- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

D.C. Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty and an entourage of D.C. Council members will travel to New York City tomorrow to look at a model for a potential takeover of the city’s struggling public schools.

“New York City is a good best-practices example of an accelerated urban school reform,” said Mr. Fenty, who already has visited New York and other cities to study their school governance structures. “As we continue to explore best practices, we’ll meet with [officials] to learn how they were able to successfully turn around the New York City school system.”

Mr. Fenty — who turned 36 yesterday — will be accompanied by nine council members, including newly elected members Mary Cheh from Ward 3, Harry Thomas Jr. from Ward 5 and Tommy Wells from Ward 6.

Incoming Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey will make the one-day trip as well.

The jaunt north could be a chance for Mr. Fenty to garner council votes needed to approve putting the school system under his office’s control.

The group will tour selected schools and meet with New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, who will give an update on education reform in the city under a new school authority structure adopted in 2002.

“The trip is going to be for the mayor of New York to tell us how wonderful his program is,” said council member Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat who is part of the delegation. “I don’t expect the mayor to tell us he has a program that’s not effective or efficient.”

Mr. Fenty is said to favor a schools structure similar to the one in New York. Such a model would require the D.C. schools superintendent to report directly to Victor Reinoso, Mr. Fenty’s newly named deputy mayor for education, instead of to the Board of Education.

The new structure also could call for the District to create a Department of Education and relegate the school board to an advisory role.

Most council members have reserved judgment on the potential restructuring until Mr. Fenty presents a plan. But some have expressed hesitations about what could be affected by a mayoral takeover.

“What I want to get out of the trip is to try to get a clear understanding of what would be different for D.C. Public Schools to be directly under the mayor,” said Mr. Wells, who currently represents Wards 5 and 6 on the school board. “If it doesn’t provide greater access to city resources for students and neighborhoods, I’m not sure of the value of changing governance.”

In New York, the move has sparked opposition from some parents and teachers over perceived heavy-handed directives emanating from the mayor’s office into the schools.

Mr. Thomas, the Ward 5 council member-elect, said he is inclined toward supporting a takeover but is worried about eliminating an elected school board.

Mr. Brown, who has two children in the District’s school system, said he wants to see what improvement in achievement gaps has been made in New York.

But he reiterated that he does not expect to hear any negatives to Mr. Bloomberg’s model during the tour, and that he is trying to set up conference calls with New York City parents to get their views.

“I’m just waiting for a plan,” Mr. Brown said. “I don’t expect to hear that the system doesn’t work in New York.”

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