An Education of Our Own: Dr. Carlene Reid, Ward 8

By Dr. Carlene Reid, Ward 8 Representative

My ward has had every negative statistic imaginable thrown at us. The numbers that we are high in are often not viewed positively. Yet, between my experiences growing up in a couple of churches and establishing a home eight years ago, I cannot help but think of the values that make Ward 8 strong in spirit.

My ties to Ward 8 stretch back to my infancy, as my parents were married in a small church on 13th and W Street in Southeast. I was also christened there. When I was not at church with my mom, I was with my “aunt,” a neighbor who supported me between my parents’ work schedules, participating in Sunday school and fashion shows at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church. My connection to Ward 8 is rooted in the community—a community that values neighborly acts, passionate advocacy, and deep commitment to initiatives that improve the outcomes of all individuals who call the ward home regardless of social stature. 

I raise the aforementioned characteristics because my goal as the State Board of Education representative is to infuse the Ward 8 community’s strong values into education decision-making. Centering Black and Brown voices in education can no longer equate to an educational system forcing elements that are contradictory to our rich cultures and traditions. Kwame Ture posed a question that we have yet to answer: “When have we had the authority to shape our own destiny and to get our destiny to mesh with who we are culturally?” 

As your Ward 8 representative, my goal is to engage the community and identify education initiatives to assert our shared values. I will use my 15 years of experience in various settings, including D.C. Public Schools, the charter sector, city education agencies, and on the national level, to collaborate with Ward 8 residents to identify educational initiatives and strategies that may benefit our children with meaningful outcomes.

I look forward to serving my neighbors throughout Ward 8 by elevating our ideas and concerns around the educational system in D.C. My specific areas of interest are literacy, special education, supplemental learning opportunities, and school funding. I believe that engaging Ward 8 communities around these specific topics is a start. However, I’m interested in discussing other ideas and innovations for education. 

I believe the strong spirit of community in Ward 8 often goes unnoticed. This is the ward where my parents were married, the ward where I was christened, and the ward where so many beautiful things have happened in my life. I look to infuse how hard we strive to build a sense of community, the beautiful smiles that greet you at doors, and the warm feeling of unsolicited “good mornings” into how we make and support an educational system reflective of our values.

I want to hear from you! Please reach out to me at carlene.reid@dc.gov or  (202) 618-0525, @creidsboe.

Preparing Our Students With an Education That Will Allow Them to Accomplish Their Dreams: Eboni-Rose Thompson, Ward 7

By Eboni-Rose Thompson, Ward 7 Representative

I was told by one of my high school teachers that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I believe we will truly be lucky as a city to be a place that measures ourselves not by those who have the most, or by those who have beaten the odds and succeeded, but rather when we measure ourselves by making the odds that our kids do succeed. I imagine that can be true, and I know it is possible not only from my own experience, but from the experience of people like my mom, my stepdad, and my sisters—all D.C. natives, all educated in D.C., all thriving in the city we call home.

My mom is a D.C. Public School (DCPS) teacher, but she wasn’t always a teacher. Long before my mother was in the classroom, she was an electrician. She wired some of the hotel rooms downtown. It’s actually how she met my step dad when they worked together at PEPCO. I remember her working her way through college at the University of the District of Columbia when I was a child. I was at her graduation.

I share that with you because preparation is not one path. It’s making sure our children have the skills to choose their own paths, to change paths, and to create paths that don’t yet exist.

D.C. has so many paths and so many opportunities. We don’t have an opportunity issue—we have a preparation issue. We are a great and powerful city. However, in order for us to be a truly great city, we must become a city that prepares our kids with an education that will allow them to accomplish their dreams.

The mission of the State Board is to provide policy leadership, support, advocacy, and oversight of public education to ensure that every student is valued and learns the skills and knowledge necessary to become an informed, competent, and contributing global citizen. Essentially, the State Board works to make sure our kids are prepared for their dreams.

I went to elementary, middle, and high school in Ward 7. I know firsthand that my childhood friends and college friends were not offered the same educational opportunities. I ran to represent Ward 7 on the State Board of Education because I believe we must prepare all our children to take advantage of the opportunities before them, and I want to work to make that possible for children who went to the schools that I went to, in the part of the city that I grew up in, and still call home. Preparation is the issue I want to solve, and representing Ward 7 on the State Board is my opportunity to help solve it.

Advancing Literacy Across D.C., Allister Chang, Ward 2

By: Allister Chang, Ward 2 Representative

Ever since being sworn in on January 2nd as a member of the D.C. State Board of Education, I can’t stop thinking about the urgency for literacy among all of our students.

Imagine you’re in 4th grade. Your social studies teacher calls on you to answer a question about the Declaration of Independence. You struggled to read the homework last night, so you mumble a response. You pretend not to care, but deep down you’re feeling frustrated. You zone-out for the rest of the class. 

Literacy matters for students. Children who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation

“I wasn’t prepared to teach 10th graders who can’t read,” a high-school biology teacher recently lamented to me. Literacy isn’t only important for the humanities, illiteracy stalls science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning, too.

Literacy matters for all of us. In a pandemic, it matters that everyone in the community knows how to read health and safety guidelines. Media literacy matters too. Learning how to read is just the beginning. In 2021, we must prepare our students to navigate emerging technologies and to distinguish between fact from fiction online. Our Founding Fathers wrote extensively about the importance of literacy education as the foundations of a vibrant democracy, a privilege that we too often take for granted.

Expanding literacy opportunities for D.C. students is personal for me. My father immigrated to D.C. from Taipei. Though he couldn’t teach me how to read, he worked hard as a waiter in D.C.’s Chinatown in order to connect me to literacy-learning opportunities that allowed me to pursue my own path: to become a first-generation college graduate and to become the first Asian-American elected to D.C.’s State Board of Education.

All children deserve access to those opportunities. Over the next four years, advancing literacy across DC is my top priority, and I’ll need your help. Through my newsletter, I’ll be sharing opportunities for you to join me in amplifying literacy learning. Let’s get all our students reading!

SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: January 2021 – Assessment Data and Tutoring

By Rachel Duff, Policy Fellow

In the new year, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) will renew its “Research Roundup” in an effort to increase focus on select education research and policy concepts, specifically to make the implications of this research accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. 

This January 2021#EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), which presents initial findings on students’ reading and math achievement in fall 2020 and one from the Learning Policy Institute, which examines potential tutoring structures to mitigate COVID-19 learning loss.

As we have done previously, the State Board will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

“Learning during COVID-19: Initial findings on students’ reading and math achievement and growth” Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), November 2020

Summary: This report presented data collected from the MAP Growth Assessments administered in the 2019-2020 school year as compared to fall 2020. The assessment was administered both in-person and remotely in fall 2020 and NWEA found remote testing results to be consistent with in-person testing for students in grades 3-8 but may qualitatively differ for the youngest students.

Some of their key findings include: 

  • In the fall 2020 assessment, students in grades 3-8 performed similarly in reading to same-grade students in fall 2019, but about 5 to 10 percentile points lower in math
  • Although median percentiles in reading were comparable to students in the same grades prior to COVID-19 disruptions, initial evidence pointed to minor declines in reading specifically for Hispanic and Black students in the upper elementary grades. 
  • Missing assessment data from student attrition in fall 2020 limited the analysis of data and resulting in a likely underestimation of COVID-19 impacts on student achievement.
  • The pattern of absent or missing student data was found to be in the following student groups: ethnic/racial minority students, students with lower achievement in fall 2019, and students in schools with higher concentrations of socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

The NWEA found that pairing the assessment results with the pattern of absent students highlighted the importance of connecting to students and families to provide support both in remote and in-person settings. They also found that the assessment results indicated a clear and critical need for local data in order to understand where students have fallen behind and to guide future support. The NWEA recommends that data collected by school districts and states be transparently reported to inform our collective understanding of students’ unmet needs.

State Board Context: In the District of Columbia, The Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) is submitting requests to the US Department of Education (USED) for flexibility in implementing components of the statewide accountability system known as the Schools Transparency and Reporting (STAR) Framework and other accountability elements required in the state’s approved Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan.

The specific requests OSSE will be submitting are as follows: 

  • Through the ESSA Addendum, ask for flexibility to identified areas of the accountability system to which USED has identified as being directly impacted by unavailable data from the 2019-20 school year and the continued impacts resulting from the COVID-19 national emergency.
    • OSSE will not calculate the School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) Framework for the 2020-21 school year.
    • OSSE will not identify new schools for Comprehensive or targeted support using data from the 2020-21 school year.
    • OSSE will shift all three long term goals forward by one year.
      1. Academic Achievement: “OSSE’s long-term goal is for the vast majority, or 85 percent, of all students and students in each subgroup to demonstrate college and career readiness on its statewide standardized achievement assessments as signified by scoring at level 4 and higher on PARCC and level 3 and higher on MSAA.”
      2. Graduation Rate: “OSSE’s long-term goal is that over the next approximately 20 years, 90 percent of all students in its adjusted cohort will graduate within four years, fully closing gaps between groups of students by that point in time, with a key milestone of seeing all student groups improve and cutting gaps in half over the next ten years.”
      3. English Language Proficiency: “OSSE administers the Access for ELLs 2.0 as an annual measure of English language proficiency for students identified as English learners. Students are deemed proficient when they achieve a composite score of 5.0 (bridging) on the summative assessment.”
  • Through a waiver, to address those components not included in the addendum but are also impacted by unavailable data and impacts as a result of the current COVID-19 emergency, OSSE will request flexibility to aive the administration of DC Science for the 2020-21 school year.
  • Waive the identification of Targeted Support 1 (TS1) schools in school year 2020-21 and 2021-22 due to the absence of STAR Framework scores and limitations with growth calculations, which would utilize data from the 2020-21 school year.

The D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) submitted public comment on January 22, 2021 and requested the following from OSSE:

  • The State Board asks OSSE to clarify whether funding allocated for Comprehensive Support (CS1) schools will  cover five (5) years instead of three (3), or whether more funding will be allocated for the additional two (2) years these schools spend during their CS1 status. 
  • The State Board urges OSSE to not include the academic year 2018–19 STAR rating as prominently on current iterations of the DC School Report Card as this data may be misleading to families.
  • The State Board encourages OSSE to provide additional support for schools as they prepare to welcome back and assess students during the reopening process.
“Learning in the Time of COVID-19: The Importance of Getting Tutoring Right”, Learning Policy Institute, January 2021

Summary: This report examines the profound learning losses students have faced, particularly students of color, students from low-income families, and other underserved students. The Learning Policy Institute presents tutoring as a potential strategy to mitigate these learning losses but emphasizes that a poorly constructed tutoring program would be an inefficient use of time, money, and resources that would not significantly impact student learning.

The report presents four different tutoring programs that have been successful in implementing structures of tutoring that directly increase student achievement and it includes elements that contribute to their success. 

  • Reading Recovery: Has documented success with first graders, including students with reading disabilities and English language learners. Students work one-on-one with a certified teacher trained in reading instruction. Student participation resulted in a reading growth rate that is 31% greater than the average growth rate nationally for beginning first graders. This program costs $2,500 per teacher and $100 per student. 
  • Number Rockets: Teacher candidates in teacher preparation programs receive 10 hours of training and use a scripted curriculum designed for first graders struggling in math. They work with two or three students at a time and participate in three 40-minutes sessions a week over 17 weeks. Student scores improved on a standardized math test by 0.34 standard deviations. The training cost is $1,500 plus travel expenses, $64 for implementation manuals, and $30 for supplemental materials. 
  • ROOTS: District-employed paraprofessionals provide math tutoring intervention for kindergarteners. They receive 10 hours of training and two or more feedback sessions from coaches. Tutors provide daily 20-minute math lessons for 50 days in groups of 3-5 students. Students improved scores on standardized tests by 0.35-0.45 standard deviations. The training for this program costs $250 per teacher. 
  • Match Corps: AmeriCorps members provide 9th and 10th grade students with 60 minutes of 2-on-1 tutoring each day for a full school year. They receive 100 hours of training, daily supervision, and feedback for continuous improvement. Students’ math achievement scores improved (0.19-0.31 SD) and their course failures were reduced by half. This program costs around $2,500 per student.

State Board Context: During the January 2021 Public Meeting, the D.C. State Board of Education heard from panelists about learning loss, tutoring, and other options. The individuals who came to testify included Marisa Tersy an Education Improvement Specialist with EmpowerK12, Kyndra V. Middleton an Associate Professor and Educational Psychology Program Coordinator with Howard University, Matthew A. Kraft an Associate Professor of Education & Economics with Brown University, Shwetlena Sabarwal a Senior Economist in Education Global Practice with The World Bank, and Robert Slavin the Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University and Co-Founder of Success for All Foundation. They testified that the learning loss has been significant for students, specifically for minority students, and that an effective tutoring structure could potentially provide both teachers and students with a resource to mitigate learning loss. Written testimony provided for the Public Meeting can be found here.

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.