- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

Every year, students from all over the country and the world visit our city and leave impressed with all we have to offer. So, wouldn’t it be great to live and go to school here all the time?

It can be. Mile for mile, the District of Columbia has one of the world’s richest concentrations of resources for learning and enrichment. Whatever you want to study, we have a museum for it — or a university, government agency, research organization, business, association or a performing arts group. We even have some pretty good sports teams.

As a practical matter, though, how much do these assets actually benefit our students? Almost certainly, not as much as they could. Over the years, District public schools have partnered with any number of entities to provide excellent programs. Most, though, have been uncoordinated and targeted to specific grades or schools.

So far, DCPS has not had the intention, let alone the organizational and policy infrastructure, to let students take long-term advantage of what is, after all, their birthright: the world-class resources our city has to offer.

So, we have something of a “tale of two cities.” The District is home to hundreds of performing arts groups, but countless children in our public schools have never attended a live, professional performance. We are a global capital of business and finance, but many students have never been inside an office building. We have embassies from most of the world’s nations, but, for many of our students, opportunities for growth and exploration reach no farther than a few city blocks.

This is more than ironic; it’s tragic. It also is why I highlight partnerships with our city as one of the signature themes of our new DCPS Master Education Plan.

In the plan, I detail several priority initiatives that will depend, in part on high-quality partnerships — for example, for expertise, role modeling, program capacity, mentoring, internships, funding or other resources. These initiatives include:

• Community schools. These schools form strategic partnerships with health, social services, arts, recreation, youth development and other organizations to provide integrated services to students and families. We already have a successful community school at J.C. Nalle Elementary. Our plan calls for creating up to nine more in the next three years.

• Out-of-school time programs. We now are working with the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust on an exciting project to build an out-of-school time system focusing on grades 6-8. Community partners also will help us develop other out-of-school programs, aligned with our school day, that provide academic support to students who need it and enrichment to those who want it.

• Specialized high schools. Our beautiful new Bell-Lincoln Multicultural campus in Mount Pleasant is one example of how we can build on the diversity of our city to create a world-class learning community. We will look to our international community to help us realize our planned academic high school specializing in international studies and world languages, as well as our expanded dual immersion language programs.

Partnerships with business will be central to planned career/technical high schools where students will prepare for careers in sectors important to the District’s economy such as hotels and hospitality, biomedicine and health sciences and building trades.

• Early childhood programs. Heeding parent demand, we are working with city agencies and private providers to offer more high-quality programs for children as young as 3. We intend to increase our preschool and pre-kindergarten capacity annually by up to 200 seats apiece.

• Program improvement. In partnership with a District university or research organization, we will examine our practices to replicate what works and eliminate what does not.

In the past, DCPS admittedly has not been the most accessible or reliable partner. With our DCPS staff, I am working hard to change that.

Our new Office of Community Partnerships is strengthening our capacity to build solid partnerships that meet our educational priorities. Soon, we will have a partnership policy that eliminates barriers to community collaboration. And we will continue to build on already successful efforts, such as the Embassy Adoption Program that matches more than three-dozen embassies with elementary schools.

In return, the District will reap the benefits of an excellent school system: Students well-prepared for college and the workplace; a reputation as a desirable place for families to settle and raise their children; and, importantly, students and teachers who are excited about learning, every day, in every class, in every school throughout our city.

It seems logical to me that our nation’s capital should have one of the nation’s best school systems. We have the resources. Now, do we have the community will to make that happen?

Clifford B. Janey is superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

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