The car screeched to a halt in the driveway. The driver, flushed with excitement, jumped out, ran into the house and shouted upstairs to her husband: "Hey, I just hit the lottery jackpot. Pack your bags!"
Her husband rushed into the hallway, giddy with delight, and called: "That's great, honey. How should we pack? For the mountains or the seashore?"
She shot back: "I don't care. You just get the hell out of here!"
That, I fear, could be the gist of the exchange between Mayor Adrian Fenty and Superintendent Clifford Janey once Fenty gets control of the District's public schools.
Not that Fenty said any such thing when I met with him and his deputy mayor for education, Victor Reinoso, this week at the Petworth Library in Northwest.
Fenty was careful not to reveal his thoughts on Janey's performance; not so former school board member Reinoso. With little prompting, Reinoso was quick to provide examples of Janey's alleged shortcomings as superintendent. Janey should be glad he doesn't serve at Reinoso's pleasure. Reinoso, however, has Fenty's ear.
The meeting wasn't arranged to critique the superintendent. My purpose was to learn more about Fenty's education plan and how and when it would be implemented, should he become Janey's boss.
I left convinced that Fenty has clear school-related objectives (reconstitute failing schools, end social promotions, give principals more autonomy, create parent training academies, etc.). But despite my best efforts (which obviously weren't good enough) to find out, I still don't know how Fenty ranks his objectives or how he intends to achieve them.
Before Reinoso arrived, I asked Fenty to state the three things he would do immediately after he gained control of the schools. Fenty said he would examine the school system's structure, review its policies and assess the system's leadership and top management.
I reminded him of numerous studies of District schools already on the shelf, including one recently prepared by his own consultant, the Parthenon Group. "What's there to know," I asked, "that isn't already known?"
Fenty said he doesn't have the full picture and won't until the school system is under his control -- a point Reinoso also made in response to other questions.
Pressed for his plan of action, Fenty repeatedly referred to well-known school deficiencies and his commitment to address those problems with a greater sense of urgency.
As the conversation unfolded, it was apparent -- at least to me -- that while Fenty brings to the mayor's job more enthusiasm, energy and desire to solve problems than this city has seen in many years, Reinoso knows the Fenty plan better than Fenty knows it.
As it happened, the Council of the Great City Schools completed its own analysis (available with the
The 21-page analysis is a must-read.
In short, the council faults Fenty's plan as failing to:
· Address low and stagnant student achievement.
· Set measurable goals or benchmarks for academic achievement.
· Set accountability measures for the mayor and his leadership team.
· Address the issue of standards and training of teaching staff on content and use.
· Address professional development.
· Have a mechanism for getting reforms into the classroom.
· Have a stated strategy for addressing the lowest-performing schools.
That's for starters.
The analysis concluded that Fenty's plan, rather than reducing decision-making layers, makes decision-making more top-heavy and harder to coordinate. It suggests that Fenty's plan lacks a clear vision about the direction of the school system and that it actually relies on Janey's master education plan and other school system special education plans. It also charges that Fenty's proposal to give the D.C. Council line-item authority over the budget will only worsen an already cumbersome process.
Finally, the council criticizes Fenty as not presenting a specific plan of action.
I presented these criticisms to the mayor and Reinoso by e-mail and received a
Fenty said he didn't believe that specific student performance targets or academic achievement benchmarks should be legislated. He rejected criticism of his proposed decision-making process.
There's no disagreement on the list of student performance issues that need to be addressed, Fenty said. "What has been missing is implementation, and, specifically, the accelerated implementation that responds to the urgency our students, parents, community members . . . feel when we think about our public schools."
Fenty wrote that under his plan, he is the "one person ultimately held accountable for whether our children are receiving a quality education" and said the structure he proposes "takes a comprehensive approach at establishing a framework by which the Mayor can effect change."
Y'all get that?
Clifford Janey, pack your bags.