was almost entirely limited to areas in which it had explicit statutory authority to approve new Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) proposals. The Board had to change. It has, and I have loved being part of that.

In the post-mayoral control era, stakeholders had nowhere to bring an increasingly distressing set of issues—high teacher turnover rates, too much testing, curriculum narrowing, pressure to graduate students who weren’t ready, inadequate support for students with learning disabilities, and shutdowns of local schools.

The State Board had to move beyond being an approval board to become a forum for hearing people and a platform for translating concerns into changes. But how? On what issues? Our first big foray was into teacher turnover. School officials claimed it wasn’t high, but staff and family on the ground saw that it was. We held hearings, invited experts, conducted original research, introduced legislation to collect and transparently publish turnover data each year. The State Board found the tools to elevate the issue. While it is still inadequately addressed, it is no longer denied.

Since 2018, State Board members have rallied around improving reading instruction, joined dyslexia advocacy groups, and helped rally the city and D.C. Council behind an initial dyslexia bill, a new OSSE Task Force, and, hopefully, a new bill that moves this work forward.  The State Board adopted a research report and recommendations for changing the STAR Rating and D.C. School Report Card, and OSSE is now making significant changes in the rating system (though still not what I and many others had hoped for). I am hoping that a much-improved Report Card will be adopted next year.    

Reimagining the State Board’s role in response to community needs took listening, creativity, guts, and lots of energy. Thanks to my colleagues and our indefatigable stakeholders, we’re on our way.  That’s the legacy I love to leave.

Farewell from Ward 1 Representative Emily Gasoi

It has been an incredible honor and an incredible learning experience to have served on the D.C. State Board of Education over these past four years—three of them through the pandemic. I appreciate the opportunity to share some highlights in this farewell.

In my first year on the State Board, I helped start the Ward 1 Education Council. The timing couldn’t have been more pressing, as 2019 was bookended by contentious fights around the closure of two Ward 1 schools, as well as the struggle over the Mayor’s decision to move Banneker High School to a space that was in the City Comprehensive Plan as a standalone middle school in the feeder for five surrounding elementary schools. Throughout the fights to keep our schools open and to build bridges between the Shaw and Banneker communities, the Ward 1 Education Council provided school communities with a support network, a forum for communication, and a megaphone to make different perspectives heard and, ultimately, to inform policy. I was particularly proud that one of the State Board’s first orders of business in January 2020 after hearing wrenching testimony from students and teachers representing Washington Metropolitan Opportunity Academy, one of the Ward 1 schools being slated for closure, was to unanimously sign a letter to the Mayor and Chancellor urging them to listen to the voices of our city’s most vulnerable students and their champions. 

As I learned more about what makes the Ward 1 education landscape unique, my advocacy agenda came into focus. I helped create an agency fund for providing language interpretation services at all State Board public meetings and public engagements, introduced a resolution with recommendations for improving recruitment and retention of Latinx educators, organized a forum for alternative and adult education programs to share practices, and testified regularly before D.C. Council on behalf of my adult education schools.

During the pandemic, which hit just a few months into my second year on the Board, the essential platform that the State Board provides became clear—testimony from public witnesses increased by over 200 percent throughout 2020–2021. This volume of input from the frontlines of online learning, school reopening attempts, navigating health and safety protocols, and more, allowed the State Board to provide agency and city leaders with informed recommendations for more grounded and equitable reopening policies, including the unanimous letter the State Board sent to the Mayor in November 2020. When it became apparent that families with means were able to provide their children with safe outdoor learning experiences while schools were still closed, I led an effort on the State Board and in the community to advocate for more equitable access to outdoor opportunities citywide. This culminated in the State Board unanimously passing a resolution and signing onto a letter urging the Mayor to provide funding for DC schools to build capacity for outdoor education and lunch. The Mayor’s 2021 budget included $9 million dollars for schools to spend on outdoor education infrastructure.

Finally, one of my first encounters with the D.C. State Board of Education was as a constituent in 2016, testifying at a public meeting about why I thought the Board should vote “no” on the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s (OSSE) plan to use a star rating on the then new school report card. It was extremely satisfying to work on recommendations for revisions to the current STAR Framework and for the State Board to vote unanimously on a resolution in my final year to move away from a school rating system. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Ward 1 Representative, and I look forward to seeing the intensive work the State Board did to gather expert and constituent input come to fruition in the forthcoming revised DC School Report Card.

Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion through Policy

By Lauren Dunphy-Kinne, Policy Fellow

The National Education Association (NEA) hosted a panel discussion to examine the influence that advocacy efforts can have on policies related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and how they play out for students and teachers in the classroom. The panelists included:

  • Murshed Zaheed (moderator), Founder, Pacifica Strategies
  • Ronnie Lau, Federal Lobbyist, National Education Association
  • Dr. Heather Shotton, Vice President of Diversity Affairs, Fort Lewis College
  • Amanda Meyer, Director of Improvement, CORE Districts and Independent Contractor
  • Desiree Carver-Thomas, Researcher and Policy Analyst, Learning Policy Institute

Zaheed opened with a pertinent quote from Representative Ayanna Pressley: “Those closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” Zaheed urged DEI advocates to make sure those in leadership roles hear their voices. Below is a summary of key points made during the discussion, followed by an analysis of where D.C. is when it comes to DEI advocacy and action. 

Equity in education continues to be critically important, especially considering the rising diversity among student populations nationwide. Carver-Thomas pointed out that teachers are the number one in-school factor related to student improvement; equitable distribution of teachers should be a priority. This is an equity issue because teacher shortages primarily impact low income students. Carver-Thomas’ research shows that when students are given access to a diverse set of teachers, all students have positive results, especially those who identify with the racial or ethnic background of their teacher. These positive impacts include increased graduation rates, higher attendance rates, increased engagement, and feeling academically challenged, just to name a few. Further, Carver-Thomas explained, having a diverse set of role models in childhood can address biases in adulthood.

Panelists offered explanations as to why we don’t see more diversity in teacher preparation programs or the educator workforce. The data, Carver-Thomas suggested, point to teacher preparation programs: people of color are more likely to find more affordable ways to come into the teaching profession, which often do not include key teacher preparatory coursework or student teaching experience. While it offers a more affordable route, it creates a vicious cycle where teachers of color feel underprepared and ultimately quit after a few years, undermining the goals of DEI advocates. Lau added that the teacher shortage crisis is a multifaceted issue that differs vastly across states, but that both the rising cost of college and student debt have a “severe impact” on the educator crisis. They act as barriers of entry to the teaching profession – people don’t want to take on loans for a job that won’t pay them enough to get out of debt. Many teachers with debt ultimately quit for higher paying jobs. Historically, people of color carry more debt than those who are white. Educator diversity is a paramount concern when providing equity in education; “there are not enough black and brown educators in the classroom right now; debt is a huge reason why.”

Another important piece of increasing diversity of teachers, Shotton added, is promoting equity in access to higher education for Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC). Furthermore, Shotton emphasized the importance of preparing educators to engage with an increasingly diverse student body through the use of culturally inclusive pedagogy and curriculum. Meyer added that equitable grading policies should be considered by schools as a way to minimize bias and reflect student progress more accurately. 

Meyer provided input from a key perspective: teachers. After all, policy is nothing without its implementers. Meyer expressed that teachers have the desire to create change within education, yet many feel that they do not possess the knowledge or tools to do so. Her work aims to get educators involved in the process of education policy making, which she sees as an imperative link between policy and practice in both directions. Many times, well-intended policies are not fully reflective of what’s really going on in classrooms – this link allows teachers to provide input on existing problems and realistic solutions.

How does this relate to D.C.?
After attending this informative webinar, I wanted to know more about educator diversity in D.C. and what steps D.C. is taking to recruit and retain BIPOC teachers.  

Where is D.C. now?
Data collected by OSSE in their D.C. Educator Workforce Report from May 2022 shows discrepancies between the number of students enrolled in DC who are Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx, and teachers in those racial/ethnic groups. Figure A.2 below illustrates this point. While students in the District do benefit from having a diverse group of teachers, and many students do have access to teachers who match their racial and ethnic backgrounds, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx teachers are underrepresented when compared with the demographics of the student body in D.C. Conversely, white and Asian teachers are overrepresented when compared to the demographics of the student population.

Appendix B (see below) also shows the breakdown of students, teachers, and school leaders by race and ethnicity. While the percentage of Black school leaders (63%) more closely reflects the percentage of Black students (63%), the percentage of Hispanic leaders (9%) is still far from the percentage of Hispanic students (19%), and white school leaders (18%) are overly represented compared to the white student population (12%).


Through OSSE, educator preparation providers (EPPs) prepare candidates to earn an educator credential in DC. As shown below in Figure C.6, the demographics of those who complete the program do not mirror the public school student population in DC; DC disproportionately prepares more White/Caucasian and Asian educators than Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx educators, compared to the student populations.

Looking Ahead
DC Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools are home to many excellent educators from diverse backgrounds who benefit all students. However, there is still work to be done in ensuring DC schools recruit and retain more educators of color, reflective of our student populations.

In her research, Carver-Thomas explains that “Grow Your Own” programs can help to recruit and retain teachers of color. In the spring of 2022, OSSE launched the Educator Preparation “Grow Your Own” Program Grant in order to strengthen the teacher and paraeducator pipeline. American University School of Education will prepare high school students and DC public school graduates to become teachers, while Relay Graduate School of Education will serve current D.C. paraprofessionals with a baccalaureate or master’s degree in teaching. Both routes provide grantees with licenses to teach in D.C. and cover the program costs. 

The extent to which DC’s Grow Your Own program will assist in recruiting and retaining BIPOC teachers is yet to be known, but is a promising leap in the right direction. Additional steps that could be taken to promote more teachers of color in D.C. include:

  • Expand student loan forgiveness to retain teachers of color
  • Increase pay for teachers
  • Training staff to mitigate racial bias in hiring practices
  • Include BIPOC staff as active participants in the hiring process
  • Foster positive and inclusive collegial relationships & school environments

Lauren Dunphy-Kinne is a Policy Fellow for the D.C. State Board of Education

Giselle’s Policy Fellowship Takeaways

A year ago I was gearing up to start my Policy Fellowship at the D.C. State Board of Education. As with most new opportunities I felt waves of excitement followed by small pits of nervousness. Today is my last day with the State Board, and similar feelings are coming up as I think about the transition to my new position as an Instructional Aide for a moderate/severe special education classroom. This blog is a reflection of my one year at the State Board, but it’s also a letter to incoming Policy Fellows who may be wondering what to expect. 

This fellowship was one of my most transformative work experiences. Apart from the vast professional growth, I also learned so much about D.C.’s complex education landscape. My goal from the onset of this fellowship was to gain a better understanding of the education policy process and learn how government agencies were advocating for and implementing improvements for all students. I had big questions like: 

  • What’s being done to make schools more equitable in the D.C.?  
  • Who has the decision-making power for schools in D.C.? 
  • In what direction are D.C. schools headed? 
  • What hurdles remain keeping the State Board from advancing its goals? 

Then I started the Policy Fellowship, and at first I felt like an observer, taking in as much information accessible to me. I read a lot of the reports and memos released by the State Board; I took diligent notes at different D.C. Council hearings and roundtables, as well as State Board working sessions and public meetings. My most significant takeaways came as I listened in and took notes at D.C. Council hearings—it was interesting to hear from D.C. residents and government witnesses, but it was even more interesting to see what resulted from these meetings. A new piece of legislation? More accountability from a specific government agency? Policy may move slowly, but it surely does move when enough people continue advocating for a cause and making their voices heard. 

Patience and perseverance are necessary when working in the policy-world. In simply observing, I learned so much and started forming answers to my initial questions. Then, something changed a few months into the role and I started getting more leadership opportunities. I got research requests, led trainings and meetings, assisted with the policy fellow hiring process, and was asked for my input on State Board agenda items. New questions started forming, and my momentum to continue this policy work grew. 

Which leads to another takeaway: Education and policy have more overlaps than one might think. Although I’ll be in the classroom this upcoming school year working as an instructional aide, I understand that my role as an educator holds political influence. Educator perspective is desperately sought out by government actors and is critical to properly influence education policy. Knowing how to get involved in policy can be intimidating and confusing to an educator, but this fellowship opened my eyes to the different avenues available for educators to have their voices heard. 

As my time at the State Board ends, I can confidently say that this fellowship exceeded my expectations. I learned so much, and felt that my input and ideas were valued. I leave this fellowship knowing that I will devote my career to education, both in policy and in the classroom.   

A Letter from our Executive Director, John-Paul Hayworth

By John-Paul Hayworth, Executive Director

Residents of the District of Columbia:

I have been honored to serve you as the Executive Director of the D.C. State Board of Education for the past seven years. Today, I am announcing my departure from the agency, effective on Friday, June 10, 2022.

Over the past seven years, I have been challenged to do more, be better and work harder every day on your behalf. I am deeply grateful for the trust put in me by the State Board of Education and, by extension, you. Thank you very much. I am very proud of the work the State Board has accomplished in my tenure and am confident that the State Board will continue to pursue and achieve statewide education policy that makes a difference in educational equity and opportunity.

Our motto, Justitia Omnibus, is more than words. It is a call to action; one that can unite us in service to the city we call home. Let us move forward with urgency and purpose, together.

Highlights from the 2022 Annual AERA Meeting

By Giselle Miranda, Policy Fellow


The American Educational Research Association (AERA) held its annual meeting this year on April 21–26, with this year’s theme being “Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century”. The conference was hybrid with virtual sessions held via Zoom and in-person sessions held in San Diego, California. Staff of the State Board of Education (Darren Fleischer, Policy Analyst and Giselle Miranda, Policy Fellow) only attended virtual sessions that members of the State Board requested.The sessions happened to be the ones most relevant to the work of the State Board.

Below we’ve shared highlights from virtual sessions that we thought offer helpful insights to support our work on the Student Advisory Committee (SAC), the Advocacy & Outreach Committee, and the Teacher Practice and School Support Committee. We end the blog by posing potential next steps the State Board can take with this information. Click here for the full Annual Meeting presentation, which was intended to brief members at the May working session.

Session Highlights

Student Advisory Committee (SAC)

Related to the work of the SAC, three groups of speakers presented their research during the session “The Bigger Picture: The Impact of Policy and Student Organizing on Systemic Change”—each presenter detailing the importance of raising student voices and reflecting them into school systems’ policies and practices. For example, Samantha Guz (The University of Chicago) shared that policies and practices like multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) and school discipline are unsustainable when they are defined and implemented without considering students’ perspectives and individual needs; Guz explained that in order to amplify student voices within schools, the school staff need to be equipped with the language and mindsets to value student voice and act on their unique perspectives/experiences. Marcia Watson-Vandiver (Towson University, Assistant Professor of Elementary Education) shared that her study focused on high school graduates to better understand their school experiences and how to improve inequitable practices within the school system—this work served to provide the study’s student participants with critical agency that would help inform systemic changes within schools.

This session highlighted the importance of including recent high school graduates in State Board-led research and advocating for training and support systems that support student voice in the education policy process. Takeaways for SAC members include bridging different student groups (i.e., leadership groups versus student voice groups) within schools to further amplify and galvanize student support around education issues.

Advocacy & Outreach and Board Governance 

There were several sessions that touched on families’ experiences and advocacy work within schools and school systems—such sessions lent themselves to the work of both the Advocacy and Outreach Committee and the Board Governance Committee. One of the sessions, titled “Advocating, Educating, and Policy Making: Family and Community Engagement to Advance Equity, included five papers presenting a range of education issues from families’ perspectives. 

One common finding shared amongst presenters included a sense of collective responsibility families felt towards other children and that however small, families saw the benefits of being engaged despite advocacy being time-consuming, uncomfortable work; such benefits included building knowledge, social skills, and gaining access to decision-making spaces. For example, Dr. Janelle Brady (Ryerson University) described Canadian Black mothers navigating anti-Black systems in the education system, employing strategies of Black resistance, change-making, and sharing strong school-community relationships in the form of “other mothering” (going beyond immediate family members to uplift others in communities of color) through social activism. Diana Casanova (University of California – Berkeley) reported in her study that family members participating in advocacy for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic were motivated to make changes in the education system beyond their family, engaged in shared decision-making, and through their advocacy work, gained knowledge, social skills, and power to gain access to decision-making spaces.

Other presenters pointed to schools and even teachers serving as potential barriers to student learning and family advocacy. In their paper, Muna Altowajri and Dr. Bryan Duarte (Miami University) found that teachers of color held more positive views of parents of color compared to their white counterparts, who held more deficit perceptions when the child was either an English language learner (ELL) or a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) student; their study also found that educators who took an English language learner course as part of their teacher preparation program had more inclusive and positive framing of parents of color.

Session presenters recommended that schools and education agencies should strive for offering opportunities for families to engage in authentic, not superficial, decision-making processes, advocate for teacher training to counteract implicit and explicit racism, promoting fairness in technology (improving the educational background of family members and providing training), and advancing equity through mapping and partnering with community organizations to gain insight and give power to historically marginalized families.

Teacher Practice and School Support

Out of the many AERA sessions related to the Teacher Practice and School Support (TPSS) Committee’s work, one that stood out was entitled “Alternative Certification Pathways for and From Diverse Communities and Contexts”. This session highlighted reasons why the teacher pipeline struggles to grow and diversify; a significant reason being the wide-range of financial barriers teacher candidates face while participating in educator preparation programs (EPPs). For example, Victoria Theisen-Homer (Northern Arizona State University) and Nathan Martin (Arizona State University) found in a recent survey that program cost was one of the main reasons that prevented prospective teachers of color from entering EPPs. Dr. Ashley Cartun and her colleagues (University of Colorado, Boulder) found that students in their EPP program found their unpaid residency requirement unsustainable and an additional financial strain that created more stress.

The session presenters also offered solutions that states/education advocates are implementing to address these challenges. Ms.Theisen-Homer, for example, mentioned that Arizona created a free teacher residency program to combat high attrition rates in the state. The goal is to recruit more teachers or color and address Arizona’s teacher shortage issue. Students who commit to the program would get a $15,000 stipend during their apprenticeship year (year two of the two year program), and must commit to teach in Arizona for two years to have their tuition cost fully forgiven. Dr. Cartun is currently advocating for legislation in Colorado that would compensate student teachers to attract more teacher candidates and alleviate financial stress prospective teachers face while participating in EPPs. 

While the DC State Board’s focus has largely been on teacher retention and supporting current teachers, we also recognize that teacher recruitment is a large part of the education landscape. We can’t support recruitment efforts without first reexamining how to eliminate barriers that are keeping prospective teachers from pursuing the needed certifications. The research presented at this AERA session can help inform our recommendations for diversifying teacher recruitment and support collaborative efforts with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and EPPs to build a teacher pipeline that reduces financial barriers.

Next Steps

The AERA annual meeting offered important insight on recent research in the education field. The D.C. State Board will use the latest research to focus its efforts to bolster student engagement in the policy process, support families navigate complex school systems, and uplift teacher recruitment efforts to ensure the District has a highly-qualified and diverse teacher pipeline. The State Board looks forward to next year’s annual meeting. For more information about AERA please visit their website here.