Our show on Thursday June 13 featured experienced local advocates talking about DC’s public schools and advocacy for them. In studio were Eboni-Rose Thompson, chair of the Ward 7 Education Council; Ward 8 activist Ronald Thompson Jr.; and Mysiki Valentine, advocate with DC’s Fair Budget Coalition. Joining them on the phone was Daniel del Pielago, organizing director of Empower DC. (More on the participants below.)
At the top of the hour, an update from Tiffany Aziz, parent at Walker Jones Elementary School: Aziz was on the show in 2018 to document the fight that the school and community were engaged in, to ensure Pepco didn’t take over their garden with a substation. Despite losing that battle, Aziz recognized the power of community and started a civic association to ensure the community’s voice would be better heard going forward. (See below for association details.)
In the face of DC schools recently facing budget cuts, administrative failures, and even shootings, parents, teachers, students, and community members have mobilized to demand change.
But how effective such mobilizing is often depends on a number of factors. As del Pielago noted, people in power can hide the truth, such that just articulating what is wrong and possible solutions can be a formidable hurdle. Lack of information as well as underlying conditions, such an inability to get to hearings or important meetings, often prohibit effective advocacy.
Suggestions included encouraging students to speak out—and parents asking them what they do not have in their schools—as well as pushing to get budgets for schools out earlier. The key to success, advocates agreed, is The fact that budgets for DC schools are often late also impedes effective advocacy, so that focusing on the long haul is key to effective advocacy—not just the fight for the moment.
Of ways that education advocates can change those current realities, suggestions were floated for ensuing that the council is somewhat divested of its budget authority by sharing that with the state board of education; revisiting the legislation to give the mayor control of schools; and even rethinking mayoral control altogether, as it doesn’t permit advocacy to take place easily or naturally. In addition, advocates urged the council to get out in communities more often and not to say that those who “scream the loudest get the most” because it’s not only untrue, but also a deflection of city leaders from real responsibility.
For these advocates, social media is a tremendous help in getting the word out to disparate communities, but much work remains to be done. As several advocates noted, DC residents have been conditioned to fight one another for budgets or resources. Thus, working with others cohesively, even if needs or desires are slightly different, is key to ensuring our schools are resourced equitably and families are involved.
The advocates recommended always pushing for transparency, trust, equity and accountability in school governance, to ensure more voices are heard.
–Valerie Jablow, reporting
The Education Town Hall with Thomas Byrd
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Advocates on June 13 Show
Tiffany Aziz is with NoMa/H Street Civic Association. They meet every 2nd Tuesday of the month, at 7 pm (but not in August). Email: nomacivic at gmail (dot) com; Twitter: @NoMaCivic; Facebook: @NoMa Civic Association.
Daniel del Pielago is organizing director of Empower DC, a local grass roots advocacy agency. Mr. del Pielago has spent the last 15 years in DC organizing around gentrification issues as well as strengthening housing and education in DC. He also helped with the 2013 lawsuit that Empower brought against DCPS closures that year.
Eboni-Rose Thompson is the chair of the Ward 7 Education Council and director of strategic initiatives and partnerships at America’s Promise, a national organization that brings together communities and groups to help the lives of children and young adults. A native Washingtonian and a graduate of SEED public charter school and the University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Thompson has worked for DCPS to strengthen parent, family, and community engagement and has served as an ANC commissioner.
Third-generation Ward 8 resident and native Washingtonian, Ronald Thompson Jr. is a Ward 8 activist, focusing on public education and issues of equity. A 2016 graduate of Dunbar high school, Mr. Thompson will be continuing his college studies in political science this fall.
Mysiki Valentine is an advocate with DC’s Fair Budget Coalition, which brings together local organizations to fight poverty through budget advocacy. A native Washingtonian, Mr. Valentine has worked with local communities to advocate for education, transit, economic, and racial equity and has helped to create inclusive spaces for black LGTBQA+ communities.