Mayor Muriel Bowser has the two most important cabinet positions to fill, Chancellor of DCPS and Police Chief. The success of the people she picks will likely play a huge role in determining whether she gets to serve a second term. I trust that will happen.
The mayor has made her decision on the new DCPS Chancellor and has signed a contract with Antwan Wilson, currently Chancellor of the Oakland, Calif., school district.
The contract has to be voted on by the D.C. Council. In many ways that is pro-forma since the mayor now controls the schools. But I congratulate Committee on Education Chair David Grosso for holding three hearings, two out in the community and one at City Hall, to allow for the public and interested parties to weigh in on what they think are the crucial issues they want Wilson to address before the Council votes on his contract.
My background in education includes teaching 4th and 6th grade in Harlem in New York City; being CEO of the National Association for Gifted Children for 14 years; and vice-chair of the board of trustees of the University of the District of Columbia for five years.
I took the opportunity to testify at the hearing held at the Wilson Building and did so as a community activist interested in seeing all children in the District are challenged and have the kind of education that gives them the opportunity to reach their God-given potential. Having been a part of the education transition teams of a number of D.C.’s mayors I am very familiar with DCPS and the role of charter schools in the District.
It was good to read Wilson’s quote in the Washington Post saying he “knows that schools can change the trajectory for poor children because he was one himself. He grew up with a single mother and a lot of instability, living in 15 homes and going to 10 schools between kindergarten and high school graduation. He made it, he has said, with excellent teachers helping him navigate the path to and through college.”
Those of us involved in the education politics of the District know it is not an easy task to navigate the varied interests and power centers. Some in Oakland accused Wilson of “trying to aid charter schools at the expense of the city’s traditional public schools.” Hopefully before he accepted the position in D.C. he took the time to look at and understand the buzzsaw he could easily run into here. It will take all his political know-how to get through that mine field.
One issue I hope was discussed with Wilson is the need for continuity if we are to continue to make progress, and even speed it up. Wilson left his job in Oakland in the middle of the year after only two years. Hopefully the powers that be extracted at least a promise from him committing to a longer tenure here. One reason DCPS has made great strides is our mayors, from Fenty, to Gray to Bowser, have stayed the course. Kaya Henderson began as Deputy Chancellor in 2007 and became Chancellor in 2010. While we know D.C. schools have a long way to go we must also recognize great progress has been made. Unfortunately the average length of stay of chancellors these days is two to three years.
As a gay man it’s important to me that Wilson commit publicly to the LGBT students, teachers and parents in the District that they will always feel safe and welcome in our schools. It is also important that Wilson commit to getting every dollar he can for the public schools, knowing those include both DCPS and charter schools. But as chancellor, Wilson must always keep in mind he is only responsible for the children in DCPS. I also want to hear him reject the idea of vouchers which only take public money away from public schools and have never been shown to help children academically.
Being chancellor of DCPS is a tough job with a higher profile than the one in Oakland. He will also have to work with someone not committed to public schools if Betsy DeVos is confirmed as Secretary of Education.
I welcome Wilson to the District and offer my help, as I am sure so many others have. I hope his tenure here will be a rousing success for our children.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.