ROBIN B. MARTIN
AT A PUBLIC HEARING
PR 15-218 "Board of Education of
the District of Columbia Robin B. Martin Confirmation Resolution of
June 11, 2003
Good afternoon honored guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. Chairman and Education Committee Councilmembers, thank you for
giving me the opportunity to appear before you in this public haring
today. And I appreciate the time each of you took to meet with me before
today so we could discuss some of the issues of particular interest to
I wish to commend you and the entire City Council for your attention to
the challenges facing the DC Public School System. There is no more
pressing goal than improving our public schools. You are close to your
constituents. You hear concerns every day, from parents, teachers and
staff at public schools, from neighbors and businesses, employers and
colleges, from people you know and trust. They talk about specific
problems affecting their children and their local public schools. Those
voices are important to hear. All of us in a position to influence change
must respond. You have devoted countless hours in meetings, held; public
hearings, and passed legislation, with the goal of improving the teaching
and teaming of every child. Thank you for your commitment to the effort
— it is an impressive and necessary ingredient for success.
The Mayor has stated that education is central to his administration's
goals. I believe he and I share the view that there are fewer services
more important and under more scrutiny than the public school system. I
will not be reluctant to urge the Mayor for assistance when needed to
fight for the requirements for progress in improving public schools.
The Superintendent, Dr. Paul Vance, has a most complicated job. He
meets the opportunities with steadfast purpose, competence, and grace, and
he and his management team are making steady progress. I anticipate a
productive relationship with the Superintendent as he and the Board of
Education collaborate to achieve the shared goals at a faster rate.
The members of the Board of Education devote innumerable hours serving
children, teachers, principals and schools. Whether elected or appointed,
each member brings unique and valuable perspectives and qualifications. I
look forward to serving with these distinguished educational leaders
A good education is essential for each person to lead a secure, productive
and happy life. In my mind, one person who believes this completely is the
president of the Board of Education, Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Her energy
level, commitment and passion are impressive and it will be a challenge to
keep pace with her.
An engineer by education, I've spent most of my professional career as
an entrepreneur in the communications industry, primarily as an owner and
operator of radio stations and as an advisor to buyers of broadcast
properties. My concentration has been in financial matters, both as a
consultant and as the chief executive of various companies.
My range of involvements in business and eleemosynary activities has
allowed me to participate in a variety of governance systems which will
help shape my contribution to the Board. I've engaged in business, as both
an entrepreneur and a board member of public companies; in the non-profit
sector as chairman of a major private Washington museum, as a board member
of two Smithsonian museums and a Washington private secondary school, and
as a 17-year board member of a major research university; and in the
Federal government as an appointee. The association with these diverse
Washington and national organizations has put me in contact with business
leaders, philanthropists, and leaders in education, many of whom could be
helpful to the Public School System.
I firmly believe that the status quo is unacceptable in our public
schools. I know the task is large and so are the stakes. The future of
generations of children depends on how well the Board of Education and the
Public School System, with help from the Council and the Mayor, succeed.
My goal is to help the Board of Education and the Public School System
accomplish the primary objective of providing each child with an excellent
education. DCPS will accomplish this mission by offering high quality
curricula and academic programs; hiring and retaining excellent principals
and teachers; providing safe and efficient school facilities; and
garnering community support. From my initial review, the DCPS Business
Plan for Strategic Reform, researched and developed with McKinsey and
Company, presents a solid framework for the development of performance
plans that can transform the Public School System and provide appropriate
evaluation criteria for the Superintendent and his team.
I'm convinced that it's possible for dedicated groups of individual to
make a difference. My hope comes from watching those leaders who have
found ways to transform large, complex and troubled institutions with
skill, success and dispatch. I plan to be open, honest and forthright with
my views and beliefs. I understand that public school boards, particularly
in urban environments, are complex and political in nature. I expect to
listen carefully, to confer with my Board colleagues, Councilmembers and
the Mayor, to visit public schools, to participate in public hearings, and
to learn about the Board and the System in many other ways. It will take
effort and time to understand sufficiently the nuances of the major
issues, so I ask for your understanding as I become educated.
As a prospective School Board member, I believe that the Board should
guide and just as importantly support the Superintendent by providing
appropriate policy direction, resources and political cover. I believe the
Board must resist the inclination to micromanage - on any issue. It must
provide focused policy leadership, allow the professionals to do their
jobs, and then assess the results. Useful measurements of progress and
determinations of proper strategic or tactical adjustments depend on
periodic evaluations based on performance plan benchmarks and metrics.
Most important to me is the collegial functioning of the Board. The
president sets the tone and the members contribute fully in the
interweaving of learning, listening, debating, and decision-making that
are part of a healthy Board dynamic. I pledge to contribute my best
efforts to promote the civil and efficient working of the Board.
I'm ready for the challenge ahead - and I understand the enormity and
seriousness of the task. I've had wonderfully talented mentors who
continue to be generous with their time and wisdom. Any positive
contribution I make is due in large part to their kind willingness to
engage in lengthy conversations over the years and most importantly to the
love and support from my family.
Thank you again for this opportunity to meet with you and for the
chance to hear your concerns and advice.
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June 11, 2003
Council of the District of Columbia
Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation
PR 15-218 "Board of Education of the District of
Columbia Robin B. Martin Confirmation Resolution of 2003"
Testimony of Vance Wilson, Headmaster
St. Albans School
Mt. St. Alban
Washington, D.C. 20016
Chairman Chavous, Councilmembers Ambrose, Fenty, Mendelson and
Schwartz, my name is Vance Wilson. I am the headmaster of St. Albans
School here in the District of Columbia, and I consider it a privilege to
provide testimony in support of Robin Martin and his appointment to the
Board of Education for the District of Columbia. As many of you may know,
St. Albans is an independent, all-boys school of 560 students located on
the grounds of the National Cathedral and governed by the Protestant
Episcopal Cathedral Foundation. We were founded in 1909 as an Episcopal
college preparatory school, and to this day we are dedicated to fostering
the spiritual, intellectual, and physical development of our students, of
whom roughly one out of four receives financial aid-$1.7 million for
2002-2003. Robin Martin served ably as a member of the St. Albans
Governing Board from 1996 - 2002; in fact, he was one of only three
trustees who were asked to stay on the Board during and after a time of
difficult change and transition in our institution. Robin continues to
serve on several Board committees.
Although I work in an independent-school setting, I believe that we
have much in common with the D.C. public schools when it comes to issues
of governance and oversight of educational programs. The job of building a
Governing Board or, in this case, a Board of Education, requires a
strategic approach to the composition and operations of the Board. The
most effective Boards, in my opinion, are those whose members are deeply
committed to the mission of education, who-possess an expertise that is
needed by the organization, and who understand how an organization should
Robin Martin has demonstrated a passion for education throughout his
life. He has excelled in his professional endeavors, initially as a public
servant working for the White House and the National Transportation Safety
Board, and then as an entrepreneurial businessman. Robin also exemplifies
what educators aim to instill in their students-a willingness to embrace
responsibility and to serve the community in which one lives.
Robin Martin is a smart and savvy businessman, and numerous educational
and nonprofit organizations have benefited from his talents. His financial
background makes him particularly well suited for counsel and oversight of
an organization's business functions, including auditing, banking,
financial reporting and analysis, and business processes and systems.
Robin understands governance. He has worked with a variety of
governance systems in the organizations he has served, including
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the National Museum of Natural History,
the National Museum of African Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the
Shakespeare Theater, and most dear to me, St. Albans School. He
understands the roles and boundaries between the Board and the CEO,
between the Board and its committees, and between a trustee and the
management staff: His experience as a trustee gives him a perspective that
is essential for an effective Board.
I have found that trustees who attempt to set and administer policy
often do a bad job of both. An effective Board requires strong trustees
armed with information, intelligence, and experience, but who also
understand the need to maintain perspective-some distance from the action
to appraise facts and weigh options. Robin Martin is a man that takes the
long view. He is not fixated on short-term results, although I have found
that he expects that as well! He is interested in continuous progress,
always working towards the long-term goal. I commend him to you without
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Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Council, the Committee on
Education, Libraries and Recreation, Mr. Chairman, Ms. Thornhill and Mr.
My name is Jesse Fenty. I am a resident of the District of Columbia.
I come here today to ask the Council, specifically the Committee, to
vote against these two nominees for several reasons.
The future of DC Public Schools is at stake. Two key issues of the
moment are Vouchers and Charter Schools. Both issues cloud the already
murky waters regarding socalled school reform. The real issue is how to
best educate the children of Washington, DC, and what that really means.
Parents have every right to send their children to private schools, if
they like. Public officials, on the other hand, be they elected or
appointed, who support Vouchers, undermine the system they are supposed to
be serving. Their job is to provide the best public education for District
of Columbia students. Channeling public funds into private hands goes
against the purposes of public education.
Both nominees have been quoted in the newspapers as supporting
Vouchers. Besides those comments, little is publicly known about the
issues Ms. Thornhill and Mr. Martin support. Under the old law, School
Board members staged public campaigns that allowed interested persons to
question the candidates regarding their platforms and ideas.
Who are these nominees?
On its face, Ms. Thornhill's record appears to support public
education, but she has never worked directly for the schools, she has only
been affiliated. She is now a Vice President at DC Agenda, an organization
advocating change in the District of Columbia. According to their website,
DC Agenda receives over half of their funding from National Foundations,
i.e., Foundations outside of the District of Columbia. Why should national
organizations have influence over the policies of the DC School Board when
local organizations, parents, teachers and other interested parties do
Under this new format, the Councilmembers of this Committee now bear
more responsibility to the citizens of the District to research and
question the nominees. What does Ms. Thornhill see as the problems in the
current school system? What are the successes? Where does she see DC
schools in 5 years? In 10 years? Until such information is obtained and
the public given more interaction with her, I ask the Committee to vote
against this nominee and ask the mayor to nominate someone that has a
clear interest in the future of DCPS. Thank you.
Mr. Robin Martin.
I ask the Committee to vote against this nominee. Mr. Martin has little
experience in public education. Mr. Martin's experience is in radio and
television management. While business skills can be a benefit to an entity
that manages a large budget, I question whether Mr. Martin's private
business background is what DC Public Schools needs.
Private companies are in the business of competition and making
profits. That is not the purpose of a public school system. Voucher and
Charter school proponents argue that competition, like that done by
private businesses, will create better schools as they compete for the
best students and teachers.
This argument misses the mark because Charter schools depend upon the
resources provided by DCPS to succeed. A dependent organization competing
with its supplier presents an inequitable situation, and really, unfair
competition. The success of charter schools will be at the expense of DCPS.
Secondly, Mr. Martin has not supported District of Columbia Public
Schools in the past. He has not enrolled his children in DC Public
Schools, and has been quoted in the newspaper questioning the schools'
academic quality and their safety. This lack of past support will yield
little understanding regarding the issues facing the students in the
District of Columbia Public Schools. The chances are slim that this
individual will work towards the academic excellence and safety of my
little brothers and sisters in DCPS.
In conclusion, Mr. Martin's record and comments have shown that he is
not one of the best candidates for the school board vacancy. I ask the
Committee and the Council to vote against this nominee and ask the mayor
to nominate someone with experience in public finance, someone with a
closer connection to the public school system.
I ask the City Council as a whole to revisit the Charter School laws of
the District of Columbia. Chapters 17 and 18 of Title 38 of the DC Code
must be amended. The number of charter schools coming into existence every
year threatens the vitality of the larger DCPS. Under the current law,
there are two Public Charter School chartering authorities. Each can
approve up to ten (10) charter schools per year for a total of twenty (20)
new schools per year. The funding, students, teachers, counselors, and
even principals are being channeled away from DCPS to work in the charter
One impetus to the Charter school movement was "school
choice," another was that teachers wanted to get their children out
of "failing schools." However, to drain the larger DCPS of vital
resources, is to create the "failing schools" people were
worried about at the start. What measures is the Council taking to ensure
the success of the larger DCPS body, and what benchmarks are being
utilized to determine whether the charter schools are actually meeting
The City Council must amend the law to decrease the number of Charter
Schools that can be created until proper oversight mechanisms can be put
in place to measure the successes of the schools, but most importantly,
the achievements of the students. There are now over forty (40) charter
schools across the city. In five years this number could jump to eighty
(80). To fund these schools, less options are being made available to the
students in the traditional school system. Athletic programs have been
cut; funding for extracurricular activities, field trips, computers,
counselors, all are being drained from the schools. The city leaders are
not investing in the children or the schools.
The future of the children of the District of Columbia is in the
balance. Will city leaders invest in their children and create competent
citizens who can succeed in the world and create their own jobs and
opportunities; or will they turn this essential task over to private
entities that have no uniform standards, no uniform curricula, and
separate ideas as to what should be the future of the children of the
District of Columbia? Nothing is wrong with outside opinions, DCPS as a
whole should welcome suggestions by outside entities who have the best
interests of the students at heart.
The City Council should work to bring the students, the teachers and
the schools back together. Right now, the District of Columbia public
education system is a divided house, and a divided house cannot stand.
Jesse A. Fenty
408 Cedar St. NW
Washington, DC 20012