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Rhee Proposes Parent Academy, Better Security

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2008; Page B01

Revamped security and discipline policies, more specialized schools, a "Parent Academy" to help District parents take charge of their children's education and the possibility of more school closures are part of the long-term vision proposed by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee in a new document.

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The 79-page "action plan," which Rhee will present to the D.C. Council tomorrow, pulls together a broad variety of ideas that have been only hinted at publicly, including a possible end to out-of-school suspensions and an increase in the number of "theme" schools, focusing on high technology, language immersion, or gifted and talented students.

Other goals in the draft document -- the need for new and better-paid teachers, higher test scores, closing the achievement gap between white and minority students -- are ones she has frequently articulated. Taken together, they provide the most detailed picture of Rhee's aspirations for the 120-school system, which is affected by declining enrollment and poor academic performance.

One section of the draft likely to prompt wide discussion covers school security and discipline. Several schools, including Hart Middle School and Dunbar High School, have reported significant disruptions this year because of fighting and assaults on teachers. Ballou Senior High School's Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting tonight to discuss student violence.

The proposal calls for electronic monitoring centers in secondary schools. A handful of central office staff is responsible for monitoring the 3,500 surveillance cameras in the school system. Experienced law enforcement personnel would be hired to augment security.

The document also said Rhee will consider ending out-of-school suspensions, in which students are sent home. School administrators say such measures are not an effective deterrent and too often amount to lost time, with students watching television or roaming the streets. Some students simply don't return.

Rhee proposes making suspensions "an educationally viable consequence" for misbehavior by having them served in school. The plan proposes expanding in-school suspension programs and possibly opening "suspension classrooms" in each school.

Philip Pannell, treasurer of the Ballou PTSA, called the ideas "terrific."

"You suspend a student, they still come and hang around the school and cause problems," he said.

The plan calls for expanding the number of schools with specialized programs, which are open to eligible students citywide. There are seven, including the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, School Without Walls High School and Bell Multicultural High School. None is in Southeast or Southwest Washington, making them relatively inaccessible to the District's highest-need students. Rhee also proposes to increase the number of "theme" schools, focusing on such areas as high technology, language immersion and gifted and talented students.

"Within five years, our school portfolio will look significantly different than it does today," the draft says.

Although it is not specific, the plan makes it clear that Rhee will not hesitate to close more schools. Significantly underenrolled schools are at risk, according to the document, although Rhee spokeswoman Dena Iverson said there are no closures planned "at this time."


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