|Nathan Harrington protests meeting|
The last in a series of educational town hall meetings was held last week at the Brightwood education campus to hear from stakeholders re DC Public Schools consolidation plan to close 20 public schools.
Activist Nathan Harrington, a Congress Heights DC resident blew into the meeting talking over Chancellor Kaya Henderson creating a dramatic start to the meeting and appeared to create some hard feelings among participants who were politely waiting to be heard. “My fellow Washingtonians, it is abundantly clear that the intention of this meeting is to confuse and mislead the citizens of our city into passively accepting decisions that have already been made. A hour and a half of officials promoting their plans is not community input,” Harrington said.
Although stakeholders may not have agreed with how Harrington delivered his message, Henderson told the audience she had no problems allowing Harrington to continue if that’s what the audience wanted. Despite some mild protests by audience members, Harrington continued to deliver his two page speech as he moved throughout the room. A lone female security officer tugged and pulled on Harrington’s sweater trying to facilitate his departure from the room inefficaciously. Harrington concluded by inviting residents to boycott the meeting and reminded them of past experiences of trying to stop school closure plans was unsuccessful and fell on deaf ears.
“I want to hear from you. Come to me with your suggestions and we will incorporate your feedback and will show how we are going to include your ideas. You have my commitment that it will be different this time,” Henderson vowed as she promised participants to work through the month of December incorporating participants ideas in the consolidation plan.
The meeting represented multiple wards of 1,2, 3, 4, and 6. Parents with children in tow, teachers, community residents and activists filled the cafeteria/gymnasium discussing their concerns at tables representing their respective schools. The meeting resembled the same format offered at previous meetings with DCPS staffers facilitating the discussion mainly around questions that focused on what would make the consolidation plan a smoother transition and what had DCPS failed to consider.
An unusually high number of Council members made appearances including Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Tommy Wells and David Catania. City council members have not denounced school consolidation plans until Thursday night’s meeting where Council member Evans came out against the closures of Garrison elementary school and Francis-Stevens education campus.
Powerful testimony provided by parents from Garrison elementary school included David Sallie who lives one block from Garrison and has a 2 ½ year old daughter. “I applied for preschool because of the activism of the PTA (at Garrison), amazing things are going on and there is momentum, a new principal and population changes which have not been taken into account”, Sallie said.
Sallie appealed to the chancellor. "You are going to lose families if you cut Garrision. I don’t consider charter schools over public schools", he concluded.
The consolidation efforts had parents advocating for their schools and most often opposing the effort to merge their school with a lower performing school. Some of the most notable concerns of the evening were safety issues the school consolidations would create. The majority of participants opposed shuffling 6th grade students to high schools with significantly older students, students traveling into unsafe neighborhoods as well as the extinction of walkable neighborhood schools.
Virginia Spatz injected some much needed humor at the end of the night when she spoke of the un-central location of the meeting and how it took her 2 buses and a train to arrive at Brightwood from her Ward 6 residence. " The whole process is missing. We need the consolidation to be put on hold, and evaluation with research on grades 6-12. We didn't do so well before with the Pre K-8 model. We want to see some vision," Spatz said.
If Henderson's aim is to avoid the mistakes of 2008 school closures, then why was no consideration given to a 'community task force' to plan school consolidations ? I concur with activist Nathan Harrington's assessment that promoting DC Public Schools' plans does not equate to community input. Somehow we are still putting the cart before the horse. There are better ways to consolidate schools that is if you are willing to do the research. Chancellor Kaya Henderson, like her predecessor is really no different than Michelle Rhee.