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D.C. State Board of Education Announces New Ombudsman

dc.gov | 4/11/2014, 8:36 a.m.

The District of Columbia State Board of Education announced Friday the selection of Joyanna Smith as the next Ombudsman for Public Education after an extensive search process that included a community review panel.

Smith will oversee the recently re-established Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education, responsible for responding to concerns and resolving complaints, disputes, and problems faced by students and their families in District of Columbia public and public charter schools.

As a clearinghouse for addressing concerns, the Ombudsman's office also will report on trends in issues and complaints, thus helping to improve the delivery of educational services and informing policy.

Smith, a resident of Ward 8, is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School and earned a bachelor's degree in English from Brown University. She gained extensive experience as a problem-solver and mediator from her tenure with D.C.'s Department of Public Works and Department on Disability Services, and as the director of finance and operations at Excel Academy, the District's first all-girls public charter school.

State Board President Mark Jones (Ward 5) underscored Smith's expertise and the Ombudsman’s vital role in highlighting trends that may require policy changes.

"Ms. Smith is a committed public servant that brings a wealth of expertise in mediation, and the capacity to leverage the work of the office to support education reform efforts," Jones said. "It is increasingly important that we highlight areas of continued concern so we can work collaboratively with everyone responsible to deliver solutions in the best interest of students."

To ensure fairness and impartiality, the Ombudsman will report to, but operate independently of, the State Board. Given the dozens of calls the State Board receives each month from concerned students and parents, "it is cost-effective for the two entities to share office space and support staff," Jones said.

The search was a multi-step process overseen by a selection committee, including in-person interviews with members of the State Board, as well as several candidates meeting with a diverse set of community members representing Wards 1, 2, 4, 7, and 8.

Mary Lord (At-Large), State Board vice president and chair of the Ombudsman selection committee, praised the process.

"Ms. Smith fills a much-needed role for families," Lord said. "Board members are out in the community every day. We hear from students, parents, and teachers that when they encounter an issue they don't know where to start to have it addressed. Now there's a way to address the needs of our students, together, as a community."

Judith Sandalow, Executive Director of the Children's Law Center and member of the community review panel, also applauded the hire.

"It's great news for students and parents trying to resolve their complaints with District schools," she said "Because the Ombudsman can monitor patterns across the school system, she also can be a valuable partner in efforts to improve our public and charter schools."

Smith is the second person ever to serve as the District of Columbia's Ombudsman for Public Education. The position was originally established as a critical component of the "Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007." Funding was eliminated in the FY2010 budget, however, and the position remained vacant until the legislature, at the urging of parents, recently reassessed the need for the position.

In 2013, the "State Board of Education Personnel Authority Amendment Act of 2012," advocated for by Council member David Catania and the Council’s Committee on Education, restored the office and its funding in FY2014.

To submit a concern or complaint, contact the Office of the Ombudsman at (202) 741-0888, or by email at ombudsman@dc.gov. Complaints also can be submitted through the State Board of Education's website at www.sboe.dc.gov/ombudsman.