In the recent election, four State Board seats were up for grabs. The victors in those electoral contests garnered the support of teachers and parents who felt left out in conversations about their neighborhood schools.
In Wards 1 and 6, community members who flocked to the polls were concerned about improving the quality of their middle and high schools. They also expressed a desire for more permanent safety and mental health resources that parents and students demanded during the pandemic.
For Ward 6 State Board of Education (SBOE) Member-elect Brandon Best, forming an SBOE parent-and-teacher council is the ideal means of accomplishing that goal. He said he would do that within the first few months of his term.
“In order for us to get a holistic and well-rounded understanding of what’s going on, we need to connect with our teachers and parents. This will help us make more informed decisions based on the experiences of our communities,” said Best, an educator and administrator of nearly 20 years.
On Nov. 8, Best defeated Joshua Wiley, a vice principal at Whittier Education Campus in Northwest. Wiley announced his candidacy after the passage of D.C. Council legislation allowing public school teachers to serve on the State Board.
On the campaign trail, Best touted his experience shaping Safe Passage legislation, securing meals for families during the pandemic, and increasing schools’ communication with parents and community members.
When he enters his seat in the new year, Best will succeed Jessica Sutter, current Ward 6 SBOE representative and president.
As a State Board member, Best wants to ensure that the Office of the State Superintendent moves forward with adjustments to the STAR rating system his colleagues proposed. Other priorities include upgrades to facilities. Accomplishing these goals, he said, requires authentic parent and teacher engagement.
“I want to make sure the decisions we make are rooted in firsthand experiences from teachers, parents and students,” Best said.
“A lot of schools realized [during the pandemic] that when families are engaged, our students do better. The challenge is not going back to the status quo and [figuring out] how we meet parents where they are instead of going to business as usual.”
SBOE, an independent agency, consists of three separate offices: the State Board, the Office of the Student Advocate, and the D.C. Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education.
In the era of mayoral control, SBOE no longer has control over the daily management of D.C. Public Schools. Instead, State Board members collaborate with community members to advise State Superintendent Christina Grant on education policies and standards. They do so, in part, by hosting monthly meetings, developing resolutions and testifying before the D.C. Council.
Ben Williams has advocated for measures to retain District teachers in his role as an educator and policy fellow with the local nonprofit EmpowerEd. He also counted among many people in the District who’ve called for more mental health investments and an expansion of Safe Passage programs.
On Nov. 8, Williams garnered 98.25 percent of the vote to become Ward 1 SBOE representative-elect. This milestone comes on the cusp of a more-than-a-decade career in education. During his campaign, William tapped into his experiences at Two Rivers Public Charter School in Northeast and Capital City Public Charter School in Northwest, where he currently teaches A.P. Government and D.C. History.
When he enters his seat in the new year, Williams will succeed Emily Gasoi.
As he looks forward to a new chapter in his activism, Williams wants to amplify parents’ voices on the State Board. He revealed plans to collaborate with other District agencies and groups to not only attract grassroots support for resolutions that he and his colleagues shape but develop policies that truly reflect a wide range of perspectives within the community.
“We need to empower and listen to PTAs and Local School Advisory Teams to make sure we’re acting on the ideas that will be best for parents and families,” Williams said.
“In particular, we need to craft partnerships to make sure we’re intentionally trying to listen to all parents, and not just those who are active, including parents with language barriers, to make sure their needs are being addressed as well.”
Part II of this article will feature Eric Goulet and Robert Henderson, who were recently elected to represent Ward 3 and Ward 5 on the State Board, respectively.