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September 24, 2008

School Solutions

Dear Problem Solvers:

The discussion of how to improve public school education continues in this issue of themail. Can schools be improved only by dictatorial methods that disrespect parents, treat them as hindrances rather than as the senior partners in their childrens’ education, and shut them off from decisions made about schools? Can schools be improved without stereotyping dedicated, longtime career teachers as incompetents and setting out to replace them en masse with younger, inexperienced teachers, who see teaching as a temporary job? Are only new, experimental teaching methods successful, or are there “old-fashioned,” proven methods that work? Can the schools be changed only by treating everyone who worked in the school system before the new chancellor arrived as an enemy, as untrustworthy?

At a meeting of the Federation of Citizens Associations last night, Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, suggested that the single most effective thing to do to improve education in DC was simply to make the schools safe, so that children don’t dread going to them. There have been other ideas about improving our schools in the last two issues of themail and in this issue. Lets not stop there. What ideas do DC school teachers, parents, and students have?

We may have school administrators who don’t hear, and don’t want to hear, any ideas that don’t originate with them. But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop thinking for ourselves, and have to acquiesce in their ill-considered programs.

Gary Imhoff


BOEE Still Mired
Dorothy Brizill,

This morning, the DC Board of Elections and Ethics held a public hearing for the purpose of certifying election results from the September primary, pursuant to DC Code Sec. 1-1001.05(a)(11). The meeting was especially significant since, prior to the hearing, the Board and its staff had refused to explain or respond to inquiries regarding the irregularities that occurred during the primary, including thousands of write-in votes that were initially tabulated and reported at 9:35 p.m. on election night, then miraculously disappeared when the final returns were reported by the Board at midnight. Despite public interest and concern, even by citizens attending today’s hearing, the Board refused to discuss the primary or provide details about the internal investigation and audit that BOEE has underway. Instead, the Board’s interim executive director, Sylvia Goldsberry-Adams, asked the BOEE to postpone certifying the election results until after a hand-tally was done of the votes that had been cast at Precinct 141, a Ward Two precinct whose voting place was at the Reeves Center. This was the precinct where most of the phantom votes had appeared, supposedly as a result of one voting machine’s malfunctioning cartridge. This morning, the Board authorized the hand tabulation to be done at 1:00 p.m., and said it would reconvene at 4:00 p.m., since Goldsberry-Adams assured it that the calculations would “only take a couple of hours.”

When the votes had not been counted by 4:45 p.m., the recount was halted and the Board meeting was reconvened only to give a further extension of time to Goldsberry-Adams. Now the recount will recommence at 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning, and the Board’s certification meeting is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. During the reconvened meeting this afternoon, Goldsberry-Adams tried to mislead the Board and the public by stating that the initial results of the recount of Precinct 141 showed a “match” with the returns reported by the Board on election night in at least ten of the election races. However, Goldsberry-Adams failed to note that the “match” was only among the hand counts of the paper ballots done by three tabulators that afternoon, not between those hand counts and the election-night results reported by the precinct’s touch-screen voting machine and optical scan machine that reads the paper ballots.

At this morning’s meeting of the BOEE Board, I said that bad things happen to good, well-intentioned people — and Boards. It is how those people and Boards respond to these occasions that shows their mettle and worth. Clearly, the BOEE and its staff have failed to respond at all, much less respond adequately, to ongoing public doubts. This raises serious concerns about their ability and readiness to conduct the November general election and future elections.


Christina Culver for Ward 2 Councilmember
Paul Craney,

Today, Christina Culver kicked off her campaign to unseat Councilmember Jack Evans for DC Council (Ward 2). Culver spoke to a gathering of concerned citizens at an “Americans for Tax Reform” meeting and signed a “No New Tax Pledge.” “I am proud to be offering Ward 2 residents an alternative for this November. If elected, I will put in place a plan for better government accountability. I will work to make government more transparent and earn a positive return for your tax dollars. I will end the bloated government that is forcing taxpayers to dig deeper in their pockets. As my first task as a candidate, I wanted to sign a No New Tax Pledge. Now, I challenge Councilmember Jack Evans cosponsor my efforts,” stated Christina Culver.

Christina Erland Culver brings a wealth of political, policy, and nonprofit experience to a growing education practice. She was at the US Department of Education, where she served as Acting Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Intergovernmental and Interagency Affairs, as well as Managing Director of Foundations, External Relations, and Regional Services in the Office of Communication and Outreach. At the Department she oversaw federal relations with state governments and was responsible for external relations with corporate partners, foundations and community organizations on the federal No Child Left Behind law. Prior to that she was Vice President of Public Affairs for Children First America, a national nonprofit organization in support of K-12 scholarship programs for low-income families where she advanced school choice public policy at the state and federal level giving thousands of disadvantaged children better education options.

She worked at the White House in the first Bush Administration for President George H.W. Bush, and the US Department of Education under Secretary Lamar Alexander, where she worked on education reform programs in partnership with major corporate, nonprofit and community partners. A native of Lawrence, Kansas, she got her start working for the Kansas Secretary of State and then for Senator Bob Dole’s presidential race in 1988. Christina also serves on the board of the Kansas based Innovative Learning Systems (ILS) a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that conducts educational research and media-based accelerated learning programs to help individuals with learning disabilities. Christina is a recent graduate of the US Naval War College with a Masters Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. Christina has resided in Ward 2 since September 2001.


David Gaines,

Echoing what Gary Imhoff has already mentioned [themail, September 21], I’m not an expert at education policy or the way the government works, nor do I even have children, but I would like to take a stab at offering some ideas to improve the system that eventually my children will be enrolled in. Speaking with a friend of mine who teaches fifth graders in North Carolina, he mentioned one issue he has always had with his “bosses” is that they never see what goes on in the classrooms but offer a lot of theoretically explanations of why he may be having issues with some of the children. He said he wanted to videotape the class and play it on public television, but was advised against it. The point he was trying to make was not to air the tapes to show how unruly the children can get, but to show how difficult it is for the dedicated and determined children to learn when there are book shortages and two have to share a book, or when he’s teaching geography and doesn’t have a wall-sized map for everyone to use.

One thing I though interesting about the filming of the class was how the parents would respond if they saw their children in a class with an extremely disruptive handful of culprits, how they would respond. Would they blame the teacher, the administration or the parents of the disruptive children. Also, how would the students behave if they knew at 7:00 p.m. each night on the local PBS channel their friends, their parents, their community would see how they were performing and behaving. Also, perhaps the teachers would put a little more oomph in their work knowing their colleagues were watching as well as their peers who think the reason they are having a bad day is because of the class when really, maybe they don’t know the materials, or how best to teach it. And then maybe, the administrators, or dictators as some call them, could work with the teachers to find solutions after seeing first hand what’s going on in the classrooms.

He also mentioned how there are certain things that have to be taught based on these exams that have to be passed for him to be considered competent. So, his “bosses” urge him to cover a lot of information, specifically to prepare for an exam, which forces him to move at a pace which doesn’t always allow him to have enough time to thoroughly any questions the students may have or move so fast to the next subjects that a handful of students can’t keep up and aren’t going to do well, but since the majority get it, it’s OK as long as they pass these state-administered guidelines and test results. Hey, just a thought.


A.M. Jackson,

How do we get beyond the Chancellor’s stunning assessment in the Newsweek article that it is “second nature” for eight-year-old children to trample their stumbled classmates?

There are numerous tried and true methods that were successfully practiced in the old Division II (Black) schools. These efforts assured that my peers and I became both literate and civil. Everything that is new is not necessarily better.

The Joplin Plan, for instance, required no additional staff, just judicious management by the principal. I recall that as a third grader, after testing, we spent part of the day with our reading ability peers, but the remainder of the day with our age/grade groups. No expensive studies, imported, newly minted “experts,” nor demonization/demoralization of teachers were used or needed. We learned to read and did not trample our classmates.


No Recommendations
Malcolm Wiseman, Petworth County, Washington,

As I don’t read into Ms. Labson’s question any of the assumptions that Mr. Imhoff mentions in Solutions [themail, September 21], perhaps from him a response of “I have no recommendations” would have sufficed. Ms. Labson doesn’t say much if anything at all about what Chancellor is doing nor how fast she is doing it.

She seems to allow that Ms. Rhee might be a dictator, and I would agree with her that in such an entrenched dysfunction of more than thirty years, a turnaround leader would probably have to be dictatorial. Fortunately, institutions in a democracy need not be operated democratically.

We in DC should quit wasting energy whining and fussing and fuming about how undemocratically DC government or mayor are treating us. We need to focus all that ire toward the entity that teaches us in the first place what democracy is supposed to be and then arrogantly denies it. Territory/Statehood first, democracy and everything else second.


Such a Wonderful Job
Katherine Pearson-West,

I think I must be missing something. Now tell me why people and the media think that the chancellor and mayor are doing such a wonderful job with the DC schools. Apparently closing lots of schools without a well-thought-out plan and against the wishes of neighborhood citizens and firing employees as more of a public relations stunt than for accountability are reasons to celebrate, and people consider schools a target.

No one listens to regular citizens. Only when the kids of the business community have problems will people wake up. Maybe we have to get used to Puppet Dictatorships and Benevolent Dictators.

Well, griping and venting isn’t going to do the job. It is good that citizens air their concerns so that the rest of us will know what’s happening. At some point, maybe pressure can be applied collectively to return the city to the citizens and have a say in the DC public schools. I’m frustrated with this new “democracy.”


The Schools
Lucy Labson,

I’m flattered that my note prompted a “call for recommendations” on how to improve the DC Public Schools. Always nice to hear what people have to say, and schools generate public opinion. I dare say that if we knocked on a dozen doors in the District to ask what specifically (“specifically” is a key word) is most important in our schools, we’d likely get a dozen different answers, all given with the confidence of a professional educator. Most of us would not say we know best how to pave roads. That’s what makes education different from paving roads. Let’s go through some of your points:

1) You say enrollment in the DC Public Schools is down more than 8 percent since last year, and attribute that decline to Chancellor Rhee’s presence as head of the school system, but you have no facts to back up that this is a cause-and-effect phenomenon. How do you know Ms. Rhee is the reason for the decline? 2) Ms. Rhee does say it will take seven years for her plan to change DC Schools from the below failing grade they had when she came here to results that make us proud of the education our children receive. When we consider the depth of dysfunction and decay the schools had been allowed to sink to before Mayor Fenty took office, seven years is a nanosecond. Any serious, deep change will take time. It’s a thoughtful, pause-to-evaluate, approach to education that works over time, even if a relatively quick fix was her hope when she got here. Don’t forget that this was a “dying patient.” A dying patient doesn’t leap off the sick bed to run a marathon.

3) One of the too-often silent issues here is the strong resistance among many in the schools’ professional staff to encourage anyone who dares to propose accountability, performance evaluation, and the primary importance of basic skills among its own members. Not everyone has been resistant. We have some fine teachers and administrators. But too many so-called leaders have been. One new superintendent after another has come here with high hopes, tried to cooperate and build consensus with staff, only to get worn down and worn out in months to a few years, with little to show for the efforts at cooperation and collaboration. My hunch — when I don’t know something is a fact, I say so — is that Chancellor Rhee tried the same, but with a shorter clock. There would’ve been every reason for her to want to enlist a majority of staff members to join her effort. But she wasn’t going to allow months or years to tick by — waiting to inch forward in a system that needs leaps. Our children’s future is too important to her.

4) By the way, Ms Rhee has talked about confirming whether her program is effective through the use of respected evaluation instruments. Without objective results, she will be the one who gets a grade of “F.” She says that herself. This raises the issue that prompted my previous note: what recommendations do you have to change the school system into one that is worthy of respect? If you have specific ideas, let’s hear them. This is about our children, and they can’t wait.


More on Single Beers
Bryce A. Suderow,

This is a reply to the posting of Jack McKay [themail, September 21]. My observations support his views. Let me give you an example of how the single beer ban does not work along H street in northeast DC. The drinkers used to buy single beers at the corner grocery at 14th and H. Today since the ban prevents this, they simply walk one block from 14th and H to 14th and Maryland to another liquor store. That’s during the six days the liquor store is open.

Today I discovered what beer drinkers along H Street do when that particular liquor store is closed on Sundays. They walk an additional block to a Chinese Carryout near the Pinnacle Apartments that sells beer, wine, and blunts, as well as fast food. I was amused to discover that during the work week the carryout charges $1.50 for a beer, but on Sunday they charge $1.65 because their buyers have nowhere else to go. Seemingly the laws of supply and demand defeat the single beer panacea. As long as a neighborhood wants certain items, someone will supply them.



Art in Extremis, September 25
Greg Finch,

Art in Extremis is a series of conversations around diverse topics with prominent artists, scientists, clinicians and healers. Artists’ dialogues explore both aesthetic and spiritual meanings which, for those who view the work, gives voice to a shared experience. At Thursday’s event, James S. Gordon, MD, founder and director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine and author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression, will give a talk and book signing. We look forward to seeing you there. At the Healing Arts Gallery at Smith Farm Center, 1632 U Street, NW, Thursday, September 25, 5:30-7:30 p.m.; free. For additional details about this event, please call 483-8600.

Dr. Gordon believes that depression is not an end point, a disease over which we have no control. It is a sign that our lives are out of balance, that we’re stuck. It’s a wake-up call and the start of a journey that can help us become whole and happy, one that can change and transform our lives. Unstuck is a practical, easy-to-use guide explaining the seven stages of Dr. Gordon’s approach and the steps we can take to exert control over our own lives and find hope and happiness. Using dramatic and inspiring examples from the patients he has worked with over the years, he explains the practical, mood-healing benefits of: food and nutritional supplements; Chinese medicine; movement, exercise and dance; psychotherapy, meditation and guided imagery; and spiritual practice and prayer.


Call for Justice in The Workplace/Prayer Service, September 26
Candi Peterson,

On Friday, September 26, at 6:30 p.m., please join us for a prayer service for Social Justice In The Workplace. The service will feature Denise Hamilton, a blind teacher of visually impaired students who was wrongly terminated by DCPS. The service will also facilitate a call to action on behalf of all public servants including teachers, aides, and other workers who have been fired unjustly. The service will be held at the Covenant Baptist Church located at 3845 South Capitol Street, SW. Contact 321-9071.


Fun Family Films Under the Stars, September 26-28
John A. Stokes,

The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will hold “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” its 2008 Family Movie Night Season, this summer. “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” which continues until late-September, will afford residents of all ages and families of all sizes the opportunity to enjoy viewing the free, family-oriented films in DPR’s outdoor settings. As in previous years, viewers are invited to bring their own snacks, chairs, and blankets. This year, District residents will have a greater selection of viewing locations. Movies will be shown from 8:45 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Community members who arrive early enough for each screening will have the opportunity to place a vote between two movies that may be shown that evening. The movie that receives the most votes will be shown.

Friday, September 26, Trinidad Recreation Center, 1310 Childress Street, NE
Saturday, September 27, Florida Park, 1st Street and Florida Avenue, NW
Sunday, September 28, Carver/ Langston Terrace, 21st and Maryland Avenue, NE


Cleveland Park Library Book Sale, September 27-28
Jill Bogard, Jill_Bogard at

The Friends of the Cleveland Park Library invite you to its Annual Fall Book Sale on Saturday and Sunday, September 27-28, from noon to 4:00 p.m. both days. Choose from thousands of books in all subjects, including brand-new review copies and beautiful art books. You can even take home some books for free (battered, but still readable). Yes, we also have kids’ books, videos, CDs, DVDs, and vinyl records. Proceeds benefit the Cleveland Park Library. Take Metro Red Line to Cleveland Park and walk one long block south to 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW, at Macomb Street. Questions? Call Nathalie Black at 362-3599.


Historical Society of Washington Events, September 27-28
Ed Bruske,

Saturday, September 27, 1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Urban Gardening: Beautiful Lawns Grown Organically, Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. Paul Tukey is on a mission to reduce pesticide usage across the country, one lawn, and garden at a time. During his talk at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, in collaboration with DC Urban Gardeners, Paul will present alternative solutions to chemically dependent lawns. “Americans are spreading millions of tons of toxic materials on their lawns, all in the name of having a beautiful lawn. Our mission is to show people that you can have that nice lawn without the toxic and wasteful side effects,” says, Tukey. Tukey is a former professional landscaper who switched from synthetic to organic methods after becoming ill. Paul continues, “A report by the National Academy of Sciences shows that the health of one in seven people is negatively impacted in some form by lawn pesticides. We want to do something about that.” Popular host of his own HGTV program, Paul is also the publisher of People, Places & Plants magazine, the author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual and the founder of the not-for-profit organization, or 383-1828.

Saturday, September 27, 2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Create a Negro Baseball League card at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. Baseball lovers will not want to miss this home run event! To begin, participants will take a guided tour of the Negro Baseball League Exhibitions. Following the tour, visual artist, Camilla Younger will show participants how to create a personal baseball card. After reading some of the biographies of the various players, each participant will choose a player to make a baseball card of. It’s easy. Each card includes a brief biography and image of the player. Don’t forget to include the player’s statistics on the backside. (A program collaboration of the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum and The Historical Society of Washington, DC.) For the entire family. or 383-1828.

Sunday, September 28, 2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. HSW author series: an anecdotal look at Washington, DC, history, Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. Author Anthony Pitch will deliver a lecture entitled, “an anecdotal look at Washington, DC, history.” Mr. Pitch will be showing maps and telling tales of what might have been and what was actually accomplished in terms of DC’s architectural sites and proposed layout. The Washington Post says of Pitch, “You’ll follow him dreamily, mesmerized by his tales.” or 383-1828.


DC Public Library Events, September 28-29
George Williams,

Sunday, September 28, 2:00 p.m., Juanita E. Thornton/Shepherd Park Neighborhood Library, 7420 Georgia Avenue, NW. Sunday Afternoon Jazz.

Monday, September 29, 7:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, Social Sciences Division, Room 221. All the World’s a Stage Book Club. Different countries, times and lives. Each book is an adventure. Discuss the book Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.


Michelle Rhee at the Q&A Cafe, September 29
David Dragnich, david.dragnich at thewinslowgroup dot com

From today’s Georgetown Current, I notice that the DC Public Schools Chancellor will be featured at the Q&A Cafe (Nathan’s in Georgetown) at 12:30 p.m. next Monday. The notice doesn’t provide anything regarding what Ms. Rhee will talk about, but it does clearly state that reservations are required along with a $35.00 fee.

Or from the same source, I can go the Washington National Cathedral that evening for a Discussion led by Garrison Keillor on his latest tale from Lake Wobegon for a cost of $16.00. Let me see now, do I go see a public servant being handsomely paid from the DC coffers talk about who knows what, or spend half as much to see a national treasure entertain me? Hmmm? And how does Ms. Rhee get away with going out on company time for such an event? And who has time or money to pay for something and someone who is already being paid by the DC tax base during the middle of a business day?


History of Syphilis in America, October 2
Beth Meyer,

John Parascandola will discuss his new book, Sex, Sin, and Science: A History of Syphilis in America, Thursday, October 2, 7:30 p.m. Did syphilis travel from the New World to Europe on Columbus’ ships? What remedies did Lewis and Clark use to treat the disease on their expedition? What impact did the introduction of penicillin have on the spread of venereal disease? These are some of the many questions explored in a new book just released by Praeger Publishing entitled Sex, Sin, and Science: A History of Syphilis in America by noted medical historian John Parascandola of Rockville, MD. Dr. Parascandola will discuss his book, emphasizing in his remarks how and why the brunt of the blame for the transmission of syphilis was unfairly placed on women over the centuries. For example, he will discuss the forced quarantine of women with venereal disease in America during both world wars.

John Parascandola received his Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1968. During his career, he has served on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as Chief of the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine, and as Public Health Service Historian. He has received numerous awards and professional honors, and is the author of the award-winning book The Development of American Pharmacology: John J. Abel and the Shaping of a Discipline (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992). He currently works as an historical consultant and is an adjunct lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Maryland College Park.


October Is Focus on Fundraising for the Arts Month
Patricia Pasqual,

Throughout October the Foundation Center will offer special events, classes, and web resources aimed at helping artists and nonprofit arts organizations become better grant seekers and increase their funding. Network with fellow artists and colleagues, discover fundraising strategies, and gain insight into what’s happening in the local arts funding community. Visit our calendar at to learn more and register for October programs. 331-1400. Arts month is cosponsored by the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington.


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