“We are going to work extremely hard to create schools where students like coming to learn . . . where they are challenged by people who care for them and where parents are invited to be partners in the process,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who started in February, laid out his first five-year strategic plan Friday, outlining goals for graduation rates, test scores, narrowing the achievement gap and increasing social-emotional learning at schools. He assembled the plan after receiving feedback from the community — visiting all of the district’s 115 schools, holding meetings across the city, and talking to principals and the teacher’s union.
The school district has seen drastic improvements over the last decade but is still dogged by many of the problems facing other large, urban school districts, including a yawning achievement gap and an on-time graduation rate that lags the national average.
Wilson’s plan dovetails with one created by his predecessor, Kaya Henderson, who aimed to persuade more families to send their children to D.C. schools and to boost achievement at the district’s worst-performing campuses. She set five goals related to enrollment, graduation and academic achievement that she hoped to achieve by 2017.
The school district met many of those benchmarks. It exceeded the goal of enrolling 47,000 students and now serves nearly 50,000. Student satisfaction — measured by surveys — rose. Four years in to Henderson’s five-year plan, the district’s on-time graduation rate had risen to 69 percent — still short of Henderson’s goal of 75 percent of students, but on track to reach that benchmark by this year.
Here’s what Wilson hopes to achieve in the next five years:
- Double the percentage of students who rate college- and career-ready, and triple the number of at-risk students who meet that threshold. Scores on the computerized Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers have risen recently, but fewer than one-third of D.C. Public School students rated “college and career ready.” The scores for schools in poor neighborhoods were even lower, with some dipping to single digits. Wilson says he wants to invest more money and resources into schools with high concentrations of economically challenged students and English language learners: “We need to make sure our students of color and also our students who are economically disadvantaged are growing much faster . . . and we need to increase access to high quality programs.”
- Get all of the district’s students in kindergarten through second grade reading at grade level. Wilson said he hopes to invest more money in literacy programs to ensure every child in early grades is reading at grade level.
- Graduate 85 percent of students within four years and 90 percent within five years. Wilson’s predecessor, Henderson, aimed to get three-quarters of students to graduate on time by 2017 and the district was on pace to meet that goal. That was a radical increase from 2011, when just over half of D.C. Public School students graduated on time. Wilson has set an even more ambitious benchmark, with plans to invest more money in helping special education students and English language learners.
- Ensure all students feel “loved, challenged and prepared.” Wilson plans to bring more social-emotional learning into the classroom — lessons that explicitly teach students how to manage their emotions and interact with one another. And he said he believes love is critical for students to reach their potential: “Love is a really powerful thing. It allows us to challenge students.” He plans to survey students to see if they feel loved.
- Ensure all schools are “highly rated” or improving. Under D.C.’s accountability plan, all schools will be rated on student retention rates, absenteeism and standardized test scores, and then receive one through five stars. Wilson wants all schools to do well enough to receive four or five stars.
- Boost enrollment to 54,000 students, and ensure 90 percent re-enroll. Enrollment in D.C. schools has declined precipitously since the 1960s, when about 150,000 students attended. Now, nearly 90,000 students are enrolled in public school — with nearly 50,000 in D.C. Public Schools and the remainder in charter schools. Enrollment has risen gradually for the last eight years, and Wilson wants that to continue.