New chancellor seeks input on goals for schools

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Antwan Wilson became the D.C. schools chancellor in 2017. (Brian Kapur/The Current/January 2017)
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Nearly two months into the job, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson has begun preparations for the school system’s new five-year strategic plan, including hosting community meetings to solicit parent and teacher feedback.

At a Ward 4 meeting last Thursday, Wilson said D.C. Public Schools is on target to meet some of the major goals in its most recent strategic plan: raising four-year high school graduation rates to 75 percent citywide and increasing reading and math scores by this school year. The school system’s current strategic plan was developed in 2011 and expires at the end of the school year.

In general, Wilson said his values include expanding social services in schools, boosting school culture and leading a “student-centered” focus in classrooms. He also said he wants to grow high schools’ travel abroad programs, increase music and art offerings, and provide more opportunities for paid internships.

“Schools should be both joyful and rigorous,” Wilson said. “I want students to complain about how hard it is.”

In preparing the new plan, Wilson will have to contend with potential cuts to federal grants proposed under the administration of President Donald Trump. This fiscal year, D.C. Public Schools received $21 million in federal funds for programs, including Head Start and the Teacher Investment Fund. The school system receives an additional $27 million for school meals and $62 million of federal money redirected from other D.C. agencies.

Under Trump’s budget proposal, $1.2 billion would be cut nationwide from a program that funds after-school programs. “Any move to cut after-school programming is a move against building the success of this country,” Wilson said in an interview.

During Thursday’s meeting at the recently modernized Roosevelt High School in Petworth, teachers and parents pressed Wilson on a contract dispute over teacher salaries that has stretched for more than two years between the school system and the Washington Teachers Union.

During a Q&A, Wilson said the union and schools system have disagreements, but he wants to focus “on the 95 percent of things we agree on.” After the meeting, he told The Current that it is “urgent for us” to reach accord on a new contract, and that he hoped to have one by the end of the year.

“It’s a negotiation. What we do needs to demonstrate our respect and value for our educators and be fiscally responsible and ensure that we are also taking care of the needs we have across the city,” he said.

Wilson said schools ought to provide “excellent experiences and student services” regardless of a student’s background. Achievement gaps are wide between the District’s white and black students. In last year’s standardized testing, 74 percent of white students met or exceeded expectations in English, compared with 15 percent of black students and 23 percent of Hispanic students, according to results released last fall.

Parents and instructors at the Ward 4 meeting suggested the city expand dual-language programs and upgrade aging technology. One parent asked for closer collaboration between schools and communities.

Wilson agreed that more partnerships would benefit students in the time they spend outside classrooms. “If we’re going to educate every child, we can’t do it ourselves,” he said.

Wilson will meet with the Ward 3 community on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Deal Middle School, 3815 Fort Drive NW. Sessions in wards 1 and 2 are set for April 13 and April 24, respectively. In addition to attending neighborhood meetings, community members can submit comments to engagedcps.org.