S.H.A.P.P.E. uses letters and testimony as a way of letting our appointed and elected leaders know where the DCPS high schools stand on an issue. The S.H.A.P.P.E. meetings provide input on the content, there is also an email solicitation and often follow up phone calls to solicit the thoughts from any group that is underrepresented at the meetings.
DC Council Oversight Hearing on DCPS
February 23, 2017
S.H.A.P.P.E. – Cathy Reilly Director
Thank you for this opportunity to testify at the oversight hearing for the District of Columbia Public Schools. It gives me the chance to say how important DCPS is to the citizens of our city. DCPS is our publicly managed system. This infrastructure of schools provides every child with the right to attend a public school without entering a lottery or having to apply. The public accountability, that you as our elected representatives exercise here allows all of us to have a voice in how our tax dollars are spent and to some extent on what the policies and vision are for our DCPS schools.
For me, this discussion and the acknowledgement that we are working to find the best policies for all of the children together, not just mine or just the ones in my school, is the foundation of our democracy. It requires listening and taking into account the needs and desires of others in our city. I believe this is threatened and needs your explicit protection.
Attending a DCPS school can be about having the opportunity and the right to invest in your neighborhood and your community. Instead of the message, go elsewhere if you do not like this school, it can be about what do you want to see and how can we work together to make that happen.
For the high schools, DCPS has the potential to use its resources as the largest LEA to offer more innovative programming that might expand opportunities. Each school should feel being part of DCPS as an asset that adds to their ability to attract students and serve them.
· Could we be offering a language hub at Roosevelt International High School open to the feeder schools and other DCPS students? It is close to the metro. How will DCPS share the enormous resources invested in Ellington, how can we allow other students to access the STEM programs or the wonderful resources at Phelps. Could students choose to take some courses at another high school? Could teachers work with resources at other schools? Could a feeder pattern of elementary and middle schools be exposed more to our modernized high schools?
· Parents continue to want strong schools of right. In Ward 4 Roosevelt has a strong feeder pattern and MacFarland will be coming on line. West and Raymond remain at the top of the needs list. Coolidge has proposed a middle and high school for the same budget to provide a strong by right option for its feeder schools with rapidly growing early childhood populations. Every ward should have a strong infrastructure of DCPS schools for now and for the future.
I understand that there are many who have championed “Choice” and the comparison of schools as the answer to providing a strong education for our children. I believe we have ample choice with 66 separate school systems and over 200 schools. 65 of these systems are privately managed with autonomy overseen by a charter board which is not elected.
In order for us to protect and maintain our right to a public DCPS system, there will have to be some deliberate policy changes.
· We have a system where a charter school Kipp can request an expansion of 3,000 students. It is not clear if they even have to note they are three new schools.
· We do not require an impact statement as to how expansions or new schools might affect the surrounding schools and neighbors.
· We do not require a needs assessment that looks at the public seats now available in all schools. It is the operators who want to open new schools or expand. Where is the city planning voice before tax dollars are committed?
· The decision is made based on whether the operators have made a good case. The need cannot be quantified by the wait lists. We have a system where it is to your advantage to apply to up to 12 schools and where schools go to lengths to expand the wait list.
· Further, the right to open up to 10 schools a year creates a demand for public space on the part of the new charter schools, even the sense of a right to the public buildings. This is on a collision course with the energy to modernize our DCPS public school buildings and invest in our feeder system of by right schools. It will inevitably lead to the closing of both charter and DCPS schools and the instability that this approach throws our families into.
We have the opportunity to plan and to invest in what we have. But it will take leadership. I saw the pictures of you and your council colleagues wearing a yellow banner signifying your support of National School Choice Week. I thought you needed a blue banner that signified your support for our public system of by right schools and our democratic process. Instead of always exercising choice – let us empower communities to work together with you to invest and improve our neighborhood schools.
DCPS –Our DCPS schools of right, democracy and choice – a treasure to keep