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December 21, 2008

Year-End Wrap-Ups

Dear Year-Enders:

How would you summarize 2008 in the District of Columbia? There are going to be only three more issues of themail in 2008, and issues around Christmas and New Years are always short, so you’ll have plenty of room to let your fellow correspondents know what you think were the highlights and low-lights on your block, in your neighborhood, and in the city as a whole. What was most notable, and what happened that will make the most difference to us in the future?

Gary Imhoff


Historic District Designation
Jack McKay,

Councilmembers Cheh and Bowser introduced a bill last summer (B17-0911) that would prevent a neighborhood being designated a historic district if a majority of the affected property owners objected. You might think that this would be a no-brainer in a democracy, but historic preservationists in large numbers denounced the Cheh-Bowser bill at a council hearing on November 21. They argued that historic preservation is a good thing for the public at large, and therefore ought to be imposed on any neighborhood they consider “historic,” no matter if the homeowners object. As one prominent preservationist said, historic district designation should be based only on “merit,” not on “popular opinion.”

Rather a lot of homeowners are objecting lately. First Brookland, then Chevy Chase, and most recently Lanier Heights have fought back successfully against efforts to declare their neighborhoods historic districts. Advocates ought to worry that historic preservation has earned such unpopularity, perhaps because of the District’s harsh preservation law. It doesn’t matter how much it costs a homeowner to meet historic preservation demands; if you can’t handle the steep costs, the bureaucrats say, then sell your home and move out.

The Cheh-Bowser bill aside, proposed Historic Preservation Office regulations would “make explicit the [Historic Preservation Review] Board’s expectation of broad community support for proposed historic districts.” Evidently this “expectation” did not exist in 1986, when Mount Pleasant was declared a historic district, even as an HPRB board member noted that “the community itself was split over the decision.” But forget reversing that decision, despite its flawed origin; once a neighborhood goes historic, there’s no provision for reconsideration, no “sunset” on the designation. That’s all the more reason that there should be “broad community support,” confirmed by a fair poll of the affected homeowners, before any historic district designation.


Students Must Learn to Touch Type
Phil Shapiro,

I was volunteering some time recently helping a ninth grade student from Eritrea. He has a nice computer at home and a fast connection to the Internet. For his history homework, he writes out his homework longhand and then types it ever so slowly into his computer. I told him in a friendly way he needs to learn to type, pronto. He tells me he’s learning typing at school and that his teacher tells him he is “doing very well.” Hearing that kind of feedback might lead him to believe that he doesn’t need to practice touch typing at home. What his school hasn’t given him is any goal or deadline for typing proficiency.

We must require all students entering high school to be typing at thirty words per minute. Appropriate accommodation should be made for students with impairments. There are free web site and free software programs for learning to type. Without typing skills, our students fall further and further behind. Naturally, any new kid moving to town who has no computer experience in his or her previous school should be given ninety days to get up to speed. Without these expectations in place, we can expect failure.


Ninety-Day Termination Plan for DC Teachers
Candi Peterson,

Whether our eyes are wide open or shut, there can be no escape from Rhee’s ninety-day termination plan for DC teachers. I guess the reason that I am concerned about what is happening is because I know that DC Public Schools has always been a retaliatory system lacking in checks and balances. Early on in my public school career, I was riffed unfairly by a vindictive administrator despite having above average ratings. That experience gave me pause and made me suspect of a public school system that allowed many administrators and principals to go unchecked and regularly wreck havoc on programs, employees, and students, all the while refusing to follow rules, just because they were in charge. Don’t get me wrong — I am not saying that some teachers aren’t ineffective. However, as former superintendent John Deasey of PG County Public Schools stated in a recent meeting, it is the role of administrators and superintendents to give their employees all of the tools they need to be successful before considering termination.

Let me tell you about my story of a former vindictive DCPS administrator named Dr. Margaret Labat. She was cantankerous, for lack of a more appropriate adjective to describe her demeanor. My colleagues and I had good reasons to detest her disrespectful attitude, and unethical and vindictive practices which ultimately impacted our students. In the mid-nineties, Councilwoman Kathy Patterson introduced legislation in which DC employees could be riffed with seniority only being considered one of many factors in a reduction in force. Of course, I did not have a lot of experience at that time. However, what I did have going for me was never taken into consideration by Dr. Labat, as was required by law. Employees could earn up to a maximum of 25 points and competed in a class of employees. Obviously employees who had the lowest rankings were riffed. After having worked three years for Dr. Labat, she refused to convert all of our teachers and counseling staff from probationary status to permanent status. Her rationale was that nobody told her what to do. Prior to being riffed, I had appealed to the Washington Teachers’ Union to represent me in getting my permanent status. I was the only employee on Dr. Labat’s staff to win my permanent status after a long protracted battle. When the RIF was announced, Dr. Labat called me into her office and said that nobody goes to the union on her, and for doing it I you will pay. And that I did. Labat gave me a big fat zero on my competitive ranking form. The DC Office of Human Resources stated that it was impossible to earn zero points; after all, you get points for years of experience, for having a bachelors degree, for a master’s degree, for performance appraisals, and even more points for above average ratings, all of which I had. Needless to say, Dr. Labat refused to change my zero rating. I was riffed the beginning of the summer.

My experience is not unique; more importantly it is germane to what is happening today to teachers who are being placed on ninety-day termination plans. DC teachers are not at-will employees, and can be fired only for “just cause” by law. The newly PPEP evaluation process created by Rhee’s administration has aborted teachers’ due process rights. Based on one structured observation by an administrator, without regard to other performance factors, a teacher can be placed on a ninety-day termination plan. With only the recommendation of a principal and an instructional superintendent, DCPS can decide to terminate a teacher within ninety days or wait until the end of the school year. I have posted on The Washington Teacher’s blog a story in which a veteran teacher who had an exceeds rating for the last five years was targeted by a new principal who wasn’t even aware of her stellar performance. There is another story of a veteran teacher of eighteen years who has the highest test scores in his building. He was targeted for a ninety-day termination plan after speaking to Chancellor Rhee about the lack of Internet accessibility in his northwest school. It has been reported that the principal of Ron Brown threatened to place all of his teachers on a ninety-day termination plan. The Malcolm X principal allegedly placed six veteran teachers on a ninety-day termination plan after the December deadline.

It isn’t just coincidence that many of the teachers who are being targeted for ninety-day termination plans are over forty years old, veteran teachers, and members of a minority group, although, of course, there are younger teachers being targeted as well.


Bad News Can Be Good News
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

With a tanking economy, many folks are finding themselves out of work. Time to make lemonade. This might just be the time for many qualified folks to switch careers. With Chancellor Rhee proposing to dramatically raise teachers’ salaries, that proposal might just attract the kinds of teachers needed if the public school system in the District will survive. Data clearly show that the numbers of students in charter schools will outnumber those in the public schools in the next couple of years. The Teachers’ Union has opted not to vote on Chancellor Rhee’s proposal to raise teachers’ salaries in exchange for giving up tenure. That means it’s time to weed out the poor teachers and replace them with those folks willing to move into a new, high paying career with a nonunion salary scale. One of the things Chancellor Rhee can do is to establish a fast-track certification program for those willing to make the leap into teaching.


Helping Teachers
Karen Loeschner,

Candi Peterson writes [in themail] on December 14, “There is still a lack of helping teachers from the central office and appropriate professional development; local school resources are wholly inadequate and come too little, too late, or never at all.” Really? Then the several dozen in-house professional developers hired by DCPS and assigned to schools are there to do what, exactly? We’ve been in place since August and are part of an extensive instructional support plan with the goal of each school having two full-time professional developers (one literacy and one math). We’ve had a myriad of reactions to our presence in our schools, from open arms to verbal abuse and everything in between. We are experienced teachers who serve as mentors, instructional coaches, resources, data analysts, co-teachers, facilitators, collaborators — just about any supportive role you can think of, which varies with each teacher’s and school’s needs. So it’s all well and good to cry that DCPS doesn’t support teachers, but my presence, and that of my numerous colleagues, indicates Peterson’s and Saunders’ statements are simply not true, and also that Weingarten’s suggestion was late in the making. So, please find another excuse.


Major Loss to the Community
Hazel Thomas,

I’m sure that many of you know by now that Paul Washington passed on Friday night. We have truly lost a giant in the Ward 5 and the larger Washington community. We will miss his outstanding contributions to the causes of public school education, public safely, and Democratic politics, and also miss him in so many other ways. Our sincere prayers are extended to his daughters and other family members. We have truly lost the “Mayor of Ward 5.”


Les Halles
Jeff Coudriet,

Les Halles might be coming back . . . stay tuned!



Passport to the World New Year’s Eve Gala, December 31
Michael Karlan,

On December 31, from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., join Professionals in the City at its Passport to the World New Year’s Eve Gala at the Hilton Washington in Dupont Circle. This five-hour gala includes an open bar, sumptuous buffet, nine themed party areas each representing a different city, live entertainment, and more. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit, E-mail, or call 686-5990.


Arts Eve DC, December 31
Dwight Ramsay,

On Wednesday, December 31, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities proudly presents Arts Eve DC, an international family experience. The Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, will host the occasion featuring roaming talent and stations offering activities based on New Year’s Eve customs from around the world. Experience continuous interactive performances incorporating artistic and cultural customs from Ethiopia, Italy, Mexico, and Korea, as well as the United States. From 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m., activities include storytelling, hands-on arts and craft activities, and engaging family-friendly internationally themed films. The event is for the entire family and is presented free-of-charge.


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