Open Letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser from Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teachers’ Union, on Selection of New D.C. Public Schools Chancellor

Muriel Bowser
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (Courtesy of the Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bowser:

Washington families and communities are facing yet another leadership upheaval for the District of Columbia Public Schools. This summer, you likely will recommend to the D.C. Council a new Deputy Mayor for Education and a new DCPS chancellor.

After surveying our members and coalition partners, it is imperative that we get it right this time. The public is frustrated with multiple bad choices, multiple misguided education reforms and multiple scandals — all of which could have been prevented with smart choices, effective education reforms and genuine collaboration with DCPS educators in policymaking and top personnel decisions.

Mayor Bowser, the law requires you to appoint a chancellor review panel that includes representatives of the Washington Teachers’ Union, teachers, parents and students to help you select a new chancellor. If this panel included the people who are closest to the classroom and to our students, they would push for a candidate who is committed to collaborating with all stakeholders (not use a top-down, dictatorial style); who supports an education culture centered on teaching and learning (not on test scores); who wants to engage with the community (not shut out the voices of parents and families); who supports an equitable funding system (so that students who struggle the most get the most resources); who believes in honesty and transparency; and who genuinely supports educators through actions, not just words.

Elizabeth Davis
Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis

DCPS must press the reset button. Since the much-criticized, scandal-ridden administration of Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, not much has changed. We’ve basically had Rhee 2.0 and 3.0. We need real improvement in student achievement, not dishonest numbers to make things appear better than they are. We need someone who trusts and support DCPS educators and wants to work with them, not fight them at every turn.

DCPS needs to think outside the box and hire a chancellor cut from a different mold. Our school system needs a chancellor who supports a school reform culture that includes:

– Using a rich, broad curriculum.

– Ensuring a stable, high-quality staff of teachers and principals. This includes repairing or replacing—with the collaboration of teachers—the punitive IMPACT evaluation system. We need a teacher development and evaluation system that helps teachers strengthen their skills and grow professionally.

– Demanding equitable funding so that the schools with the most challenging problems get the help and resources they need.

– Collaborating with each school to develop its own plan for how best to create a dynamic, trusted, innovative learning culture. This is the opposite of the failed management system of top-down mandates.

– Committing to community schooling with wraparound services to help students overcome obstacles to learning. This could include providing school-based healthcare and other family needs, extended-day and extended-year offerings, greater family involvement, and empowering teachers to innovate.

– Using data honestly to learn what works and what doesn’t, so that we don’t continue to make the same educational policy mistakes.

– Encouraging a respectful and trusting school environment for all school staff, students, families and community members.

– Building strong neighborhood schools and working strategically to build enrollment.

We are at a crucial moment for the D.C. public schools. It would be senseless to keep repeating mistakes that do a disservice to our students and their future. In selecting a new school district leader, please do not cling to the status quo that would continue a failed, top-down, simplistic metrics-obsessed, punitive system that hurt our children and destroy teacher morale. The evidence shows that this has not worked for our students, families, teachers, communities and taxpayers.

We urge an open search process that includes a representative group of teachers, WTU representatives, principals, parents and public education advocates. We need the right person to lead us to a new school reform culture because our students cannot afford to wait another decade.

Davis is president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, AFT Local 6.

D.C. parents and education supporters are invited to join the We the People Alliance to Improve Math Literacy in D.C. Schools by emailing or calling to Dr. Terence Ngwa at tngwa@wtulocal6.net or 202-517-0729.

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