DCPS: Put some respect on Ms. Martin’s name

The Beacon Staff

Wilson students are all too familiar with the consequences of understaffing and resource shortages. Teachers are so overwhelmed with their class sizes that oftentimes months go by before they return assignments to students, and by that point, the edits and corrections they labored over are no longer relevant or helpful. Students are told they can’t take a class they’re actually interested in because it’s full and there are no other available periods, only to find themselves in an alternative that doesn’t hold their interest. Teachers find themselves regularly paying for classroom essentials out of pocket. What is the root of these issues of understaffing and lack of resources? Lack of money.

As students, it’s not always clear to us why these problems persist. It’s easy to blame our school administration—”Ms. Martin would rather have Yondr bags than soap”—but in reality, these complaints are largely misdirected.

DCPS Central Office tells principals exactly how they have to spend their money and what positions they must fill. Once the budget is released, a principal’s hands are tied—everything they hear from students and teachers and think of themselves to make their school a more effective learning environment becomes null. But Central Office wants to maintain its false transparency, so once a year, principals find themselves in a room together to fully experience the futility of their role.

After they receive Central Office’s initial division of the budget, the principals of every high school are invited to a one-day event where they can make a case to change the way that DCPS has outlined the use of their total funds. They find themselves in a room lined with tables labeled with different departments: Special Education, English Language Learning, World Languages, etc. The principals walk around the room and make a case for their proposed changes, pleading ‘I have English teachers with over 180 students. Please let me trade this additional SPED teacher for another in the English department.’

The requests usually fail. The Central Office employees will respectfully remind the principal of the mathematical models that DCPS uses to determine the number of staff members, regardless of the fact that the people behind the table, more often than not, have never worked in a school.

Why does DCPS bother hiring principals if they don’t trust them to make the critical choices that affect the schools they govern? DCPS got into the practice of relying on data-driven education several years ago as a way to jumpstart a struggling school system, and it was an effective practice in rebuilding a reasonable foundation. But now that we, as a district, have found our footing, it’s past time for a change in approach, and for them to rely on people, not numbers.

If DCPS wants to continue to grow, shrink their achievement gap, and “double the percent of students who are college and career ready” (as declared in their five-year strategic plan, “A Capital Commitment”), they must listen to and address the concerns of principals. When a principal begs for an English teacher, trust their judgment and give one to them. If DCPS actually wants “100 percent of students to feel loved, challenged, and prepared,” as ‘A Capital Commitment’ states, they should start by allowing for 100 percent of principals, the people who actually interact with the students, to at least be heard.