DC VOICE Testimony on School Closures within DCPS November 19, 2012


Public Hearing on School Closures within DCPS, November 19, 2012
Erika Landberg, DC VOICE

Good afternoon.  Thank you for this opportunity to testify on public school closing issues.  As a DCPS parent in the 70s, my son’s elementary school was closed when he was in first grade.  As a member of the DC Board of Education in the 1990s I voted on 18 proposed school closures:  I am no stranger to school closing, or to the often negative consequences that result when closings are not conducted with care and consultation with the communities affected.  Nevertheless, I am not against school closings.  For various reasons, they can be necessary.  This time I suggest we do two things differently:  1) redesign how we use underutilized school buildings and 2) design a community-based consolidation process.

Turn Underutilized School Buildings into Community Schools
In Chancellor Henderson’s press release accompanying her school closure proposals, she said:  “…we need our schools to look very different.”  Many of us would agree, but would go far beyond the examples which follow her statement:  rigorous coursework at all levels?  career and technical programs?  Those should already be in place and not need school closings to make them happen.
No, we at DC VOICE are talking about schools that not only look different but operate differently.  I’m talking about community schools – open longer hours and offering multiple programming for all ages, including their students.  Such schools become centers, anchors, of their communities, with the available space used to house multiple services from health and dental services to child care and tutoring to adult education and job training.  Such schools end up increasing student achievement because of their additional resources, partnerships and programming, their intentional community and parent engagement, and their services to families which enable those families in turn to be more supportive of their children’s learning. 

In his testimony on Friday, my colleague Jeff Smith reminded the Council that the legislation you passed last year, and funded in the 2013 budget is not being implemented as of yet.  The opportunity is here and now, and two possibilities emerge as part of this closing process:   One is to rethink a couple of the schools on the proposed list, schools that have 200-300 students now, have extra space, and are in communities that would especially benefit from the community school structure.  The second possibility is to look at consolidations that for whatever reasons should take place, and turn the consolidated school into a community school – so that the families from the closing school really do have a different and better place for their children and themselves, a place that will make them choose to go there instead of leaving DCPS and causing enrollment to fall.  By the way, experience elsewhere in the country has shown that enrollment often goes up as families realize the benefits and want to be part of a community school.

Design and Implement a Community-based Consolidation Process
When a school is closed and consolidated into another one, the parents of those displaced children don’t just fall into line and go to the new school.  Particularly now in Washington, DC when parents have so many options.  In 2006, DC VOICE conducted a study:  DCPS 2006 School Consolidations:  How did the Transitions Go?  We made 6 recommendations, which I have attached here.  And while all six are important, I want to focus on two today: 
  •  Form a transition task force at each school consolidation site
  • Develop and implement a communications and marking plan

The kind of task force we envision would have official standing, in the community and in the eyes of DCPS.  It would have decision making power; its ideas and proposals could not be dismissed.  It would have parents, community members and teachers on it for sure, so that the broadest spectrum possible of persons would have a voice and be part of the consolidation process, from beginning to school opening in the fall and beyond.

One of its tasks would be to personally contact every family and staff member in the closing school and ask them what is important to keep from the present school, including what programs should transfer; what their hopes and dreams are for their children in a new school; and, as much as possible, describe what to expect in the new school.  Such a task force would actually design and implement a marketing campaign for the new consolidated school. 

For that matter, DCPS needs to develop a marketing mentality and practices across the school system, regarding all of its schools.  Because we live in a time when parents have many choices, intentional outreach and marketing are needed for the school system to keep its market share, so to speak.  School closings make the system particularly vulnerable to enrollment loss.  If done badly – ignoring the dual needs to create truly different community schools with richer and more comprehensive programming, and to conduct school consolidations and marketing effectively – the enrollment decline could be catastrophic over time. 


Post a Comment


©2009 The DC VOICE Ostrich |