In recent weeks, I have heard from many concerned community members about the problems that have plagued our schools and disrupted our students’ education over the past decade, causing some to lose faith in our system and in our leadership. As chancellor, I want to rebuild that trust by being transparent about our actions, celebrating our victories and addressing our challenges.
When I served as superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, the district faced issues that threatened the public’s trust in our school system. In 2014, Indianapolis Public Schools had a reported $30 million deficit, an issue that had been years in the making. Working with leaders in the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, we uncovered and immediately communicated with the community a budget surplus. Today, Indianapolis has a more strategic, efficient and transparent funding system.
My responsibility to D.C. residents is to face problems directly, rather than ignore them until they become insurmountable. That is the only way we can ensure our students receive a high-quality education that prepares them for college, career and lifelong success.
Certainly, there are clear differences between Indianapolis Public Schools and D.C. Public Schools, and there is no panacea for accelerating student achievement. However, community engagement has always been and will remain central to my approach.
I spent my first few weeks as acting chancellor visiting schools across every grade level in every ward, and meeting with DCPS families and stakeholders in their neighborhoods to hear their stories and get their feedback. It’s critical that we establish lines of communication where we can engage in honest dialogue about what is working and solution-focused discussions about what is not. Under my leadership, the DCPS community will have a voice in defining success for our students and determining expectations of excellence for our schools.
This engagement is not limited to DCPS families and partners. We all have a stake in our students’ success. By partnering with the D.C. Council, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and our fellow city agencies, we can bring social-emotional learning, modern facilities and behavioral-health and employment services to D.C. schools, making every day count for students.
DCPS is on the verge of a transformational moment. Bowser and other D.C. leaders have already made tremendous investments in education and recognize its importance. We must put forth bold solutions, allowing our schools to innovate to meet the needs of our students — and we must do this while establishing new levels of transparency and equity in how resources are distributed across our school system. Greater transparency in how schools are funded and how resources are allocated will become a key component of my ongoing public engagement. We will succeed in this effort only when all stakeholders are valued and heard and rooted in our bold solutions.
In my 20-year career in education, I have learned that the key to achieving better outcomes for students is maintaining trust between schools and the communities they serve. The relationship is symbiotic: When one succeeds, so does the other. When I addressed the council, I pledged transparency among myself, the council and the community, including all DCPS students, families and staff. With their support and honest feedback, I want to lead DCPS into its next phase of excellence.