The District of Columbia Public Schools [DCPS] took a different approach this year in its annual State of Schools address. Instead of focusing on what needs to be fixed they showcased what they’ve gotten right.
Interim Chancellor John Davis served as host of ceremonies of an eclectic program put on by students, principles and DCPS staff members on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at Roosevelt High School in Northwest.
“Yesterday we had President Obama at Benjamin Banneker High School acknowledge how good we are doing as a school district,” Davis said. “Our graduation rate is up 16 percent and DCPS is outpacing the nation in graduation rates.”
“Working with children is what gets me up in the morning,” he said. “It is the opportunity we have to give them something more outside of the classroom.”
Last summer DCPS sent almost 400 students to study abroad in countries like France, Peru, Argentina, China and Senegal as part of their Embassy Adoption Program, dual language program and world language classes.
Randy Sams, a senior at Ballou High School in Southeast, got to spend two weeks of his summer in Argentina experiencing the benefits of cultural immersion.
“Being able to explore another culture was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” he said. “It was a great feeling, because I felt like I was adopted by the people that I met.”
“When I was there I learned how to enjoy your food, by eating slowly and savoring the taste, and to also be glad for public transportation.”
Erica Dague, a senior at School Without Walls in Northwest, went to Belgium where she says in that short time she made life-long friends.
“I tell all the underclassmen at my school all the time that they need to take advantage of this program,” she said. “Never would I have thought that I would still regularly speak to people in Belgium, but I do. It was an experience I will never forget.”
Davis also boasted about DCPS’s empowering males of color initiative that includes the opening of Ron Brown College Preparatory in Northeast – DC’S only public, all-male high school.
“Our research shows that Black and Latino male students need additional support and our initiatives improves outcomes for our young males of color,” he said.
Michael Smith, a salutatorian of his high school two years ago, believes he was saved by DCPS’s Leading Men Fellowship.
“After enduring several challenges going back and forth between DC and South Carolina, I graduated,” Smith said. “There aren’t many salutatorian’s that don’t have a plan after school, but I didn’t.”
After making a few connections, Smith got the opportunity to be a Leading Men Fellow, a program that establishes an educator pipeline for recent DCPS male high school graduates of color to become early childhood paraprofessionals.
“I get so much joy in working with the children at Amidon Elementary,” he said. “Some would say I chose this path to be a teacher, but I feel like this path chose me.”
Still, while the evening focused on DCPS’s success stories, it failed to present any explanation or a plan to increase lackluster English and math PARCC performance scores.
In 2016, 25.5 percent of students scored at proficiency in English; 23.9 percent were proficient in math according to test results.
In a handout given during the address they did present goals for the current school year such as improving achievement rates, investing in struggling schools, increasing the graduation rate, improving satisfaction and increasing enrollment.
“We are going to be doing a lot to make the schools and the students better,” Davis said. “One of the first steps was Ron Brown College Prep, and now we are going to do something for the young ladies.”
“Look for that in the next coming months.”