A parent of a student at a Northeast Washington elementary school had tried for several months to get officials to fix the "heating problem" at the school. Since June, the parents of a retarded girl had been trying to get her transferred to a "better" special education program.
On Wednesday night, they appeared at a Board of Education community meeting to air their complaints -- and this time they got immediate attention.
After addressing a panel of board members, they met with school administrators in impromptu discussions that, officials say, are part of a recent trend at school board community meetings. While the board has held community meetings for several years to learn what people's concerns were, the meetings have become places people go to get their problems solved.
Often, the 11 board members are joined at the monthly meetings by Superintendent Floretta McKenzie and top staff members.
Several school officials said that they prefer that individuals discuss problems at private meetings or during appropriate board committee meetings, but they admitted that citizens sometimes get better results after they air their grievances at community meetings.
According to board rules, one meeting is held in every ward each school year and any city resident can speak.
"Sometimes, the only way citizens can get things done is by coming to these meetings," said Carl Cannon, the board's executive secretary. "It's when everybody is together in the same place at the same time. If citizens have a problem reaching officials on the telephone, they can come and talk to them face to face."
McKenzie said, "If a problem comes up and administrators are here that can deal with it immediately. I don't see a problem with that. We're here at the meetings and if we can respond to problems we should."
Vanessa Daniels, whose two daughters attend J.O. Wilson Elementary School, where a community meeting was held Wednesday, was upset about heating problems. After speaking to Andrew Weeks, assistant superintendent of buildings and grounds, she was told the problem would be looked into immediately.
"The superintendent requires all top administrators to come to the community meetings, so in case something comes up, we're there to solve the problem," Weeks said. "We can meet in a caucus in the back of a room and try to set up strategy for solving problems. We can cut out a lot of paperwork by being there and hearing from them first-hand."
Joan and Neil Milstead said that they spoke about their daughter who is retarded at Wednesday's meeting because "in some instances it was very difficult to get in touch with administrators and board members" by telephone.
Officials made promises during the caucus with the Milsteads and left the parents with a sense that "they would place the daughter in an appropriate program ," the husband said. "I'm glad that we appeared. I don't know what's going to happen, but at least they heard us.