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January 26, 2000

Snow and Schools

Dear Shut-Ins:

Well, we've had a moderate snow, so we have one small concrete measure by which to determine whether the Department of Public Works is working well. Margaret Siegel writes that she's shocked and delighted by the service on her street. How long did it take the plows to come, and did they do a good job of clearing your block and your neighborhood? Share your experience, and let the people grade.

Speaking of grading. What I wrote about the schools in the last issue has raised a bit of a ruckus, but, as Mike Buchanan says on WUSA-TV, it's my story and I'm sticking to it. I'm not defending the performance of the elected school board, but I'm not convinced that any of the proposals we have before us will improve education for our children — or is really intended to improve education. Instead, the proposals seem more on the level of: “Your computer isn't working. The solution is to rewire your house.” Well, maybe, but that's not the first thing I'd try.

Our schools have been run by an appointed school board for the past three or more years (the Emergency Board of Trustees, which is what I called “inept” and “secretive,” not the Control Board itself — though the Control Board certainly is secretive), and I haven't seen any evidence that the appointed board has improved on the performance of the elected school board before them. I haven't seen any detailed plan for the schools from the Mayor that shows that he knows how how to improve the schools, and I haven't seen any evidence that he'll appoint better school managers than the people have elected or than the Control Board has appointed. I haven't heard an argument from Councilmembers that convinces me that a nine-member elected Board of Education would improve learning in classrooms more than a thirteen-member Board would. So, if you advocate Tony Williams's plan or Kevin Chavous's plan, don't look on me or on any other reader of themail as a lost cause. Convince us. Just complete, in 200 words or less, the sentence: “This is how Tony Williams's plan (or Kevin Chavous's plan) would improve education for children in DC's public schools: . . . .”

Gary Imhoff


Margaret Siegel,

I'm in shock and delighted at the same time -- at 9 am today, a snow plow came down Ordway Street, clearing a path. And a friend in Barnaby Woods reports that her cul-de-sac has been plowed. The Mayor may not be handling the school board issue perfectly, but he sure understands the importance of plowed streets, at least here in Ward 3. So, kudos to the Mayor and DPW. Now we can only hope our garbage and recycling get picked up — last week, we had garbage pick up and not recycling — does the recycling company have a snow plow contract as well?


A Reactionary D.C. Government
Ed T. Barron,

Last November Mayor Williams was quoted as saying that planning in the D.C. Government is “episodic.” It should not be that way. The Mayor should be leading, and leading by example. If the Mayor and his top aides have a Mission Statement and some viable supporting goals, it would certainly be nice to see what they have come up with. Those should be broadcast to the world. Similarly, every major organizational element in the D.C. Government should have a defined mission and goals. The mayor talks about accountability. You can measure accountability when everyone knows how high the bar is. All that is done in D.C. now is to argue about whether or not people being evaluated have jumped over an invisible bar.

If the Mayor wants to bring about accountability, he must let each organizational element define a viable mission statement with supporting, time oriented, measurable goals. The first step, however, is to take the lead and show how that is done by developing a top level mission for the Mayor's office, along with a set supporting measurable goals. Is the Mayor willing to have accountability of his own office?


Public Schools
Helen Hagerty,

The power grab for control over the District's public schools will have little or no direct impact on what goes on in the classroom. Teachers are still not being paid and Mayor Williams has yet to approve a budget for Mrs. Ackerman. The City Council and Mayor have constantly ignored the objections of parents and the principal at the Hardy Middle School over the continued use of their parking lot for a flea market on Sundays. Now that a track and field have been built, the school would like to use it for athletic events and practices on weekends. This would be impossible since the flea market takes up the entire parking lot leaving no parking for those using the field. We have asked that the flea market move to another location.

Once again, children do not come first in this city! This latest move appears to be aimed at control over facilities (real estate) and awarding contracts and not aimed at what is best for public school children.


Goodbye School Board — Good Riddance
Anne Drissel,

Maybe, just maybe, some of us in the city are NOT impressed by the accomplishments of the elected school board. The school system, under this elected board, is one of the worst disasters in the country. Until the the Accountability and Fiscal Responsibility Board (not-so-affectionately called the “Control Board”) took over, the schools were abysmal. I had the misfortune of taking an adult class in one of the DC school buildings two years ago and I was shocked at the almost complete lack of learning resources in the building. Where had all the money and supplies gone that were supposed to be spent on these schools? DC residents have been sold a bill of goods putting their faith — and money — in the hands of folks who were more interested in gaining political power than in assuring a high-performing educational system for our children. Count me as a voter who does NOT support the continuation of an elected school board. We elect the Mayor and City Council. The schools should work within this legislative and executive structure — not as an independent governmental entity. I fully support the Mayor's proposal for an appointed school board — with time-limited period for approval or rejection by the City Council.


What Do Teachers Think? Parents?
Mark Richards, Dupont East,

Specifically, how will an appointed Board of Education improve the public schools and be less politicized than an elected one? If the arguments are not convincing (i.e., assertions and trust me statements), there must be other reasons for wanting to change the structure — what are they? And what do most PARENTS and TEACHERS (especially those who have been in the system for a long time) think would be the most important actions that would improve our schools? Is changing the Board from elected to unelected high on their list of items that would do the most to improve the educational quality? I would give great weight to parents and teachers and would like to see a good comprehensive survey of their opinions. Currently, this is nowhere to be found.

I've seen research showing that groups of 8 or fewer tend to be more action oriented than groups over 8, which become more gridlocked. So, reducing the number on the Board may have merit if action is a goal. But in the end, my fear is also that Congress and/or their agents, whose children are unlikely to be anywhere near DC public schools, will impose what they think is best — once again tearing the veil off the facade that is frequently called local self-government, representative democracy, or home rule. When voter turnout drops back to 7% like a couple years ago, we won't have to ask why. And if the mayor is unable to persuade DC citizens and their Council of the merit of his proposal for an appointed Board, and Congress imposes it anyway, the word “accountability” will take on new meaning.


Speedy Goodbye to the School Board
Tracy Hadden,

The mayor's plan to dismantle the School Board is not necessarily a bad thing. The school board is an ineffective body. You call the control board “inept.” Do you deny that the city is in better shape than it was before the control board came? What is the school board's record of reform? Don't get me wrong — I deplore the lack of democracy in D.C. However, our current democratic institutions are so corrupt that they are even more inept than the Control Board. As a DCPS graduate, I can testify that the School Board is a totally ineffective institution. What's the point of democracy when it is as distorted and futile as it is here? I don't want the School Board. I can think of a lot more hurt they've caused me than help they've given. I don't want the Control Board either — you are right to call them secretive, their lack of communication impedes reform. I want the mayor that I voted for to have the power to fix my alma mater and its system. He is directly accountable to the people, and he can appoint a school board of members that bring complementary skills and cooperation to the table. And voters can demand that he make school reform an open, public, effective process. We can't demand that effectiveness of a school board loaded with members with different agendas, levels of competence, and constituents.

You're right that more parental control would be a good thing. But that control should be direct and local to their school, not through the school board.


Bluster and Outrage in themail
John Whiteside,

Having lived in a city that decided to get rid of its elected school board and replaced it with one chosen by the mayor (Boston), I can only roll my eyes when I read Gary Imhoff's melodramatic comments. In Boston, here's what happened: a body that was once a stepping-stone for political hacks became, of all things, an actual school board. Accountability remained, because the mayor had to answer for his appointees come election time (just like in DC!) and appointees had to approved by the city council, which was popularly elected (just like in DC!). And years later, when Boston voters had the opportunity to return to an elected board through a ballot initiative, they rejected it. Why? Because the appointed board was doing a far better job than its predecessor.

What's really laughable about the lead to the last themail, however (aside from the purple prose) is that it missed the point entirely. Democracy isn't about the number of city posts that are elected vs. appointment. It's about the ultimate source of power. In DC, that's Congress. You can elect everyone in DC government down to the trash collectors, and that won't change.


Farewell School Board
Nora Bawa,

To respond to Gary Imhoff's “Goodbye School Board,” it's more to the point to concentrate on exactly what measures will improve the school system than to move the deck chairs on the Titanic, which is what concentrating on the makeup of the school board amounts to. Larry Cuban's (Stanford educ prof, ex-DC teacher) op-ed in the Jan 23 Post was to that point, and a very good article it was. Like many in the country, a variety of public and private heads in DC are ruminating over what reforms to make; thus far, nothing effective has emerged. Certainly high stakes testing, without a solid base of good teaching, honest administration and family support isn't achieving the desired results.

As a DC public school teacher of DC History and Government, let me remind you that the question of an elected/appointed school board is historically not about education as much as it is about the perennial struggle for respect. As a pathway to the city council and the mayoralty, election to the school board was a symbol of self-determination earlier in this century, and it remains so today. It may have been effective as a laboratory for governing skills in the past, but our kids can't afford to be anyone's lab rats today. Those of us who claim to care about our children need to examine methods of strengthening public education that have been effective in other jurisdictions, and to work together with reform organizations like DCVOICE, who are about the real hard work of fixing our schools, with authentic community input.


Goodbye Again
Kathy Smith,

I think you missed a major point here, in your rant against the Mayor's plan for the School Board. Our Mayor is elected, and we elected him to fix what's broken in the city. The current school board system is definitely broken. If he wants to abolish a system that is not working and is doing great harm to the schools and the city, I say: by all means, abolish the existing board and have an appointed board. We loose very little and may even have a functioning school system as a result. Furthermore, Kathy Patterson and Jack Evans deserve a lot of credit for their courage and wisdom in this issue.


Personal Attacks
Harold Goldstein,

JePhunneh Lawrence wrote, about me, that I sent “... racially derogatory, threatening, and offensive material....” I have to say that I have no idea of any statements I made that could have been remotely construed as falling within any of the above three classifications. I would appreciate it if if the above individual can provide such statements so that I can comment upon them and so that others might draw their own conclusions.

I did correspond with the above individual and, while we surely disagreed, my disagreement was not over the nomination of WW but over the response it generated. Further, JePhunneh Lawrence did not direct to me comments that would indicate that he was offended by anything I wrote. Thus I am shocked at what he directed to this group weeks after any interactions between us.


Metrobus Incident
Jim Graham,

I am sorry to read about Annie McCormick's incident with a rude bus driver. In addition to calling Metro (which I encourage) please keep me in mind since I am a DC WMATA/Metro director. Numbers and names are helpful. This is my direct E-mail.


A Great and an Invaluable Loss to the Black Heritage and DC
Naomi J. Monk,

I find it a great and an invaluable lost to the Black heritage and DC for the Metropolitan Baptist Church to have to relocate to another area, especially since the reason is that the church people cannot park in the Garrison school parking lot next to them. Why? This church has spent more than a million dollars helping this school and its students for over a decade. Please check the Metropolitan Baptist web site. You will be amazed at the great value of this church to the neighborhood to include property values as well as the Metropolitan Baptist church's service to this school. It appears from what I have read that those who want the kids to play soccer and others must have their way and they do care what unjust means they take to do it. The Metropolitan church is an invaluable asset to the present location. I ask that those who want to do away with this invaluable asset to please reconsider and let justice prevail. State that you made an honest mistake and let the church members of the Metropolitan church be able to park, worship the Lord and continue to gave invaluable service to the Community. Please do not deny them this honor. Thank you. Your reversal would be greatly appreciated.


Democracy for Elian Gonzalez?
Malcolm Wiseman,

We can't get Congress to spend even a small part of its time to work on democracy for the citizens of Washington DC. Yet, in lightning action they are able to move to “liberate” a Cuban youngster and deprive him of his father and grandparents in the name of freedom and democracy. It disgusts me, their lack of integrity to do for DC citizens what so easily is pandered to others. What is the driving principle with these congressmen, senators, and other officious individuals who insist on imperial intervention by our government? They are bent on the salvation of this boy from his country's system by spiriting him with full and instant US citizenship. Their biggest argument isn't about the imperfections of the blood parents or the quality of life of the Miami relatives, but proclamations of how neat our system of democracy is when compared to the “evil” Castro government.

This would not be a media show if Cuba were a US state. Nor would the circus be in town if Elian had come from Georgia, and his mother had drowned in the Savannah River while fleeing barbarism in Georgia to find richer relatives in South Carolina. Congress would respect Georgia's laws and the rights of its citizens, and all other things being equal, they would insure an instant return of the child. I'm not so confident however, in the chances of a DC father in a similar case recovering his child from Georgia, if past is also prologue. They could treat us the same as they are treating the father in Cuba. The least the US government should do is afford the father and four grandparents the same respect that they would do as if they were protected by some state, if only on moral grounds. At what point does our government's intense anti-Castro sentiment become our own fascism?

If the Congress proceeds foolishly and strips this child of his Cuban nationality and anoints him with US citizenship, then perhaps he should be required to live first in DC for 200 years, proving his worth in purgatory here along with us. After all, what has he done to rate first class treatment over us in the eyes of Congress?



Shopforthehomeless Web Site Announced
Phil Shapiro,

Central Union Mission, a local homeless shelter, and D.C.-based Effinity Online have just launched an e-commerce site called that donates a percentage of its sales to the shelter. The site includes retailers such as Borders, L.L. Bean, and Dell. Central Union Mission provides shelter for homeless, refuge for victims of domestic violence, meals for the needy, as well as other community outreach and support. (News reported in the free E-mail daily Potomac Tech Wire: Bookmark this site for the next time you need to buy a Dell laptop.



Erica Nash,

1990 Ford E150. Great condition. Fully converted: captain swivel chairs, sofa, blinds, large tinted windows. Raised roof, rear air/heat, front and rear speakers, stereo/cassette. Plus Handicap conversion: lowered floor, raised side french doors, automatic lifter, wheelchair tie-down. $9,000 -- best offer. Must sell. Erica, 202-333-0262,


Maryland Shore B&B Gift Certificate
R.A. Bird Anderson,

We are moving from the area and have a $300 gift certificate to The Wild Duck Inn on Tilghman Island (not really an island) just 11 miles from the famed town of St. Michaels, on the Chesapeake Bay. Expires end of March and we are not going to be able to enjoy it. Silly to waste it. Would be glad to pass it on at a 10% discount to any interested takers ($270). The Inn costs $125 per night. Six rooms, “breathtaking water views,” home cooking, etc.


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