The new head of District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) wants to approach the next five years with a strategy that puts love first.
Chancellor Antwan Wilson released the school system’s Capital Commitment 2017 – 2022 plan on Saturday, Sept. 9 at DCPS’ Back to School Block Party at Ron Brown College Preparatory in Northeast.
“We are focused on ensuring that all of our students feel loved,” Wilson said. “That they feel challenged, prepared to positively influence society and thrive in life.
“I want you to resonate with that vision because it’s not just about what we can do to educate our students, but what we impart to our students that they matter, that their families, culture and values matter,” he said. “We are going to make sure they attend schools that are invested in helping them succeed.”
After a six-month citywide engagement campaign, Wilson and team rendered a plan centered around five new strategic priorities: promote equity, empower our people, ensure excellent schools, educate the whole child and engage families.
The Capital Commitment plan will expectedly shape the next five years at DCPS.
The chancellor relates personally to some of the struggles that many of the students deal with, being born to a single teen mother, growing up poor and attending 13 schools and staying in 15 houses throughout his formative years.
“I never started and finished school in the same house,” he said. “Every year we moved, but my mom had a vision for me and she depended upon people who came in contact with us to help her get there.”
With the top priority being to put students first, the new strategic outline builds on progress made under the previous plan and sets ambitious goals for the school system.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was also on hand for the even, thanked former DCPS Chancellors Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee for helping to lay the groundwork for the current successes.
“We had an outstanding run with our last year strategic plan and I want to thank Chancellor Henderson, Rhee and all our teachers who got us here,” Bowser said.
Starting this year, the goals include: double the percent of students who are college- and career-ready and triple the percent of at-risk and students of color who are college- and career-ready, accelerate early literacy, increase high school graduation rates, improve student experience, increase the number of excellent schools and increase enrollment.
“The new strategic plan for D.C. Public Schools directly reflects the hopes and dreams of District residents,” Bowser said. “Most importantly, it acknowledges that we must prioritize excellence and equity in our schools in order to close the achievement gap and give all students a fair shot at success.
“Our city should be proud of how far DCPS has come,” she said. “Over the past decade, we have become the fastest-improving urban school district in the country, and with this plan, we will continue to build on our progress.”
Bowser added that her administration hunkered down with DCPS and the Washington Teachers’ Union this year to resolve the five-year contractual standoff with city teachers.
“I said I would be the mayor, this would be the chancellor and Liz Davis would be the leadership at [Washington Teachers’ Union] to make sure we had a contract,” she said. “Now I know we put together a great contract, but when 97 percent of the teachers vote yes — and they did last night — I know it’s a excellent contract.”
The students at Ron Brown College Preparatory, an all-boys public high school focusing on males of color that opened last year, got a special message from a larger-than-life figure who has personally invested in them: sports legend and business magnate Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
“A few years back there was a gentleman that some of you know,” Bowser said of Johnson. “He came to Washington, D.C., and he walked up and down Georgia Avenue and he told me about his businesses and how he was focused on investing in communities just like ours.
“He had a lot of fortune and fame — and still does but one thing he never forgot is how he got there, and his responsibility and passion for helping build up communities,” she said.
The five-time NBA champion and philanthropist shared his story with the community while issuing a challenge for the boys of Ron Brown College Prep.
“It’s ironic that I’m standing here today, because I actually wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for a guy who took me aside when I was a young man and said, ‘Magic, you can be more than just a basketball player,’ and that guy’s name is on this school right now,” Johnson said.
“Ron Brown affected my life like no other man did,” he said. “He got me involved in the community back in Los Angeles and said you have to be more than just a great basketball player. You must effect change, you must be a voice for those who don’t have a voice.
“You must create jobs in urban America, in the inner cities, so I owe a lot to Ron Brown because he was my hero,” Johnson said. “He set an example for me to follow and that’s all I’m trying to do now.”
Johnson stressed to the jacket-and-tie-clad students onstage with him that they must get an education and use it as their platform, the same as he did with basketball.
“Once you do make it, you come back, reach back and give back to your community because that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “If you get an education, no one can define who you are and what you can become. With that piece of paper, you can go as far as you want to go. You can change things within your community and in your own life.”
Johnson said he used the national basketball stage he once reigned over to build a theater in Prince George’s County, 10 Starbucks in D.C. and 150 projects all over the country.
“I grew up poor but I didn’t have poor dreams,” he said. “In order for me to make everything come to reality I had to educate myself. The school system here is going to love you and help you, but then it’s up to you guys to take advantage of the opportunity and then, like I said, come back and effect change in your community.”
Wilson said the schools system must help foster those students to do so.
“Most of our young African-American males do the right thing — they go to school, they attend, they don’t get in any trouble, they have big dreams and they want to be like Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson,” he said. “It is our job to help them reach those goals, so we should speak life into them and not cut them down.”