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Robin B. Martin, Mayoral nominee to the DC Board of Education
Testimony at the confirmation hearing by the Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation
June 11, 2003




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Robin B. Martin Vance Wilson, St. Albans School
Jesse Fenty


PR 15-218 "Board of Education of the District of Columbia Robin B. Martin Confirmation Resolution of 2003"

June 11, 2003

Good afternoon honored guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Mr. Chairman and Education Committee Councilmembers, thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before you in this public haring today. And I appreciate the time each of you took to meet with me before today so we could discuss some of the issues of particular interest to you.

I wish to commend you and the entire City Council for your attention to the challenges facing the DC Public School System. There is no more pressing goal than improving our public schools. You are close to your constituents. You hear concerns every day, from parents, teachers and staff at public schools, from neighbors and businesses, employers and colleges, from people you know and trust. They talk about specific problems affecting their children and their local public schools. Those voices are important to hear. All of us in a position to influence change must respond. You have devoted countless hours in meetings, held; public hearings, and passed legislation, with the goal of improving the teaching and teaming of every child. Thank you for your commitment to the effort — it is an impressive and necessary ingredient for success.

The Mayor has stated that education is central to his administration's goals. I believe he and I share the view that there are fewer services more important and under more scrutiny than the public school system. I will not be reluctant to urge the Mayor for assistance when needed to fight for the requirements for progress in improving public schools.

The Superintendent, Dr. Paul Vance, has a most complicated job. He meets the opportunities with steadfast purpose, competence, and grace, and he and his management team are making steady progress. I anticipate a productive relationship with the Superintendent as he and the Board of Education collaborate to achieve the shared goals at a faster rate.

The members of the Board of Education devote innumerable hours serving children, teachers, principals and schools. Whether elected or appointed, each member brings unique and valuable perspectives and qualifications. I look  forward to serving with these distinguished educational leaders as colleagues.

A good education is essential for each person to lead a secure, productive and happy life. In my mind, one person who believes this completely is the president of the Board of Education, Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Her energy level, commitment and passion are impressive and it will be a challenge to keep pace with her.

An engineer by education, I've spent most of my professional career as an entrepreneur in the communications industry, primarily as an owner and operator of radio stations and as an advisor to buyers of broadcast properties. My concentration has been in financial matters, both as a consultant and as the chief executive of various companies.

My range of involvements in business and eleemosynary activities has allowed me to participate in a variety of governance systems which will help shape my contribution to the Board. I've engaged in business, as both an entrepreneur and a board member of public companies; in the non-profit sector as chairman of a major private Washington museum, as a board member of two Smithsonian museums and a Washington private secondary school, and as a 17-year board member of a major research university; and in the Federal government as an appointee. The association with these diverse Washington and national organizations has put me in contact with business leaders, philanthropists, and leaders in education, many of whom could be helpful to the Public School System.

I firmly believe that the status quo is unacceptable in our public schools. I know the task is large and so are the stakes. The future of generations of children depends on how well the Board of Education and the Public School System, with help from the Council and the Mayor, succeed.

My goal is to help the Board of Education and the Public School System accomplish the primary objective of providing each child with an excellent education. DCPS will accomplish this mission by offering high quality curricula and academic programs; hiring and retaining excellent principals and teachers; providing safe and efficient school facilities; and garnering community support. From my initial review, the DCPS Business Plan for Strategic Reform, researched and developed with McKinsey and Company, presents a solid framework for the development of performance plans that can transform the Public School System and provide appropriate evaluation criteria for the Superintendent and his team.

I'm convinced that it's possible for dedicated groups of individual to make a difference. My hope comes from watching those leaders who have found ways to transform large, complex and troubled institutions with skill, success and dispatch. I plan to be open, honest and forthright with my views and beliefs. I understand that public school boards, particularly in urban environments, are complex and political in nature. I expect to listen carefully, to confer with my Board colleagues, Councilmembers and the Mayor, to visit public schools, to participate in public hearings, and to learn about the Board and the System in many other ways. It will take effort and time to understand sufficiently the nuances of the major issues, so I ask for your understanding as I become educated.

As a prospective School Board member, I believe that the Board should guide and just as importantly support the Superintendent by providing appropriate policy direction, resources and political cover. I believe the Board must resist the inclination to micromanage - on any issue. It must provide focused policy leadership, allow the professionals to do their jobs, and then assess the results. Useful measurements of progress and determinations of proper strategic or tactical adjustments depend on periodic evaluations based on performance plan benchmarks and metrics.

Most important to me is the collegial functioning of the Board. The president sets the tone and the members contribute fully in the interweaving of learning, listening, debating, and decision-making that are part of a healthy Board dynamic. I pledge to contribute my best efforts to promote the civil and efficient working of the Board.

I'm ready for the challenge ahead - and I understand the enormity and seriousness of the task. I've had wonderfully talented mentors who continue to be generous with their time and wisdom. Any positive contribution I make is due in large part to their kind willingness to engage in lengthy conversations over the years and most importantly to the love and support from my family.

Thank you again for this opportunity to meet with you and for the chance to hear your concerns and advice.

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June 11, 2003
Council of the District of Columbia
Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation
Public Hearing

PR 15-218 "Board of Education of the District of Columbia Robin B. Martin Confirmation Resolution of 2003"

Testimony of Vance Wilson, Headmaster
St. Albans School
Mt. St. Alban
Washington, D.C. 20016

Chairman Chavous, Councilmembers Ambrose, Fenty, Mendelson and Schwartz, my name is Vance Wilson. I am the headmaster of St. Albans School here in the District of Columbia, and I consider it a privilege to provide testimony in support of Robin Martin and his appointment to the Board of Education for the District of Columbia. As many of you may know, St. Albans is an independent, all-boys school of 560 students located on the grounds of the National Cathedral and governed by the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation. We were founded in 1909 as an Episcopal college preparatory school, and to this day we are dedicated to fostering the spiritual, intellectual, and physical development of our students, of whom roughly one out of four receives financial aid-$1.7 million for 2002-2003. Robin Martin served ably as a member of the St. Albans Governing Board from 1996 - 2002; in fact, he was one of only three trustees who were asked to stay on the Board during and after a time of difficult change and transition in our institution. Robin continues to serve on several Board committees.

Although I work in an independent-school setting, I believe that we have much in common with the D.C. public schools when it comes to issues of governance and oversight of educational programs. The job of building a Governing Board or, in this case, a Board of Education, requires a strategic approach to the composition and operations of the Board. The most effective Boards, in my opinion, are those whose members are deeply committed to the mission of education, who-possess an expertise that is needed by the organization, and who understand how an organization should function.

Robin Martin has demonstrated a passion for education throughout his life. He has excelled in his professional endeavors, initially as a public servant working for the White House and the National Transportation Safety Board, and then as an entrepreneurial businessman. Robin also exemplifies what educators aim to instill in their students-a willingness to embrace responsibility and to serve the community in which one lives.

Robin Martin is a smart and savvy businessman, and numerous educational and nonprofit organizations have benefited from his talents. His financial background makes him particularly well suited for counsel and oversight of an organization's business functions, including auditing, banking, financial reporting and analysis, and business processes and systems.

Robin understands governance. He has worked with a variety of governance systems in the organizations he has served, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of African Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Shakespeare Theater, and most dear to me, St. Albans School. He understands the roles and boundaries between the Board and the CEO, between the Board and its committees, and between a trustee and the management staff: His experience as a trustee gives him a perspective that is essential for an effective Board.

I have found that trustees who attempt to set and administer policy often do a bad job of both. An effective Board requires strong trustees armed with information, intelligence, and experience, but who also understand the need to maintain perspective-some distance from the action to appraise facts and weigh options. Robin Martin is a man that takes the long view. He is not fixated on short-term results, although I have found that he expects that as well! He is interested in continuous progress, always working towards the long-term goal. I commend him to you without reservation.

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Jesse Fenty

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Council, the Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation, Mr. Chairman, Ms. Thornhill and Mr. Martin.

My name is Jesse Fenty. I am a resident of the District of Columbia.

I come here today to ask the Council, specifically the Committee, to vote against these two nominees for several reasons.

The future of DC Public Schools is at stake. Two key issues of the moment are Vouchers and Charter Schools. Both issues cloud the already murky waters regarding socalled school reform. The real issue is how to best educate the children of Washington, DC, and what that really means. Parents have every right to send their children to private schools, if they like. Public officials, on the other hand, be they elected or appointed, who support Vouchers, undermine the system they are supposed to be serving. Their job is to provide the best public education for District of Columbia students. Channeling public funds into private hands goes against the purposes of public education.

Both nominees have been quoted in the newspapers as supporting Vouchers. Besides those comments, little is publicly known about the issues Ms. Thornhill and Mr. Martin support. Under the old law, School Board members staged public campaigns that allowed interested persons to question the candidates regarding their platforms and ideas.

Who are these nominees?

On its face, Ms. Thornhill's record appears to support public education, but she has never worked directly for the schools, she has only been affiliated. She is now a Vice President at DC Agenda, an organization advocating change in the District of Columbia. According to their website, DC Agenda receives over half of their funding from National Foundations, i.e., Foundations outside of the District of Columbia. Why should national organizations have influence over the policies of the DC School Board when local organizations, parents, teachers and other interested parties do not?

Under this new format, the Councilmembers of this Committee now bear more responsibility to the citizens of the District to research and question the nominees. What does Ms. Thornhill see as the problems in the current school system? What are the successes? Where does she see DC schools in 5 years? In 10 years? Until such information is obtained and the public given more interaction with her, I ask the Committee to vote against this nominee and ask the mayor to nominate someone that has a clear interest in the future of DCPS. Thank you.

Mr. Robin Martin.

I ask the Committee to vote against this nominee. Mr. Martin has little experience in public education. Mr. Martin's experience is in radio and television management. While business skills can be a benefit to an entity that manages a large budget, I question whether Mr. Martin's private business background is what DC Public Schools needs.

Private companies are in the business of competition and making profits. That is not the purpose of a public school system. Voucher and Charter school proponents argue that competition, like that done by private businesses, will create better schools as they compete for the best students and teachers.

This argument misses the mark because Charter schools depend upon the resources provided by DCPS to succeed. A dependent organization competing with its supplier presents an inequitable situation, and really, unfair competition. The success of charter schools will be at the expense of DCPS.

Secondly, Mr. Martin has not supported District of Columbia Public Schools in the past. He has not enrolled his children in DC Public Schools, and has been quoted in the newspaper questioning the schools' academic quality and their safety. This lack of past support will yield little understanding regarding the issues facing the students in the District of Columbia Public Schools. The chances are slim that this individual will work towards the academic excellence and safety of my little brothers and sisters in DCPS.

In conclusion, Mr. Martin's record and comments have shown that he is not one of the best candidates for the school board vacancy. I ask the Committee and the Council to vote against this nominee and ask the mayor to nominate someone with experience in public finance, someone with a closer connection to the public school system.

Thank you.


I ask the City Council as a whole to revisit the Charter School laws of the District of Columbia. Chapters 17 and 18 of Title 38 of the DC Code must be amended. The number of charter schools coming into existence every year threatens the vitality of the larger DCPS. Under the current law, there are two Public Charter School chartering authorities. Each can approve up to ten (10) charter schools per year for a total of twenty (20) new schools per year. The funding, students, teachers, counselors, and even principals are being channeled away from DCPS to work in the charter schools.

One impetus to the Charter school movement was "school choice," another was that teachers wanted to get their children out of "failing schools." However, to drain the larger DCPS of vital resources, is to create the "failing schools" people were worried about at the start. What measures is the Council taking to ensure the success of the larger DCPS body, and what benchmarks are being utilized to determine whether the charter schools are actually meeting their purpose?

The City Council must amend the law to decrease the number of Charter Schools that can be created until proper oversight mechanisms can be put in place to measure the successes of the schools, but most importantly, the achievements of the students. There are now over forty (40) charter schools across the city. In five years this number could jump to eighty (80). To fund these schools, less options are being made available to the students in the traditional school system. Athletic programs have been cut; funding for extracurricular activities, field trips, computers, counselors, all are being drained from the schools. The city leaders are not investing in the children or the schools.

The future of the children of the District of Columbia is in the balance. Will city leaders invest in their children and create competent citizens who can succeed in the world and create their own jobs and opportunities; or will they turn this essential task over to private entities that have no uniform standards, no uniform curricula, and separate ideas as to what should be the future of the children of the District of Columbia? Nothing is wrong with outside opinions, DCPS as a whole should welcome suggestions by outside entities who have the best interests of the students at heart.

The City Council should work to bring the students, the teachers and the schools back together. Right now, the District of Columbia public education system is a divided house, and a divided house cannot stand.

Jesse A. Fenty
408 Cedar St. NW
Washington, DC 20012

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