A Plan to Take Over District Schools

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The Mayor and the Schools

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Adrian M. Fenty (D)
D.C. Mayor
Wednesday, February 28, 2007; 1:00 PM

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty was online Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his proposal to take over public schools in the District.

Fenty's Overhaul Plan Echoes Janey's ( Post, Feb. 27)

A transcript follows.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr Mayor, I am very glad that you have the courage to take on such an enormous challenge and I wish you all the best. However, my question to you is; What plans do you have to get the parents and guardians of these children in Washington, D.C., to play their own vital roles in their education? Keeping in mind that the school system is not going to be the panacea of raising these children and providing for their education.

Adrian M. Fenty: Thanks for the support. Among other things, I plan to adopt the "Parent Academy" model chartered in Miami-Dade, which is nationally known for getting parents more involved in their children's education.

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Washington, D.C.: Please give a time frame for when the community can expect to see increases in student performance.

Adrian M. Fenty: During yesterday's hearing before the Council, Paul Vallas, who head's the Philadelphia Public School System said that in Chicago and Philly they were able to show dramatic improvements within two years, and some much sooner than that. New York and Miami have also shown such a turnaround in the same period of time.

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NW D.C.: Mayor Fenty:

I have no problem with much of your plan, but I hope you and the Council will consider giving the reconstituted "state board of education" some real authority. The people of the District are disenfranchised enough as it is, and nobody will take an "advisory" board seriously. They'd get less respect than our shadow representatives!

Adrian M. Fenty: I do believe that the State Board of Education has a role that's meaningful, as we have sent it to the Council, however, there may be some additional state-level responsibilities that the Council recommends, which I will approve.

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Chevy Chase, D.C.: What will the roll of the school board be once a takeover is implemented?

Adrian M. Fenty: We have recommended converting the elected school board into a State Board of Education which would be responsible for high-level policy recommendations. More information, including the legislation, can be found by reading the legislation at dc.gov and clicking on "Mayor's Education Initiative"

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SE Washington, D.C.: Good Day Mayor Fenty,

Do you think that if you used your "political currency" to greatly increase job training, greatly increase drug treatment, increase low-income housing, decrease minor and mid-level crimes, and greatly increase the net income of the lower classes, you may affect school performance and attendance on a greater scale than taking control of the school system?

Adrian M. Fenty: I believe, and intend to, use my political currency to do both. One without the other is unsatisfactory to me.

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Washington, D.C.: My concern is that my youngest daughter, who has a learning disability, attends Coolidge Sr. High. I was appalled by the condition of the school and the state of the educational system. What can you do IMMEDIATELY to improve the condition of our schools (instead of closing down the schools which are in dire need of repair) and to improve the educational program our kids are currently receiving? These standards need to be improved so that our children may be effective in meeting this world and their competitors when they graduate from high school.

Adrian M. Fenty: My legislation creates a separate "Facilities Authority", whose director reports directly to me (confirmed by the Council). This Authority will be focused exclusively on facilities, leaving the Chancellor to focus on classroom education, which should lead to better academic performance and faster facility improvements.

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Washington, D.C.: I think Mayor Fenty's proposal to have the DCPS under his direct supervision and management is an excellent idea. The school system has been a disgrace to our city for entirely too long. Our recent inclement weather conditions exposed fundamental maintenance concerns, such as no heat in some schools. These conditions are inexcusable and reprehensible. And we wonder why our city youth are lagging behind their suburban counterparts? The superintendent and current administration can't even provide the basics for our students, let alone the foresight, leadership and determination required to raise the standard of education. I think a major reorganization is long overdue and Mayor Fenty may have just the right amount of concern, leadership and persistence to make a difference for our youth...a.k.a...our future.

Adrian M. Fenty: Thanks for your message of support.

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Janey, in my opinion, has failed to clean house. I have heard that the Assistant Superintendents, instead of supporting high-performing principals, actually hinder them by, for example, failing to give them time to complete voluminous paperwork and focusing on inane minutiae. I also heard that one asst. sup. told a principal that she would write her up if parents from the school called downtown to complain about anything. Don't these people know that they WORK for the parents of children in DCPS, because they are taxpayers? Are you aware of the problem with the mid-level bureaucracy and, if so, do you plan to address it if you take over the schools?

Adrian M. Fenty: I believe that the enormous amount of money that we spend on public education does not get to the classroom. I am committed to changing the entire culture of DCPS, including streamlining central administration. During Council testimony yesterday, Paul Vallas testified that he was able to shrink central administration by more than 35 percent.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Fenty, When I moved to D.C. in 2001, I shopped around for a public school for my then 13-year-old son. I found the experience very disheartening. I finally gave up and placed him in a private school. I was a single parent, military enlisted person. I'm not rich. The schools we visited were without exception in terrible condition and I believe strongly that children deserve a decent environment to learn in. Six years on and nothing has changed. What's the problem? I can only believe that despite all the rhetoric, schools are just not a priority in the district.

Adrian M. Fenty: I think you have touched on two of the central problems. 1) the schools need to be made much more of a priority. That is why we recommend having the same structure of accountability that you find in other agencies like Public Works and the Police Department. 2) That under the current school board structure, years have passed with no measurable progress in the system. That is why I believe that we must change the system right away.

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Rockville, Md.: There is no doubt that this is the most important issue in the District. But the chance of success are not certain. I can only wish you good luck! I would suggest that you have someone pay close attention to day-to-day events and that you get the best advice you can find.

Adrian M. Fenty: Thanks for the support and suggestions.

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Washington, D.C.: Good Afternoon Mayor Fenty. Could you please speak to changes in the delivery of special education under your plan?

Adrian M. Fenty: In short, we have recently released a "strategic plan" that focuses on "inclusion", increased professional development and support for teachers of children with special needs and earlier intervention. The complete "plan" can be found at: http://ec.rrc.dc.gov/ec/lib/ec/special_ed_action_plan.pdf

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Washington, D.C.: Mayor Fenty,

For the record, what do you perceive to be the key problems facing D.C. public schools and how does your restructuring plan better address these problems?

Adrian M. Fenty: I believe that the key problems are a lack of accountability and a lack of a structure that keeps the superintendent distracted by non-academic issues. I believe that the legislation addresses both of these issues comprehensively.

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Falls Church, Va: Good luck Mayor. Bureaucratic inertia and school board political fighting compounded with corruption and inefficiency destroy the school system in D.C. It is criminal the effect that it has on the public schools. They will fight you every step of the way to keep their power and even if you win, they will proclaim how you took their elected rights away from them. The good fight is never easy. Along the way, try to sustain some discipline in those schools. If they become safe, then more people will entrust their children to them.

Adrian M. Fenty: Thanks for the support and suggestions.

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Washington, D.C.: Mayor Fenty,

I have confidence that you have the will to make sure effective change takes place but how soon will you act to destroy the bureaucracy that is currently destroying our schools; to remove the entrenched from power in order to add accountability from the top down; to make sure that the schools are about the children and not the politicians whether from your office, the council, or the dysfunctional school board. Thanks!

Adrian M. Fenty: Immediately after the Council votes to approve the legislation, I will perform a top to bottom review of the bureaucracy and, as discussed in an earlier response, I am committed to increasing the efficiency of central administration as has been done in other jurisdictions where the Superintendent reports to the Mayor.

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Laurel, Md.: Good Afternoon Mayor Fenty,

Do you have any plans for attracting the best and the bright teachers, and administrators to the DCPS? If so what are they?

Adrian M. Fenty: Enacting more creative compensation programs; a school culture that encourages professional development; facilities that are desirable to work in and educate children and classrooms that have the supplies and materials and support services for the teachers to do their job.

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Washington, D.C.: I have heard more than once that D.C. spends more money per student than anywhere else in the nation, yet we are ranked at the absolute bottom for facility and educational quality.

Where is the money going? How will your proposal ensure the students get what we are paying for?

Adrian M. Fenty: I believe that the more than $20,000 average we spend per child (driven by the extremely high per pupil special education spending) is inexcusable and one of the key pieces of evidence as to why the system we have in place is not working and needs to be changed.

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Adrian M. Fenty: Thanks to everyone who took time to send questions this afternoon. This issue is the most important issue facing the District of Columbia and I am committed to making our schools great. Best, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty

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