Recap: State of the Schools, Ward 2
Interim Chancellor Henderson meets with interested Ward 2 constituents to note their concerns and hear their hopes and dreams.
On Tuesday June 7, Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson joined interested parents and community members at Garrison Elementary for another in her series of "State of the Schools" events.
The evening began at 5:30 pm with a Ward 2 School Expo. Booths lined the Garrison cafeteria displaying information and pictures of Ward 2 schools. Prominently displayed were Georgetown schools: Duke Ellington Center for the Performing Arts, Fillmore West Arts Center and Hyde-Addison Elementary. Each school was eager to talk about their programs and strengths and to answer questions.
Budget concerns were of top concern for several schools. Ongoing budget decreases, combined with an increasing student body have put pressure on Ellington despite all their recent fund-raising success.
Students representing nearby School Without Walls High School in Foggy Bottom also manned a table and talked with anybody who walked by about the personnel cuts their school is facing. Rising senior, Dakota Ross-Cabrera explained that a favorite English teacher is vulnerable to lay-off. And student Corey Matthews explained that the class counselor for all the rising seniors may be cut right before they begin to face critical college decisions.
Principal Dana Nerenberg was at the Hyde-Addison table. She noted again the increase in in-boundary students seeking to attend Hyde and the physical plant constraints.
Garrison's Principal Seaward officially welcomed the crowd at about 6 p.m. with the phrase "Learning is our business here and business is good!" Councilmember Jack Evans' staff member, Sherry Kimball, apologized for the Councilman's absence as she thanked the audience for attending and introduced the Chancellor.
Henderson explained that Tuesday night's event was one in a series of such events around the city. She has been reaching out to the community to understand their concerns as she begins the next strategic planning process for D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). She also noted that as part of this upcoming strategic plan process, DCPS is encouraging everyone to fill out a short survey about their hopes and dreams for local schools. Henderson hopes to get 20,000 surveys returned. But she says already that her early conversations with the community indicate that most share the same dreams for the city's school system.
Participants were then randomly divided into smaller breakout groups to speak with Chancellor Henderson and other senior members of the DC PS team. In the smaller breakout group, parents and community members asked Henderson about local school budget concerns and the rumor that central administration was getting an $18 million increase. Henderson assured listeners that the cuts are hard but necessary and denied the rumor that budgets are increasing in the central office.
Parents also reported frustration with the perceived unwillingness by some school leaders to make their schools attractive to nearby in-boundary families. The tension between in-boundary and out-of-boundary students was repeated in several conversations and seems to be growing as demographics change. Parents also asked how principals were evaluated and were told that this year "parental satisfaction" is one of the factors.
Participants also got to talk with staff about athletic and afterschool programs, academic rigor and school culture and discipline. The small size of the discussion groups and Henderson's willingness to listen impressed participants. Although everyone realized the hardest work lies ahead.