I recently sat down with Joe Weedon, candidate for the Ward 6 seat in the DC State Board of Education, and asked her to talk about her campaign. Joe is being challenged by Jessica Sutter.
The transcript of our conversation is below, for those who prefer to read or who are deaf or hard of hearing.
If you would like to skip to listen to a particular segment, you can let the time stamps at the beginning of each paragraph be your guide.
Maria Helena Carey: [00:00:02]We’re here at The Yard, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, the newest shared office space in the heart of the Hill. Today we are talking to Joe Weedon. Joe is running for Ward Six representative to the D.C. State Board of Education. Thank you for talking to us today. Please introduce yourself a little more in-depth and tell us about your background in education and in working with the District’s schools.
Joe Weedon: [00:00:24] Thank you for having me. My name’s Joe Weedon. I’m the Ward 6 rep on the State Board of Education. I’m running for re-election. My journey in Ward 6 schools began 14 years ago. My daughter Malia… even actually before she was born, I walked into my neighborhood elementary school, Maury, to hear the superintendent talk about closing it. We rallied parents together… neighborhoods. I mean we were expecting, and here your neighborhood school is going to be closed. We were wondering why. We met with a lot of parents, neighbors, teachers, and we actually couldn’t hold meetings in the school so we held them in our living rooms and we got involved. Now, we see Maury growing, undergoing a major expansion. We’ve seen growth in our middle schools, Jefferson, Stuart-Hobson, Eliot-Hine. We’ve seen some great things. Our work’s not done. We need to continue to push the reform agenda that I’ve championed so that we can make the progress every family needs to feel they have multiple great options for their kids education.
Maria: [00:01:29] Thank you. So if you are re-elected what will be your top three priorities as Ward six representative?
Joe: [00:01:38] We need to hold our school leaders accountable. The mayor appoints the Chancellor, the members of the public charter school board. And you know, I hate talking about it, but the gaps have grown across our city. We’re not doing a good enough job serving our minority and low income students. So we need to be more accountable. We need to increase transparency and let’s know where the money’s going; what’s working and what’s not. And then equity. Are all students getting equitable access to opportunity?
Maria: [00:02:10] Just as an elaboration… What does equity look like?
Joe: [00:02:15] So equity is not “everybody gets the same.” It’s, “everybody gets what they need to succeed.” Right now, the way the budget process works it’s a black box. We don’t know what’s being spent where, we don’t know what’s successful. We need to open those doors. Look through the window. Understand what’s working and what’s not. And invest in every single student so that they have what they need to succeed.
Maria: [00:02:42] Thank you. My second question is the issue of trust has become even more critical in the area of education. How have you, and how do you plan on keeping the trust of the parents with whom you’re working and parents in general Ward 6 so as to inform your work on the State Board of Education?
Joe: [00:03:03] Trust is broken. I’m the only elected official Ward-wide, city-wide with my kids in their neighborhood school and it’s difficult. My daughter is not getting the education that she deserves. Neither are many of her classmates. We need to be transparent. We need to work together and we need to all be engaged, so that parents have true account or true power and we’re able to move things forward collaboratively.
Maria: [00:03:32] Do you think that the role of the State Board of Education should evolve from its current limited role in the district’s education? And if so what would that look like?
Joe: [00:03:43] The state board needs to grow and evolve. If we’re going to see the reforms we want, we need to empower parents, engage parents. Everybody I’ve ever talked to wants to have a say in their child’s education. Let’s build the infrastructure in the systems we need so that everybody can have a voice, have a say, and we can hold the mayor and council accountable. The state board needs to have more policy over implementing and creating policy. We need to have better access to data and we need to be able to empower researchers to ask the questions we need answered to move our kids forward.
Maria: [00:04:22] Many of the parents in my acquaintance and, I guess in your acquaintance as well, started educating their children at a District of Columbia public school. However when their children turned of middle school age they either chose to move out of the district for educational reasons or they switch to a charter school starting at 5th grade is an education model like this one sustainable where we have strong public elementary schools but not middle schools. What needs to happen to strike a balance between public and charter school attendance?
Joe: [00:04:51] The challenge is, we look at test scores as the primary indicator of our school’s success and our students’ success. I think it’s much deeper than that. It’s not about public versus public charter. It’s about having multiple great options for our students. But I don’t believe that that should depend on my zip code, where I live. The way our system is set up right now, every student has a right to their neighborhood school. That’s the linchpin of our system. When a parent doesn’t feel that neighborhood school is good enough, you’ve got a lottery. That’s not just. That’s not equitable. We need to invest more in our neighborhoods so that everybody believes that they have high-quality schools, high-quality options. Then we have choice.
Maria: [00:05:44] Right now, I’d like to just turn it over to you. Any closing remarks and why should we vote for Joe Weedon?
Joe: [00:05:52] I’ve been involved in our community for years. I’m not running because I wanted to get involved and learn about the issues or I have an agenda. I’m running because I’ve been involved. I know the issues. I’ve spent a decade listening, learning and advocating for our students and our community. I’m going to continue to be the independent voice that asks the tough questions, holds our city educational hierarchy accountable and always puts our students first.