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District Schools


Clifford B. Janey
Superintendent, D.C. Schools
Friday, September 24, 2004; 1:00 PM

This week, the D.C. Board of Education voted unanimously for Clifford B. Janey to take the position of the District's schools superintendent. Janey, who was an educator in Boston and Rochester, N.Y., holds a three-year contract to improve the city's school system "plagued by low student achievement and administrative dysfunction."

Janey discussed his new term and plans to improve the district's school system.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


washingtonpost.com: Thanks for joining us, Clifford Janey. Your first week at D.C. schools was eventful, with Eastern High School dealing with scheduling problems that resulted in administrative action. How do you think the rest of the school year started, and what are your top initiatives for your first year in Washington?

Clifford B. Janey: Good afternoo,

I thank you for this opportunity to discuss DC Public Schools.

With the exception of Eastern High School, I believe the school year began well.

Some of my goals will include: To recruit, retain, and develop an exceptionally talented and commited group of teachers and principals. To establish our academic work in the context of a pre-k through 16 continuum. To develoop a fair, far-reaching system of school accountability. To modernize systems and procedures while creating a competency-based work environment at 825 North Capitol. To encourage partnerships with organizations and institutions that will help us provide instructional and social services to the neediest students and families.


Washington DC: Mr. Janey,

How are you planning on dealing with the politics of the school board?

Your powers are limited.

Good Luck

Clifford B. Janey: Thank you for your interest and concern. As you may know, school boards are not inherently persuaded to micro-manage the affairs of a Superintendent and his or her staff. However, without timely agreement on shared beliefs and expectations the relationship between a Board of Education and a Superintendent could go south. The DCPS Board of Education continues to provide hope and opportunity for me given their pledge and the public's commitment to avoid historical pitfalls.


Washington, DC: What can you do to clean up the payroll issues, that plague the DCPS ? Would you consider a system-wide shutdown and start all over?

Clifford B. Janey: We have completed a set of deliverables for a payroll and benefits audit to be conducted during the fall of this year. We view this particular audit as a "once-and-for-all" strategic response to what stakeholders have rightly concluded as an intractible problem. We are working collaboratively with governmental officials and the corporate community. You raise a legitimate issue. Thank you.


Washington, Dc: What are your plans for interventions for students who are struggling academically, social, behaviorally?

Clifford B. Janey: First of all, we will develop academic plans, not only for students who are struggling, but also for students who are performing at or beyond grade level. There are particular and sucessful ways to intervene and provide struggling readers, in particular, strategies to become independent, powerful readers. This will be done with the assignment of our most skilled and compassionate teachers along with the infusion of scientifically researched-based reform initiatives. In order to sustain progress, however, it will be important to have parents and caregivers support the efforts of our schools.


Washington, DC: Why not partner your failing schools with
successful schools?

Clifford B. Janey: This is a good idea upon which we have already acted. All Superintendent's conference days will include DC public schools and charter schools. The planning team unanimously agreed on sharing best pratices with respect to teaching and organizing schools for sucess. Principals, classroom teachers and other staff will meet regularly throughout the year and report back to their entire school community on the strategies that have yielded the best results.


Oakton, VA: The fundamental question is: WHY? Why has the DC school system been so poor (poorly taught, poorly adminsitered, poorly maintained) so long? I hope you have attempted to answer that question for yourself.

Clifford B. Janey: In response to your query, I must state that if I believed the issues within DCPS were intractable, I would not have accepted the job. To your point, it is fair to conclude that there are deep-rooted problems, but we are not alone in that regard. I have every confidence that over time we will not only unpack these organizational problems, but perform better academically.


DC: Hello, sir. Are white teachers welcome? Some DC principals did not want us in their schools.

Clifford B. Janey: The last time I looked, the tenets of our democracy still prevail. Highly qualified teachers of all races, ethnicities, religions, etc. are welcome to apply and work in our school system without fear or intimidation. If you have personal verifiable knowledge of situations which are in conflict with the above, let me know directly.


Washington SW: How do you counter the argument that the academic underachievment issues facing DC public schools are actually intractable cultural and class issues that won't be resolved regardless of the money spent on retaining teachers and repainting hallways.

Clifford B. Janey: There clearly are lots of examples of individuals, families and schools that prove the argument of intractibility indefensible. The challenge we have is to turn an entire school district around in spite of disparities in income and opportunity. It will require an unprecendented cooperation and partnership with governments, corporations, foundations and agencies each of whom must make a long-term unwaivering commitment to help change the status quo.


Jim, Georgetown: The budget per student in DC is already about the highest
in the country -- more than$10K per child if I'm not
mistaken - and yet the schools are, by any measure,
abysmal. Post columnist Colbert King recently described
the problem this way:

"Millions of dollars have been squandered by second-rate
officials in school central administration on a second-rate
security program run by second-rate managers. Because
we have come to think so little of our children, we saddle
them with teachers and mid- and low-level administrators
who zealously cling to jobs they couldn't get anywhere
else because, truth be told, they wouldn't qualify."

Are you going to get rid of some of this waste and
incompetence? Specifics, please.

Clifford B. Janey: DC is a place well-known for its exposure of waste, fraud and abuse. I am a person who is known to be duplicity-intolerant and therefore, will expect and accept nothing less than competence in individuals and service quality in organizations. While things will not change overnight, you can count on a systematic, time-sensitive approach that will reverse this trend and restore public confidence.


washingtonpost.com: Thanks for joining us today, Clifford Janey.

Clifford B. Janey: Thanks for the opportunity and let's do it again.


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