I’m a runner. I like the feel of my feet hitting the pavement, working hard to go the distance and the thrill of crossing a finish line. It’s a sport often marked by incremental progress, but one where stamina and endurance are rewarded.
I spent 2018 “Running for Students”. I picked the tagline for my campaign for Ward 6 Representative to the State Board of Education (SBOE) because it offered a nod towards the characteristics that I wanted to embody both as a candidate and as an elected official.
As I begin my four-year term representing Ward 6 on the SBOE, I look forward to parlaying that goal-driven mindset and capacity for endurance to the work of public education in the District.
Three Things in Focus
During my campaign, I promised to focus on three things: putting students first in policy decisions, ensuring that the District creates and implements policies that provide equitable educational resources and opportunities for all children to succeed and supporting the excellence of current Ward 6 schools and the creation of new choices of schools and programs that meet the needs of all DC children. I intend to keep those promises.
I’ve got a few specific things I’d like to accomplish as I join the SBOE. First, I’d like to ensure that all schools are offering a rich curriculum, including science and social studies, for all students at all grade levels.
While the SBOE does not control district or school level schedules, it does have responsibility for the state standards and the statewide ESSA plan, both of which are paths to influence the content offered to students. Research shows that the breadth of student content knowledge is even more important than their skill as readers in their success on standardized assessments. This means that narrowing the curriculum to spend more time on teaching reading skills is actually working against schools’ efforts to improve their outcomes on accountability metrics like PARCC tests and STAR reports.
In addition to content knowledge, the analytic thinking skills taught in social studies and science – the scientific method, primary source and document review, differentiating fact from opinion – are essential for students to develop as good citizens and strong writers. I would like to work with my colleagues to update the DC Social Studies standards, which are currently among the most out-of-date in the nation. I would also like for the SBOE to understand how much time schools are dedicating each week to each of the key content areas and what supports they may need to increase the time spent on content-rich instruction.
Improving Middle Schools
Second, I’d like to focus on improving middle schools. As a former middle school teacher, this is a topic dear to my heart. Middle school is a persistent struggle for DC, and is generally the proverbial “tough nut to crack.” Serving the academic and socio-emotional needs of tweens and teens is complex, but improving our middle schools is a way for DC to work towards more college- and career-ready high school graduates and fewer disconnected youth. Embracing a rich curriculum is part of the path forward, I think, but so too is a collaborative effort to share best practices across the schools in the District that are having success with the middle grades.
I would love for the SBOE to facilitate the sharing of best practices between DCPS and charter schools with high academic growth scores, excellence in academic achievement and growth of specific student subgroups, and innovative practices in socio-emotional learning and restorative justice practices. Providing a forum for such practice sharing can lay the groundwork for ongoing collaboration between schools and across sectors to make all middle schools collectively better.
Finally, I’d like to find ways to better amplify the voices of all parents connected to Ward 6. Given our robust school choice system, many students in Ward 6 schools do not live in the ward, and many students living in Ward 6 attend school elsewhere in the District. I’d like to make sure Ward 6 parents and the parents of students who go to school in Ward 6 are able to voice concerns to officials who can do something to help. To that end, I plan to host periodic forums to listen to parents, in addition to connecting with established parent advocacy groups, civic organizations, PTOs, LSATs, and ANCs. My goal is to listen to parents and community members and to combine the concerns of Ward 6 with those from across all eight wards. The SBOE provides a statewide platform to elevate the voices of parents from all across the District.
I plan to start 2019 on a listening tour throughout Ward 6: I will listen to principals and teachers, students, parents and community members about how I can help. I’m incredibly thankful for the countless folks who have reached out over the past six weeks to offer kind words, advice and assistance as I prepare to begin my term. Winning an election is not unlike finishing a road race for which you trained long and hard. It is also an extraordinary opportunity for gratitude.
The next four years are an opportunity for hard work, for stamina, and for steady progress towards a goal of better schools for all District students. I look forward to the miles ahead.
Ward 6 State Board of Education (SBOE) Representative Jessica Sutter can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org