Things didn’t quite go according to plan during Tuesday night’s Ward 8 State of the Schools forum at Malcolm X Elementary. After parents got to meet with principals from the ward’s schools, and Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson and D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) took questions from the audience, the agenda called for smaller breakout groups led by DCPS staff. Parents were supposed to have a chance to discuss specific topics such as the budget, truancy and .teacher quality.
Instead, the event turned into an unscheduled infomercial for candidates for the April 26 special election to fill the seat of late D.C. State School Board member William Lockridge. Those I saw who took the microphone -- I may have missed a few--were Tijwanna Phillips, Trayon White, Sr., Philip Pannell and Eugene Dewitt Kinlow.
Candidates have to campaign, to be sure, and evening community meetings are critical opportunities to meet voters. But some parents felt that an educational event had been hijacked by the pols. As the speeches went on, a healthy crowd began to dwindle.
Alice Thornton left to take her daughter home and feed her dinner but planned to come back for a roundtable on curriculum. “When I returned, the tables were being put away, except for one where everybody was discussing school board elections,” Thornton said in an e-mail Wednesday. (I saw one group discussion underway, on parent engagement).
Thornton called the evening “a love fest between Barry and Henderson and parade of the usual political suspects.”
Absalom Jordan, Ward 8 Education Council chairman, who worked with DCPS to organize the evening, was also disappointed. “We have parents who need to be empowered,” he said. “We needed those breakout sessions to have an opportunity to deal with conditions in Ward 8.”
Kelly Young, DCPS interim chief of family and public engagement, which has been holding similar gatherings in other wards, said Henderson opted to skip the small group discussions.
“The chancellor made a decision to let everyone who wanted to speak, speak,” said Young. “She wanted to make sure that people who wanted to share with her had the chance to speak directly to her, not just her staff.” Young said that overall she was pleased by the turnout and quality of the discussion, which she called “just a beginning conversation for the acting chancellor. We are looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with the community to solve problems together.”
Jordan said the Ward 8 council will hold another meeting for parents at 10 a.m. April 30 at PR Harris Educational Center.