- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

Principals from every D.C. school arrived at the Washington Convention Center in Northwest yesterday to showcase their schools and help parents learn more about the language, pre-engineering and other programs available to 60,000 students through the Out-of-Boundary program.

“We are interested in schools that are bilingual and those with a strong science component,” said Steve Nash, a father of two sons and a daughter, ages 11, 9 and 3. “I think this event is very helpful to parents. I didn’t know there was so much activity and pride in D.C. public schools. You can see the pride.”

Mr. Nash, a Northwest resident, said he was so impressed with the Oyster School and the Peabody School Within a School that he was already planning for the day his 3-year-old would become a public school student.

He also said yesterday’s sixth annual Showcase of Schools was a good opportunity for him to go back in time and re-establish ties that helped him to succeed in life.

“I was able to reconnect with my elementary school — J.C. Nalle,” he said. “The school gave me the zest to learn, and I am an Ivy Leaguer — Princeton, 1982.”

About 6,000 people attended the showcase. Parents have until Feb. 28 to apply to the Out-of-Boundary program.

Parents or guardians can pick three schools for each student. All of the District’s 147 schools must first accept neighborhood children. Then, after meeting federal guidelines, students will be accepted in the order of: those with siblings attending the chosen school, those attending a feeder school to the chosen school, those living within walking distance to the school, adult students or those with parents preferring the school.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey worked his way through the crowd, stopping to talk with parents, students, principals and teachers.

“I think [the showcase] is exciting and instructive, especially for parents and students shopping for a new school,” said Mr. Janey. He also said that in 1986 the Boston public school system, where he was a district superintendent, was the first to have the showcase concept.

Mr. Janey acknowledged that the District must do more than showcase its best programs and vowed when taking the job of superintendent last year that he would improve test scores and grades.

Before coming to the District, he was the superintendent for Rochester, N.Y., public schools. During his tenure, the mathematics and reading scores of students increased and academic-achievement gaps narrowed among the black, white and Hispanic students.

At this summer’s annual superintendent’s summer conference, Mr. Janey said he wanted to move D.C. students ahead academically, reform high schools, improve prekindergarten programs and help children who fall behind by two or more grades.

D.C. students scored lower in 2002 than other public school students in the 50 states on the Stanford Achievement Test and the National Assessment of Education Progress. For instance, 69 percent of D.C. fourth-graders scored below the basic NAEP rate, compared with 39 percent for fourth-graders nationwide.

“We will be coming out with a plan in late March or April for the District,” Mr. Janey said yesterday. “We are building our plan as we are flying. But we will be making major changes in the spring.”

Mr. Janey has said he will focus on improving the conditions of school buildings. When he took over as superintendent in mid-September, he noted that years of neglect had left “wretched conditions” at many buildings. He said there wasn’t enough money to go around, but officials are “committed” to making all necessary renovations to dilapidated schools.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams also attended the showcase. He thanked parents, principals and teachers, and asked families to make the D.C. public school system their first choice.

Deborah Hickson of Northwest walked up and down the corridors slowly, stopping at different tables to pick up pamphlets. She decided to take her time and review the school information carefully so she would make the right choice for her young daughter, who is in kindergarten. She said she appreciated the event for parents.

“I love it,” Ms. Hickson said. “There’s [so much of a choice] for parents and children. My child is in kindergarten, but I am looking for schools now. So far, Meyer Elementary School and Miner Elementary School have my attention.”

Ralph Neal, assistant superintendent, explained the Out-of-Boundary process to parents during the showcase and handed out applications in six languages to parents or guardians.

“One of the things we decided six years ago was to showcase D.C. schools, but we also thought we should coordinate the Out-of-Boundary process — giving parents an opportunity to choose up to three schools [that they would like their children to attend]. Parents also can apply to citywide schools that are specialized,” he said.

Banneker Senior High School and Duke Ellington School of the Arts, for example, are specialized schools and parents can apply directly at the schools.

“What you have is choice,” Mr. Neal said.

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