DC VOICE Testimony at Hearing on School Closures - November 15, 2012


DC VOICE Testimony at D.C. City Council Hearing
Public Oversight Hearing on Review of School Closures within the District of Columbia Public Schools and Public Hearing on Bill 19-734: School Boundary Review Act
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good Afternoon, my name is Jeff Smith. I'm the parent of a 6 year old DCPS student and a member of DC VOICE, a small civil rights organization whose lone civil rights issue is public education in the District of Columbia.

My testimony revolves solely around 4 findings and 4 questions that we would hope that council and its staff obtain answers to and shares with the public while it considers the Chancellors proposed list of school closings.

The Chancellor was quoted as saying, “we need to stop investing in the same things we have been investing in.  We need to make more radical progress.”  From this quote, one could interpret this to relate to school closings.   It is easy to see where some benefits might be derived from consolidating some programs and realizing several efficiencies.  It seems like a great idea to expand success and access to high-performing schools like School Without Walls.

But we closed 22 schools four years ago; we closed 5 two years before that.  That was a huge social, emotional and fiscal investment for this community and we have not been given information that shows the benefit or progress derived from those investments and now we are looking to invest in more of the same.  We have not received an evaluation of the last round of school closings or for that matter of Mayoral Control.

Question 1: what enhancements can affected communities count on? For example, how does closing schools carry over into more highly qualified teachers or ensure that additional counselors and enrichment activities are available to our children? Or, will many simply transfer into larger settings with the same programmatic offerings?

Additionally, we shouldn’t allow the Mayor to advance a proposal void of essential facts and figures such as the potential savings or cost avoidance that such a proposal brings about.
Question 2: How will the council and DCPS justify the closing of schools as an investment to the public and how will they measure their impact? How will they let the community know that they made a good decision to close these specific schools, and not just any schools?

One option offered is that we would convert these sites to charter schools. Given trends in enrollment and a growing demand for charter schools, this seems unavoidable. But what experience has shown us, is that the charters will simply claim the students in that neighborhood that were previously at DCPS’s under enrolled schools causing a further loss of enrollment.  Ceasar Chavez in my neighborhood is a perfectly good example.

Bruce Monroe was closed.  Chavez opened up the next year on the same property just down the same block.  Now all the kids I knew in my neighborhood that went to Bruce Monroe, except 1, now attend Chavez instead of the nearby Park View School that Bruce was moved into. There seems to be a cycle that promotes perpetual under-enrollment in public schools under this model.

Question 3: What is DCPS doing to stop enrollment loss? What size school system is envisioned by DCPS?

Just 5 years ago, DCPS began the process of dismantling Junior High Schools and instead making k-8’s and 6-8’s called Middle Schools.  Parents like myself were concerned with sending their kindergartners to school with 8th graders. That was the case when my wife and I looked into sending my daughter to Stevens, which had just converted to k-8.  Now we are shifting again to suggest sending 6th graders to school with 12th graders and Stevens will instead be combined with a High School. If we are doing this solely for facilities purposes, the High School and Junior High should remain separate as two entities – similar to Bell Multi-Cultural.  If, such as the case with K-8’s, there is a educational benefit to co-locating these various grades, that should be made clear as well along with whatever provisions will be taken to avoid increased bullying and intimidation by High School students onto their Middle School peers.

Question 4: How can the asset of having “extra” space be used to co-locate more programs and services for young people and their families.  If Middle School children and HIgh School students can occupy the same building, what is stopping DCPS from utilizing dual-use of buildings to house public services in the community schools format?

In 2009 we helped the D.C. City Council author legislation to create community schools that would offer comprehensive services and programming.  That bill was approved and funded this year after extensive and genuine community engagement.  Yet more than 200 days after its final approval OSSE has failed to comply with any of the requirements this body authored for establishing such schools or dispersing those monies.  Before shuttering more doors, city council owes the citizenry an answer to what’s happening with existing efforts to more efficiently use public school space in a way that supports students.  My Colleague Erika Landberg will talk more about Community Schools when she testifies on Monday.


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