Janey To Speak On School Overhaul

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2006

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey plans a rare address Tuesday to update the public on his reform agenda, which some see as an effort to reassert himself as the city's education leader after having his initiatives eclipsed by Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty's school takeover proposal.

In his State of the Schools address, Janey will discuss a "reconstitution" plan that calls for replacing principals and teaching faculty next fall at nearly a half-dozen chronically failing schools. According to his staff, Janey will seek to reassure parents that the system is moving forward.

Janey's voice largely has been absent from the public debate during the past few months, even as Fenty (D) made school governance a hot topic. Since his election three weeks ago, Fenty has been exploring whether mayoral control of the system would bring long-awaited improvements to moribund schools.

Fenty has appointed school board member Victor A. Reinoso to the new position of deputy mayor for education. Reinoso would be responsible for implementing the mayor-elect's education plans and overseeing the school superintendent.

Unlike his predecessors, incoming school board President Robert C. Bobb also intends to take an assertive role in introducing and shaping policy for the system. He has signaled his intent to put to use his strong management background -- as city administrator in the District, Richmond and Oakland, Calif. -- in holding Janey and his staff more accountable.

The superintendent will outline his plans to intervene in some of the schools that failed to meet academic targets for four or more years. He will discuss accomplishments, too, including the introduction of new math, reading, science and social studies standards and renovations of numerous school libraries.

"He's been around two years. He's going to the public to say, 'Here's what we've done, and here's what's in store,' " said Michelle J. Walker, the school system's chief of strategic planning and policy, who has been involved in shaping Janey's reform ideas. But, she said, "he's going to talk about some of the obstacles that are in the way of getting the work done."

With much fanfare this year, Janey introduced an ambitious education plan that called for increasing the number of credit hours needed for high school graduation; turning failing high schools into career academies for specialties such as communications and health care; and converting junior highs into middle schools by shifting sixth-graders from elementary schools and moving ninth-graders to high schools.

Yet implementing new graduation requirements was delayed one year until 2007. Several education advocates and parents complain that Janey has not indicated which of the other plans are on schedule. They say they are looking for a strong statement that progress is being made.

Margot Berkey, director of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, said she is distressed that Janey has given parents of junior high students little information on the status of his plan to shift ninth-graders into high schools next fall. "I need to know: Where does [the system] expect my child to attend next year?" she said.

Janey has taken on numerous other challenges. He has promised to help 118 schools that failed to meet academic targets this spring, modernize more than 100 campuses and close nearly 20 others over the next 15 years, and order new social studies and science textbooks.

Some board members privately express doubt that his staff, relying at times on antiquated computer systems, has the capacity to handle the tasks simultaneously. Janey is months behind in completing a plan to bring back to D.C. schools the roughly 2,000 special education students in costly private programs, board members noted.

"We don't have a shortage of good ideas. What we struggle in is implementation," said Mary Filardo, executive director of 21st Century School Fund, which studies school facilities issues.

Unlike previous superintendents, Janey enjoyed warm relationships in his first two years with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), council education committee Chairman Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) and school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

Next year, he will have to adapt to new people in those positions -- as well as four new board members -- who probably will be less cordial and more results-driven.

Cafritz said Janey does not have the $30 million or so needed to hire the necessary staff and to fully carry out his reforms. She said he might need to seek more support from the city.

The reforms, Cafritz said, "will take an up-front investment [from the city] to implement."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company