Sunday, September 23, 2007

Meetings with Local Principals Produce Results

I recently met with the principals of Dunbar High School and Emery Elementary School, both of which are located within 5C-02.

Dunbar principal Dr. Harriet Kargbo and I reached a concensus: the school and the community must work together for the mutual benefit of both. The quality of local schools impacts housing values and kids who aren't in school during classroom hours are not only truant but often end up getting into trouble, such as vandalism.

On the other hand, tutors from the community are needed (please contact me if you are interested in volunteering). Dunbar is being judged solely on the performance of its 10th graders, the only ones taking standardized tests designed to measure achievement by the entire school. SAT scores are lagging behind the national average, which affects college prospects and scholarship opportunities, regardless of what students have actually learned.

A 5c-02 resident is concerned that the recreational facility at Dunbar was closed to the community years ago, leaving the area without an outlet for children. Dr. Kargbo informed me that the facility exclusion was necessary in order to host the school's mandatory JROTC program (children may opt out at the behest of parents). She told me that JROTC is not necessarily about the military, but more about character and leadership.

I told Dr. Kargbo that JROTC was a great program, which probably very few people in the community were aware of, which led me to my next point-- Dunbar needs a website so that both the community and parents can be properly informed. Dr. Kargbo agreed, and a website is in the works. Currently, if one visits and types in Dunbar, sports information is available but that's it.

Dunbar's most pressing need is something that many of us take for granted in our work life: walls. Dunbar High School is the only high school in D.C. that still has a building with the 1977 experiment of no classroom walls, only partitions. Imagine trying to listen to your teacher lecture on history while another teacher queries students on the other side of a partition about math problems. Dr. Kargbo led on a tour of the facility-- it is a nightmare for students with attention deficit disorder (who incidentally do have the opportunity to transfer to another school, but there is red tape). Dunbar is slated to get walls in 2009.

I also met with Emery Elementary School principal Ronald Taylor within the context of the "audit" of D.C. public schools currently being implemented by the D.C. organization D.C. Voice. The details of the meeting are confidential, but the gist is that Emery's needs are largely being met. Much of Emery's current favorable conditions are a result of Taylor's persistence and Emery's proximity to the DCPS central office.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Haitian Invasion at Bloomingdale Farmers' Market

Earlier today, the Bloomingdale Farmers' Market hosted a free community barbecue-- dubbed the "The Haitian Invasion" --that commemorated the efforts of all who helped launch the farmers market this past June.

The Haitian orchestral symphony and choir Les Petits Chanteurs serenaded the crowd; its members herald from Port Au Prince's Holy Trinity School of Music.

Commissioners Stu Davenport and John Salatti (shown here with the Rev. Vincent P. Harris of St. George's Episcopal Church) spearheaded organization and fundraising for the event, and Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. and at-large Councilmember Kwame Brown also provided financial support in addition to contributions from throughout the community.

Numerous volunteers led by Ted McGinn also processed the free-range roast pig and distributed the delicious sandwiches to the crowd.

Joe, Susan and Brooke Lilivois visited from Virginia to hang out and see some old neighborhood friends.
These photos tell the story. Two years ago, it would have been hard to conceive of an event like this taking place in our neighborhood. Change is not automatic, it takes hard work from several individuals collaborating towards a common goal.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Deputy Mayor Affirms NCMS Beautification Grant for North Capitol Street

Great news for our neighborhood: The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development recently sent a letter to all ANC 5C commissioners informing us that the Deputy Mayor "proposes to award a grant under the Neighborhood Investment Fund's Neighborhood Grants Program to . . . North Capitol Main Street [NCMS, Inc.]."

The grant provides $15,000 for tree box beautification and maintenance from the 1300 to 1700 blocks of North Capitol Street. My letter of support, which explains the benefits of this grant, appears here. The 30-day comment period runs from August 22.

Congratulations to NCMS, Vicky Leonard-Chambers, Pat Mitchell, and everyone involved with securing this grant.

Dunbar High School Needs Community Support

Yesterday's Washington Post article about Dunbar High School, "Rose-Colored Views of an All-Black School," caught my eye not because of its focus on (the lack of) racial integration, but rather for its passing revelation of Dunbar's achievement numbers.

At Dunbar High, according to the article, "[j]ust 29 percent scored as proficient or better in reading; in math, the figure was 27 percent." According to this site, Dunbar's ACT scores averaged 14.2 in 2005. That score does not compare favorably with the average nationwide score of 20 (on a scale of 36) (source here).

Meanwhile, at least two weeks ago, I called Dunbar High School and no one answered, so I left a message. I stated my name, and reminded the listener that I was an ANC commissioner and that the Dunbar was located within my district. I requested a call back on the question of whether Dunbar had a chess club. If not, I was interested in starting one, I said.

I received no call back, which was unfortunately not surprising. Dunbar seems to operate within its own orbit, the community in another. Meanwhile, I am wondering how I even have time to launch a chess club. It's merely an idea that I hope will be given a try, the rationale being that not everyone can (or desires to) be a football star. I believe that young people tend to experience improved overall health (and higher grades) when they participate in organized after-school activities.

No doubt Dunbar has may extracurricular activities, but there is no school website, so it's all speculation about whether there is an unserved niche. I wonder how can a parent make an informed decision between Dunbar and a charter school, when there is no website informing parents of Dunbar's well-regarded pre-engineering program. I suppose it all begins with returning phone calls.