Fenty Offers Inkling of Plan For Schools

Adrian M. Fenty and school board member Tommy Wells at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast. Some parents said they oppose Fenty's plan to take over the school system.
Adrian M. Fenty and school board member Tommy Wells at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast. Some parents said they oppose Fenty's plan to take over the school system. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Theola Labbé and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 2, 2006

D.C. Democratic mayoral nominee Adrian M. Fenty gave a hint of his school takeover plan yesterday, saying high-performing public schools would get more autonomy and failing schools could be closed and reopened with new staffs and extra resources.

Fenty shared those details, his most in-depth explanation of what he would do with mayoral control of the schools, during a visit to two Capitol Hill campuses yesterday arranged by school board member Tommy Wells, the Democratic nominee for the Ward 6 D.C. Council seat.

Fenty, who is expected to win Tuesday's general election easily, has said he is leaning strongly toward pursuing a takeover modeled on the one achieved by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R), who dissolved the school board and named a schools chancellor.

To win control, Fenty (D-Ward 4) would need approval from the council. He has said he will deliver a plan to the council before he takes office Jan. 2.

Standing in a newly refurbished library at Robert Brent Elementary on Third Street SE, Fenty was questioned by parents who worried that Brent would go through unnecessary upheaval if he pursues a takeover. Fenty stressed that he had not made any final decisions and pledged to evaluate each of the 141 schools on its merits.

"There is a lot of concern about schools that are doing well and whether we will change the structure of those schools and put all of them in the same box," Fenty told the small gathering of parents, with Principal Arienne Clark also present. "It's the exact opposite. We want to give those schools more autonomy and independence. The more-troubled schools we should close down and restart completely."

Wells, who represents Wards 5 and 6 as the District 3 member of the school board, said he wanted to show Fenty examples of successful schools as Fenty formulates a takeover proposal. But Wells said he hasn't decided about his position on a mayoral takeover.

"I'm very interested in what his plan may look like," Wells said. "If employees do not have to go through deep layers of bureaucracy . . . I'm very interested in that aspect."

Fenty, who swept every polling district in the September primary, said residents have implored him to be bold in his approach to school reform. He has visited New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, where mayors have gained more control of schools.

But Daryl Kimball, 42, whose daughter Nola James is in the pre-kindergarten program at Brent, told Fenty he is concerned about the effect a takeover would have at Brent. Kimball said the school has active parents and a strong principal.

"What is he going to do as chief of schools that can't be carried out now with the right leadership and right resources?" Kimball said later in an interview.

After visiting Brent, Fenty went to Stuart-Hobson Middle School on E Street NE, where some parents praised the schools superintendent, Clifford B. Janey. The parents spoke at length about the School Libraries Project, a public-private partnership that has helped renovate eight neighborhood libraries.

Gina Arlotto, a Hobson parent, said she opposes Fenty's takeover idea because she believes Janey is moving patiently but wisely to improve the system. She has begun a campaign to have parents write in "Julian Hobson," a deceased education reformer, on ballots for mayor Tuesday to protest Fenty's takeover plan.

"The time is coming where we are going to see change," Arlotto said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company