21 Oct 2010

Q & A with State School Board Candidate Melissa Rohan

photo by Robert E. Hyman

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 schools can also be options for their children?

Rohan: I live next door to one such school, Amidon-Bowen Elementary School.  Amidon-Bowen is in the bottom 25% of all District schools.

In talking with the new principal, Ms. Knight, she mentioned something that disturbed me.  The children who attend Amidon-Bowen ES believe that the community thinks they are “bad” and “not smart”.  No child should feel this way.

Ms. Knight is doing a great job at changing the school culture and achievement, but I fear that is not going to be enough to fully integrate the school.

We need to build parents’ confidence in these failing schools, and that confidence starts from our leaders.  Once elected, I will be a very vocal advocate for Ward 6’s children and parents.

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?

Rohan: While I like the plans for the new programs in our middle schools, because I believe they will help attract more middle-class families and keep us competitive with Virginia and Maryland, my concern is about the common core curriculum.  If we are going to gain the confidence of our middle-class families, we need show improvements on achievement in reading and math skills.

We have a very educated and involved middle-class and they want to see positive results before sending their children to our public middle schools. Smoke and mirrors aren’t going to win them over.

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?

Rohan: Public charter schools have had a positive impact on public education since passage.  We really need to support our local charter schools and the families that attend.

I would love to see changes when it comes to facilities. Unfortunately far too often good charter schools that are in the position to grow, financially and based on demand, are stunted because the District historically has made it effectively prohibitive to find adequate facilities.  I would like to see those successful schools aided in finding places for their growing student populations.

Additionally, OSSE takes far too long to distribute facilities checks.  Charters depend on these checks for basic operations (electricity, rent, loans, etc).  Timely disbursement helps charter schools spend more time educating students and less time worrying about budgets.

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?

Rohan: The renovated Eastern is beautiful.  I lived two blocks away a few years ago and very well aware of its previous dismal state.

I am very excited about the future of our neighborhood high school.  Eastern is our only public high school in Ward 6.  Our current 9-11th graders are commuting to other parts of the District.   While it is unfortunate that they will never be able to enjoy this new school, I hope that our out-going middle school scholars will consider Eastern their option.

Community meetings and development of a high school PTO/PTA would be a great way to start to build confidence.

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?

Rohan: I am favor of the reforms set in motion by former Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, as well as those prior to her.  I met with Michelle Rhee when I started my campaign and we agree on the integral pieces to DC’s school reforms.  That said, I do not agree with how the firings were handled.  Teaches teach for altruistic reasons and deserve a high level of respect. I don’t believe that the firings, while necessary, where handled respectfully and leaves the remaining teachers ruffled and may have changed their priorities.  I fear that a change in priorities has the potential of hurting the quality of education our children receive in their classrooms.  Of course in egregious cases immediate dismissal is imperative.  With Chancellor Rhee leaving I do have some concerns, which I hope is based on rumor.  Should I see any truth to these rumors, Ward 6 residences can feel assured that once elected I will strongly fight for moving forward with education reforms.

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