Reform with Engagement


Michelle Rhee came out of the starting gate full speed ahead when she began as Chancellor of DC Public Schools (DCPS). Within her first year she closed 23 schools, fired almost half of DCPS’ principals, over 250 teachers and 500 teaching aides, allocated $200 million for school revitalization, and quadrupled funds for professional development. While her efforts have proven to bring about some change in schools operations, many stakeholders criticize Rhee for acting unilaterally.
Considering the wide ranging reforms that are supposed to take place, the budget for the upcoming school year is currently at the top of DCPS’ agenda. Since the District is facing a financial deficit, city officials intend to use money from the federal stimulus package for schools to free up local funds. In addition to that package, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education recently submitted an application to receive the federal government’s Race to the Top grant for states. Shortly, the government will open the application to districts. The Race to the Top fund is under section 14006 of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, totaling $4.3 billion. DC could receive between $20 to $75 million of that money . DCPS’ central office can and should use the application process as an opportunity to engage community stakeholders by considering their opinions on schools’ improvement. The Washington Post recently published an article stating that according to their polls, "Rhee's performance was viewed favorably by 59 percent of residents in January 2008, with 29 percent disapproving. Now, there is a near-even split: 43 percent approve of what she's doing, and 44 percent are dissatisfied. Those with children in D.C. public schools have nearly reversed their opinion of Rhee. Two years ago, 54 percent of those parents approved of her; now, 54 percent disapprove." 
From the beginning, DC VOICE has emphasized the power of public engagement when making decisions for DCPS, and we have maintained our commitment to involve all community members and stakeholders in the reform process. We make a point to share data collected in schools from teachers, students, principals, and staff, and we base our decisions to take action based on community responses. At town hall meetings parents, residents, faith and nonprofit organizations, administrators, teachers, and public officials are encouraged to participate in Q&As, small group discussions, and open forums.  Coming up in March, DC VOICE is holding a press conference in partnership with City Council to announce the introduction of the community schools legislation authored by DC VOICE. The legislation was created in response to our 2008 and 2009 Ready Schools and Ready Classrooms project data as well as 13 town hall meetings we held across the city as part of this initiative. DC VOICE anticipates that by the end of this month, DC City Council will have introduced legislation establishing a non-lapsing, segregated community schools investment fund with an initial investment of  between $1 and $1.5 million, based on DC VOICE data and DC VOICE staff and member drafted legislative recommendations.   
While established reforms have increased some aspects of school success in the last two years, change brought about recently has failed to incorporate the voices of all stakeholders. Reform that is not informed by community opinions undermines community authority, and is counterproductive to its empowerment. By borrowing the five rules of community engagement from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and fusing it with our own practices, DC VOICE hopes to influence change in stakeholder communication, for more positive interactions and outcomes in DC public schools.

Rule #1:   A public hearing is not a community conversation
Rule #2:  Talk with or share, do not “talk to” or tell
Rule #3:  “Releasing” information is not getting the word out; disseminate info.
Rule #4:  Seeking and finding common ground is not the same as seeking to protect political turf.
Rule #5:  Taking responsibility does not always mean asserting authority.
Rule #6:  Instead of influencing those who are not like-minded, understand.
Rule #7:  Change should not be influenced from the bottom up, but not the top down.
Rule #8:  Power over decision-making should not be based on establishing a hierarchy, but building a network of
Rule #9:  Supportive communication emphasizes the process not the products.
Rule #10: Engagement is the most significant component of public relations.

 - Excerpt from the Annenberg Institute on Public Engagement for Public Education, "Reasons for Hope Voices for Change." 

Join the Coalition for Community Schools at their 2010 National Forum


( Visit to learn more about the community schools model that DC VOICE is advocating.) 

Innovation is the word of the day in education reform, as the U.S. Department of Education rolls out its new education reform strategy. Community schools are an innovation that is turning around student performance as it builds on a fundamental American principle: schools are inextricably connected to their communities and they educate students best when they function as centers of community. Student success is the result that everyone is seeking for young people...enabling them to graduate from high school ready for careers, college, and citizenship. Attaining this goal is vital to the future for our nation.

On April 7-9, 2010 in Philadelphia, PA the Coalition for Community Schools is hosting a national forum, "Building Innovative Partnerships for Student Success: The Key to America's Future."

Join  U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius as she delivers the keynote address, sharing how community schools are critical for nurturing healthy students, families, and communities.
Additional featured speakers include:
- Assistant Secretary Jim Shelton, Office of Innovation & Improvement, U.S. Department of Education
- Representative Chaka Fattah, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association
- Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers
- Secretary of Education Gerald L. Zahorchak, State of Pennsylvania

This year the coalition celebrates partnerships because they are at the heart of the community schools approach—bringing schools, families, community residents, higher education and an array of other community partners together around a common result—student success. 

All are invited to attend: local and national government leaders, teachers, community-based organization leaders, local policymakers, parents and youth.

To join the discussion, REGISTER HERE now! 

Community Schools Lead to Better Quality Teaching in the Classroom


Recently, DC VOICE had a long conversation with a DCPS elementary school teacher, who by all indicators is a high quality teacher. It was a very interesting conversation, and it got us thinking. We started by asking our usual questions concerning how reform has affected schools’ operations and quality of instruction. This time here’s how the answers came back:

Did you get your books and supplies on time? Check.

Class size manageable? Check.

Building repaired? Check.

Administrative and instructional support? Yes.

Sooo…what do you need to improve the quality of your instruction?

Answer: Teachers need a range of supports for the non-academic needs of children: health care, mental health counseling, family supports. High teacher quality will not result in highly effective learning in the classroom, if these other needs are not met.

The solution to the problems that can’t be fixed with more books, spackle, and infinite professional development: community schools. How do community schools improve the quality of teaching? These are schools that have extended their hours and offer multiple services, not just to their students but to families as well. A well implemented community school model directly supports the learning process and helps make classrooms a high quality environment for both students and teachers. By partnering with one or more organizations and agencies that provide medical or social services, the community school can nurture a student’s development holistically. That can mean scheduling an eye exam for a student having trouble seeing the blackboard or a dental appointment for the student whose toothache keeps him or her from concentrating; and, providing counseling for the student who has been traumatized by neighborhood violence and is distracted in the classroom. While tutoring services are provided to help students who are behind in their academic achievement, community schools offer this, in addition to, various kinds of family support services that help families and community members participate more fully in the education of their children. Serving as a neighborhood hub, community schools can offer access to recreational facilities such as basketball courts and pools for neighborhood residents. Also, it is a free meeting space for residents to discuss community issues and for local organizations. Beyond the obvious benefits for children, the result of utilizing community partners to assist students with academic and personal challenges is the freedom for teachers to focus solely on instruction.

DC VOICE has drafted community schools legislation, which we expect to be introduced by the City Council in the next few weeks. It proposes setting up an Investment Fund to award multi-year grants to local schools on a competitive basis. By consolidating public resources in schools, the city can save money, preserve jobs, and make social services more accessible. This work needs to begin now. Contact your ward representative and encourage them to introduce this legislation at their next meeting. Our teachers and students deserve more. And, our community depends on it.

Demand Reform. Demand Equity.



©2009 The DC VOICE Ostrich |