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D.C. Mayor Gray Shares Vision for Education Reform

Dorothy Rowley | 6/20/2013, 7:35 p.m.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Thursday during a 40-minute speech at Savoy Elementary School in Southeast that in order ...
Vincent C. Gray (D)

He added that another means of providing DCPS to an immediate expansion of quality offerings would be by giving Chancellor Kaya Henderson chartering authority.

"Two weeks ago, I sent legislation to the council to do just that," Gray said. "Chartering authority will allow DCPS to provide existing schools more flexibility to reach their goals, and will give the chancellor an additional tool to turn around low-performing schools [and] help DCPS attract proven, high-performing school operators to serve critical gaps in the city.”

D.C. Council members David Catania and Marion Barry sat among the large contingent of city and school officials who attended the event in Savoy’s auditorium.

But Catania, who chairs the council’s education committee, wasn’t impressed with the mayor’s speech, saying it comes about three years too late.

"I look at [the speech] as an endorsement to the bill I introduced two weeks ago," said Catania, an at-large representative. "It essentially replicates what [the council has] already been talking about, and in all honesty, he’s making this speech two and a half years into his administration... We still don’t have solutions for the underlying issues that impact our schools, and nothing I heard today tells me how we’re going to reduce a 41 percent dropout rate — or how we’re going to confront an achievement gap that’s the largest in the nation."

Barry, who represents Ward 8 on the 13-member governing body, said that overall, Gray made some good points.

"However, what disturbs me most is that there was not much mention on how poverty affects education," Barry said. "Two-thirds of DCPS’s 45,000 students are below poverty, and everyone knows that there’s a direct link between students who aren’t learning and poverty."

He voiced concern that DCPS students have lagged behind their charter counterparts in reading and math.

"DCPS students are challenged, but how do we close that gap?" Barry asked.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kay Armstead, who stood outside Savoy prior to the mayor’s speech chatting with others who oppose what they perceive as a "charter school takeover," said that a lot of the students who attended Ferebee-Hope Elementary School in her Southeast community, live in public housing and had planned on returning to the school.

But Ferebee-Hope is one of about a dozen neighborhood schools that Henderson has earmarked for closure this summer due to under-enrollment or underperforming students.

"DCPS is getting ready to be over taken by charter schools, and many of its students will end up at charter schools," Armstead said. "It seems to me that charter schools will get the money for enrolling these displaced students, but once they are paid the former DCPS kids will get kicked out," she said. "Then when they re-enroll at DCPS there will be no money for them to sit in those classrooms, which will lead more dropouts and truancy."