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Native Intelligence
Fresh faces amid the same old
(Published June 27, 2005)

By DIANA WINTHROP

It is nice to see some young faces working in local political campaigns, rather than the same old workers. (It would be even better if we saw some female faces, as well.)

Last year Sam Brooks, a young native Washingtonian, challenged Harold Brazil, who lost his at-large city council seat to Kwame Brown. Brooks was roundly praised for his impressive performance during the candidate debates. The Democratic Primary race was his first foray into electoral politics, and Brooks even had more votes in some precincts than Jack Evans, who was running for re-election to his Ward 2 seat at the same time.

Since then, Brooks has been frequently mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate to replace Jack Evans in 2008. But, in the meantime, Brooks has a new job, which puts his political aspirations on hold. He has been hired by Ward 4 Councilman Adrian Fenty's mayoral campaign as a volunteer coordinator and will handle field operations in Ward 2.

Brooks, who is as enthusiastic about Fenty as he was about his own race, says, "It may sound corny, but I really believe in Adrian."

Another new face in local politics is Curtis Etherly. A native Washingtonian, like Brooks, and a graduate of Ballou Senior High and Yale University, Etherly earned his law degree from Georgetown, has worked for the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and currently works for Coca-Cola.

An articulate young man, Etherly is said to be assessing a run for the Ward 6 council seat in 2006. But some Ward 6 activists say it would be a good idea if Etherly obtained a listed home telephone number before he decides to run for elective office.

LOOKING LIKE CANDIDATES: It is not a case of "Will they?" or "Won't they?" anymore. Michael Brown is expected to officially announce he is a Democratic candidate for mayor around Labor Day. Ron Walters, the national political operative, has signed on to help Brown, who already has built a group of veteran political operatives. Brown also has his politically savvy mother, Alma Brown, as a formidable political adviser and valuable campaign asset.

If press releases are any indicator of whether people have decided to run for political office, surely city council Chairman Linda Cropp has already decided to become a candidate for mayor. Cropp, who generally maintains a low profile, still says she will decide in August. But the increased frequency of press releases touting her accomplishments points to a decision to run. Known as the queen of closed-door council meetings, Cropp even has begun briefing the press before legislative sessions.

COWARDLY LION: D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford Janey behaved like the cowardly lion and got someone to do his dirty work June 23 when he fired three principals at Beers and Marshall elementary schools and Ballou Senior High -- and had someone else give the bad news to the principals. Janey's aides used what I call "Pentagon speak": DCPS says the dismissals were "non-reappointments of non-tenured principals."

I am not questioning Janey's decision to remove those principals a major principal shake-up might be a really good thing for the public schools. What I question is Janey's decision to insulate himself from the difficult aspects of his job.

Along with the three "non-tenured, non-reappointed" principals, Janey also "reassigned" four principals. In case you aren't familiar with what "reassignment" means within DCPS, it is usually the act of sending not the "best and brightest" but the "problem principals" to other schools to get a fresh start. There are rare cases where a really wonderful principal is moved to another school to help fix some problems, but, in general, it usually means moving problems at one school to another.

Some readers of this column will remember that, in April, I wrote about the principal at Taft Diagnostic Center, which was opened in 1999 in Northeast Washington as a school for, essentially, emotionally damaged children. These kids are among those deemed to be unable to participate successfully in the so-called mainstream movement in public schools, which seeks to integrate special needs children with the general student population in teaching them to become productive members of society.

School system officials knew there were problems at Taft. Teachers there even had pleaded with the Washington Teachers' Union for intervention, but union officials apparently were focused more on a new labor contract. Mary Lee Phelps, the acting director of special education for DCPS, in April acknowledged she knew there were "some concerns" about the principal at Taft. She said then that she was not familiar with the details of the problems, though she diplomatically called them "challenging."

So, rather than documenting accusations against Taft's principal (which is time-consuming and can be costly), Janey took the same "easy out" that DCPS officials have used for years to ease less-than-terrific people into retirement: He "reassigned" Taft's principal to Mamie D. Lee Diagnostic Center, also a facility for special needs children.

What is really sad is the system is so littered with people who are being allowed to quietly retire. There are some really terrific teachers and principals in the school system, but we should not be rewarding educators who are wasting taxpayers' money by not giving our children the best education possible.

SAME OLD SCRAMBLE: The Department of Employment Services (DOES) kicks off its summer jobs program for youth July 5 -- and the annual, last-minute scrambling to obtain participation by private sector employers is shameful. This year, the District has money to fund a job for every teenager who signed up and wants to work. DOES should already be looking for meaningful jobs and training opportunities for next year's program, but instead is still trying to place this year's eager young participants.

D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) can be added to this year's list of shame for not performing any better when it comes to its stealth-like promotion of a summer enrichment program. Did you know teens could get paid this summer for practicing music?

Earlier this year, the city council approved $250,000 in funding for a vocal and instrumental music initiative at D.C. schools as part of this summer's jobs program for young people. Students who signed up for the DOES summer jobs program could earn $5 to $15 per hour for up to 30 hours a week during a six-week period for practicing their music.

The problem is that the music program was so poorly promoted that by June15, only 150 students had signed up. Music education advocate Dorothy Marschak of CHIME, who lobbied the council to approve the program, was hoping 1,500 students would participate this summer. The school system extended the sign-up deadline twice, but Marschak says Ben Hall, who heads music programs for the school system, refused to return her calls or accept any help to get the word out.

There is more than enough shame to go around. Ward 5 Councilman Vincent Orange prevailed upon his council colleagues to move the program from D.C. Public Schools' (DCPS) control to DOES. Then DOES failed to promote the program. And DCPS, left without control of the program's funding, did little more than add an announcement of the music program's existence to its Web site.

Marschak says what is even more shocking is the absence of information regarding the music enrichment program sites at the elementary level in materials issued by the mayor's office. The D.C. government's Web site listing summer opportunities for young people fails to include music along with English and math programs, as does the informational pamphlet mailed to homes.

What is most egregious is that DCPS hasn't had this kind of money for music education in years. This was a rare chance for D.C. public school children to be exposed to an education that many private school students take for granted, and everyone blew it.

***

Diana Winthrop is a native Washingtonian. Contact her at diana@thecommondenominator.com.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator