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"Last week, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she would be beginning the search for a new DC Public Schools chancellor. This moment presents us with the unique opportunity of an open and inclusive discussion on the direction of education in our city.
It’s an opportunity that wasn’t afforded us only two short years ago, when the previous process to appoint a new chancellor flouted the law and failed to engage the community. After an intense year of controversy for both DCPS and our charter sector, it’s time to consider the critical need for a real culture shift — one that moves us away from an oppositional system and toward a system of collaboration and inspiration.
Yet despite improvements in our facilities, in teacher pay and in access to pre-K — improvements that should not go unnoticed — our city is still a long way away from the rhetorical dreamscape painted by reformers. And as a teacher, a parent and a community member, it’s hard for me to stomach the arguments that our city’s reforms have been an unabashed success, when in fact vast inequities remain, the achievement gap is wider than ever, teacher turnover is at crisis levels in our highest-poverty schools, and 50 percent of parents send their children to charter schools an average of 2.2 miles away from their homes. So let us commit to this test: Until we’ve closed the achievement and opportunity gaps that have long plagued our city, we haven’t yet succeeded.
Additionally, the selection process can begin a conversation about the issues our next chancellor (and deputy mayor for education) must prioritize. A broad coalition of education and civil rights organizations representing all eight wards began laying out a positive agenda last week.
Finally, we need to look at all decisions through the lens of equity. If we’re retaining great teachers in Ward 3 but not in Ward 8, we haven’t cracked the code on teacher retention. If we’re promoting restorative discipline approaches west of the Anacostia River but punitive ones east of it, we’re not addressing systemic inequities in justice.
It’s time for a school system that reflects our values — equity, empowerment, transparency and trust. If we wish these values to be reflected in our young people, it’s time we live them ourselves. There’s no better time to start.