Dec 20, 2012

What's the Impact of DCPS School Closures on Teachers & School Staff?

By Candi Peterson

There has been a great deal of confusion and angst over what will happen to DCPS teachers and school staff after the school consolidation takes place in 2013-14. The districts plans have been made clear in a recent "DCPS School Consolidation Staffing Overview." ( Click on the words DCPS School Consolidation Staffing Overview for attachment). Some DCPS teachers and staff at select schools were provided copies of this 3-page document by their local school principals shortly after Chancellor Henderson's announcement of the school consolidation plan. Other employees at schools slated for consolidation were not provided copies of this document for reasons unclear.

One thing is for sure, whether you received the school consolidation document or not - excess letters will be handed out to teachers and school personnel beginning in June, 2013. By definition, an "excess is an elimination of a teacher's position at a particular school due to a decline in student enrollment, a reduction in the local school budget, a closing or consolidation, a restructuring or change in the local school program when such an elimination is not a reduction in force (RIF) or abolishment." (Refer to page 27 of the WTU Collective Bargaining Agreement)

The School Consolidation Staffing Overview raised many pertinent questions that teachers, school staff and parents should pay attention to as it will have an adverse effect on what happens to employees in consolidated schools.

How will school consolidation affect Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) members?

DCPS answer: " WTU members at consolidated schools will be subject to the excessing process as outlined in the WTU contract. Please note that no one will be excessed until the end of 2012-13 school year."

What happens to Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) members?

DCPS answer: "After being excessed, WTU members will have 60 days to interview for new placements. After that period, WTU members who are unable to find placements may be eligible for an extra year of employment to find a permanent position. These options are only available to WTU members who are in their third year and beyond, and whose most recent IMPACT rating is Effective or Highly Effective. All other WTU members who are unable to find positions will be separated from the system."

Will excessed Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) members be given preference over external hires?

DCPS answer: "In accordance with the WTU contract, DCPS principals will have the authority to hire from whichever source they choose. That said DCPS will work to facilitate the placement of as many WTU members as possible."

Since school staff who are members of the Council of School Officers (CSO), Teamsters, AFSCME have a different collective bargaining agreement, they will be subject to a different set of rules than WTU members. The DCPS consolidation staffing overview states members of other unions will be guaranteed a job at another school as long as the overall number of positions increase and they remain Effective or Highly Effective.

How will school consolidation affect principals and assistant principals?

DCPS answer: "As we do every year, DCPS will evaluate all principals and assistant principals for reappointment in the spring. School leaders from consolidated schools may have opportunities to panel or interview at other schools. Principals and assistant principals who are not reappointed may be eligible to retreat to their last permanent position."

In all the information on student enrollment, average yearly enrollment, building capacity and so-called under utilization provided by DCPS, the one data set that is never addressed is the number of teachers and staff affected. An estimated 12, 233 students are projected to be affected by the school consolidations in the proposed plan. But where is the data on the numbers of teachers and staff affected?

Will it be the estimated 14 teachers slated to be excessed at Mamie D. Lee school with an 8 to 1 teacher-to-student ratio, or the 55 teachers and staff  affected by the 237 students being thrown into the mix when Garrison Elementary School faces closing?

It may be like the case of Malcolm X and the Black Muslims, when asked how many members of the Nation of Islam there were. His pat answer was, "Those who say don't know, and those who know don't say"!

Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) members, you have less than six months to find out the future of your job security as an estimated 1,200 teachers and staff or up to 30% of WTU membership may face the excessing chopping block as the WTU leadership stands silently by hosting and toasting Chancellor Henderson at union membership meetings and holiday gatherings when hard questions are ignored!

© Candi Peterson 2013

Dec 12, 2012

Brightwood Protest and Pushback to DC Public Schools Closings

Nathan Harrington protests meeting
By Candi Peterson
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 nights 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.

Speaker after speaker provided a laundry list of reasons why the school consolidations would create more problems then they would solve. Parents raised the issue that charter schools should not be off the chopping block and should be part of the consolidation plan as well.
Chancellor Henderson reassured the standing room only crowd at the end of the evening that, “We will make sure that every question will be answered and made public.” But admitted that of the final decision, “You’re darned if you do, and darned if you don't."

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.

© Candi Peterson 2013

Dec 4, 2012

Deja Vu All over Again-DC Public School Closures

Written By Candi Peterson

Plans to consolidate twenty DC Public Schools were announced on November 13, 2012 followed by a rush of public hearings and neighborhood stakeholder discussions that gave precious little time for parents, teachers and administrators to respond. The edict sounded all too familiar to those of us who were around for the first round of closures in 2008.

In a nutshell, DC's Chancellor Kaya Henderson proposes to close twenty public schools because they are under enrolled and in DCPS’s opinion are too costly to operate. The list of school closures includes 8 elementary schools, 3 special education schools, 4 middle schools, 2 education campuses, the Choice program, 1 High School STAY program (School To Aid Youth) and 1 high school.

 Two days of City Council hearings that lasted until nearly midnight with over 50 witnesses followed the school closure announcement to allow for testimony from education stakeholders. Community stakeholder meetings were subsequently scheduled to get feedback at four ward-based meetings commencing November 27 at Savoy elementary school in Ward 8, a second meeting at Sousa middle school in Ward 7 on November 28 and a third meeting at McKinley senior high on November 29 in Ward 5. The last meeting will be held at Brightwood education campus on December 5. This meeting will represent multiple wards of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6.

 Unlike the meetings of 2008 when stakeholders were escorted off to individual classrooms for private discussion, this year's format for ward based meetings included small table group discussions in an open meeting space like the school gymnasium. The discussions were facilitated by a DCPS staffer leading the dialogue around three main questions: [1] What has DCPS not thought about; [2] What can be done to strengthen the proposal; and [3] What could make the transition smoother. Participants reported back to the larger audience sharing their tables' response.

We need a moratorium on public school closings and charter school openings was a common recommendation expressed at the Ward 5 and 8 stakeholder meetings. When I attended the community meeting at McKinley, I couldn't help but feel the participants frustration and distrust that DCPS has already made its mind made up about going forward with the school closures .

Robert Vinson Brannum, VP of Ward 5 Council on Education questioned the school districts intentions. "The root question is are we working on the premise that the proposal is going forward. If at the end of everything, we say don't do it (close schools), are you going to go forward anyway”, Brannum said. 

 Comments from the McKinley audience ended with an obtrusive presence- none other than Ward 5 ANC commissioner Bob King. King who lives in the Fort Lincoln neighborhood has been a long time commissioner for 30 plus years and a community advocate as well as supporter of Thurgood Marshall elementary school. Commissioner King left a memorable impression when he spoke directly to Chancellor Henderson about Marshall's rich history, community support and the corporate sponsorships he garnered from Costco on behalf of the school.

"I have a written contract for $10,000 yearly from Costco, backpacks for all the students in Ward 5 and I personally delivered 68 computers, 10 smart boards and 1 projector to Marshall. You might be gone and the mayor might be gone, so please right your proposal to keep Marshall open," King said.

The ward 7 meeting at Sousa was markedly different than either of those in Wards 5 or 8. The Ward 7 education council took ownership of their meeting, decided not to entertain DCPS’ questions and presented a proposal of their own to keep schools open. Daniel del Pielago, education organizer of Empower DC said of the plan, "it reflected the concerns of parents and community and ultimately the plan said let's work to save and make our schools better instead of let's close more schools and see what happens as DCPS is saying."

Through two weeks of excruciating meetings the majority of community voices clearly oppose the closures, with only a promise from Chancellor Kaya Henderson to take the community’s recommendations into consideration before she makes a final verdict in January of 2013. A visceral lack of trust in the process exists at the community level, as DCPS and local council representatives appear to be hell bent on closing 20 schools regardless of community input, while ignoring loud persistent cries from the community to stop the madness and consider a moratorium. 

© Candi Peterson 2013