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  •   Chavous's Emphasis Is Early Education

    Photo of Kevin Chavous
    Kevin Chavous
    (File Photo)

    By Vanessa Williams
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, August 8, 1998; Page B06

    Children as young as 3 would be enrolled in the D.C. public school system and students would spend more hours and days in the classroom under an education reform plan outlined yesterday by mayoral candidate Kevin P. Chavous.

    Chavous, the D.C. Council member from Ward 7, who chairs the council's Education Committee, acknowledged after a news conference in front of Brookland Elementary School in Northeast Washington that he had not worked out the details for implementing his eight-point plan, which he calls "SmartStart."

    "This SmartStart strategy is the bedrock of my campaign for mayor," said Chavous, who was surrounded by dozens of children who had been brought to the news conference from the nearby recreation program at Turkey Thicket playground. "No credible return to democracy can fail to address the rebuilding of our educational system. . . . Our profound disappointment in what we have and our fury at the incompetence of the past should make us bold."

    Chavous rewarded the children, who made up the bulk of the crowd in front of the red-brick school, which serves one of the city's solidly middle-class black neighborhoods, with a trip to a nearby Good Humor ice cream truck. Clutching the hand of a child on either side of him, Chavous marched the chattering group across an athletic field toward the ice cream truck, where he also bought a Popsicle for himself.

    Campaign staff members and volunteers led the cheers and applause for Chavous, who was the last of the four major candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to discuss a plan to improve the school system.

    When pressed on specifics on the cost and timetable of the reforms, Chavous said he was not sure. Instead, he said, his plan was "a good discussion piece."

    Some components, such as enrolling 3-year-olds in early childhood education programs at public schools, would not be implemented for four or five years. He also said he did not know whether the early childhood education could -- or should -- be required or voluntary.

    Other initiatives, including extending the length of the school day and the school year, could start within two years. Chavous said he was not sure how much the additional school time would cost. But he said he thinks money can be saved by shifting to school-based management, which would cut costs in the school system's central administration.

    Chavous also called for smaller schools, a more rigorous high school curriculum and more training and incentives for teachers. He estimates the total cost of his reforms at $50 million a year.

    Education is a central theme in the mayor's race, with each candidate calling it the number one issue facing the District. City schools have opened late for three consecutive years because officials failed to fix fire code violations. And student test scores lag behind those in surrounding suburban schools.

    When the schools opened three weeks late last fall, parents weren't sure whom to blame. In 1996, the control board fired the superintendent and abolished the elected school board, transferring authority to an appointed board and superintendent.

    Some parents have criticized Chavous for not responding quickly enough when the school opening was delayed. After the opening, he held oversight hearings to quiz officials about why repairs took longer and cost more than officials estimated.

    He said his committee held more than 40 hearings and gave the public its first glimpse into the operations of the appointed school administration. He also takes credit for forcing school officials to abandon a school lunch system that relied on prepackaged meals that proved unpopular with students and parents.

    Rose Smith, a former president of the Parent Teachers and Students Association at now-closed Taft Junior High School, was wearing a Chavous T-shirt. She led the crowd in a cheer: "What time is it? Chavous time!"

    She recalled how Chavous, when he took over the Education Committee in January 1997, called a meeting of PTSA presidents from across the city. "He said, 'I need you all to be my eyes and ears because you know what happens in these schools better than anyone,' " Smith said, recalling the meeting with Chavous. "It was the first time somebody wanted to sit down and hear what we had to say."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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