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A Look at the At-Large D.C. School Board Race

This article is the first installment of a four-part series about the D.C. State Board of Education races, the winners of which will develop and promote policies on the behalf of students, parents, and teachers in Wards 2, 7 and 8, and throughout the entire District.

In this year’s at-large D.C. State Board of Education race, six people are vying for a position that comes with a racially and socioeconomically diverse constituency.

Once elected, the winner will have to leverage relationships with D.C. residents and the D.C. Council to affect widespread change during a pandemic that has strained the District’s budget and further exacerbated long-standing disparities.

The following are profiles about most of the candidates, one of whom will eventually replace Ashley MacLeay, a Trump supporter who incited controversy earlier this year with her disparaging remarks about D.C. school children and an appearance at the Republican National Convention.

While each of the following candidates represents a variety of perspectives and experiences, they have expressed a desire to not only increase parental involvement in decision-making processes but work toward making the DCSBOE more effective during an era of mayoral control of schools. Here are their stories:

Jacque Patterson: The Establishment Candidate

A parent of two D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) students and an alumnus of D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams’ administration, Jacque Patterson currently serves as a member of the Local School Advisory Team at his children’s school and the Chancellor’s Parent Cabinet.

Patterson has also been appointed to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Task Force. If elected, he has identified the landmark legislation as his focal point, telling The Informer that he plans to agitate for recommendations outlined by the task force to adjust the STAR rating system.

As an At-large representative, Patterson said he also plans to improve aspects of the virtual learning experience, including access to technology.

While he commended local school officials for adjusting and rolling out the fall program within a matter of months, he argued that social distancing protocols allow for more innovation in how students receive information, including the creation of learning pods and use of outdoor space in the warmer months.

“Parents are overburdened. We have a hole of $11 million and children who don’t have the appropriate technology, hot spots and infrastructure to do their job,” Patterson said.
“Kids in marginalized communities are going to suffer, and what we’re asking them to do in this space, it’s overwhelming! It’s hard for a child to sit in front of a computer for hours on end without any real person in front of them, guiding them.”

Ravi K. Perry: The Policy Wonk

Ravi K. Perry (Courtesy photo)
Ravi K. Perry (Courtesy photo)

In his appeal to voters, Dr. Ravi K. Perry touts his experience developing and implementing policy.

If elected, he pledges to address the technological divide, reliance on standardized tests, and other signs of socioeconomic inequity through what he calls targeted universalism, a means of helping people understand why education investments in low-income, marginalized communities can be of equal benefit to everyone.

Perry, an openly gay Ward 7 resident and professor who serves as chair of the political science department at Howard University, has co-authored books on urban policy and developed expertise in matters of public policy, Black politics, and LGBTQ political representation. His platform includes mandating Black and ethnic studies, and LGBTQ history in the curriculum across grade levels, as deemed appropriate.

In mentioning the aforementioned policy goals, Perry highlights the District’s Black mayor, Black chancellor, and sizable Black teacher population. He said his research has instilled a passion to remove the red tape from education and unite various stakeholders — including students, parents, teachers, DCSBOE members, the D.C. Council Committee on Education and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) — around sound policy that boosts the dignity of human life in the District.

“We have to do the work of explaining to people in different areas, whether you have kids or not, whether you are a native Washingtonian or not, and frankly, whether you are Black or not, why the investment is necessary to go to certain areas to ensure that we are lifting all boats to create equity,” Perry said.

“That’s been a talking point, but I’ll argue that I’m the only candidate that has developed equity through policies and programs. That’s a skill set I hope to bring to address various schisms.”

Christopher Martin: The Concerned Dad

Christopher Martin (Courtesy photo)
Christopher Martin (Courtesy photo)

If elected to the at-large DCSBOE seat, Christopher Martin said he wants to expand resources to schools and communities that have been penalized by the STAR rating system. Part of that strategy includes securing funding for the Birth-to-Three for All DC legislation that builds upon the universal pre-kindergarten expansion of the last decade to guarantee equitable access to early childhood programs.

In fulfilling his goal, Martin, a small business owner and Ward 3 resident of nearly 20 years, said he will rely on his experience as a real estate developer to build a bridge between constituents and the D.C. government. The father of three has twins who are immersed in a virtual learning program via John Eaton Elementary School. Within a month, their 18-month-old sibling will attend CommuniKids, a Spanish immersion preschool.

“My concern is that post-COVID, many of the already limited childcare facilities won’t reopen because of funding and loss of teachers,” Martin told The Informer.

“The first focus of achieving equity is making sure our children have equal access to early childhood education,” he added.

“For students and schools, the focus is equity and funding to meet the needs of each community. This involves some advocacy and efforts to provide additional resources.”

Troy Murphy: The DCPS Alumnus

Christopher Martin (Courtesy photo)
Christopher Martin (Courtesy photo)

In his conversation with The Informer, Troy Murphy, a graduate of Eastern High School and onetime at-large D.C. Council candidate, emphasized his refusal to accept campaign contributions.

Murphy, an opponent of charter school expansion, has centered his campaign on restoring the fabric of District communities and ensuring that students enrolled in public schools establish strong connections with their peers and teachers.

While the coronavirus pandemic somewhat complicated that vision, Murphy said the proper investments in technology and other forms of enrichment can help equip parents, particularly those from low-income communities, for a successful academic year.

For now, the former charter schoolteacher has expressed a willingness to do that within the boundaries of what the DCSBOE position allows in a city where the mayor controls the public school system.

“There is an education gap between people who can afford to get tutors and other resources and those who can’t, and the pandemic is widening the gap,” said Murphy.

“A lot of high school students I’ve spoken to had so many disruptions during distance learning,” he added. “The parents with the resources outside of distance learning will excel. When parents have spotty Wi-Fi or are unable to assist children, they fall by the wayside. We have to find a way to assist these people.”

The Informer was unable to establish contact with DCSBOE at-large candidates Dorothy Douglas and Mysiki Valentine. For more information about all candidates, visit DCBOE.org.

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