Monday, May 10, 2004

Sheila Williams, a parent in the Fort Dupont neighborhood in Southeast and treasurer of the Ward 7 Education Council, says that President Bush “came into office with the No Child Left Behind Act, but this ward has been left behind for ages.” Now, Ms. Williams and the council say the learning environment in the 24 public schools east of the Anacostia River has gotten so bad that they are planning to take to the streets. They will demand more equitable resources for their neglected neighborhood schools, which have become “the throwaway zone for poor and black children.” As for crumbling classrooms, the education council is asking for upgrades and renovations and the hiring and

“Fifty years after Brown, we find our public schools still segregated, still unequal; lacking resources and programs that the more privileged can access,” wrote William P. Wilson, chairman of the Ward 7 Education Council, referring to the landmark Supreme Court school-desegregation ruling Brown v. Board of Education.

Lead by the impassioned Mr. Wilson, the group of parents, teachers, principals and community activists are urging others to join them in a march and rally Thursday morning in front of D.C. Public Schools headquarters at 825 N. Capitol St. NE, where they will demand full funding and full representation because “public schools are under attack.”

“Come out and support our campaign to keep our buildings open, build our programs and bring our children back to their neighborhood schools,” the council says on a flier being passed out.

Mr. Wilson and Ms. Williams, and others who did not want to be identified by name, can each give you a litany of all that’s lacking and hurting their neighborhood schools. Here a majority of students qualify for free lunch and need extended social services, yet principals and teachers are forced to buy or beg for basic items, such as copier paper, toilet paper and a fresh coat of paint.

None consider the ill-conceived takeover move by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams — who has been pushing his school-governance plan to advisory neighborhood commissioners in small, private meetings — a solution for what ails their schools.

The Ward 7 council contends “we are losing money, teachers, school support personnel and our schools by proposals to close or co-locate charter schools in regular neighborhood schools.” While the council is upset about money being spent on charter schools and vouchers, it also is frustrated with the funding formulas that are forcing cuts that have an impact on classroom instruction and programs.

“They consider us underprivileged,” Ms. Williams said, but added that the schools, filled with students of promise, “do not have the tools to work with.”

Her daughter attends special-education classes across Rock Creek Park at Wilson High School in Northwest, “where they have so many programs they can’t fit them all in.”

“Out here, we have no music [classes], and they’re lucky to have a couple of computers in the room and working.” Mr. Wilson said. “They can’t keep taking from the schools and then say the schools have failed. Pretty soon all these schools will only have teachers.”

Two Ward 7 principals, one elementary and one secondary, explained how they plan to compensate for cuts of approximately $196,000 and $234,000, respectively, to their budgets.

The elementary school principal said she has already abolished an assistant principal position and she plans to cut three teaching positions, which will translate into some larger classes. This principal can’t afford to promote one senior staffer and thus risks losing her.

“Instead of asking my PTA for things like uniforms for our children, I had to ask them for paint for my building,” the elementary school principal said. This principal said the school was originally slated for new windows in 1987 because the existing ones “should be condemned.” The new date is 2007.

The secondary principal laid off a reading teacher, a physical-education teacher, a French teacher, a custodian and an aide. The school already lacks a music teacher and instruments.

“Maybe it’s $9,000 [that the school system spends] per pupil on paper, but it’s not $9,000 per pupil getting to the schools,” the secondary principal said. “Between the time the money is being allocated and the time it gets to the schools, something happens.”

Further, this principal said, “balancing the budget is disproportionately done in Ward 7 and 8, and they keep taking away from us when we need more.”

One problem the secondary principal faces involves his best students being recruited to schools in affluent neighborhoods with more programs to offer.

Mr. Wilson, for example, bristles about the lack of sports facilities in Ward 7. “The mayor keeps talking about a [professional] baseball stadium, and they don’t even have a baseball field to play on at Woodson [High School],” he said.

Besides full funding, the Ward 7 council is asking for more developmental training for all teachers to meet the needs of students at risk and more “wrap-around” services (such as social workers, psychologists and clinicians) for students.

training of more maintenance personnel for the entire school system based on the size of the building, not the enrollment.

“All parents must pull together to get his or her child an education,” Ms. Williams said. “What’s more important?”

Indeed, we cannot afford to leave any child behind, no matter their color nor their class or the ZIP code.

For information about the parents’ school rally, call Mr. Wilson at 202/320-8676 or 202/396-0587.

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