Back to School: Time for All of Us to Get to Work!

Thoughts on The New School Year

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Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

For students and families across the District, Back to School is an exciting time. For some families it means starting school for the first time, for others transitioning from elementary to middle school. For a few, it means entering their last year of high school before walking across a stage with a diploma next spring. For my family, it means that we’re no longer elementary school parents as my son starts sixth grade at Eliot-Hine Middle School where he will join my daughter, a rising eighth grader.

For all families, the beginning of the school year marks a time when we set goals and expectations for the year. As parents and a community, we expect all our children to enjoy learning and receive a well-rounded, rigorous education that prepares our students for success in the future. Not only is that a shared expectation, these are the values that should drive the work of all schools in DC.

As a community member, a parent and your Ward 6 Representative on the State Board of Education, these are values that I’m committed to achieving and, over the past two years as the Board discussed and approved our new state accountability measure and as we prepare to release an updated school report card later this fall, I’ve fought to ensure that we look beyond math and ELA test scores.

While a well-rounded, rigorous education may be a shared value, we know that it is not a shared experience for all children in Ward 6 and across the District. Parents and community members are rightly concerned that all students don’t have the same access to an educational experience that includes science, social studies and the arts. In some cases the district has diverted resources away from these subjects to focus more on reading and math. Yet too many students are not seeing the reading and math achievement growth that we desire.

Narrowing the curriculum should never be the answer. We must not step away from a well-rounded education, but instead double down on it. Progress in our school systems is not fast enough. We need to increase resources, oversight, accountability and transparency to ensure an equitable education for every child. Only then will our school systems do better to meet the demands of our parents and the needs of our students.

In my role at the State Board of Education, I’ve had the opportunity to work side-by-side with other parents and community members and have learned that despite some of our individual differences, we all want the same things for our kids; opportunity and success. My vision for education is one where every family has access to multiple high-quality learning environments for their student including their neighborhood school. It is one where all schools have equity of resources and services, and where all families and communities have the opportunity to be engaged in their child’s education. It is one in which our systems are accountable for student success and hold transparency as a core value. To achieve this vision, our public school systems must enact policies, provide funding and implement practices that are grounded in the student and educator experience and driven by equity, transparency and real collaboration with parents and communities.

The beginning of the school year is an opportunity to re-invigorate my expectations for our school systems and my commitment to improvement. I’m proud of work I see at schools across Ward 6. Our schools, both public and public charter, are among the most “in-demand” in the city. And I am confident that our parent-teacher organizations will be active, vocal participants as we continue to move our school systems forward. All of this means an exciting year filled with promise and activity that I look forward to sharing with you.

As your State Board of Education Representative, I will continue to work closely with our Ward 6 schools, parents and communities to listen, help and amplify your voices wherever and whenever I can. I will continue to fight for our shared vision and values on the State Board of Education I will continue to be an independent voice on issues that plague our city such as the persistent and growing achievement and opportunity gaps, the misuse of at-risk funding, the need for an independent research collaborative to support and accelerate school improvement, and the inadequate attention paid to the health and safety of our students from lead in the water to building maintenance and support. I will celebrate all of the good things that will happen in our schools throughout the year.

Finally, I will continue to do all I can to ensure meaningful parent and community engagement and to amplify your voices. The current search for DCPS’s new chancellor is emblematic of a larger issue of community engagement. I believe my most important role as your State Board of Education Representative is to listen, learn and then work together toward a collaborative vision of public education in Ward 6 and across the District. Our best work comes from moving forward together. Nowhere is this more true than in finding our next Chancellor who will be tasked with listening and learning from us and with us.

All of this, and more, is what back to school means to me. I encourage our community to use this as a time of year to not only celebrate the next steps in our children’s educational journeys but to also define and commit to our collective role in advocating for schools and classrooms that meet our expectations for all students and all families.

Joe Weedon is Ward 6 Representative on the DC State Board of Education. He can be contacted at joe.weedon@dc.gov.