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A Look at the Ward 7 State Board Race

This is the third installment of a four-part series about the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) races, the winners of which will advocate for policies on behalf of students, parents and teachers in Wards 2, 7 and 8 and throughout the entire District. This article features the candidates of the Ward 7 state board race, an electoral contest particularly focused on the future direction of education advocacy in Ward 7.

Dontrell Smith: The Accountability Partner

This D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) alumnus and father of two said he wants to bring more accountability and transparency to the Ward 7 SBOE seat. If elected, he plans to directly engage and organize Ward 7’s parents, teachers and school leaders around connecting the elementary, middle and high schools and scrutinizing the degree to which academic programming at each school prepares students for the next step along their academic journey.

Doing so, Smith said, ensures a more equitable educational environment. In regards to enrollment-based funding shortages, he said he would propose a policy that obligates District charter schools to relinquish funding when students leave the charter system in the middle of the academic year and enroll in their neighborhood school.

“I care about the education space. I want to make sure students have a strong passionate voice that can advocate for them and their interests,” said Smith, whose experience includes serving as a substitute teacher. “We didn’t get that from the leadership. People argue about funding. We don’t need nine educators on the State Board. I’m an accountant. I can look at the budget to make sure we’re getting the right funding.”

Charles Boston: The Tradesman

Charles Boston (Courtesy photo)
Charles Boston (Courtesy photo)

For the past few years, Charles Boston has attempted to coordinate a Saturday school at the Howard University School of Divinity and connect young people with stormwater management and compositor certification programs at the University of the District of Columbia that lead to District licensure and certification.

If elected, he intends to advocate for policy that expands students’ opportunities for physical education, trades and work-based learning, not just in Ward 7 but across the District. Part of fulfilling that vision, Boston said, involves convincing religious institutions, businesses and nonprofits to form consortiums to tackle societal conditions inhibiting children’s ability to learn. Boston’s partners of interest in this endeavor to prepare students for a 21st-century economy include the DC Department of Energy & Environment and the U.S. National Arboretum.

Boston, an operating engineer who attended Anne Beers Elementary School and studied at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland, lambasted the STAR Framework as a tool that narrowly examines student progress. He called it part of the system that misleads parents and pushes four-year college as the only route for young people in D.C.’s public and public charter school systems, much to their detriment.

“The vocational trades should have never been separated from academics or removed from graduation requirements,” Boston said. “People talk about high enrollment in college but they don’t talk about low graduation from college. The curriculum [in DCPS and charter schools] is not motivating or relevant. Students are not getting educated for life after graduation. They never leave, or [they] come back home [after a year] to work at Target. That’s not changing the narrative. It’s not giving young people options.”

Eboni-Rose Thompson: The Organizer

Eboni-Rose Thompson (Courtesy photo)
Eboni-Rose Thompson (Courtesy photo)

While at the helm of the Ward 7 Education Council, Eboni-Rose Thompson has wielded the influence of parents, teachers and community leaders to secure funding and advance policies of great benefit to Ward 7 schools. She said that, as the Ward 7 SBOE representative, she can better effect change and ensure that children in her ward get a quality education, regardless of the school they attend.

If elected, Thompson, an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania who was born, raised and educated in Ward 7, plans to work with her SBOE colleagues to advocate for the dissemination of resources to communities most in need, greater budget transparency and increasing the quality of programming in the District’s schools. During a recent parent panel with D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-large), Thompson and others expressed their desire for increased access to laptops and Wi-Fi for families facilitating the distance learning experience at home.

For Thompson, the coronavirus pandemic has shed light on systemic inequity that has long forced parents to send their children across town, early in their lives, for a quality education. Despite what some perceive as the limitations of the SBOE, Thompson said she can help fulfill what the school choice movement, to an extent, has not.

“We have education challenges that aren’t in SBOE’s purview but I understand that power isn’t about an individual but working together and advancing a collective agenda,” Thompson said. “There’s nothing in the law that says people have to engage and listen to the Ward 7 Education Council [but] we fought and won hard-earned dollars for modernization.”

“We’ve been able to put money in the budget. We got the ANCs to sign on a collective resolution that led to an extra $15 million that the D.C. Council signed on. We hosted events so families could explore educational opportunities like the Ward 7 school fair. We used our influence, which has been earned,” he said.

Karen Williams: The Incumbent

Ward 7 State Board of Education Representative Karen Williams (Courtesy photo)
Ward 7 State Board of Education Representative Karen Williams (Courtesy photo)

Earlier this year, Ward 7 SBOE Representative Karen Williams and her colleague Ashley MacLeay (At-large) clashed when Williams called for MacLeay’s resignation following her racially insensitive remarks at a meeting about policing in schools.

MacLeay later posted a screenshot of a text that Williams sent empathizing MacLeay’s views and framing her public opposition as a matter of protecting her reelection efforts. Williams would later tell The Washington City Paper that, given Ward 7 residents’ safety concerns, the choice to reduce campus police should be left up to each school.

She didn’t answer The Informer’s two requests for an interview about her campaign.

According to her bio on the SBOE website, Williams has dedicated her career to bridging inequities that plague District students, particularly those at risk. Throughout her nearly eight years on the school board, Williams has served as president and vice president. In those roles, she developed an agency hiring matrix that ushered in the installment of three staff members and officers.

She also worked with the Office of the State Superintendent for Education on “No Child Left Behind” waivers and played a part in the development of a state diploma for students entering the GED or the National External Diploma programs.

Williams, a board member of the Ward 7 Education Council and member of H.D. Woodson High School’s STEM Advisory Committee, currently chairs the board’s Every Student Succeeds Act Task Force.

For more information about the D.C. State Board of Education races and other electoral contests, go to dcboe.org.

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