1) Why are you running for the At-Large Council seat? If elected, what will be your priorities?
I am running to serve on the DC Council because I believe we need more leaders who are focused on policies to make DC work for everyone. These last few months have been ones of uncertainty, change, and reflection on our core values, as a city and as a nation. The global pandemic and ensuing economic fallout underscore DC’s need for leaders who take a commonsense approach to policy making, embrace a collaborative working style, and possess a tireless commitment to equity. That’s my kind of leadership. My life’s work has been guided by the principle that your zip code should not determine your opportunity for success, and as a Councilmember I will fight each and every day to make that a reality. We need to stabilize our childcare market, while improving quality and bringing down costs for families. We need to radically improve our delivery of health care, especially for Black and brown women in DC. We need to focus on affordable housing, not just new production, but also preservation and advancing homeownership. We need to get serious about equitable growth ensuring every neighborhood has access to things like reliable public transportation and a grocery store. And we need to fight for safe streets for our young people, while ensuring their schools are welcoming environments for learning and success. There’s so much to be done, and I’m ready to get to work on behalf of you and all DC residents.
2) What is your vision for public education in the District of Columbia? If elected, what would you do in your first term on the DC Council to help realize that vision?
I have dedicated my career to creating better access to and equity in educational opportunity for students in DC and nationwide. As a DC Councilmember, my commitment to that effort would not stop. I envision every young person in the District of Columbia receiving a quality education regardless of where they live, what type of school they choose to attend, or if they have a physical or intellectual disability. A quality education that challenges them, gives them a greater sense of self, develops them into curious life-long learners, and helps them become good, productive global citizens. I envision teachers and parents collaborating, encouraging and applauding their children, and expecting—and getting—excellence from them. I’d like to see learning and innovation in the District driven by best practices culturally responsive to the reality of our students, rather than a desire to get a certain score on a standardized test. I envision our educators, communities, and policy makers collaborating on future policies as advocates for the best interest of children in the District.
There are three areas that I would focus my attention in the first term. Funding: In 2014, the Deputy Mayor for Education released an in-depth study of the city’s UPSFF which was first implemented in 1996. The study team recommended an increase to the UPSFF after local educators came together to identify the resources required to meet the needs of students today. Six years later, we are still not close to the recommended levels. As a Councilmember, I would advocate for increased investments especially for things like school based mental health and after school funding. Furthermore, I believe it’s imperative that the Council finally fund the bill I drafted and worked on while Committee Director of the Committee on Education, which would ensure every DCPS and public charter school has access to a full-time nurse. Equity in rigor and resources: Even when we are not in the midst of a global pandemic, I believe that all DC students should have access to a computer device and to broadband. As a Councilmember, I would push for 1:1 devices for all students and that the city finally address the internet connectivity inequities across the city which would not only improve students’ educational experience, but also their families. Meaningful public engagement: I believe now more than ever that we must harness the power of our communities to outline and advocate for what they want to see from DC’s public education system in this next phase of progress. If want to sustain reforms and accelerate the pace of student achievement, the public has to be at the table. As a Councilmember, I would push for field hearings and providing non-traditional opportunities for folks to provide feedback on issues they care about. I will also commit to regular updates with the Ward Education Councils and organizations like PAVE. I will always be willing to engage and have conversation, and even if we may disagree on an issue.
3) What role do you think charter schools play in DC’s education system?
First and foremost, I believe that charter schools are public schools. Charters have diversified the portfolio of public schools we have and as a result, have afforded generations of DC students and families the opportunity to choose what type of learning environment and curriculum is best for them. After decades of declining public school enrollment, we are now in the midst of an upward climb and I do believe that charter schools have played a role in that.
4) How will you support the goal of high achievement for every student? How will you engage the community, and help schools engage the community, to improve our public schools?
I believe that part of the Council’s role in supporting the goal of high achievement for every student is ensuring that LEAs have the resources it needs to be successful. That means listening to stakeholders about the successes and challenges they are facing and working collaboratively to address their concerns. Additionally, I believe the Council should question, push, and hold LEAs leaders, the PCSB, and OSSE accountable for meeting their defined goals for the school system from student learning to student health.
I believe now more than ever that we must harness the power of our communities to outline and advocate for what they want to see from D.C.’s public education system in this next phase of progress. If want to sustain reforms and accelerate the pace of student achievement, the public has to be at the table. When I served as Committee Director for the Council’s Committee on Education, I tried to ensure that everyone had space at the ‘table.’ For example, our Committee was one of the first to split budget hearings into morning and evening, so that working families could participate. When I heard from some teachers that they did not feel comfortable testifying in a hearing setting, I worked with the Chairman to launch a series of educator conversations at libraries around the city that provided them a more intimate environment to share feedback with the Committee. Those were incredibly insightful conversations and I would look to start those up again in partnership with organizations, if elected. I will always be willing to engage and have conversation, and even if we may disagree on an issue I will not shut the community out of the process.
5) How do you plan to support students that are designated as at-risk and their families?
We have not fully funded the base UPSFF to the 2014 adequacy study recommended levels to ensure that specialty funds like at-risk funds are being used solely to supplement investments in schools rather than supplant. Schools should not need to spend at-risk funds on Related Arts teachers (Art, PE, Health, etc), social workers, or equipment and supplies. In the absence of at-risk funds, how would those things have been funded? Advocating for a true increase in education funding must be a priority for Council and it would be a priority for me, if elected. I also think it’s important for DC government and LEAs to think outside of the box when it comes to supporting at-risk students and their families. For instance, I was disappointed that DC didn’t launch community learning hubs at the start of the school year to provide working families and students in foster care or experiencing homelessness the opportunity to come into a building (school or DPR) to engage in virtual learning while also having adult supervision and the ability to engage with others. The last 6 months have been incredibly isolating for some of our most vulnerable students and we have not been crafting policies with them at the forefront. As a Councilmember I want to change the frame—that will get us to a more equitable DC.
6) How do you plan to support newcomer/undocumented students and their families?
The enrollment of English Language Learners in our public schools has outpaced the growth of the general education population, percentage wise. New students, many of whom are unaccompanied minors, are arriving each day. I believe the Council can help ensure that ELL students receive the resources and support they need to be successful through funding. First, I would doggedly advocate for the increase in ELL weight and UPSFF allocation as outlined in the 2014 adequacy study. The study recommended an ELL weight of 0.61 and UPSFF allocation of $6,440 and we are still well below that. Second, I would support public charter schools seeking to serve newcomer or undocumented students who present during the lottery (ie, a preference), after the lottery or the school year has already begun. Right now, DCPS carries the brunt of that weight, enrolling anywhere from 200-400 new ELL students from January through June of each school year. Finally, I strongly believe that if DC is going to call itself a sanctuary city, our policies and practices should be aligned with that meaning. I support the Sanctuary Values Amendment Act of 2019 which limits DC government’s cooperation with federal immigration agencies in several ways including information sharing, holding individuals in custody after they would have otherwise been released, and limiting access to DC facilities. The legislation would also prohibit DC government officials from inquiring about immigration status of individuals in custody. I was pleased to see that the Council quickly passed this bill on an emergency and temporary basis last Fall, but the legislation expires in October 2020. I anticipate that the Council will not let that legislation lapse, but it’s only a first step. If DC is to truly detangle itself from cooperation with federal immigration agencies, we must revisit the intergovernmental agreement DC has with the US Marshals Service to house federal inmates at the DC Department of Corrections. Due to this agreement, there are a number of inmates in DC facilities are that do not have the protections that the emergency and temporary legislation affords. As a Councilmember, I would push to ensure that information about this agreement, including the financial implications, are made public and if feasible, that we pull back. I also am committed to continued oversight on this issue. Many of us did not know that the DC Department of Corrections was providing ICE with a 48-hour warning before releasing an inmate with an ICE detainer request until a local paper filed a Freedom of Information Act request and published their findings. Anecdotally, we know that some MPD officers also cooperate with ICE. Changing DC government policy is one thing, but as a Councilmember I will be also working to ensure that our policies and laws are being implemented by agencies with fidelity.
7) Do you believe we provide enough funding for access to mental health supports for students and teachers? How would you plan to improve current funding practices?
I do not believe we currently provide enough funding for access to mental health supports for students and teachers and this is an area I would prioritize for funding as a Councilmember. I was disappointed that during the budget debate this year that the Council did not add more funding for school-based mental health. We are kidding ourselves if we believe that kids only carry books and supplies with them to school each day, and emotionally leave behind everything else at home. I’m deeply concerned about how the various traumas associated with COVID-19 (health, financial, isolation, etc) has impacted our young people and teachers. As for the adults, I would advocate for funding for hiring behavioral health professionals, not to train teachers but to support our teachers. And I don’t mean just providing employee assistance programs off-site, but bringing counselors to the school. Teaching is a choice of work, but it involves relationships and a spiritual connection with others unlike many other professions. We have to take care of our teachers if we want them to produce successful students.
8) How do you plan to support students and families and their barriers to resources (e.g. technology, internet, meals) as the school year progresses?
By January, most LEAs will have been operating with some type of virtual learning for at least 7 months (if we include the end of last school year). I believe it will be crucial that the city continue to provide meals and grocery pick-ups for likely the remainder of the school year, even if the USDA does not continue with its ongoing waiver for the school food program. It will be especially critical if Congress does not provide additional funding for pandemic EBT program that we’ve seen over the last 6 months. In addition to helping secure funding to continue critical food security programs, as a Councilmember I would also push for increased funding for rental and mortgage assistance programs. It is going to take families and individuals months, even years, before they can fully recover from the financial impact of the layoffs and furloughs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the long-term, as a Councilmember, I would push for 1:1 devices for all students and that the city finally address the internet connectivity inequities across the city which would not only improve students’ educational experience, but also their families. We’ve known this was a need before the global pandemic, and frankly, students need access to devices and the internet year-round if we are truly providing them access to a 21st century education. We have managed to accomplish free wi-fi in downtown commercial spaces, but have not expanded that to residential areas where we could use schools, recreation centers, and even metro bus shelters as hotspot hubs.
9) How would you enhance underutilized buildings in Washington, DC to support both schools and the communities they serve? Do you support opening more schools?
It’s imperative that DC engages in a true Master Facilities Plan that aligns with changes to the new Comprehensive Plan that the Council is anticipated to approve later this Fall. We are adding zoning density to some areas where there are no longer by-right public schools in a reasonable distance. For example, in Ward 5 in Michigan Park where I used to live, the only DCPS elementary school in that area is LaSalle-Backus Education Campus. DC Bilingual PCS, Bridges PCS, and Washington Yu Ying PCS are nearby but they all have lengthy waitlists. If the anticipated growth continues, it is likely that area will need another public school building, but I believe education sector as a whole needs to engage with the Office of Planning to establish a real facilities plan. In terms of underutilized buildings, I absolutely believe that the priority should be using spaces to support schools and communities, as opposed to just building more overpriced developments. Young people need safe places to channel their energy. That’s why I support the Ivy City community’s fight to have more community and open space at the old Crummell School redevelopment site. DC is rapidly changing and we need to be very thoughtful and strategic about our needs in terms of public school facilities.
10) Would you support the establishment by the Deputy Mayor for Education (“DME”) of a task force to develop a plan for co-locating public charter schools with DCPS schools in underutilized DCPS buildings?
The DME does not need the Council approval to establish a taskforce on co-locations, but all stakeholders should be prepared for a spirited debate once it is created. I would urge the DME and his taskforce on this issue to proceed with caution, transparency, and empathy. In my opinion, co-location is the most emotionally charged issue of the charter school debate, and often times where you stand depends on where your child sits. In 2011, I worked for the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) in their Charter Schools Office. At the time, nearly half the city’s schools (1700) shared space, but only 77 charter schools were co-located with district schools. However, you wouldn’t know that because of the intense community battles, lawsuits, op-eds, and protests that take place anytime NYCDOE attempts to co-locate a charter school with an underutilized district school. And it does not end once the decision is made; I’ve seen co-locations exacerbate equity issues which were very evident to the students in the building and create serious tension in terms of school climate. Hopefully, the taskforce will look to learn from other jurisdictions and avoid similar pitfalls.
11) In the spring, the Council passed open meetings provisions that create a higher standard of public access for charter schools than DCPS and any other nonprofit organizations in the city. Do you support adjusting these transparency guidelines so that they are consistent and common sense?
I support the Council’s efforts to bring greater transparency to public school budgets, expenditures, and operations. I believe that transparency laws not only bring greater accountability to institutions, but also push institutions to proactively communicate and engage stakeholders in decision-making. If for some reason, the law that was just passed by the Council is causing public charter schools undue burden or harm, yes I would support adjusting them. In general, I believe any legislation considered by the DC Council that impacts schools should be crafted in collaboration with LEAs. And if possible, specifically, the individual division or stakeholders that the legislation would impact.
12) Do you believe there should be a moratorium on charter schools? Why or why not?
I do not support a charter school moratorium. For decades in DC, families have had the right to exercise choice both in the DCPS and public charter school system. The Public Charter School Board (PCSB) has been diligent and judicious in its decisions to approve new charter applications and close charters that are not living up to expectations. Furthermore, the Board does not have a mandate to open a new school every year and could choose based on demand, quality of applications, availability of resources, and the educational landscape in DC not to move forward with new approvals. As a Councilmember, I would encourage the PCSB and public charter schools to actively engage in the development of a citywide educational plan to ensure alignment of goals and that we are using resources effectively and efficiently.