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Many Schools Cite Shortages

Principals Lack Books, Teachers, Security, Survey Says

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page DZ04

Many schools across the District opened the new academic year without sufficient teachers, textbooks, supplies and security officers, according to a new report by a nonprofit group that interviewed principals across the system.

The report, released Tuesday by the nonprofit D.C. Voice, also said that principals identified problems with aging, neglected facilities and the system's Human Resources Department as the two most intractable issues they faced in getting their schools ready, and they made a series of recommendations on how the situation could be improved next year.

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Levels of satisfaction and disappointment with the school system and its bureaucracy were consistent across the city, according to Erika Landberg, manager of the Ready Schools Project 2004, which marked the first time in memory that an attempt was made to quantify the problems principals faced in getting their schools ready for a new year, school activists said.

New School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, presented Tuesday with the report, said he welcomed the initiative and wanted D.C. Voice, a collaboration of teachers, principals, parents and others concerned about public education in the District, to expand the control group of 43 schools used this past fall to include all 148 schools in the system next year.

"This is about getting kids ready to learn, and getting teachers ready to teach. . . . In that context, this is a welcome opportunity," he said.

The principals interviewed for the project by more than 50 volunteers were forthcoming, Landberg said. Among the report's findings:

• Only 19 percent of the 43 principals said that major repairs to their school building were completed by the time school opened, and only 47 percent said basic maintenance was completed.

• Thirty-eight percent of high schools said they did not have all of their budgeted security personnel in place on time, though all middle or junior high principals, and 97 percent of elementary school principals said they did.

• Forty-five percent of the principals interviewed said they did not have all the books in their schools' reading series, and 52 percent said they did not have supplemental teaching materials that are supposed to accompany those series. Fifty-one percent said the other required textbooks -- in English, math, science and other subjects -- arrived on time.

A total of 49 percent of the principals said all of their full-time teaching vacancies had not been filled, and 69 percent of them said that slow processing by the Human Resources Department was the main problem. Fifty-one percent reported openings in multiple areas, with the greatest number in science, math, music, physical education, English as a Second Language, special education and early childhood education.

The report said that there was some improvement, including in the Human Resources Department, and that the central administration's relationship with local schools needs to be examined because roles and responsibilities in some key areas are unclear.

"If we are to hold the principals directly accountable for student achievement, we must also provide them with the time, resources and necessary assistance to be effective instructional leaders," the report said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company