CommunityElection 2020Politics

A Look at the Ward 8 D.C. State Board Race

D.C. State Board of Education (DCSBOE) races, the winners of whom will develop and promote policies on behalf of students, parents and teachers in Wards 2, 7 and 8 and throughout the entire District.

The winner of the Ward 8 DCSBOE seat will represent a jurisdiction in the District with the largest proportion of school-aged children and one where a significant number of schools, because of an enrollment-based funding formula, often lack the resources needed to serve a population which includes students with special needs.

Over the years, the STAR rating system – described by some as similarly ineffective – has, in part, led to the shuttering of several charter schools in Ward 8.

In the scramble for quality education, students have flocked to other parts of the District. Meanwhile, the ward’s only two high schools have made strides in their academic offerings, addressing matters of school and community safety and attracting students from their cluster schools and other parts of the city.

With the shift to virtual learning occurring this fall, greater attention has been given to gaps in technology and Wi-Fi access that continue to elude education leaders, despite the influx of dollars dedicated to tackling these issues.

As the following profiles show, these two Ward 8 DCSBOE candidates have varying perspectives on what it would take to achieve educational parity.

Carlene D. Reid: The Experienced Educator

Carlene D. Reid, an advocate for strong neighborhood schools, entered the Ward 8 DCSBOE race last November. She touts her 15 years of experience as a special educator and administrator in the D.C. public and public charter school systems and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education [OSSE] as an asset in speaking to various stakeholders across the ward and developing educational policy that addresses key issues.  

If elected, Reid’s priorities include spurring funding for technology and innovative curricula, creating opportunities for members of the Ward 8 community to engage one another and leveraging her professional experience to influence the decision making of the D.C. Council and OSSE.

She has pointed to the STAR rating system as a mechanism in need of vast improvements, including those that better allow parents, particularly those with special needs, to understand the accommodations available to their children at certain schools.

In regards to connecting families to elected officials, Reid said it requires boosting parental engagement and providing community members with the information they need to make recommendations to the Ward 8 SBOE representative that reflect their values and desires for their community and not those of education officials with an agenda.

“We have to move away from the process of special and emergency meetings for issues that we know are coming down the pike,” Reid, an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education, told The Informer.

“I am the only individual running who has made policy and implemented programs at the local, state and national level which have included a variety of stakeholders. My professional experiences have taught me that it is not simply being at the table but engaging the community in tangible solutions that make a difference,” Reid continued.

“Our community is made up of a variety of individuals. Of course, I run into parents who are engaged in the process. I [also] hear people who don’t have children and business owners who can contribute say they would like to help. It’s all hands on deck when it comes to Ward 8 education,Reid said.

LaJoy Johnson-Law: A Parent First

LaJoy Johnson-Law (Courtesy photo)
LaJoy Johnson-Law (Courtesy photo)

Over the past decade, LaJoy Johnson-Law has worn several hats in the education community but none with more pride than that of a mother with a special needs child.

If elected as the Ward 8 representative on the DCSBOE, Johnson-Law said she’ll act as an authentic parental voice on a government body that hasn’t been the friendliest, or most transparent, to District families when it comes to recommending policy directly affecting students.

Johnson-Law, a parent support specialist at Advocates for Justice and Education, said nothing has prepared her more for that job than the disappointment of not seeing her daughter’s Individualized Education Program fully implemented.

That’s why her plans center on boosting the mental health of teachers, students and parents, increasing access to information about special education accommodations on the STAR rating system and other mediums and pressing OSSE to follow federal mandates, especially while schools are in the midst of a new normal like today’s virtual learning.

For Johnson-Law, the degree to which a school meets a family’s needs matters more than whether its public or public charter. To that point, she has also expressed plans, as the only Ward 8 DCSBOE candidate with a school-aged child, to organize parents in her community and protect students attending programs, not only east of the Anacostia River, but in other parts of the District.  

“I don’t see us talking about families of color and referring to them as elected officials. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to get into the race,” Johnson-Law told The Informer.

“I’ve been navigating the system for the last nine years. “It’s important to have that policy background but we have to value lived experiences during COVID-19. You can’t do anything without the family,” she said.

The Informer was unable to establish contact with Ward 8 DCSBOE candidate Ryan Washington. For more information about all candidates, visit DCBOE.org.

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