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 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: Maria Salciccioli, Policy Analyst
From June 28 – 30, the Education Commission of the States held its 2017 National Forum on Education Policy in San Diego, California. I had the opportunity to attend and relished the chance to meet education leaders from around the country and learn more about other states’ innovative education policies.
Day one focused on school choice policies, and in the opening plenary session, DC got a shoutout from Fordham Institute president Michael J. Petrilli, who called the city “school choice nirvana” and said that the robust charter sector spurred DC Public Schools to improve. He also noted that charter schools need to provide a great education for students with disabilities and minimize suspensions if they want to serve students well. After the plenary, we moved into small group sessions on school choice, and I chose “Expanding School Choice through Open-Enrollment Policies.” One of the session leaders was a superintendent from a small district in New Mexico. Students in New Mexico are allowed to attend schools outside of their home district, but the size of their large rural counties makes that prohibitive. To maximize choice in a rural state, the superintendent’s strategy as a school leader is to increase options within the district by providing online learning, experiential learning, and other opportunities beyond the traditional classroom setting. While DC’s innovative lottery seems to be leaps and bounds beyond what most states offer, the strategies other states used to diversify students’ educational experiences can potentially benefit District students.
The second day had a strong focus on equity, which was much more relevant to the work we do at the State Board. The morning opened with a panel of leaders discussing their states’ biggest achievement gaps and their strategies for addressing them. A panelist from the Alliance for Education asked about the potential impact on a state’s economy if all high school dropouts became high school graduates. I wondered how that logic might resonate in DC, a city with a highly educated workforce where only 69% of students graduate from high school. This marks an improvement over the past several years, but our graduates are not always college- and career-ready, and we need to get them there. I left the session feeling energized about the work our high school graduation requirements task force will do over the next year. I also attended sessions on how Minnesota used data to close attainment and equity gaps and on how Kansas aligned high school education with career opportunities. I took lessons away from both sessions that will certainly inform my policy work here in the city.
The conference ended with some conversations about school finance and a networking lunch that took place steps away from a beautiful beach. It is a testament to the attendees’ commitment to education policy that the indoor sessions were so well attended, considering that the Pacific Ocean was in view of the conference hotel! The State Teachers of the Year, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several US territories, were in attendance and did a wonderful job of representing the educator perspective at the conference, which kept conversations from getting too far into the weeds and away from the students we’re all working to support. Having the opportunity to spend time with them over lunch was a highlight of the week. I left feeling energized about the great work we’re doing for students in DC, and I also felt more motivated than ever to go above and beyond to support our high school graduation task force, as well as our upcoming ESSA task force, as they work to close achievement and attainment gaps across the city and provide all District students with a great education.
By: Tara Adam, Policy Fellow
On Thursday, May 25, Mila Yochum of the DCPS Out-of-School-Time System Set-Up Team, led a lively discussion centering on the question, how can resources be distributed to support equity within the District? The goal of the afternoon was to help the OST Team determine an equity lens through which RFP applicants should be scored for 2017-2018 award year.
Prior to delving into the group exercise, Ms. Yochum emphasized that equality does not equate to equity, and that it is OST’s responsibility to ensure there is an equitable distribution of the available RFP 2017-2018 $2 million dollar grant, not an equitable access to it. Although there is a standardized rubric for the grant review process, bonus points awarded will be awarded to applicants who further the OST’s equity movement.
The group of stakeholders assimilated eight themes in which they believed the equity lens should be centered on: mental and emotional health, enrichment opportunities, transportation, poverty, under-resourced schools, special populations, geography, and organizational capacity. The group then delved into identifying key concerns and concepts associated with each theme. For example, the stakeholders’ agreed that youth programs targeted at professional development and opportunities for personal growth should be a core concept related to enrichment.
During the session’s debrief numerous participants commented on their desire for collaboration and the creation of an Out-of-School-Time community where ideas and resources can be shared. Moreover, numerous stakeholders voiced a concern over the definition of who an “at-risk” student really is.
This discussion was part of a series of six conversations held by the DCPS OST Set-up Team. Following the conclusion of the six sessions a vote will be held to determine the three most popular themes in which an equity lens will be developed for the RFP 2017-2018 grant. This process will only be applicable to this grant year.