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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 06/23/2011

D.C. student: How budget cuts are hurting my school

Public schools around the country are facing devastating budget cuts, and those in Washington D.C. are no exception.

Most D.C.public schools are being dealt tough cuts for next year, including School Without Walls High School, which is facing a drop of $811,000, almost $2,000 per student. The high-achieving Walls is located on the campus of George Washington University; all of its seniors graduate and are accepted to college.

Below, rising senior Dakota Ross-Cabrera, 16, explains what the cuts will mean to the students at Walls.


By Dakota Ross-Cabrera

All across the District, immense budget cuts have devastated our public schools. High schools students from all eight wards have had to say goodbye to many beloved teachers and staff in order to “enhance the fiscal stability of D.C. Public Schools.” One of these schools is mine, School Without Walls, commonly referred to as “Walls.”

Walls is a National Blue Ribbon School, ranked 1st among D.C. public high schools and 96th on a national list of high schools that challenge students with accelerated classes (and that is compiled by Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews). Still Walls is one of the D.C. public high schools that has been hit hard by the cuts.

Despite increasing enrollment, the Walls’ administration has been forced to cut four teachers, one class counselor and one office staff member. Their loss, especially that of Mark Ausbrooks and Kamel Igoudjil — have sparked student protests.

Mr. Ausbrooks is the class counselor of the rising senior class of 2012. He is a rare counselor who should be rewarded, not excessed. He has taken the time to personally get to know every single student of the 2012 class, and the advice he gives us is extremely valuable.

I have found him to be the most creative, supportive, and inspirational counselor I have ever had. He has helped me schedule my classes around an extremely time consuming internship this year, and has put all of us on the right track towards graduation next year.

Junior Quintess Bond said that Mr. Ausbrooks called her on Saturday mornings to notify her of new scholarships for which she qualifies. If we are stripped of such an important figure next year, we will be at a disadvantage when applying to colleges in the fall. Mr. Ausbrooks knows our strengths and weaknesses. We cannot afford to lose him at a time when we need him the most.

In addition, underclassman English teacher Igoudjil has had a similar impact on the Walls community.

He is an extremely stimulating teacher. Students of all grade levels have taken his “Techniques in Writing” and “Humanities I” classes and benefitted immensely from his instruction. Students who have taken his Humanities 1 course during their freshman year report that in taking his class, they essentially “learned English.”

Junior David Lukazer created an online petition, which has received close to 300 signatures against the excessing of Mr. Igoudjil and Mr. Ausbrooks. Given that Walls consists of only 400 students, this is impressive.

On June 7th, my fellow junior Arjun Pappajohn and I staged a protest at the Ward 2 State of the Schools meeting at Garrison Elementary. Many dedicated Walls students showed up with chants, posters and determination.

We then spoke with Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and explained to her why our teachers are important to us. We asked her about a budget analysis by Mary Levy showing that the budget of the school system’s central office had, in fact, increased 10.8 percent, while the budget for schools in the District was drastically cut.

Chancellor Henderson, however, denied that any budget increase had occurred and told us that the District is in so much debt that it is necessary to cut teachers, even the amazing ones. She went on to talk about her experience teaching in “bad” neighborhoods, and told us we were “lucky” to attend such a privileged school.

But we are not lucky. It is not by mere luck that we ended up at School Without Walls. We all took an exam in order to enter Walls, and day to day we work tirelessly to maintain a high grade point average lest we be asked to leave. We explained to Chancellor Henderson that Walls is difficult, and it will be even harder without our teachers.

As she left the room, after announcing that the central office had no increase, we could not help but wonder whether the DCPS college planning official who walked in before Chancellor Henderson and announced that he was “newly appointed” was working pro-bono.

I understand that there are less fortunate schools than Walls in the D.C. public school system, but to improve other schools at the expense of Walls is wrong. The administration at Walls has worked tirelessly in order to create an exemplary college preparatory school that has been serving students from all wards, backgrounds, and ethnicities for almost 40 years.

The student body at Walls is 58% African American, 9% Hispanic, 7% Asian, and 26% white. So Walls is not merely a privileged school asking for more money.  Walls is a school that serves D.C. children from all walks of life. Cutting Walls’s budget so severely could lessen its productivity and could jeopardize what it can accomplish for all students.

The budget cuts have drawn a wedge between students/parents and the central administration and should therefore be reconsidered. Many parents and students have spoken out in protest of these vast cuts, explaining that they are unfair and unprecedented, but to date these voices have not been attended to.

It is extremely frustrating to watch my favorite teachers be labeled “excess” and shipped out, and stressful to think about switching class counselors again right in time for our senior year. The central office needs to put schools and students first, and make sure that their actions are not damaging to the schools which they represent.
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