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Connecting to Overhaul D.C. Schools

Community Leaders Close Summit With Pledge to Set Aside Differences

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2004; Page C04

Top D.C. government, education, business and community leaders concluded a two-day summit yesterday pledging to put aside their "individual, parochial and political interests" to ensure student learning and achievement in the District's public schools.

In addition, smaller working groups will meet during the next several weeks to come up with recommendations for improving the school system's accountability, management systems and procedures and for repairing school buildings and facilities, participants said.

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Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who spent most of yesterday at the meeting, said that in his six years as mayor, "I've never been in a session like this -- independently sponsored, independently facilitated -- with all the parties sitting in a room."

He called the gathering, which was closed to the news media, "a valuable process."

New Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said the purpose of the gathering was to develop "a set of action steps" that will help him formulate a strategy to be announced in January.

Different constituencies pushing for school changes were brought together by the D.C. Education Compact to discuss their ideas with Janey. In addition to Williams and Janey, members of the D.C. Council and Board of Education, parents, teachers and representatives from foundations were among the approximately 120 participants who gathered in Warrenton under the auspices of the group, which works to improve the quality of public school education.

Janey said there was consensus that the school system needed to accelerate student achievement and that trust had to be restored between the school system and the community. He said it was important to get everyone involved early in addressing schools' problems.

"This was a who-and-what summit . . . that will lead to further discussions about the how," Janey said. If stakeholders are included at the outset, he said, "when it comes time for implementation, we're not going to be splintered," Janey said in a telephone interview after the meeting.

To symbolize the group's commitment, each participant signed a large poster board with the pledge: "Our mission is to ensure that our schools provide excellent student learning and achievement for all of our children in the District of Columbia. We dedicate and commit ourselves to this mission above and beyond our individual, parochial and political interests. . . ."

Ann Walker Marchant, a spokeswoman for the organizer, said the summit was a first step in a collaborative effort.

"There's not going to be a magic bullet that comes out of today," she said. "What's coming out of the retreat is more of a beginning than an end."

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