Jun 28, 2015

H.D. Woodson Grad Receives Full Ride At Emory University

Christopher Chandler receiving Lorraine H.Whitlock award
Pictured CM Yvette Alexander, salutatorian- David Wynn,
Mayor Muriel Bowser & Ward 7 Dem, Ed Potillo
By Candi Peterson and Malcolm Lewis Barnes

You hear a lot about what’s wrong with DC Public Schools, but very seldom hear about the success stories. On June 25th at the 11th Annual Lorraine H. Whitlock Memorial Scholarship dinner sponsored by the Ward 7 Democrats at the Kellogg Conference Center on the campus of Gallaudet College, Woodson High School senior, Christopher Chandler added that scholarship to his already impressive achievement as the valedictorian of his 2015 class.

With a 4.18 Grade Point Average (GPA), Christopher had already received a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennial Scholarship to study engineering at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia which offers a unique 3/2 program which allows their participants to get grounded in liberal arts by studying three years at Emory followed by  two years at Georgia Tech’s rigorous engineering program.

“The one teacher that stands out the most was Laura Fuchs”, said Christopher. She helped him achieve his 4.18 GPA as his AP instructor who taught AP government and U. S. history. He credits her innovative teaching style with assisting him with the type of study guides and exposing him to the study skills that he feels will help him transition successfully to college. And he also feels that he was not the only one to benefit from Ms. Fuchs tutelage as he credits her with assisting the majority of her smaller 10 to 15 students in her class to achieve marked improvement.

Fuchs reacted as a proud teacher who takes delight in her student’s success. “Christopher is inspiring, gracious and humble.  He has an unending work ethic and always tries his best. At graduation, every time I got close to him I cried”, stated Fuchs. Her tears were tears of joy. She recalled how hard Christopher worked even during his 7:30 am AP Government class. Arrangements were made so Fuchs students could arrive at school earlier than the standard 8:45 am arrival time to fit in another class, known as the zero period since there wasn't room in their senior schedule to take this class.

Fuchs arrived at HD Woodson in 2007 as a DC Teaching fellow and completed her Masters degree at American University, while teaching. She believes in experiencing 'civil action' with her students. Also serving as Washington Teachers' Union, Committee on Political Education (COPE) Chairperson, Fuchs can often be found attending DC City Council hearings and education town hall meetings in the evenings with her students in towe.

Chandler was also inspired by a professional role model who successfully transitioned from DC Public Schools to a career in engineering. He met electrical engineer, Joanne Wilson two years ago and was impressed with her career success as a telecommunications professional who worked her way from Southern University to a position on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

He also received great assistance from his college mentor, Kevin Mungin from the College Success Foundation of DC that is also funded by the Gates Foundation that helps public school students from middle school to map out their career fields by arranging college field trips and career shadowing opportunities.

His college mentor also exposed him to the Higher Education and; Readiness Program or HERO program, which works closely with Woodson students from middle school through graduation. Chris started in 7th grade doing a “Design Your Dream Home” project because he was originally interested in architecture. Then he migrated to engineering when he got to high school when he got exposed to the advances in cellphone technology.

And finally he credits his parents were there the whole time. “Everything starts at home” said Chris. “And our lifestyle at home set the tone for how I performed in school”. He praised his parents, Renee Carthens and stepfather, Otis Leach for providing the consistent family support that kept him focused though out his time in high school at Woodson.

And to add icing to his graduation cake, Christopher added the Lorraine H. Whitlock Memorial Scholarship to the full ride that the Bill and Melinda Gates Millennial Scholarship provided to study engineering, which was named after the lifelong education and community activist from the Deanwood community of Ward 7. Chandler’s story is one of inspiration where as an African American student he defied the odds in an urban high school where only 60% of his peers graduate in four years.

Count Christopher Chandler as a true success story, but credit the love and support he received from his parents, help he received from his AP instructor Laura Fuchs; his college mentor Kevin Mungin, and his professional role model, Joanne Wilson for inspiring him from middle school through graduation to valedictorian with a college career goal.

© Candi Peterson 2015

Jun 22, 2015

A Teacher's Story of Workplace Bullying/Incivility in DCPS

Incivility & Workplace Bullying
photo by Kristian Hammerstad
By Candi Peterson, WTU Gen. Vice President

Incivility is a general term for social behavior lacking in civility or good manners, on a scale from rudeness or lack of respect for elders, to vandalism and hooliganism, through public drunkenness and threatening behavior. The word "incivility" is derived from the Latin incivilis, meaning "not of a citizen".

I received both criticism and praise on my blog story about principal bullying in DC public schools. It's a story that must be told.

An opinion piece recently featured in the New York Times, titled 'No Time To Be Nice at Work' by Christine Porath highlights how mean bosses can be bad for workers and the company's bottom line. Porath is an associate research professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. She has done extensive research on incivility in the workplace.

In schools, workplace bullying/incivility hurts student success and contributes to teacher turnover (which isn't good for schools).

For as long as I have worked for DC Public Schools (since 1992), rudeness and bad behavior amongst certain school administrators has  been a reoccurring theme. A great deal of my union work in our schools has focused on retaliatory bosses. An increasing number of teachers have reported being subjected to bullying in the workplace by their principals. Administrators often defend their position by describing themselves as tough managers or view it as a way to motivate their staff .

How we treat each other at works matters. Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford University professor states when employees experience intermittent stressors like incivility for too long or too often , their immune systems are affected and lead to major health problems like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and ulcers.

As if this isn't bad enough, incivility in the workplace has physiological effects as well. It shuts down the pre-frontal cortex. When you instill fear, the ability to think gets compromised.

Incivility has tangible costs too. It's a no brainer, when employers are mean, employees tend to have less focus, contribute less and lose their conviction and creativity. Porath's studies show that a group of participants who were belittled performed 33% worse on tasks and came up with 39% fewer creative ideas during a brainstorming task. Participants who encountered rudeness, subsequently performed 61% worse on tasks.

What sort of workplace would condone behavior that engenders fear in its teachers and ultimately hurts our students and their ability to achieve? Teachers cannot contribute their best when under fear of bullying, harassment or abuse.

Teachers fear reprisal and rarely report incidences of workplace bullying even to their union. Having the spotlight on increases the pressure on our schools to do something. Here's a teacher's story on bullying in the workplace. The teachers name and the name of the DC school have been removed to protect confidentiality.

Bullying at My School

To whom it may concern:

"Fortunately, I'm on the principal's good side. She likes me, so she really doesn't bother me. However,
I have witnessed her bully my colleagues, use intimidating techniques, and lie on teachers- creating a divisive environment. I understand that what affects some, will eventually affect all. What bothers me most is hearing her mention how she doesn't like working with African Americans. She is always comparing her previous school which was mostly Caucasian staff to her staff now. She boasts about how she preferred working with this kind of staff. I'm not even Black and this is offensive to me.

Our principal has single handedly ruined staff morale. I hate to say this because we have really great teachers here. She gossips about teachers to one another. I should not know the details of a staff member's medical issues. But I do because the principal discusses teachers' personal information. She has spread rumors about which staff members are sleeping together. It is uncomfortable being in the position where I know things about people that I shouldn't. Isn't this an ethical violation? I am fearful of telling her how I feel. She has demonstrated time and time again, that the way teachers feel isn't her concern. Speaking up will cause me to be added to her 'hate' list. No one wants to be on her 'hate' list. I have witnessed her make teachers miserable because she dislikes them, so it is easier just to be quiet.

Principal X is not a good leader. She is not passionate about student achievement. Student achievement appears to be the least of her concern. She does not motivate and support teachers as it states in the principal job description. According to her job description, she is supposed to implement consistent school-wide instructional practices that are clear, results-oriented and research-based. This is not the case. Principal X is not consistent with anything. Things change from one day to the next and usually occur last minute. She implements practices that are irrelevant to student growth.

She actually believes that student test scores are low because teachers are incompetent. Principal X does not consider the fact that maybe she's a poor leader which affects student test scores, as well. I know that I will continue to work in constant fear. It is hard enough to deal with challenging students. I do not need a leader to make it any worse."

Anonymous teacher in DCPS

Photo courtesy of Kristian Hammerstad- New York Times

© Candi Peterson 2015

Jun 14, 2015

No Teacher Left Behind: The Story of Ballou Senior High Reconstitution

Created by Ballou HS Students @ Teacher Sit-In
By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Ballou teachers stage a sit-in in the cafeteria with their students in protest of their schools reconstitution on Monday-June 15th. Follow
updates @TheWashTeacher - hashtag #TeachersMatter, #BallouTeachersMatter

In a letter to Ballou Senior High staff, dated May 21, 2015, DC Public Schools Deputy Chief of Human Resources, Crystal Jefferson announced the restructuring of the high school.

The Deputy Chief cited poor performance and the desire for the district to improve student outcomes as the reason to begin restructuring the school.

Staff were called into the school's auditorium at the end of the school day with only a day's prior notice. A "Frequently Asked Questions" fact sheet on Reconstitution was distributed. Instructional Superintendent (IS), Daniel Shea cited No Child Left Behind Act as the authority under which restructuring process will begin.

While NCLB allows any school district multiple options for restructuring, IS Shea and Ballou's principal, Yetunde Reeves said that all staff will have to re-apply for their jobs and only 50% would be selected to remain. Of course the schools principal will not be among those heading for the exit door.

Principal Reeves shared a PowerPoint presentation of her new vision for the next school year. Much like other principals before her, you couldn't help but think - here we go again!

Among the 65 teachers currently at the school, Latisha Chisolm, teacher and WTU Building Representative said only twenty-two teachers were chosen to remain next year. Chisolm says she was not selected to remain at Ballou.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was enacted to improve education through a system of accountability for schools and school districts. Schools who fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for five years in a row must undergo a series of five restructuring options.

These options include: [1] reopening the school as a public charter; [2] replacing all or most school staff relevant to AYP failure; [3] collaborating with an external partner; [4] submitting to a State takeover; or [5] developing another major restructuring effort.

This is the second time Ballou has been reconstituted in five years. The last time was 2010. At that time Ballou had a 30 percent proficiency rating in reading and 26 percent in math for high school sophomores on the 2010 D.C. CAS. Three years prior (in 2008), Ballou's test scores were in the single digits.

Despite a reconstitution in 2010, Ballou's scores have declined even further to a 16 percent proficiency rating in reading and a 15 percent in math.

% ProficientBallou High SchoolDC


% ProficientBallou High SchoolDC


The bottom line: this NCLB strategy doesn’t work.

Ballou, also commonly referred to as a "drop out factory' has a 63 percent attendance rate with a 50 per cent drop-out rate which is lower than the city wide average.

Wouldn't it be wise to consider less drastic measures and try another approach?  After all playing musical chairs with teachers and administrators hasn't yielded better outcomes for our students. This is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results.

There are five things that schools have to do to rapidly improve their end-of-the-year test scores according to the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. They found five essential supports that matter for student success and school improvement.

The first support is shared leadership in the building. Next, there is the instructional process that occurs in every classroom. There is improving the professional capacity of the teachers and principal. There is engaging parents in what is happening at school.

For example, parents in this study learned the Illinois standards so they were prepared to help with homework. And the last of the essential supports is the climate for learning. These schools have to have a culture and climate where people increasingly trust each other and are able to work together to create these rapid increases in results.

We know NCLB does more harm than good. "It is time to pull the plug on No Child Left Behind. It has had adequate time to prove itself. It has failed. ..... there is no reason to believe that the results of NCLB will get dramatically better. Now is the time for fundamental rethinking of the federal role in education," says Diane Ravitch, research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

Ravitch previously served as a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, so I believe she knows that NCLB has not worked in urban schools in high poverty neighborhoods.

© Candi Peterson 2015

Jun 9, 2015

DCPS Principal Shuffle

By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

It's that time of year again when DC schools approaches its final days as the school year comes to an end. Some principals have already faced principal terminations or if you prefer a nice way of saying their contract was not-renewed. Some leave before they get the axe and go on to greener pastures because they know their shelf-life as a principal is soon coming to an end.

Principal churn in DC Public Schools leaves many of us questioning exactly what is the criteria for not renewing a principal's contract? Parents and community members don't always agree with Chancellor Henderson's  guidelines for termination. One thing for sure the principal shuffle has not helped student achievement in our district. 

According to a source who shall remain anonymous, here's the list of 26 DC's School leadership changes for school year 2015-16. It is reported that four more schools may be added later.

Aiton ES
Bancroft ES
Brookland EC (will be known as Bunker Hill ES in 15/16)
Bruce Monroe ES
Dunbar SHS
Hendley ES
Janney ES
Johnson MS
Kelly Miller MS
ML King ES
Kramer MS (Interim principal was serving at the school)
Luke C. Moore Academy SHS
Malcolm X ES
Mamie D. Lee (consolidating school)
Payne ES
Peabody ES/Watkins ES
Powell ES
Roosevelt SHS
Sharpe Health (consolidating school)
Shepherd ES
Simon ES
Smothers ES
Thomas ES
Washington Metropolitan HS
West EC
Wilson SHS (Interim Principal was serving at the school)

Jun 7, 2015

Independent Evaluation of DC Public Schools Too Little Too Late to Impact Plight of Teachers

Written By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Somebody dropped the ball. Who’s to blame for the eight years we waited for an independent evaluation of mayoral control of DC Public Schools ? Well accountability is reserved only for us peons (teachers, school personnel, principals, vice principals and; central office staff). Right? Not for mayors and other elected officials.

Under a 2007 law, known as PERAA (Public Education Reform Amendment Act) gave control of DC Public Schools to the Mayor (Former Mayor Adrian Fenty) as well as other changes in school governance. The purpose of the law was to give leaders more flexibility in making changes in light of the school systems history of failed fix it plans and floundering student achievement.

The reform law required the mayor to submit an independent evaluation of our public schools annually on academic achievement,personnel policies and business practices. The law also included an option to skip annual assessments and deliver a five year independent assessment by September 15, 2012. Obviously that deadline was not met.

There was much ado on the road to selecting independent evaluators. In 2009, Fenty eliminated funding for an independent evaluation. Then there were two evaluator names that initially surfaced including Frederick Hess, of American Enterprise Institute and Kenneth Wong, of Brown University who were proponents of mayoral control and made many uncomfortable about their objectivity including former Chairman Vincent Gray, who raised concerns, to his credit.

Eventually funding was restored for the independent evaluation in 2009. A total of $325,000 was included in the DC government budget to hire the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct the evaluation. NRC is one of four non-profit organizations that operate under the National Academies. It was estimated that DC government would provide 20 percent of the funding, with NRC raising the remaining cost from private donations.

The road to this independent assessment has been a rocky one. Let's count the three mayors who presided while we waited for a glimpse of this assessment. Let's see first there was Adrian Fenty, then Vincent Gray and now Muriel Bowser.

At long last, members of the evaluation committee reported their findings and recommendations on June 3, 2015 at a public round table at the Committee on Education held at the Council of the District of Columbia. Tweets were rampant on June 3rd from inside DC City Council chambers as the committee unveiled its report.

The report findings are in excess of 300 pages and for purposes here, I will try to dissect this information in smaller chunks.

Significant amongst the findings, the report indicated "while there have been some improvements in the public schools of the District of Columbia since a 2007 reform law, significant disparities remain in learning opportunities and academic progress across student groups and the city's wards."

On a positive note, both DCPS and the Public Charter School Board were noted to be operating more effectively than before PERAA and pursued improvements that show promise.

A top priority for the mayor and chancellor after PERAA was to improve teacher effectiveness and introduce an evaluation system to assess teacher performance. The report revealed what we already know that the Impact teacher evaluation was introduced in 2009 under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee and rated teacher's on classroom observations,
on their commitment to school community (CSC), core professionalism (CP), and linked students' test scores to teacher effectiveness.

It was recommended that procedures be developed by the district to ensure that scoring on commitment to school community and core professionalism is consistently applied. The committee expressed concerns that even though the district had articulated goals for IMPACT, a plan for evaluating their own progress has not been developed, to date.

The report clearly captured the district's premise that a more effective teacher workforce would result in improved learning conditions and achievement for all students. The key phrase here is ALL. However, it was noted that teachers with the highest performance are not equitably distributed across the city and students' in the poorest wards have the least access to these high performing teachers.

More than 80% of teachers who were rated as effective or higher in 2013-14 chose to remain in the school system the following school year. Teachers with minimally effective ratings were more likely to leave the school system or be dismissed. There was no mention of the developing category of teachers which was added as rating category in 2012, despite the DC Municipal Regulations which states that you can only have four( 4) categories of performance ratings.

The committee found that indicators for proficiency in student achievement still remains low. Gains are larger in reading than math. Not surprising, that black and Hispanic students, students with disabilities, English language learners and those eligible for free and reduced lunch are more likely to be the lowest performing students. Although it was noted that there was some improvement since 2009, more than half of students in these above groups still score below proficient.

After all the mumbo jumbo, excuse me if I get to the bottom line here. According to this report, DC Public Schools student gains still remain unacceptably low and students of color and English language learners and students with disabilities still half of them remain less than proficient. And students in the poorest wards still have the least access to a high performing educator. Wow!

 No wonder it took eight years for our government to release this report. Wouldn't it have made sense to conduct an independent evaluation annually rather than wait every five or eight years in this case ?

This time we can't blame it on the teachers or principals, assistant principals or school personnel because many of them have been fired over the years. Remember Rhee's plan to dismantle the education workforce?

So you tell me whose to blame for little gains in student achievement when 80% of our teachers are effective or higher and the other half were fired? Hmmm- Thank God for independent evaluations! Too bad, it's too little too late.

© Candi Peterson 2015