Viewpoint: D.C. Public Schools is promoting excellence through equity

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Antwan Wilson became the D.C. schools chancellor in 2017. (Brian Kapur/The Current/January 2017)
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By Antwan Wilson

In D.C. Public Schools, we have designed an exemplary model for what excellence can and should be — accelerating academic achievement by raising the bar on curriculum and standards, investing in the growth of high-quality educators, improving student satisfaction, and deepening our partnerships with families and the community.

When I see excellence in D.C. Public Schools, I see students at Banneker High School, leading the city in English language arts mastery on state assessments. I see student musicians singing, dancing and playing instruments at Eastern High. I see educators at Whittier Education Campus improving outcomes for special education students. I see families at Bruce-Monroe Elementary and Truesdell Education Campus feeling welcomed and valued the moment they walk into the school.

We are striving to become a district of both excellence and equity, a place where we eliminate opportunity gaps based on students’ backgrounds and where we work together to systematically interrupt institutional bias. In order to reach excellence in educating our students, we must uplift equity to ensure all schools are positioned to meet the unique needs of our diverse student body.

When equity is at the heart of each decision we make, every DCPS student receives rigorous, joyful learning experiences; every school has the appropriate resources to provide every student with what they need to thrive; and every day serves as an opportunity for our talented educators to inspire the next generation of leaders.

This is why Mayor Muriel Bowser and I are making a strong commitment to close the achievement gap in our district by launching the “Excellence through Equity” (EtE) funding with a $2.6 million initial investment for our 115 public schools to focus on literacy, math, attendance and social emotional learning.

In our mission to ensure all schools guarantee students reach their full potential, we are committed to putting new resources we receive where they are needed most. Schools received funding — from $95,000 at Columbia Heights Education Campus to $1,200 at Lafayette Elementary School — based on the number and concentration of students who are furthest behind on readiness for college and career, determined by the 2017 PARCC assessment.

As we create more transparency in our budget process at D.C. Public Schools, I want to be clear that equity includes providing more support for students who need it most while ensuring all students receive a high-quality education that prepares them to reach their full potential.

We understand how unique schools are and how there must be some opportunity within schools to make decisions that ensure all students grow. The common thread across our district is that we should have excellent opportunities for all students. The real transformation will happen at the school level when school leaders are empowered to expand on the great things we’re doing for all district schools while also exploring unique school-decided solutions needed to support every child.

Our vision, as outlined in “A Capital Commitment,” our new five-year strategic plan launched last month, is for every student to feel loved, challenged and prepared to positively influence society and thrive in life. Our young people can be successful no matter which neighborhood they live in or what school they attend, and it is our mission for every school to provide them with direct support tailored to their unique needs.

When I see equity in D.C. Public Schools, I see kids at Langdon Elementary excelling in small group instruction opportunities offered through after-school tutoring and Saturday school. I see students at Cardozo Education Campus participating in new elective courses that support their college preparation. I see Eliot-Hine Middle School students experiencing hands-on learning and curriculum-aligned field trips through the “The City as Our Classroom.”

We are trying to do something that has never been done before in our endeavor to close the achievement gap. This work is complex, but Excellence through Equity funding gets to the heart of what will continue the transformation of our schools: providing more resources to the students who need them most, while also empowering schools to be greater agents of innovation and improvement.

Antwan Wilson is chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools.