Biddle Promises Hands-On Strategy
Thursday, August 23, 2007
In the second-floor gymnasium of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Northwest, more than 100 parents and teachers sat in folding chairs and asked questions of city education leaders. But one city official sat quietly in the back, taking notes, observing the meeting and listening to the discussion on academic concerns: Sekou Biddle, the new District 2 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education.
The transition to a mayor-controlled school system has significantly changed Biddle's duties. Under the former D.C. Board of Education, members set education policy and hired the school system's chief. Now, he sits on a panel with diminished responsibilities that works on "state-level" issues such as adherence to the requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Despite the shift in his role since May, when a special-election win put him in the position, Biddle, who represents Wards 3 and 4, said he attended the Oyster-Adams meeting because he is committed to working directly with parents and individual schools on education issues no matter who is in power.
"I want to look at the school level to know what things might be missing at a state level that we can put in place to support an individual school," Biddle said.
Described by friends as thoughtful and serious, Biddle, 36, is no stranger to the District and its school system. He grew up in Northwest's Mount Pleasant neighborhood, not far from the mayor's childhood home. Biddle attended Stevens and Eaton elementary schools and Deal Junior High. He graduated from Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Tenleytown. He met his wife, Cara, a physician, in the high school cafeteria.
Biddle went to Morehouse College in Atlanta and studied business administration. Growing up, he liked working with children as a summer camp counselor, so he joined Teach for America after graduation and taught fifth and sixth grade in the Bronx neighborhood of New York. He later moved to Atlanta to teach elementary school, then worked at Teach for America as a program director. (School Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee also worked with Teach for America, but Rhee and Biddle did not work together in the program.)
He moved back to the District in 2005 to teach math at the KIPP D.C.: KEY Academy, and then moved into their central office to direct community outreach. He left that position to run for the board.
Bandele McQueen, a childhood friend, said Biddle's thoughtfulness about education is what made him take the leap into running for office.
"He's a newcomer to the scene and people gravitated toward him, not because he's a super-slick political type but because he spoke truth to power in a very no-nonsense way," McQueen said. "He's a hard worker, a real guy and no-nonsense."
Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) has known Biddle since he and her son Doug were students together in junior high and high school. "He could have gone out and earned big bucks because he had the kind of abilities to do that, but he has chosen to work with children," she said. "He will speak up. He won't be shy when it comes to talking about the education needs of our young people."
Biddle and the rest of the nine-member board has been meeting regularly with State Superintendent Deborah A. Gist to plan the new board functions. Biddle said he has spent the last few months reading up on state boards of education and how they work. The D.C. board plans to formally meet for the first time as the state board in September, Biddle said.
"I still receive calls and e-mails about local issues," Biddle said. "I feel very positively about my elected position. We are going to have to do a lot of work to inform the public what our role is."