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Something to Celebrate in D.C. Schools

Cooke said it made him "proud to see this group of young people performing so well and against the common perception of so many of them." Amen.

So how do you explain the disparity: the image of a violent and failed school system vs. hundreds of bright D.C. minds accepted by leading universities nationwide?

Michelle Rhee, Fenty's novel pick to serve as D.C. schools chief, said that when it comes to improving schools, "teachers are everything." This is apparently based on her three years' experience in an elementary school classroom and her subsequent work as a headhunter and teacher trainer for urban school districts.

Rhee's the expert, but I demur. Teachers are critical, but they are neither "everything" nor the only thing.

Good schools need good principals. Schools prosper with students who show up each day ready to learn and in facilities conducive to learning.

Without proper resources, supplied by school management in a timely fashion, a teacher is like a doctor without medical equipment.

But even more is required.

Many urban schools have family deficits. Principals and teachers can't do it alone. Schools cited in this column, and most of the other better-performing D.C. schools, have outside help. They partner with businesses, labor, academia and the like. They make good use of mentors, tutors and other volunteers.

Ten years ago, my parish, St. Columba's Episcopal Church, started a partnership with the kindergarten class of Truesdell Elementary School at Eighth and Ingraham streets NW. We promised to support the 60 students through college if they took part in tutoring, life-skills workshops and summer enrichment programs. Church volunteers served as mentors, chaperones, role models, coaches. The number of students grew to 73. Some migrated to different neighborhoods and states.

This year, about half are graduating from high school and, I'm told, nearly all have been accepted at either four-year colleges or community colleges. Most of them will go. And we will provide $8,000 in tuition assistance per year for each student.

With all due respect to Ms. Rhee, community commitment to children and public education is everything.

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