Top D.C. government and education leaders, including the mayor and the school superintendent, met yesterday with parents, teachers and activists at the start of a two-day education summit designed to help set an academic course for the city's ailing public schools.
The summit, closed to the media, opened at Airlie Center in Warrenton. The D.C. Education Compact, a group of public and private groups working for school system reform, arranged the gathering. In addition to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and members of the D.C. Council and Board of Education, the group invited teachers, administrators and representatives of various foundations, including the Fannie Mae Foundation.
"What I hope to come out of it is a shared agenda of all the different principals and stakeholders in our city," Williams said a day before the summit opened. "I'm just going to be pushing to see that we have the accountability in the system, that the schools are doing the very best job they can to improve customer service to parents."
The summit was conceived earlier this year, when the school system was being led by an interim superintendent.
After Janey took the job, officials decided that the event would serve as an opportunity for members of the different constituencies pushing for school reform to discuss their ideas with the new schools chief.
"Nobody that walks into this town really knows where to go," said Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, a nonprofit group working to modernize school buildings, and one of the officials attending the summit. "We can't afford to have him spend a lot of time trying to figure out who's who and what's what, and we think it will benefit him to take advantage of our experience."
At least one invited guest -- council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) -- stayed away, saying he objected to the site of the meeting and feared there was not enough substance to the agenda.
Graham said he did not see any reason to hold a conference about the District outside the city, particularly at a "former plantation."
"I wish they would take the money for the overnight lodging and use it for books," he said.
A spokesman for the Education Compact, which is covering the expenses, could not say how much the conference will cost.
Graham also said that although it is always beneficial for stakeholders to get together to talk, he was concerned that there would not be enough discussion about why past school reform efforts have failed and that people might be just spinning their wheels.
"The substantive question I have . . . is what is being done to analyze prior studies about the system and why recommendations were never implemented," he said. "They did say they would try to do something like that, but it seemed very much to me like another meeting, except one that would last for many hours."