No improvement plan for D.C. middle schools — yet


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

The District’s school system cannot articulate how it will turn around its long-struggling middle schools until it gathers more input from the community, Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said recently in response to pressure from the D.C. Council to outline an improvement plan.

In a letter to Education Committee Chairman David A. Catania (I-At Large), Henderson said she is seeking input and will offer a “thoughtful plan” this spring as part of her budget proposal for the 2014-15 school year.

“Community and school-based expectations for middle grades vary greatly,” she wrote. “Releasing a plan for middle grades developed by DCPS’ central office without significant input from schools and parents would represent a lost opportunity.”

Catania said he thinks such a plan is overdue.

“Seven years into school reform, I don’t think it’s unfair to ask for a comprehensive plan that includes how we’re going to improve middle schools,” he said. “Much of this appears as if it’s being made up as it goes along.”

Catania requested an improvement plan in November after Henderson acknowledged publicly that the city’s middle-grade options — including traditional middle schools and K-8 “education campuses” — have largely failed to attract the city’s families. She suggested that the city could perhaps funnel students to charter schools in the middle grades, saying that “they know how to do middle school really well.”

That suggestion prompted outcry from some parents and pushback from Catania and other council members. A few weeks later, Henderson announced that improving middle schools — and ensuring consistent offerings at middle schools across the city — would be one of three priorities for the fiscal 2015 budget.

She described a staged approach to improve city schools: In 2013-14, the focus is on elementary schools; next year, officials will turn to middle schools; and in 2015-16, they’ll home in on high schools.The school system developed an online survey to gather parents’ input on what they would like to see in middle schools and has said it also will schedule community focus-group discussions.

While some parents have welcomed the chance to weigh in, others have expressed frustration with what they say is a slow pace of change and the school system’s failure to follow through with plans made long ago. In Capitol Hill, for example, parents developed a middle school improvement plan that the school system adopted in 2010 but has yet to fully implement.

Maury Elementary parent Joe Weedon, who has been active in efforts to improve Eliot-Hine Middle School, said it is “appalling” that Henderson’s response to Catania “was to ask parents to fill out a survey that lacks substance and depth and, in fact, was developed for budget planning purposes and in no way is related to developing a long-term middle school plan for the District.”

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