News Round Up: School Closings Lawsuit

Last week, the DC City Council’s new Education Committee met for the first time. Inside the hearing room, Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson was defensive, while outside Empower DC announces a lawsuit that would block Henderson’s plan to close 15 DC public schools. Below is a brief round up of the news from that day. It includes two videos from the local news and one article from the Examiner. Enjoy!


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DCPS Chancellor Faces Lawsuit, Angry City Council

Cross-Posted From The Examiner Written by Jane Kreisman

Shortly before embattled DC Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson met with the DC City Council’s new Education Committee inside the John A. Wilson Building today, Empower DC and attorney Johnny Barnes announced a legal injunction to block her plan to close 15 city public schools from the freezing steps of the same building.

Protesters brought many of their colorful and provocative signs inside and filled seats at the City Council committee hearing. The proceedings indoors aired live on City Cable TV 13 and DC Council member David A. Catania kept other citizens apprised of developments by tweeting live on Twitter.

D.C. Council members finally had their chance to question Chancellor Kaya Henderson in person and in public about her latest school consolidation plan.

David Catania, the Independent At-Large Council member who is Chair of the new Education Committee has said that one of his top priorities is improving the school system’s budget transparency and ”understanding how every dollar is spent.”

Catania said that DC education committees have been ”missing in action for six years,” and that lack of oversight has detrimentally affected DCPS.

For example, the closure of 23 D.C. schools in 2008 cost nearly $18 million, according to an audit released in August, nearly double the $9.7 million originally reported by the school system.

Catania has already introduced three bills this year for city reform, most notably one for DC CFO budget transparency.

Council and Committee member Yvette Alexander represents Ward 7, where four of the Chancellor’s 15 schools are slated to be closed. She demands that any savings from the closures of those four schools, Ron Brown Middle, Kenilworth Elementary, Davis Elementary and Winston Education Campus, must remain in Ward 7.

While Alexander made a visible effort and succeeded in remaining civil and constructive throughout the meeting, the Chancellor did neither.

The most notable comments about her contentiousness came from Marion Barry, Council member for Ward 8 and former DC Mayor, who criticized the Chancellor for giving the council a ”facetious” answer to their questions. He also took her to task for interrupting him and for ”cutting (him) off’.”

At one point, Henderson lost her composure and raised her voice over soft-spoken Barry.

”Why the hostility?” he asked.

Half-way through the Chancellor’s answer to his next question, he retracted it, complaining, ”No, I don’t want your answer.”

He ended his attempt at a civil discourse with the Chancellor with a statement of disgust, insisting, ”You’re not telling the truth!”

Instead of releasing the anticipated data of studies already conducted to support her case, Henderson was mostly on the defensive today.

Although Henderson again promised ”more robust” programs across the city, she was reminded how she has orchestrated a systematic downsizing and ”excessing” of Art, Music and other ‘special subjects’ programs and teachers during her tenure.

Council member Alexander stated, ”I want to see Art , Music and P.E. in every school in Ward 7. I want to see language offerings in Ward 7, modern libraries in Ward 7, and a STEM focus in every school in Ward 7.”

As the end of the meeting approached, Chairperson Catania gave his ”recap,”

‘We are hoping to embark on a new era of collective responsibility, giving out honest information, so that the public can make informed decisions.’

The Chancellor was allowed the final word:

”This is complex, frustrating and difficult,” she said, but she agreed to ”work on these budget issues.”

Notably, this is how the Chancellor chose to end the nearly 3-hour meeting.

Dripping in flashy, bulky gold jewelry, the Chancellor bragged about all her other standing job offers and implied that she could be making a lot more money ”without all of this,” gesturing with both arms at the City Council and the cameras.

. . . → Read More: News Round Up: School Closings Lawsuit

Southeast Residents Rally to Keep Schools Open

Cross-Posted from The Washington Informer Written by Dorothy Rowley

Save Our Schools Rally at Malcolm X Elementary School in Ward 8. December 13, 2012

A cadre of parents, teachers and community leaders recently gathered on the grounds of a Southeast elementary school to protest a controversial proposal by D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to shutter several neighborhood schools.

During a Dec. 13 rally at Malcolm X Elementary School in Anacostia, the fired-up group of more than 100 Ward 8 residents who vehemently oppose the 20 school closings – the majority of which are located in their neighborhoods – loudly proclaimed along with newly-elected D.C. Ward 8 School Board representative Trayon White, that “enough is enough.”

Cynthia McFarland, 48, said that Henderson has lost touch with the needs of her community. “My grandchildren live in Ward 8,” the Alabama Avenue resident said. “They go to school at Hart [Middle] and Malcolm X. I was raised in the public school system and walked to school. So did my children. Ms. Henderson needs to stop playing games and do what’s not only right but necessary.”

McFarland also stressed that given the large number of children who live in Ward 8, it’s essential that all of the area’s neighborhood school doors remain open.

According to a statement issued prior to the rally by organizers, many of those in opposition represent Ferebee Hope and M.C. Terrell/McGogney Elementary and Johnson Middle schools. “Parental, school and student choice are no longer a part of the equation in accordance with decisions regarding neighborhood school closings,” a portion of the statement read.

Four years ago, at the behest of Henderson’s predecessor, two dozen schools were closed throughout the District in an attempt at school reform. But Henderson, 42, admitted recently that those closings only proved costly and ineffective: while student test scores remained stagnant, DCPS enrollment figures dipped from 47,000 students to less than 45,000, and paved the way for public charter schools to gain leverage as the preferred education model.

White, who helped organize the Malcolm X rally, said it doesn’t make sense to close any of the community’s schools.

“We don’t need less educational resources, but more educational resources,” the outspoken 28-year-old protégé of Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry, said. “A lot of factors have to weigh in on the closings, and so far, the chancellor hasn’t [stepped up to the plate] with an adequate explanation. Dropout and truancy rates are already high in the area, and if she closes our schools, those rates will only increase.”

White added that a major concern of parents has been plans to merge low-performing DCPS buildings with high-performing charter schools.

White said that in talks with Barry, he expressed that there’s no guarantee DCPS will be more successful in its attempt at school reform.

“History has proven, especially since 2008, that if we continue to go down this road, we will be right back here again discussing another round of school closures,” White said.

Henderson’s plan – currently being studied by members of her administration – calls largely for the closings of under-enrolled and under-performing schools.

After her staff makes adjustments to the proposal, Henderson will confer with Mayor Vincent Gray, 70, and together in January, they will announce their final decision about which of the 20 schools will be closed.

Kim Harrison, 49, who works with Concerned Parents for Action Coalition, a citywide organization that advocates on behalf of public schools, drummed up support for the for the rally.

She said word of the closings have been exacerbated in the aftermath of a series of public meetings where Henderson shared reasons behind her proposal.

“We can’t be quiet, as this is a bigger issue than we think,” said Harrison, who lives in Southeast. “It’s just awful, all this talk about closing our schools. Our children need a school that’s in walkable distance – and they clearly need to be D.C. schools, and not charter schools,” she said.

“In order for reforms to work, they’re supposed to engage community stakeholders, parents, teachers and students, and Henderson’s proposal has failed to include [that kind of input].”

Report: DCPS Scores Have Not Improved With Reforms

Cross-Posted from The Examiner Written by Lisa Gartner

Third-graders in DC Public Schools have failed to show any gains in math or reading since aggressive school reforms began in 2007, according to an independent analysis of the city’s standardized test scores.

The report, to be released Monday by the nonprofit DC Action for Children, also suggests the city’s public charter schools do not outperform the traditional school system on the DC Comprehensive Assessment System exams.

“We are spending way too much effort and money in education reform not to see results,” said HyeSook Chung, the organization’s executive director. “If the data isn’t lying, what are we doing wrong? Why aren’t we seeing improvements in test scores, which everyone is obsessed with, if we are indeed making change, as the city claims?”

Elder Research Inc. conducted a statistical analysis of test scores from 2007 to 2011 by weighting schools’ performance by the number of students who score “below basic,” “basic,” “proficient” or “advanced” on the exams. Schools were given one to four points for each student in the respective brackets, then averaged and aggregated. Chung says this allowed the researchers to create a more nuanced picture than the results released by the city each year, which have showed an upward trend by examining only whether students are proficient or not.

The group chose 2007 because many of former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s reforms began then with the passage of the School Reform Act. It chose the third grade because research cites third-grade proficiency as a key indicator of whether a student will graduate from high school. The third grade is also the first year that students take the exams.

On the one-to-four scale, DCPS’ average weighted score in math has inched up from 2.15 to 2.2 from 2007 to 2011 — an insignificant statistical move. Reading moved from about 2.25 to 2.2.

A spokeswoman for the school system deferred comment to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the agency that regulates DCPS and the city’s charter schools. A spokeswoman for OSSE did not return phone calls seeking comment.

David Grosso, who will begin his term as an at-large D.C. Council member in January, said the report provides “good direction.”

“We have to try to be more open and transparent about what’s going on in the school reform effort,” Grosso said.

The report also suggests that charter schools, which enroll 43 percent of the city’s public school students, do not statistically perform better than DCPS. On the weighted scale, charters moved from 2.05 to 2.25 in math, and from 2.25 to 2.3 in reading.

Naomi DeVeaux, deputy executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, said she would like to see data on older students, as she believes charters help students improve their scores over time.

“Without knowing that, you can’t judge a school,” DeVeaux said. “How low did students come in? How low below ‘basic’ were they? And then what growth occurs?”

Mayor To Meet With School Closing Opponents After Threat Of Home Demonstration

Cross-Posted from DC’s Independent Media Center By Luke Kuhn

Ward 8 State Board of Education Representative Trayon White at Save Our Schools Rally.

On the 13th of December, a “Save Our Schools” rally was held at Malcolm X Elementary School in Anacostia, targeted by Mayor Gray to be closed along with 19 other schools in DC. The event was organized by Ward 8 State Board of Education Representative Trayon White.

Originally the parents, teachers, students and others were going to march on Mayor Gray’s home a couple miles away-but he agreed to meet with them when he got word that he was in for an evening of “pitchforks and torches” protesting outside his home. We shall see if the Mayor follows through on his commitment to meet with these folks.

Parents and students of Malcolm X Elementary School at Save Our Schools Rally.

The Mayor has been ducking a meeting with homeless advocates for months, with his schedulers saying it would be three months before he can get around to meeting with SHARC. Perhaps the only way to get a meeting with Mayor Gray is to plan a march on his home in a middle class section of Anacostia and make sure he knows you’re coming?

Background on the issue:

The school closings are one of the “suggestions” from the Walton Foundation, the Wal-Mart funded outfit Mayor Gray’s government is accepting funds and school “reform” advice from. The Walton Family Foundation page on the “DC Public Education Fund” gives glowing reviews among other things to the IMPACT testing program used to fire so many DC teachers.

The DC Public Education fund homepage lists in their “what’s new” section “Proposed Consolidations and Reorganization of Schools,” meaning closing schools like Malcolm X Elementary. Since they receive funding from the Walton Foundation, in effect we have Wal-Mart paying DC to close down public schools in favor of charter schools like the notorious and fascistic KIPP, or even a charter school that is designed to teach people specifically to work at Wal-Mart.

Post Election Accountability and The Empower DC Outreach Tour

Often times I feel that the progressive movement in DC is getting nowhere. I’ll make the mistake of reading the comments following some article that actually pertains to community organizing on DCist or the City Paper site and I am sickened by the classism and thinly veiled racism there. Spend too much time wading through DC’s blogosphere and one can start to believe that the gentrifiers are the only people whose opinions matter in this town. By contrast, last night’s Organizing for Post Election Accountability Empowerment Circle was heartening.


DC Rapper Head-Roc performs Change In America.

We discussed the record of the soon to be previous mayor Adrian Fenty. He and the city council did many things that the community didn’t appreciate in the last four years. In many ways, the city is not better off. We are not better off without Franklin Shelter, or the 23 neighborhood schools that were closed down, or the 13 early childhood and out of school time programs that were shuttered at Parks and Recreation Centers in wards 6, 7 and 8. But none of those things were taken away without a fight.

Hundreds of homeless and homeless advocates protested in Franklin Square, testified before the city council and won emergency legislation to keep the shelter open. Mayor Fenty ignored the emergency legislation, and the city council that enacted it did not sue the Fenty Administration for flouting the law, but the activists did. The fight to reopen Franklin Shelter continues. On Friday, October 8, the federal courts will hear the case. Go to Reopen Franklin Shelter Now for the latest updates.

Under Mayor Fenty, schools chancellor Michelle Rhee managed to close down 23 neighborhood schools that were supposedly under-enrolled and/or under-performing. As it turns out, some were and some weren’t. She fired 266 teachers and support staff due to a shortfall in the budget that turned out to be some kind of accounting error. And she fired or forced to retire dozens of beloved and committed school principals. But none of this came without a price.

After rallies, demonstrations, school walkouts and many, many lawsuits over illegal terminations, alleged warrior woman Michelle Rhee’s days are numbered. Parents from Bruce Monroe Elementary School, which was closed with the promise that a new school would be rebuilt on the site, have continued to pressure the Fenty Administration, the city council and even the developers who’ve shown an interest in building commercial property on the site. So far as the parents are concerned, the school will be rebuilt as promised. The plan to turn Hardy Elementary School in Georgetown, a high performing feeder school that caters to children from every ward in the District, into a neighborhood school that serves only the wealthy and mostly white students from Georgetown, has also met stiff opposition. For developments on opposition to school reform without community input, check out long time DCPS advocate Candi Peterson’s blog The Washington Teacher.

While we are still waiting to hear the outcomes of the lawsuits on behalf of those Park and Recreation employees who staffed the early childhood programs in Wards 6, 7 & 8, before they were closed down, another lawsuit was won outright.

Remember the checkpoints in Trinidad? In the summer of 2008, the Northeast DC neighborhood began to take on the feeling of a police state, as motorists were stopped and asked to provide ID and prove that they had a “legitimate” reason to be in the neighborhood. Those checkpoints are gone now. Why? That would be because the Partnership for Civil Justice sued the District on behalf of four activists who simply refused to accept the infringements on their rights. You can read the details in the Washington Post article Federal Court Says D.C. Police Checkpoints Were Unconstitutional.

The point of all this and the Empowerment Circle that reminded me of these events is that organizing works. We have held Mayor Fenty accountable by firing him. Although the city council, complicit in the above crimes against the community, has not been held accountable, half of them will be up for re-election again in 2012. We’ve all agreed that we can expect little better treatment from presumptive mayor Vincent Gray, but we’re not going to wait for him and the council to disappoint us as many did with Mayor Fenty. Holding our elected official accountable is a process that must be consistent and ongoing.

To that end, Empower DC has planned a series of events designed . . . → Read More: Post Election Accountability and The Empower DC Outreach Tour