Several student leaders yesterday gave the D.C. public school system high marks for overall performance, but some said their educational achievement has been stunted by crowded classes and a shortage of textbooks.
The remarks were heard by school system officials at the student leadership forum, held as part of the annual American Education Week, a nationwide program sponsored by the National Education Association. The forum featured speeches by a dozen student leaders from the city's elementary, junior and senior high schools.
D.C. School Superintendent Floretta McKenzie said, she was "shocked" and "surprised" by the students comments about crowded classrooms and a lack of textbooks. McKenzie promised to look into the complaints and thanked the students for being honest.
Several Israeli students and an assistant principal who were visiting Washington as part of an exchange program joined an audience of about 60 District teachers, parents and administrators at the D.C. Board of Education offices.
Laurette Dickerson, a 15-year-old sophomore at Cardozo High School in Northwest, said "my overall rating for the status of public education is an 'A' because most D.C. public schools have emphasized to students that education is the foundation of everything."
But students like Spingarn High school senior Terry Wilson had some complaints.
"I go to Spingarn High School and we have no English textbooks. And it's kind of hard for some students to learn without any textbooks," said Wilson, who is 17.
Angela Hill, a sophomore at Woodson High in Northeast, said "Our biggest problem is books in the classrooms. In most classes, we either don't have books, we aren't allowed to take them home or the books are outdated. It's kind of slowing me down as far as getting an education and it may affect my grades in college."
Kimberly Mitchell, 18, president of the student council at Woodson, suggested that money now being used for homecoming and other extracurricular activities should be used to buy textbooks. "It's just terrible. A history book I used in the eighth grade is now being used on the high school level. So it must be outdated."
McKenzie said "We've made tremendous budget expenditures for books . . . . I'm shocked to find out there still are some pockets of problems."
McKenzie said school officials should do a survey to see which schools lack textbooks.
"We do want our students to have the very best in facilities and materials; however, we don't have an unlimited budget," McKenzie said.
Some students also complained that teachers are not able to give much attention to individual students because some classes are too large.
Sean Mack, 15, a sophomore at Roosevelt High School, in Northwest, said students who do not attend classes regularly should be talked to and counseled carefully and offered tutorial programs to improve grades.