Ward 3 Board of Education candidates prioritize achievement gap

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Dora Currea (left). Photo courtesy of Currea's Twitter page. Ruth Wattenberg (right). Photo courtesy of Earl Dotter.
Dora Currea (left). Photo courtesy of Currea's Twitter page. Ruth Wattenberg (right). Photo courtesy of Earl Dotter.

By: Amanda Menas

Dora Currea, an immigrant from South America and former international development professional, is running against incumbent Ruth Wattenberg for the Board of Education seat in Ward 3.

While the two candidates agree on most issues when advocating for students across the district, they have different opinions when it comes to the importance of audits and the school report cards.

Both candidates highlighted the achievement gap in D.C. as a top priority. The main issue facing Ward 3 schools, as Wattenberg highlighted in a memo to the new D.C. Public School (DCPS) Chancellor, is school overcrowding. For Wattenberg, one solution would be to instate early childhood centers as a way to increase opportunities for pre-K classrooms and ease the burden on elementary schools.

Currea, on the other hand, is a proponent of the Master Facilities Plan. With the addition of up to 18,000 new students in the coming years, Currea says it’s about the “long term vision.”

While Wattenberg spent a 30-year career as an education advocate, Currea was working internationally in developing countries before transitioning fully to the education sector as a Teach for America teacher. She says the importance of working at Title 1 schools as a Spanish teacher and volunteering at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus was “an issue of being proud of who you are.” Currea went on to say that when students come to the U.S., “they feel they have to lose themselves.”

So, teaching them Spanish and subsequently running for the seat on the board is both “providing a base for them so they could absorb English,” and is “wonderful if people who are Hispanic see me and say it’s okay to be an immigrant.”

Wattenberg has a longer history with DCPS. “I know these schools, I know the city school system,” she said. She is running for a second term because she believes “we’re getting some real traction on a set of issues.” She said 2017 was the first year during her time on the board that Wilson High School’s budget wasn’t cut. 

Another point of advocacy Wattenberg is working on includes teacher turnover in Ward 3 and across the city, especially in “high-poverty schools.” Approximately one-third of all teachers leave every year with up to 80 percent leaving in five years – higher than in all other urban cities across the country.

Both candidates are also interested in advocating for all D.C. students. Currea uses her knowledge of working in international communities to focus on creating a “united” front across the District. Wattenberg’s experience on the board, specifically working with her Ward 8 counterpart, led her to say this: “To get things done for the kids in the city, you’ve got to work together.”

In regard to scandals in DCPS over recent years, the two candidates varied the most in their positions. Wattenberg’s experience showed the importance of working with a city auditor to monitor principals and the pressure they feel, saying the board came together to “address the culture of passing kids.” Currea alternatively says that principals with a positive track record, especially in the Ward 3 area, should be given more leeway.

Overall, both mentioned necessary steps they would take in the education sector, saying multi-step solutions should be prioritized over a single plan.