By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist
Earlier this summer, the State Board of Education was thrilled to announce the selection of Dayja Burton, a rising senior at McKinley Technology High School, and Alex O’Sullivan, a rising sophomore at BASIS DC PCS, as Student Representatives for the 2019–20 school year. For the length of their term, these outstanding students will join our nine elected State Board members in policy discussions and community engagement efforts, bringing the voice of students directly to decision makers. With their direct experience in the classroom, student representatives provide a unique voice during policy discussions and offer a vital perspective on teacher retention, education standards, and our state accountability system.
Dayja Burton is a McKinley Technology Zelinger award winner, a recipient of the Perseverance Award, and a member of the Principal’s Honor Roll and National Honor Society. Alex O’Sullivan is a member of Youth and Government, co-founder and president of his school’s poetry club, and a volunteer tutor at his local elementary school. As Student Representatives, Burton and O’Sullivan will also co-chair the 2019–20 Student Advisory Committee (SAC), a volunteer group of students from District high schools in both D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) and the public charter sector.
The State Board began an open application process for both the Student Representative positions and the SAC in March, receiving 40 applicants from both traditional public and public charter school students. The SBOE sought students who were passionate about serving their community, as these individuals bring a vital voice to the education policy-making process in the District.
The SAC serves as the voice of students in the State Board’s work. They are consulted on issues of policy before the Board. The SAC meets at least once per month. Each year, the Committee sends the SBOE a report on a matter of importance to District students, providing recommended next steps. If rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors are interested in joining the Student Advisory Committee, contact us at email@example.com. For more information, please visit sboe.dc.gov/studentvoices.
By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist
Last week, our outgoing Student Representatives Tatiana Robinson (Ballou High School) and Marjoury Alicea (Capital City Public Charter School) joined Student Advisory Committee (SAC) members Hannah Dunn & Aaliyah Dick (both of Wilson High School) to present the end-of-year SAC report to State Board members. During the June public meeting, these student leaders shared highlights from the Committee’s recommendations, which focused on solutions for teacher retention and equity across District schools.
By: Sara Gopalkrishna, Policy Fellow
Thanks for the ride, SBOE! As a DCPS parent and a doctoral student of education policy, these last five months as a Policy Fellow at the DC State Board of Education have been illuminating and fun. I have come to understand the structure of educational governance in the District and learned a lot about the people who operate within it. (One day, I’ll diagram it for you!) I was given to the time and task of listening to and watching City Council testimony on education issues and offices, and, of course, SBOE meetings. I had the opportunity to participate in First Friday tours of DC charter schools and peek into some high schools on an SBOE selfie tour to recruit high school students to serve as Student Representatives and members of the State Board Student Advisory Committee. The staff provided opportunities for me to explore DC student data, write memos, contribute blog posts, and ask a lot of questions!
By Sara Gopalkrishna, Policy Fellow
No one should ever turn down an opportunity to tour a pre-K classroom in DC. Lucky for me, an opportunity was presented to me. As part of the First Fridays tour of DC charter schools, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Charter School welcomed us to their new East End campus. Stokes PCS is known in the city as providing dual-language instruction for elementary school students. They offer Spanish-English and French-English elementary school classrooms. Linda Moore founded the school in 1998 and named it after her mother. After moving from its first location in Mt. Pleasant to 16th Street NW, the first campus eventually found its home in Brookland.
With the Brookland campus in such high demand—that it seemed that only siblings could enroll—it was time to expand after 20 years. With careful and deliberate planning, the Stokes team planned and opened its second campus in fall 2018, enrolling 135 pre-K and kindergarten students. Tucked in the eastern-most corner of the city in Ward 7, Stokes East End is the only bilingual elementary school east of the river. The school shares a building with Maya Angelou PCS, a high school. The two schools strategically share the gym, the cafeteria, and other resources such that the young scholars and older ones are kept separate, using shared spaces at different times of the day.
By Frazier O’Leary, Ward 4 SBOE Representative
In nearly fifty years of educating District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) students, I have learned that all students can achieve academic excellence if given the guidance and expertise of dedicated teachers and staff. I’ve learned that all students deserve equal access to 21st-century learning resources and that the ever-changing demographics of our city have nothing to do with student success. I’ve learned that adults must be able to adjust to our evolving world and our students’ different learning styles and needs. Above all, students can be helped by caring, dedicated educators to hurdle obstacles and meet their challenges.
During my tenure at Cardozo Education Campus, I had the privilege of teaching a very challenging Advanced Placement (AP) English literature course and showing students how to organize their lives for success. I learned the importance of giving my teenage students more time and encouragement to learn. My students rarely passed the AP exam, but they did much more writing than they would have done in a regular course—and they had a much better chance for success in college and the workplace.
Campaign Platform and Priorities
As a strong advocate for equity for all students, regardless of their background, I am excited about my work ahead with the State Board. I want to share my knowledge and experience to help make decisions that prepare our students to become productive members of society. Below are some areas I will prioritize as a member of the DC State Board of Education (SBOE).
- Teacher Turnover – We know that there is an issue with teacher turnover at DCPS and the District’s public charter schools. I am concerned by the high numbers of teachers leaving our school systems in the first years of their career. I believe there is too much focus on proficiency in the STAR Framework (found on dcschoolreportcard.org) and an inordinate amount of time spent by teachers on test preparation due to the IMPACT teacher evaluation system.
- Equity and Diversity – As someone who taught in a school that had almost half of its students with an English-language learner (ELL) background and many students with special needs, I am a firm believer in making sure that all students have equitable access. Our students should have access to rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for lives after high school. All children should be able to better themselves given the opportunity and resources. Our curriculum should be evolving to reflect the monumental diversity changes that are occurring across our city. It is our duty to make sure that our system is willing and able to provide whatever is needed to ensure success in school.
- Transparency – Our traditional public school and public charter school systems must be completely transparent about their finances and about what goes on in each school. In order to make the most informed decisions, the public must have access to a whole, unobstructed picture.
- STAR Framework – The District’s accountability framework submitted per requirements outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes a summative rating (i.e., 1–5 star rating). I believe that the current construction of the STAR Framework needs some essential reconstruction with growth being more heavily weighted and school climate being included.
- Early Childhood Education – During my campaign, I was struck by the number of young families enrolling their children in pre-K programs in Ward 4. My wife, Myra, was a Head Start teacher in an inclusion classroom for students with special needs; these students were a part of a tight-knit learning community. I want to make sure every young learner has this early boost to their education.
I am honored to serve the students and families of Ward 4 and I see the years ahead as an opportunity for me to continue listening and learning from the talented educators, administrators, and school leaders in our city. I look forward to leading and working alongside my fellow board members as an advocate for every student at every level in our city.
By Emily Gasoi, Ward 1 SBOE Representative
I started as a classroom teacher in 1995 and I’ve been working in the field of education ever since. While every new chapter in my career has shaped my professional life, perhaps my most formative experience came when I had the opportunity to help start the democratically-governed Mission Hill School (MHS) in Boston.
My colleagues and I worked alongside visionary educator Deborah Meier, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Recipient. We crafted the school’s mission statement and developed integrated, project-based curriculum, formative assessments of student learning, peer-review processes for teacher evaluation, and structures that would build and support a culture of democratic participation among the entire school community. The underlying purpose of all that we did was to help students develop their own talents and interests in preparation for empowered civic engagement.
Running for SBOE
My seven years at MHS greatly influenced my understanding of what the role of public education in a democratic society should be and, by extension, the direction that education reform should take. Despite a whole lot of thinking and doing in this realm, however, nothing could have prepared me for the most recent stretch of my professional journey: running for office.
By Jessica Sutter, Ward 6 SBOE Representative
I love school. I’ve loved school since my first day of preschool when I walked in and never looked back to say goodbye to my mom. I’ve loved every school I’ve had the privilege to teach in. I’ve loved when school filled my heart with joy, like when my eighth graders got their letters of acceptance to high schools. I loved school even when it broke my heart after losing a student to gun violence in my first year of teaching.
I have worked in education for the past 20 years and have called Ward 6 my home for more than a decade. I’ve spent time teaching in classrooms in Chicago’s West Side, in East Los Angeles, and in our nation’s capital at the Blue Castle at Eighth and M Streets SE right here in Ward 6 where I taught eighth grade social studies and literature. In my work at DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, and as a consultant I’ve been lucky enough to visit hundreds of schools and classrooms throughout the District.
By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist
As the new school year progresses, education stakeholders across the District continue to devise ways to improve safety for students traveling to and from school. At last month’s public meeting, we heard from experts, education advocates, school counselors, and parents on some of the biggest challenges District students face in getting to and from school safely. Organizations are working diligently every day to promote safe passage and inform community members about what they can do to help this process.
Our first panel featured Chief Student Advocate Faith Gibson Hubbard and Dan Davis, Student Advocate. Ms. Gibson Hubbard and Mr. Davis defined safe passage as “a student’s journey to school, their movement within school, and how they navigate their way home from school.” The types of student safety issues that were reported include violence, bullying, criminalized conduct, and transportation. Community members who need assistance can access the Office of the Student Advocate’s Safe Passage Resource Toolkit online, which was designed to create and sustain the safe passage of our students and communities based on the “6 E’s” from National Safe Routes to School: education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement, evaluation, and equity.
By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist
At this month’s working session held this past Wednesday, Interim Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) Ahnna Smith spoke to State Board members about the ongoing search for the new District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor. Mayor Bowser launched the search process earlier this summer, appointing the Our Schools Leadership Committee (OSLC) to advise her on the selection and hold community meetings to gather information from residents. Deputy Mayor Smith shared feedback from the recently conducted Chancellor search community forums and asked State Board members for their thoughts on the process and the qualities needed in a successful Chancellor candidate. The goal of the OSLC is to serve as an advisory body that ensures that the feedback the mayor receives from the community is collected in a balanced, thorough, and equitable way. You can watch the lively discussion on our YouTube page.
Two out of the three scheduled forums have already taken place, at Cardozo Education Campus and Savoy Elementary School. Ms. Smith said that approximately 300 diverse stakeholders of students, parents, educators, and community members registered to attend the two events, and there are over 100 RSVPs for next week’s third and final forum at Brookland Middle School on September 11. During these community forums, people are being asked directly about how they feel about the current direction of DCPS, both positive and negative. The goal is to receive direct and frank feedback in order to make the best choice possible.
Credit recovery is supposed to provide students that have already failed a course the opportunity to make up or recover the credit. The regulations submitted to the State Board by OSSE were an attempt to provide statewide guardrails on a chaotic mix of programs, varied interpretations of policies or the complete absence of policies. The State Board unanimously rejected the proposal because, in our view, they would not provide any change in the practice of credit recovery in the District of Columbia.
The State Board believes we need to begin a long overdue conversation about how state agencies are better able to support excellent classrooms. It is a conversation that our caregivers, teachers, and students have been asking for: how do we harness the power of government and public education to ensure equity of opportunity for all students.
Credit recovery is a last resort. Every time a teacher acts with a student that is struggling, we need to be there to provide support. Every time a student falls behind, we need to be there to catch them up. A student that is struggling in a class shouldn’t have to fail the course before the teacher and the school can help. That is a failure of the system, not the student.
On the fundamentals, we agree with OSSE that credit recovery needs clear guidelines and rules, but not without a larger discussion about how the education system is serving individual students. Working together, as a community, we must ensure that the state agencies are supporting caregivers, teachers, and school leaders to provide students with the help they need to prosper by reducing barriers and ensuring equity of access and opportunity. We must hold our school leaders and agencies, not just teachers responsible for student outcomes, and empower our students and their caregivers to be decision-makers in education.
The State Board rejected the proposed regulations to put students, not the system, first.