Isabella Sanchez

In years past, DC Public Schools [DCPS] employees running for the State Board of Education [SBOE] had to officially leave the classroom by submitting a Declaration of Intent to Not Return [DINR]. 

And with the DINR deadline just a few weeks away this year, some teachers eyeing an SBOE run faced a dilemma.   

However, much to their relief, the D.C. Council recently passed emergency legislation to ensure that DCPS employees no longer have to choose between their job and SBOE aspirations. 

DCPS teacher and newly-announced SBOE candidate, Isabella Sanchez, counted among those who extolled the D.C. Council’s move as a step in the right direction for further diversifying the voices on the SBOE and ensuring that teachers can leverage their on-the-ground experience. 

Though she made the decision to run last fall and contemplated leaving the classroom to fulfill her goal, Sanchez said she feels grateful no longer having to make a difficult decision. If elected to the Ward 1 seat, Sanchez said she hopes to elevate the voices of community members and highlight ethnic diversity and uniqueness as a provider of adult education. 

“As someone who loves to work at a school, it made me wonder and be excited that I could continue to have a school-based role if elected to the state board,” said Sanchez, a teacher at Garrison Elementary School in Northwest. 

“The idea of leaving [the classroom] was weighing on me,” she added. “I get a lot of joy from being a teacher. Seeing this legislation come out made me extremely excited that it wouldn’t have to be something I have to give up.” 

SBOE Ward 1 Representative Emily Gasoi didn’t return The Informer’s inquiry about whether she would run for reelection this year. She and other members of the state board, a nonpartisan entity, advise education policy for District public and public charter schools, the most recent of which involved the STAR Framework

Once D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signs the emergency legislation into law, it will go into effect. Before the emergency legislation’s unanimous passage on March 3, only public charter school employees qualified for inclusion on the state board. Had any DCPS employee decided to run for SBOE after the DINR deadline, they would’ve faced a fine of at least  $1,000. 

Such circumstances compelled D.C. Councilmembers Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) to introduce the emergency legislation, especially since people have spoken in support of such measures in previous council hearings

The concept of a state board with public school teachers had support among SBOE members, including At large Representative Jacque Patterson who currently works for KIPP DC and Ward 4 Representative Frazier O’Leary, a former DCPS teacher. 

The passage of the emergency legislation culminated three years of on-the-ground advocacy by EmpowerEd, an organization dedicated to increasing teacher retention and diversifying the teacher workforce.  

Lewis George and Allen, at the behest of EmpowerEd and other teacher advocates, attempted to address teacher eligibility on the SBOE through legislation related to dismantling mayoral control of schools, opening public charter school meetings, and modernizing elections. 

Scott Goldstein, founder and director of EmpowerEd, pointed out these efforts grew out of a movement to bring transparency to District schools. He told The Informer that having DCPS teachers as SBOE leaders not only fulfills that goal but provides more opportunities for growth within the profession. 

“When you have your ear to the ground, you have the best ideas about how to improve our schools,” Goldstein said. 

“We need those people in leadership. There are challenges with teachers’ schedules and being an elected official but as it stands, the state board is a part-time role so I know teachers can engage in that work productively and as well as current state board members,” he said.  

Lewis George, a former SBOE student representative, said the emergency legislation could play a part in alleviating DCPS’ teacher retention problem. She said DCPS teachers have the qualifications and know-how that could augment the work of the state board. 

Not removing the barriers to entry would’ve been detrimental, she said. 

“We had to make it clear for potential candidates that they can run and stay in the classroom next year. They would’ve either paid a fine or left the classroom not knowing they could still run. This is about creating the symmetry between DCPS and charter schools. This is the one issue with unanimous support. Everyone agreed it was fair and it was cool the entire state board was on board,” Lewis George said. 

@SamPKCollins 

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Sam P.K. Collins

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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