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Government and People
TESTIMONY OF DR. STEVEN G. SELEZNOW
COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Friday, March 8, 2002
The Council, as you have stated repeatedly, is well versed in the issues that confront the DC Public Schools, as the deficiencies and challenges are long-standing and deeply entrenched. This administration accepts these challenges as the status of the school district that we inherited, e.g., the low test scores, the infrastructure problems, and the broken operational systems; although we had not anticipated the paucity of factual, reliable data that are essential to any reasonable foundation for school reform.
That not withstanding, the many challenges beyond the classroom will not cloud our constant focus, priority and commitment to that which takes place inside the classroom. The measure of a quality school system is the measure of student success. Everything that we do in facilities, procurement, professional development, recruitment, curriculum and safety, every dollar that we spend, must ultimately serve to facilitate classroom instruction, academic achievement, and the total educational experience of students.
This administration has exhibited a commitment to accountability. I cite a recent example -- the immunization of over 21,000 students in just eight weeks with only 99 unimmunized students remaining. This success of a community working together, of parents, the DC Department of Health and of our various federal, private and community medical partners, began with a tough decision by the Board of Education to hold ourselves accountable for the well being of children. This was a decision too long deferred. The short-term fallout of student exclusions was outweighed by inherent risks and the perpetuation of low standards. This is the good news. Even better is that this community has shown what can be accomplished by accountability and commitment. We have worked as a community and our children are the better for it.
You will find a consistent theme throughout our operations - the building of competency and accountability. And we believe our accomplishments reflect this. This school year, Dr. Vance enforced certification for ALL TEACHERS with required documentation on file. There was short-term fallout and the threat of not enough teachers, but we implemented a tough standard in the interest of our students and quality education. This year:
We take pride in these accomplishments, which pale in light of what remains to be done and the timeframe in which we have to do it. Each year we must compete for qualified teachers and work to develop and maintain a highly professional workforce. All student test scores must be moved to an acceptable level so that the vast majority of our students perform at proficient levels in both reading and math. We must find space in schools and throughout the city for the in-house special education programs that will cut transportation and private tuition costs, accommodate reduced class sizes and serve as swing space for students displaced by new construction. And there is no greater challenge and no greater responsibility than resolving special education. We will make the hard decisions, the long-deferred decisions, and provide the programs, opportunities and solutions so that all children are well served
The bottom line is that this administration will be accountable for student progress and student achievement. This year we work to maximize all resources, including all grant dollars, from Goals 2000 to Title I, in the manner intended. We cannot do everything at once, and will we not attempt to; this, we believe, is a tried and true recipe for failure typically known as gridlock. But, with sound data and analysis, when we move, we move decisively and when we make decisions, they are informed.
We are appreciative of the support that we have received from the Council, the Mayor and from the community for our children, our teachers and our schools. We are pleased, with your support Councilman Chavous, to select a CFO to work with our agency, one that will support the particular requirements of a school year that is at odds with the fiscal year, and one that will bring safeguards and solutions.
We believe that longstanding problems and issues of the DC Public Schools can be resolved in due time with due diligence and fiscal responsibility. We have imposed the discipline throughout our entire administration, in central offices and in schools, that will enable us to maximize available resources, to live within our means and to follow a well-laid plan. We will continue to make responsible educational and program decisions in keeping with our budget. And we, in the spirit of accountability and transparency, will share with you the rationale and consequences of our decisions as a managerial responsibility.
You have seen our business plan for strategic reform, its vision, its goals, and its phased steps to placing the DCPS house in order. You have seen its focus on performance and measurement. You are aware of the very stringent measures that are base budget, structural changes. Just like immunization and teacher certification, the measures in our plan represent the imposition of high standards that will yield long-term results. This administration will use every opportunity in similar manner to the advantage of our students. We await your questions and discussion in this regard.
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