Challenged Students, Race, Racism and Woolly Mammoth

Jeff Smith, Thomas Byrd, Kenneth Ward, David Cranford, Iris Toyer, Jocelyn Prince and Simon Earl
Jeff Smith, Thomas Byrd, Kenneth Ward, David Cranford, Iris Toyer, Jocelyn Prince and Simon Earl
The August 8 edition of the Education Town Hall was a full one:
Today’s guests
Race: We need this dialogue
Special Needs: There’s a Reason for IEPs

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is planning “From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin: A Town Hall Meeting on Black Bodies and American Racism,” scheduled for August 23, to help launch a dialogue on this crucial topic. Tickets and details. The Education Town Hall applauds Woolly Mammoth for launching this important dialogue and joins in this effort by focusing in the area of education. Check back as the dialogue evolves throughout August.

There’s a Reason for IEPs

Kenneth Ward, vice principal of Booker T. Washington PCS for Technical Arts in Washington DC, argued against a “cookie cutter approach,” saying: “There’s a reason why students have an Individualized Education Plan. We need to commit to educate them through the IEP and provide the resources that they need. Students that have special needs learn….and they can graduate on time with a diploma.”

“A lot of times when students have disabilities they’re thought ‘less than’ or ‘not able to compete,'” said Simon Earle, principal of Options PCS in DC. When such a label is assigned to a student, he said, it automatically decreases the chance for that student to succeed and graduate on time.

Ward and Earle, along with Dr. David Cranford of Exceptional Education Management Corporation, described ways their charter operations are meeting the needs of some of the District’s most challenged students, providing essential mental health and behavioral supports.

Listen to the August 8 edition
See also partial transcript of first 19 minutes: Unfortunately, We Act Radio experienced technical difficulties during the broadcast; sound quality of the archive recording is not consistent. In particular, some of the contributions of Mr. Ward, are barely audible. Apologies to Mr. Ward and to listeners. Here is a partial transcript, including his remarks.

We Need This Dialogue

Cathy Reilly, of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, said the District needs “a real thoughtful approach to what would equity mean — between races, between different neighborhoods, between different schools, equity of offerings.”

“Concentration on the test scores and ‘the reform movement,’ as we call it, focus on a culture of compliance and more discipline,” Reilly added, calling for a “richer conversation.”

Allyson Criner Brown, of Teaching for Change, said the problem is not just that we’re not talking about race: It’s that we’re talking about race selectively. Focusing on “the achievement gap,” she said, “paints a picture of African American and Latino students not being able to reach level of their white peers.” She suggested moving the conversation to “opportunity gaps.”

Criner Brown also argued that we must “strive for equity so that we can send our children to any school, and they can receive a high quality education.”

Iris Toyer noted that the District of Columbia’s need to re-draw school attendance boundaries “is going to create, in some parts of this community an extreme amount of tension. In wards 7 and 8 — which I can tell you are primarily African American — whether you go to School A or School B won’t matter as much as on the dividing line between Wards 3 and 4.”

In the re-drawing process, Toyer said, race and issues of “who are they trying to include in certain schools and who are they trying to keep out have to be confronted. Reasons why lines are drawn a certain way will have to be defend-able.”

Jocelyn Prince, of Woolly Mammoth Theatre, noted the role of arts and artists “in the struggle against racial oppression.” She said theater “creates communal space…viewing a piece of art helps to sharpen thoughts and emotions…arts and artists are agents of social change and facilitators of dialogue.”

Listen to the full conversation on Track 2 of the August 8 edition. And stay with The Education Town Hall for more on this topic throughout August.


Jocelyn Prince, Connectivity Director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Allyson Criner Brown, Associate Director of Teaching for Change (via phone)

Cathy Reilly, director of Senior High Alliance of Parents Principals and Educators (via phone)

Iris Toyer, long-time education advocate.

Dr. David Cranford, Exceptional Education Management Corporation

Dr. Simon Earle, Administrator, Options PCS

Kenneth Ward, Vice Principal of Booker T. Washington Public Charter School for Technical Arts

(Also in photos: Jeff Smith, Options Public Charter School)



The Education Town Hall is broadcast Thursdays at 11 a.m. (Eastern) on We Act Radio.

Listen on-line at We Act Radio or, in the Dc Metro area, on the AM dial: WPWC 1480 AM

Full recordings are archived for later discussion and sharing.

Join the (live) conversation, 11 a.m. to noon, by calling 202-889-9797.
Post comments here anytime.

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