By Peter Lynch
An attentive crowd of 60 met at the Cleveland Park Library for the Wilson Feeder Education Network meeting on Monday, February 11th. Parents, teachers, educators, stakeholders and at least two students in attendance were eager to listen, comment, and question.
The “W3EdNet” had planned to meet with Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, but when DCPS asked if Acting Chancellor Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee could attend as well, organizers jumped at the chance to hear firsthand from both men.
The meeting ran almost two full hours.
“I thought it was a good meeting,” said Dr. Ferebee, “people are looking for solutions…for more transparency and that’s important.”
During the meeting, participants asked a range of questions directed largely toward Ward 3 school issues. Overcrowding, lack of autonomy, teacher retention, by-right public school and charter school relationships, funding, facility improvements, and accurate data were all addressed.
Dr. Ferebee and Mr. Kihn have been reaching out across the city, ahead of Council confirmation hearings expected in February, both explaining their vision and listening to the concerns of citizens.
“I appreciate the report developed by this working committee and it will not gather dust,” said Kihn referring to a Ward 3 report on overcrowding.
A parent from Deal Middle School explained that classrooms seem to be bursting at the seams and reaching a point of desperation.
Ruth Wattenberg, Ward 3 DC State Board of Education member, echoed this statement later in the evening adding that the overcrowding limits the desired diversity in Ward 3 schools that accept out of bounds students.
Kihn and Ferebee listened and responded amiably through the night, largely avoiding specific policy proposals, but Dr. Ferebee did express interest in alternatives to dealing with space.
“As a principal, I never had enough space,” said Ferebee, once a North Carolina principal. “We have to look at creative options and possibly third party perspectives.”
His work later in Indianapolis, however, as a Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, has come under scrutiny.
“He willingly sold out and privatized schools in Indianapolis,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian and vocal critic of charter schools.
Ferebee and Kihn also expressed interest in exploring alternative pathways to success, stopping short of explaining exactly what that would entail.
Transparency, a focus on early childhood education, wholistic care of students, and engagement with families and the community were outlined as priorities as well.
The Ward 3 Network leaders was unanimous in their appreciation that someone was reaching out and listening; that this was a positive step.
“I am encouraged by both the Chancellor and Deputy Mayor’s interest in increasing capacity in the Wilson High School feeder pattern to relieve student overcrowding,” said Brian Doyle, co-chair of the network, “but the real test will be actions, not words. All of us want every child in the city to have a high-quality by-right school, and we hope that they engage the community as a partner in trying to make that happen.”
Throughout the evening Kihn and Ferebee emphasized their relative fresh tenure on the job and explained their intent to listen.
After an hour Ferebee left for the evening, and when asked how long he would stay in DC replied, “I’ll stay as long as they’ll have me.”