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Parents, teachers assail plan to privatize Ballou
(Published May 15, 2006)

Staff Writer

Parents, teachers and at least one school board member are objecting to a plan developed by Superintendent Clifford Janey, without public involvement, that would privatize management of the District's second largest public high school.

The plan, detailed in a "memorandum of understanding" that elected school board member William Lockridge recently obtained and made available to his constituents in Ward 7 and Ward 8, would turn over key academic and facilities decisions at Ballou Senior High School to one of the city's most powerful business organizations, the Federal City Council, and at least two other nonprofit organizations.

Executive directors of the Kimsey Foundation and New Leaders for New Schools also are named among signatories on the 11-page draft memorandum, known as an MOU. EdBuild, a nonprofit group created last fall and headed by former deputy mayor Neil Albert, is named as the potential designee of the Federal City Council to manage a $500,000 building project at Ballou.

Lockridge told a group of about 50 Ballou teachers and parents May 9, during a weekly meeting of District IV education activists at Stanton Elementary School, that he confronted Janey about the secretive process used to develop the plan and that Janey assured him the deal would not be executed in its current form. Lockridge said he did not know about the plan until recently.

Neither Janey nor a representative of the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) administrative staff was present at the May 9 meeting, although Lockridge said they were invited. DCPS spokeswoman Roxanne Evans said that the school system's chief operating officer, Thomas M. Brady, and chief accountability officer, Meria J. Carstarphen, would not discuss the MOU with The Common Denominator and that they referred questions to the superintendent. Evans said Superintendent Janey was too busy with meetings to speak with The Common Denominator.

Mike Kimsey, executive director of the Kimsey Foundation, attended the meeting and was confronted by some angry parents who questioned his involvement in a plan for their children in which they were not invited to participate. Kimsey acknowledged, in answering questions, that he lives in Arlington, Va., and has no children enrolled in D.C. schools.

"I give you credit at least you showed up," Lockridge told Kimsey during the meeting.

Kimsey said he "came to learn" and agreed to meet with Lockridge to discuss his foundation's desire to help D.C. schoolchildren. The Kimsey Foundation also is involved with programs at McGogney and Ferebee-Hope elementary schools in District IV, which Lockridge questioned.

"I tried to do the right thing I don't want to burn bridges because things weren't done correctly," Kimsey said.

Later in the meeting, Kimsey asserted that "the MOU is not going to happen. I'm not going to sign it. Nobody's going to sign it."

The plan to privatize Ballou's management comes at the same time that Superintendent Janey is encouraging parents and the principal at the District's largest public high school, Wilson, to develop their own management plan that would give the staff and parents at the Ward 3 school an increased level of autonomy from the school system's central administration.

Some Ballou parents and teachers, as well as Washington Teachers Union General Vice President Nathan Saunders, expressed disappointment during last week's meeting that the superintendent had not encouraged the same level of public involvement in his efforts to fix operational and academic problems at the Ward 8 school.

One member of Ballou's Local School Restructuring Team (LSRT) said the team has "gotten no feedback" from the superintendent or his staff since the LSRT developed "a comprehensive plan at the end of last school year" with former Principal Daniel Hudson. Ballou's current principal, Karen Smith, is the school's third chief administrator in three years and was involved in developing the superintendent's privatization plan for Ballou. Smith is a graduate of New Leaders for New Schools' program for training principals.

Saunders, who previously taught at Ballou, said the new leaders of the Washington Teachers Union intend to ensure that teachers become actively involved in the restructuring process at Ballou, which will be required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act due to low student performance on standardized tests.

Lockridge encouraged community members to continue attending the weekly District IV education meetings, held on Tuesday nights at Stanton Elementary, 2701 Naylor Road SE, and to encourage other parents to get involved with the operation of their children's schools.

"This is a lesson," Lockridge told those attending the meeting. "People are going to come in here and do what they want to do unless you stand up."

He vowed to be "more aggressive" in working for his constituents to ensure that their voices are heard.

"Our input is not going to be just input for the sake of input it's really going to be considered," Lockridge said.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator