We asked the two Ward 6 School Board candidates to answer some questions about what they will do if elected. The posting of these Q&As are not endorsements and have been posted exactly as submitted by the candidates.
Q. As Council Member Wells has said on more than one occasion, Ward 6 is unlike anywhere in the country in that elementary schools have undergone a rapid transformation in recent years with many families now considering a wider choice of DCPS than had in years past. Much of that can be attributed to parental involvement and a receptive administration. However there are still some schools on the Hill that have yet to see the same kind of widespread acceptance. In your opinion what can be done to convince local families that these school can also be options for their children?
Warren-Jones: Our schools have undergone a rapid transformation and a key component of this is parental involvement. Schools that are still challenged need higher levels of involvement and higher levels of quality involvement. It’s not just about parents who can show up at the PTA meeting- that’s a start, but some of our more high performing schools have a diverse range of skill sets in the parent community, folks with management expertise, grant writing skills, fund raising, legal skills, etc. Many of these same parents at our high performing schools can serve as excellent role models or mentors for those schools that are lacking these needed skills within their own PTA corps.
And while strong parental involvement is a requisite, parents need to believe that the school itself is going to be a good option, which means knowing that there are highly effective teachers; outstanding school leaders who can inspire their staff expect the best of their students, and effectively engage parents and the broader community; and without a doubt, rigorous programs. As a State Board member, I will advocate that those core items be in place for every school because that’s what needed for parents to view any school as a good option for their children.
Q. While many families are now choosing DCPS for elementary school in Ward 6, the local middle schools are lacking the confidence of many of those same families. What is your plan to broaden the options for middle schools for local families?
Warren-Jones: Right now we have a middle school plan that was developed by parents, teachers, administrators, and for the most part, supported by DCPS and our Ward 6 Councilman, Tommy Wells. The plan has new feeder patterns and provides Ward 6 students with a good set of options ranging from a magnet style program to an IB program. In response to parent concerns, some modifications have been made, and while this plan is not perfect, it does lay a good foundation for addressing many concerns about middle school, including the need for rigorous program and safe school environments. I would advocate for continued work with DCPS to refine and implement this plan over the next few years.
Q. Many families on the Hill choose a combination of charter and traditional public schools to suit their children’s needs and situations at various times. In your opinion how is the charter system affecting the overall educational environment of DC? Are there changes you would like to see?
Warren-Jones: Charters have the positive effect of providing parents with educational choices. They give education entrepreneurs the opportunity to do something a little different and free from the controls of the traditional public school system in exchange for providing an increase in student achievement. That’s all good.
But just as there are low-performing DC public schools, there are also low performing schools. We all need to work together to ensure that all schools, both DCPS and public charter, are of the highest quality. In terms of changes, I believe we should have equal funding and services for all students, whether they attend DCPS or a public charter school.
Q. Eastern High School is set to reopen next year to ninth graders. The building has undergone renovations, a new principal has been hired and planning is currently happening. Many local families are hoping to be able to consider it as an option. If elected how can you assure these families that Eastern will be an option for their kids?
Warren-Jones: I believe Eastern will serve as a strong option for Ward 6 students. I’m excited about the new principal, who from all early indications appears to be an excellent fit for the new Eastern High. She comes from a background both strong in secondary teaching as well as administration and school leadership. The building itself has undergone an incredible renovation and programming is underway to provide students with an IB or advanced placement program. There will also be a partnership with the DC Youth Orchestra, which currently operates out of Coolidge High in NW, to relocate to the new Eastern. It’s important to note as well that Eastern is the by-right high school for our Ward 6 middle schools. If parents choose to send their children there, they can do so without going through the rigorous lottery process and with the knowledge that quality leadership, teaching staff, and programs will be in place.
Q.What is your opinion of the reforms set in motion by former Chancellor Rhee? Are you concerned that without her the newfound trust in DCPS will evaporate?
Warren-Jones: As a parent of two DCPS children, I appreciate the reforms that have taken place under Chancellor Rhee including the access and expansion of early childhood (three and four year-old) programs in many of our neighborhood schools, an emphasis on high quality teachers and school leaders, and the use of a performance evaluation tool and compensation plan, via the new union contract, that ties compensation in part to student achievement. Most of this, as we know, was very challenging but very much needed to help get our DC public education system on the right track.
I believe that we should keep control of DCPS under the mayor, as while there are various systems of governance, mayoral control has been a good one for our city. I also feel confident that the reforms underway, much of which are tied to federal mandates associated with our award of the $75 million in Race for the Top funds, will continue. We also have a new presumed mayor-elect who, despite a difference in managerial style, is no less committed to educational excellence for DC residents. Gray sees education as a continuum of learning- from infancy to college. He has appointed an interim chancellor, Kaya Henderson, who served as Rhee’s deputy and from all indications appears committed and vested in continuing reforms that will benefit all of our public school students. From that standpoint, I feel good about the pending leadership and confident that the reforms made to date will not “evaporate”.