Guest blog: Teaching for Change, June 7, 2014

Teaching for Change fully supports Orr Elementary (DCPS) parents who demand a new principal after months of raising concerns through formal and informal channels. Despite their efforts to advocate on behalf of the whole school, DCPS is actively discouraging parent engagement at a school serving predominantly black and low-income families.

Since Teaching for Change’s Tellin’ Stories parent engagement project began partnering with Orr Elementary in 2010, we’ve seen parent involvement at the school grow exponentially. The parent center buzzes with activity and parents regularly read in classes, volunteer throughout the school, and participate in weekly workshops. See other examples of our work with Orr: “Welcoming Parents,” “Community Walks,” and “Turning the Tables.”

This year, a particular focus of our work with parents has been advocating for the long overdue modernization of Orr’s building, situated east of the Anacostia River in Ward 8, which has been sidetracked for the last eight years.

petition Orr webThere is an impressive community at the school among the parents, staff, and collaborators that looks out for the well-being of the children. Therefore, it is not surprising to us that when the new principal took actions that the parents determined were detrimental to the teaching and learning environment, they took it upon themselves to address their concerns — following the proper channels and mobilizing to take action. Instead of listening, DCPS has actively worked to silence and discredit the voices of Orr parents.

Why are parents concerned about Orr’s principal? The issues they have raised to DCPS and city officials include cuts to music instruction, limited field trips, disrespectful comments made about families on social media, and a special education room moved to a vaulted storage closet. Not only have the supports for teachers been reduced, parents have also heard the principal speak negatively about Orr’s teachers as a group. Parents believe the principal’s actions have directly impacted the climate and student development, evidence of which includes a spike in student behavioral issues and infractions across grade levels in comparison to previous years.

Orr’s parents are speaking up and taking action about decisions they see impacting not just their own children, but all students at the school. DCPS needs to take seriously the concerns of parents and the community rather than further marginalizing them from this public institution.

Read the full statement and our account of what’s happened at Orr ES.

Editor’s note: See also “May Day at Orr Elementary” on this website and the Capital Community News story. Photo is from Teaching for Change collection, taken at “May Day” protest.