- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday blamed himself for the dismal performance of the city’s public school system, saying his education policies have been “questionable” and “flaky.”

“I will readily admit to everybody that my record on that is questionable, and I’m being kind,” Mr. Williams said. “My record on schools [is that] I was flaky.”

The city’s public schools have been plagued by violence, high truancy rates, low test scores and dilapidated buildings.

“I would hope that over the next two years we can start turning that around,” said Mr. Williams, who has sought to take over the troubled school system, which has had four leaders in the past 12 months.

The Democratic mayor pledged to redouble his efforts to improve the schools, including meeting weekly with Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and attending an upcoming retreat with D.C. education officials.

Still, Mr. Williams acknowledged his school initiatives have fallen short since he was first elected mayor in 1998.

“I can say, ‘I put all this money into schools. I’ve put all this money into capital. I’ve worked for this. I’ve worked for that.’ But if your schools are scoring lowest in the country, what can you say?” he said.

Some parents agreed.

“It seems like the kids are not getting the proper things that they need,” said Northeast resident Antionette Best, 37, who has two children in public schools.

She said that when she visited Coolidge High School, where her daughter attended last year, the bathrooms were in shambles, with only one working toilet. “[The mayor] is spending money on everything else. He needs to spend some money to keep these schools together for these children,” she said.

The District’s 60,799 public school students scored lower on the Stanford Achievement Test and the National Assessment of Education Progress in 2002 than their counterparts in the 50 states.

Other recent problems include the following:

n Eastern High School canceled its first day of school this year because officials failed to have class schedules ready.

n A student was fatally shot inside Ballou High School in February.

n When taking over as superintendent in mid-September, Mr. Janey noted that years of neglect had left “wretched conditions” at school buildings, pointing out peeling paint and broken windows.

Mr. Williams said the upcoming retreat, as well as his weekly meetings with the superintendent, will help demonstrate the administration’s support for Mr. Janey’s reform agenda.

Mr. Janey, 58, came to the District for a $250,000-a-year salary after serving as superintendent of the Rochester (N.Y.) City School District. He earned a reputation for improving reading and math scores and closing the achievement gap among the system’s roughly 55,000 white, black and Hispanic students.

City leaders and residents are hopeful Mr. Janey will repeat the feat for their schoolchildren.

“I have just got to be pushing to see that we have the accountability in the system,” Mr. Williams said. “I’m going to be pushing to see that the schools are doing the very best job they can to improve customer service to parents.”

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