We interviewed candidates in the April 1 primary and recorded the conversations on video. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting excerpts here about their views on education. Here are the discussions with DC Council candidates for Ward 1. See all of the segments here.
Incumbent Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and challenger Brianne Nadeau both stress the importance of improving neighborhood schools. But Graham points to the progress that’s been made during his 16 years on the Council, while Nadeau has a list of innovations she’d like to see to make schools work better for both at-risk and higher-achieving students.
With only about 51% of DCPS students scoring proficient on standardized tests, Graham acknowledged that he’s “as impatient as everybody else” about the pace of improvement over the last several years. But, he said, “We’re getting there.”
“I think we have an education strategy in terms of substance which is producing a lot of progress,” he said. “Maybe it’s not the best approach in every regard, but I think we’re getting better schools.”
He pointed to the renovation at Cardozo High School and other schools in the ward. “It’s not just about buildings,” he said, citing changes in staff and curriculum as well. But he characterized the old Cardozo as “a depressing place” and said that the newly refurbished building “affects the whole psychology of learning in that school” and is “a huge step forward.”
He also mentioned progress at other Ward 1 schools, including Harriet Tubman, Garrison, and Bruce-Monroe elementary schools. And he cautioned against closing under-enrolled schools, predicting that they’ll attract more students as they improve.
Graham called for re-establishing Adams Elementary School, now part of Oyster-Adams Bilingual Education Campus, as a neighborhood school, and said that a new middle school may be needed in Ward 3 to relieve overcrowding at Deal.
Graham didn’t mention any specific policy ideas that would speed the pace of improvement in DC schools. Nadeau, on the other hand, suggested quite a few.
Nadeau, who has served as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Ward 1, called for increasing community engagement with schools and introducing “wrap-around services” for at-risk children, a term she defines on her website as including “healthcare, counseling, food pantries, [and] after school jobs for older children.”
She said at-risk children would benefit from an extended school day and summer school, with “one-on-one mentoring time” possibly provided by community members and nonprofit organizations.
But, she said, “we also need to ensure that we’re not forgetting about our higher achievers.” Teachers can use technology, she said, to individualize instruction and ensure that each child in a classroom is learning at his own level.
Both Graham and Nadeau noted that Ward 1 has a highly diverse population. But its schools are largely minority and low-income, particularly at higher grade levels.
Nadeau said that based on what she’s been hearing from parents, the key to attracting higher-income families to Ward 1 middle and high schools is ensuring “a rigorous academic course-load for their kids.” So, she said, “at the same time that I talk a lot about providing wrap-around service to at-risk kids, we also need to ensure that we’re offering AP, IB [International Baccalaureate], and honors courses.”
Neither Nadeau nor Graham embraced the idea of encouraging diversity through legislation or a controlled choice assignment system. Nadeau said she thought the latter idea was “not proven,” and that the focus should be on strengthening neighborhood schools.
Asked whether DC should encourage the expansion of high-performing charter school networks, which have a better track record of success with high-poverty students than DCPS, Nadeau said that the goal should instead be to replicate “what’s working in those schools” within DCPS.
“What we need is to ensure that we have a good matter-of right education system,” she said, “so that kids don’t have to trust a lottery to get into those schools.”
To view the interview segments in their entirety, click on the videos below. Graham’s runs about 8 minutes and Nadeau’s about 11 minutes.
We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood. Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.