Kwame Brown’s D.C. Council chairmanship will be remembered for how it ended — in Wednesday night’s resignation, after the government charged him with bank fraud.
But in his brief stay, Brown led some important discussions about school reform. As an active DCPS parent, he came to the job with unusual empathy for others trying to maneuver through the system to get a decent education for their kids.
Brown understood that middle schools were the city’s real “drop-out factories,” the places where many students formed their decisions to quit. While modest in scope, his $1.7 million omnibus education bill planted some valuable seeds, including a pilot early warning system to identify and support middle schoolers at risk of dropping out. The bill called for another pilot to test the effectiveness of financial incentives as a way of attracting high-performing teachers to struggling schools — a critical problem for school systems. Brown also led the creation of a task force that will study neighborhood admissions preferences for charter schools so that more families might benefit from having a good school in their community.
Brown was a voice of continuity after Michelle Rhee’s resignation, a time when there was speculation that Mayor Vincent C. Gray might attempt to roll back her agenda. He was supportive of Rhee’s successor, Kaya Henderson, and established a more functional and collaborative relationship with her than Gray had with Rhee on his watch as chairman.
Brown got push-back from school officials who regarded him as a lightweight or who didn’t welcome his involvement in areas they felt they had covered. And it remains to be seen whether his initiatives will survive to be taken to scale. But some of those who worked most closely with him admired his energy and vision.
“It’s been an honor to work for Kwame Brown,” his education adviser, Lisa Raymond, said in an e-mail Thursday morning. “He has a passionate desire to serve our city’s children and they are better off because of his efforts.”
Henderson is likely to find a less nurturing presence in the chairman’s seat if, as expected, council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) becomes interim leader. Mendelson voted against transfer of the school system to mayoral control in 2007, and has taken a dim view of DCPS’ record on issues such as truancy and financial management. He opposed the $25 million in supplemental funding approved by the council this week to cover cost overruns.
Mendelson called it “bad budgeting, pure and simple.”
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