Readers Respond: Can D.C. Schools Improve?

By Natalia N. Farrer
Special to
Monday, August 27, 2007; 9:08 AM

Can D.C. schools be fixed?

That's the question on the minds of many in the District as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the first Washington mayor to be granted direct control of its public schools, reshapes its leadership.

It's also the question the Washington Post examined in a three-part series titled Fixing D.C. Schools. As a part of that series, we asked you what, if you were in Fenty's shoes, you would do. Which problems would be your first priority if you ran the D.C. schools, and how you would solve them?

Readers emailed us with more than 100 "top fixes," demanding that school buildings and technology be upgraded, incompetent and uncertified teachers be fired, and accountability for D.C.'s children be extended to parents, school faculty and central administration -- immediately. Some of the respondents were from outside the District, but had connections to, or a history with, the school system. In order of readers' priority, here is a sampling of the recommendations we received:

Repair and Maintain School Buildings

The Washington Post's analysis of school records showed that principals reporting dangerous conditions or urgently needed repairs wait an average of 379 days for the problems to be fixed. readers identified this is their top problem with the D.C. school system.

Matthew S. Johnston of Frederick, Md. wrote, "For many students, through factors beyond their control, their school may not be the cleanest and safest place for them and the city should not disappoint them through bureaucratic failure."

This 'bureaucratic failure" includes the Post's report that 113 schools have unfulfilled requests for repairs on a leaking roof.

"Breakdowns happen and we all know it, but barring a major storm, a roof doesn't spring a leak overnight," Johnston said.

Regular maintenance inspections, Johnston continued, will help D.C. school locate and fix potential problems before they become huge and more costly to repair. Johnston suggested putting the school buildings on a periodic maintenance schedule and making the schedule available to the public.

"Bureaucratic failure ends with transparency, when the public can see what is being done or not done," he said.

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