On June 28, Mayor Muriel Bowser kicked off the search process for the next chancellor of DC Public Schools (DCPS), which serves about 49,000 children. In the coming months, a search committee will solicit community input and advise Bowser on the skills, background, and values they believe the next DCPS chancellor should have. Then, the mayor will nominate a chancellor, who will serve as CEO of DCPS.

What happens with our schools in the next five years will impact the trajectory of our city, and Southwest in particular. The next chancellor will play a vital role in setting the priorities for our school system and tackling its most pressing challenges. It’s time for Southwest residents to pay attention. Here’s why:

Strong schools make a vibrant SW neighborhood.

Southwest is a multigenerational neighborhood that continues to attract more families. It’s not unusual to walk down the street and see parents and grandparents with baby strollers or school-aged kids. Many new families are waiting to see what happens to our schools before deciding whether to remain in Southwest. Our neighborhood organizations—the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, Friends of Southwest, Friends of the Southwest Library, and local churches—have long been involved with serving our youth, and those on the receiving and giving end of those efforts have been made richer by that connection.

Vigilance is needed.

This past year DCPS has been embroiled in scandals (google “DCPS scandal” for details), culminating in the resignation of former Chancellor Antwan Wilson. Local education reform advocates have criticized the chancellor’s search committee, stating it is not representative of DCPS families and teachers and is stacked with charter-school interests. They fear the mayor will select a chancellor without adequate vetting and feedback from stakeholders, just as she did in 2016 (when members of the 2016 chancellor search committee complained the mayor had already made up her mind before sharing Wilson’s resume with the committee). As DC residents, we need to stay vigilant and hold city leadership accountable for running a truly open search process for the best possible chancellor.

SW schools are on the rise, but still need help.

Our neighborhood public schools—Amidon-Bowen Elementary and Jefferson Academy—have made incredible progress in the past few years, but still need significant support to fulfill their potential for providing an excellent education. Our schools are not immune to the larger systemic challenges facing DCPS, including:

  • Lack of equity in funding schools: The current school funding model fails to provide adequate resources to schools with high percentages of at-risk students. The disparity between wealthy and less wealthy schools is made worse because parent teach associations (PTAs) in wealthier neighborhoods are able to fill in budget gaps by raising hundreds of thousands of dollars each year;
  • Lack of transparency in budgeting and other decision-making: By the time school leadership and Local School Advisory Teams see proposed school budgets in the spring, the budgets are mostly baked, with little explanation behind the decisions. The lack of transparency makes it difficult to have a productive discussion on how to best support our children;
  • Lack of classroom technology: Schools lack functioning computers and are on their own to manage and fund IT. Teachers and parents should not have to take on this burden, which could be fixed through a district-wide technology plan and dedicated funding; and
  • Retention of high-quality educators: DCPS teachers put up with a lot, including lack of resources, limited flexibility in the classroom (because of district-wide prescribed curricula), and the overemphasis on standardized testing. DCPS principals are on one-year contracts. Excluding the principal at School Within a School, the average principal tenure in Ward 6 is 1.3 years at their current school.

We need a chancellor who has the experience, will, and leadership to tackle these complex challenges, even if it means taking on entrenched interests and the DCPS bureaucracy. We also need someone who will prioritize strengthening our neighborhood schools. What parent wants to leave their child’s education up to chance, which is what happens with the current lottery system? True choice does not exist until all families have the option of attending an excellent neighborhood school.

To get engaged in the chancellor search and other education issues, you can:

  • E-mail amidonbowendc@gmail.com to learn more about the Amidon-Bowen PTA’s advocacy efforts (use “Advocacy” in the subject line); or

Tell our local officials about your concerns and priorities. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen’s office can be reached at (202) 724-8072, callen@dccouncil.us, or @CMCharlesAllen) and Ward 6 State Board of Education Representative Joe Weedon’s office can be reached at (202) 277-9410, Joe.Weedon@dc.gov, or @joeweedon).

By: Grace Hu

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