By Theola Labbé and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 15, 2007
A school advocacy group issued a challenge yesterday to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and acting chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to open up all city schools for a "community audit" that would check whether schools had been cleaned, teachers hired and other classroom-readiness issues resolved for the new school year.
DC VOICE said it planned to recruit hundreds of volunteers citywide to interview principals and teachers beginning in September as a way to hold city leaders accountable under the new system of mayoral control of education. Executive director Jeff Smith said the group's "community audit" would serve as an academic counterpoint to the $3.3 million audit of school finances that Fenty ordered this spring.
The challenge from DC VOICE came on the same day that Fenty (D) announced his selection of Allen Y. Lew to lead the effort to modernize the District's dilapidated public schools.
Fenty also nominated Gregory O'Dell, an aide to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Neil O. Albert, to replace Lew as chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. O'Dell will be charged with completing construction on the $611 million Nationals baseball stadium, which is scheduled to open in April.
DC VOICE has conducted its "Ready Schools Project" for the past three years. This year, it plans to expand its volunteer corps from 150 people citywide to 125 from each ward and expand the audit from about 50 schools to every school in the D.C. system, said program director Erika Landberg. The group plans to solicit volunteers over the summer, working with civic associations, church groups and advisory neighborhood commissions, Landberg said.
During a news conference at a Columbia Heights park, Smith said: "Just as the mayor in May called for a citywide audit of financial conditions, of business operations, we're calling for a citywide audit of teaching and learning in every school. We want to see not just what's going on downtown, but what's happening in our neighborhoods, where kids learn. Not just what's happening in offices, but what's occurring in classrooms. And not just what grown people are doing but what little people are learning."
Fenty promised to cooperate with the group's audit. "With our new schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, in place, we are confident that our first day of school will be a tremendous success," he said in a statement. "We welcome the challenge and look forward to providing DC Voice with any information needed for the Ready Schools Project."
The audit would start a week after school opens Sept. 1 and last for a month. The group plans to tabulate its findings in October and publish a report in November. Results from previous years have included information on teacher hiring delays and the number of teaching vacancies in music, art and librarian positions.
Lew's hiring came the same week that Fenty nominated Rhee to be chancellor, replacing Superintendent Clifford B. Janey. Lew, 56, will step down from his position at the sports commission and create a city department to oversee the $2.3 billion school capital improvement program.
At a news conference on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, Lew called the year-long delays on routine repairs detailed in a Washington Post series this week "outrageous."
"We're going to fix that," Lew said of the delays. "It's an unacceptable condition."
Lew will make $275,000 per year, $25,000 more than his salary on the commission and Rhee's salary. D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and other city leaders have praised his work in overseeing construction of the Washington Convention Center and the baseball stadium, but D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) has criticized the cost overruns on the convention center.
Some school advocates were concerned about Lew's lack of an education background. He has reached out to parent groups and plans to meet with them next week, spokesman Tony Robinson said.
Lew said he will probably keep a hand in the stadium project because Fenty has promised to nominate him to the sports commission's board of directors. But he said he agreed to join the effort to upgrade the schools because it is the city's next big challenge.
Lew has toured several schools, including Birney Elementary, Kramer Middle School and Anacostia High School in Southeast, and said he was stunned at the poor conditions of many of them. Today, Fenty and Lew are scheduled to announce the renovations of six high school athletic facilities, part of a joint effort between the sports commission and the school system.