Among all the people that testified at a DC Council hearing on whether or not to confirm Mayor Bowser’s choice for DCPS Chancellor, The Washington Post chose to quote Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis.
The complete text of President Davis’ testimony is below.
Testimony of Elizabeth Davis, President, Washington Teachers’ Union, at Community Round table on Lewis Ferebee, DCPS Chancellor Candidate
Good evening Council members and guests. I’m Elizabeth Davis, a career DC public school educator of over 40 years, a Ward 5 resident and President of the Washington Teachers’ Union representing over 5,000 active and retired DC public school educators.
Washington, D.C., parents and students and the greater community are on the cusp of a fifth District of Columbia Public Schools chancellor in a dozen years, or a change at the top an average of every two and a half years. This kind of endless turnover has undermined confidence and stability in our school system and has been just as disruptive as the unrelenting teacher churn we’re experiencing, largely, it can be suggested, because of leadership issues. Mayor Muriel Bower’s selection of Indianapolis Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and his upcoming confirmation hearings present a fresh opportunity to decide if he is the right person to bring steady, smart leadership to our school system.
DCPS has endured roiling fights over the controversial teacher evaluation system that is test score-driven and punitive rather than helpful to teachers and students. We have suffered through scandals involving pressures to make student scores and attendance look better than reality. We have been through fights over privatization. DC public school students, teachers and parents deserves much, much better.
The Washington Teachers’ Union, education councils from various wards and various community organizations have shared with the Council and Mayor Bowser the qualities and skills we want to see in our next school district leader. It was quite clear that all parties agree that we need a chancellor who understands what ALL students need to get ahead and that our teachers need the respect, trust and resources they require to want to effectively teach in DCPS. We need to have a chancellor who will listen to, and partner with, the front-line educators, parents and the greater community.
The task for the public and the D.C. City Council over the next few days must be to scrutinize what has worked and what mistakes have been made over the past 12 years, carefully vet Dr. Ferebee’s background and educational philosophy and decide objectively if he is the right fit for what we need to steer our school system in the right direction for the benefit of all DCPS students and educators. It’s important to remember that our students learning conditions can never surpass our teachers’ working conditions. To believe otherwise would only serve to continue to fuel what has become one of, if not the highest teacher turnover rate in the nation.
Generally speaking, Mayor Bowser has chosen someone with a similar educational ideology as former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Dr. Ferebee appears to be a big believer in charter schools, private management of public schools, the portfolio school model and school choice. In Indianapolis, he allowed charter operators to convert 20 low-performing schools into “innovation” schools, where the charter teachers were no longer union members— somehow thinking that was the problem. While Dr. Ferebee has said his aim is not to replicate this plan in the District, this needs to be carefully scrutinized by members of this council. Do we want more privatization and the dismantling of workers’ rights in DC or do we want to give our low-performing schools the resources and tools that teachers and students need to improve? Do we want to continue replacing our neighborhood schools with charters or do we want to make them schools where teachers want to teach, parents want to send their children, and students want to learn?
This leads to my next point, I’m concerned that Dr. Ferebee saw fit to dismantle the Indianapolis’ neighborhood high school system, closed some secondary schools and opened boundary-free career and technical education schools and college preparatory academies. This is not what we want in DC. There are many examples of excellent career and technical education programs in public high schools across the country, which give students real-world experience for in-demand jobs. CTE programs are usually strong collaborations between the high school, community colleges and companies or other employers. This is definitely an area worth exploring.
A troubling mark on Dr. Ferebee’s years in Indianapolis that cannot be swept under the rug is his handling of an alleged sexual relationship between a 17-year-old student and a school guidance counselor. Dr. Ferebee, who was not disciplined, is a defendant in three civil lawsuits that raise questions about whether he met his legal obligation to report an allegation of an intimate relationship between a student and a school employee to the state’s child protective services agency.
Over the next few days, there will be public forums and Council Hearings to introduce Dr. Ferebee to parents and other education stakeholders. This is the chance to examine the direction Dr. Ferebee wants to take our schools. They should not be missed opportunities to let the nominee know what the community wants and to insist on more than superficialities to determine what he sees as the path forward for our students.
Thank you for providing this opportunity to hear from members of the DC public school community on this very important matter.