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Panel recommends high school changes

(Published April 8, 2002)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER
Staff Writer

A panel of education experts is recommending major changes in the way D.C. public high schools are operated in an effort to dramatically improve what the panelís report calls a "suffocating" learning environment.

The blue ribbon panel, which began work last summer to devise a transformation plan for the D.C. school systemís 19 senior high schools at the request of Superintendent Paul L. Vance, completed its assessment in January.

Although formal presentation of the plan to the D.C. Board of Education has been delayed by the superintendentís recovery from heart bypass surgery, Chief Academic Officer Mary Gill said "action plans" are being devised to implement many of the panelís recommendations. She said the entire 23-member panel has agreed to continue working with D.C. Public Schools officials as changes are made to help ensure the effortís success.

"This is not a paper process Ė this is significant," Gill said. "This is nothing that will be put on a shelf. Everybody is working hard to improve our high schools. ... Weíre trying this time to get it right."

The panelís work, coordinated by the Laboratory for Student Success at Temple Universityís Center for Research in Human Development and Education, included visits to the schools; focus group meetings with students, parents and DCPS staff; and consultation "with a wide array of experts from national educational associations, research organizations, and universities," according to the panelís report.

The panelís report asserts that "the students of DCPS must remain the primary focus" and its recommendations "concentrate on creating an environment of incentives and professional relationships that will encourage excellence and create a process of continuous improvement in our high schools." The recommendations are broadly grouped into four categories:

"While looking for Ďskeletonsí in every closet as it completed this assessment, the panel has also identified often overlooked strengths in the District that can provide the foundation for transforming the high schools into an exemplary model of urban high-performing learning communities," according to the panelís executive summary.

The panelís report notes that implementing several of its recommendations will require negotiation with unions representing the school systemís professional staff. Washington Teachers Union field representative Mary Collins was among the blue ribbon panelís members.

Gill said full implementation of planned changes at the high schools, including a new competency-based curriculum that already has been drafted, is expected to take three to five years. The school board recently extended Vanceís contract as superintendent for three years.

Vance is expected to begin his return to work this week, following his February surgery. In his absence, many of Vanceís duties have been carried out by Assistant Superintendent Steven Seleznow, his chief deputy.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator