Frazier O'Leary
Retired educator Frazier O'Leary won the Ward 4 State Board of Education special election on Dec. 4. (Courtesy photo)

With the backing of the Washington Teachers’ Union and residents concerned about the vitality of District public schools, Frazier O’Leary rose above three candidates, including one his council member supported, to grab the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) Ward 4 seat during a recent special election.

In the weeks before the start of his four-year term, O’Leary has pivoted his attention to the DC School Report Card, which includes data about each District public school accompanied by a 1-to-5 STAR rating of school performance. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education released the document less than a week ago.

“There should be something in the evaluation about school climate, such as how parents, teachers, and administrators feel about the schools,” said O’Leary, a recently retired educator who taught at Cardozo Education Campus in Northwest for decades.

O’Leary suggested that the DC School Report Card include more impactful factors in a student’s academic performance, adding that test scores don’t clearly indicate a child’s chances of future success or teacher competency.

“At Cardozo, where I taught for 40 years, we had a school that worked but the test scores didn’t show that,” he said. “I don’t think the PARCC test is any kind of evaluative tool, especially for students with obstacles in their lives.”

In the Dec. 4 special election, with less than 10 percent of registered voters in Ward 4 reporting to the ballot box, O’Leary won a seat previously held by Lannette Woodruff with 46 percent of the vote compared to Rhonda Henderson’s 38 percent.

In the months leading up to the election, O’Leary touted mentorship of new teachers, decrease of mayoral control over schools, and greater accountability for public charter schools as key campaign tenets.

Henderson received endorsements from Woodruff, who resigned in late July, pro-charter school PAC Democrats for Education Reform, and Ward 4 D.C. Council member Brandon Todd (D), who endorsed her and provided resources to no avail.

In a brief statement to The Informer, Todd said he looked forward to working with O’Leary to ensure that Ward 4 schools reach their fullest potential. Since the election, both have appeared and spoken to one another at two community events, O’Leary said.

Ward 4 has more than a dozen schools, including Roosevelt High School and Shepherd Elementary School, both reeling from scandals involving a principal’s insensitivity to sexual assault claims and a music instructor’s rape charge, respectively. At a candidate’s forum at Kingsbury Center in November, residents raised concerns about the STAR rating system, expansion of dual-language programs, and charter school transparency.

O’Leary stressed his desire to work with his SBOE colleagues, some of whom support public schools, and impart gems of wisdom to improve public education in the District.

“Winning the election against the council member’s candidate with all the resources they had sent me a message that people are really concerned about the direction of public education and want change,” he said. “With the two elections, there are more public school supporters on the State Board of Education, but it’s not a battle between the two systems.

“It’s a philosophical battle,” O’Leary said. “I was vocal about the mayor not being in charge, putting a cap on charter schools and giving the State Board of Education more of a say in education.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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