D.C. schools chancellor announces $5 million satisfaction initiative

D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced Tuesday that she will set aside $5 million in next year’s budget to help city schools boost student satisfaction.

The move comes in response to pleas from parents, teachers and principals to invest in making schools places that children enjoy and are excited about, Henderson said in a call with reporters Tuesday.

“I have two young men” in the D.C. Public Schools system, “and I want them to not only do well on their tests, I want them to thrive and I want them to love going to school,” Henderson said. “Everyone in every ward across the city wants the same thing for their students.”

All of the District’s 111 traditional city schools will be eligible to apply for funding, provided they lay out a strong plan for using it to make school a more enjoyable place. Grants will be based on enrollment, with schools receiving about $100 a student.

The school system does not yet know how much money it will be allotted for the 2014-15 school year. But making sure that children like going to school is one of Henderson’s top three budget priorities, and she has set a goal that 90 percent of students will say they like school by 2017. “We now have a clear idea of what we want to exist in our school system, and I’m stepping out on faith to say that we are making a big bet on student satisfaction,” she said.


DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Last year, 78 percent of students said they liked their school, according to a survey that officials administered to more than 20,000 children in grades three and higher. Younger children were more enthusiastic than teenagers, according to the survey, which also found racial and geographical gaps in students’ feelings.

For example, 74 percent of black students said they like their school, compared with 92 percent of white students. And 69 percent of students in Ward 8, east of the Anacostia River, said they liked their school, compared with 91 percent in Upper Northwest’s Ward 3.

School system officials billed the $5 million student satisfaction initiative as an extension of “Proving What’s Possible,” a $10 million grant program that gave money to 59 schools to experiment with an extended day, new technology and teacher training.

Henderson credited those grants with improving student achievement: Most of the schools that extended students’ time in class saw better scores on standardized tests.

But while those grants were competitive grants, the student satisfaction money is available to all interested schools. And while the previous round gave schools a one-time infusion of cash, Henderson said she hopes the satisfaction money becomes part of the annual budget.

Soumya Bhat, education analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, said such sustainability is crucial.

“While schools certainly can benefit from additional funds, it would be better to have a comprehensive plan for serving students beyond the classroom, with consistent funding, rather than a series of one-time special initiatives that may or may not be continued in future years,” Bhat wrote in an e-mail.

Schools may use the money for whatever principals, teachers and parents agree would improve students’ engagement, such as adding new after-school clubs and sports or establishing anti-bullying programs.

Patricia Pride, principal of Hardy Middle School in Northwest Washington, said that the new grant program “is one of the best things to come across my desk.” Hardy had already begun brainstorming new after-school programs, she said, and “we were really wondering how we were going to fund it all.”

Schools don’t have a lot of time to create their plans: Applications are due next week, and awards will be announced the week of March 10.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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