Last Tuesday, Antwan Wilson resigned from his position as Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. The days prior were filled with a mounting community call for his resignation or forced removal. The statements fell from the John A. Wilson Building like dominos, beginning with Councilmember Robert White, Jr. on February 17, 2018. Councilmembers McDuffie, Gray, and Nadeau are just a few of his colleagues who followed suit. An emergency community meeting was held on February 13, 2018, by Councilmember Trayon White, Sr. to address concerns for Ballou Senior High School and Chancellor Wilson’s commitment to schools in Ward 8. During the meeting, Chancellor Wilson was asked to apologize to the community for the misinformation and degradation of families in the Southeast, D.C. school. He was called out for allowing this community to be publicly sacrificed for issues that have now been revealed as system-wide. Everyone left the meeting enraged that Wilson blatantly refused to apologize.

 Fast forward, and you will find that there are several articles that outline the alleged circumstances of Wilson’s resignation. Here’s the story directly from the New York Times. No matter the media outlet, all accounts state that Mr. Wilson’s disregard and deviation from school enrollment policies in order to enroll his daughter at Wilson High School are the cause of this commotion. These are the policies he instituted after D.C.’s Deputy Mayor of Economic Opportunity, Courtney Snowden was discovered skirting the My School D.C. lottery system in order to secure a spot for her son at an elite Montessori school.

Deputy Mayor of Economic Opportunity

A Sidebar On Race, Gender and Class

 Before we dive any deeper, there are three very important things we must mention when looking at the weeks leading up to Mr. Wilson’s resignation. These facts are:

 

  1. In the days prior, Jenny Niles (A white woman) resigned as the Deputy Mayor of Education for her role in Former Chancellor Wilson’s disregard and deviation from school enrollment policies.
  2. Yet, just weeks prior,  Dr. Yetunde Reeves (A Black Woman) was fired and publicly humiliated throughout the national media for alleged disregard and deviation from school policies.
  3. Both D.C. Public and D.C. Public Charter Schools are under mayoral control (see slide 7). Therefore the ultimate responsibility for the scandalous state of D.C. Schools lies on Mayor Muriel Bowser.

  There is a clear difference in the way these three individuals (Wilson, Niles and, Reeves) have been treated for the same offense. The offense is “disregard or deviation from a school policy that directly impacts a student.” It is clear that there is an imbalance of power rooted in patriarchy and white supremacy. The forced removal of Dr. Reeves from the school (followed by the entire school system), while Niles is allowed to gracefully resign, speaks to the ruthless power structure that is the District Government. The anti-blackness and misogyny that led to these decisions are apparent and customary throughout D.C. Government agencies. Just look closer at this scenario. The male employee is afforded days of campaigning and debate regarding if he should even be removed for the same offense. Such a question never existed for the aforementioned women employed by the same agency.

  Be very clear, they are not the first scapegoats in a skirt and will not be last. However, Mayor Bowser (another Black Woman) has sat idle while clear race, gender and, class bias have played out throughout her school system. Thus earning her the title, Messy Muriel. Messy with a capital “M” because I’m respectful. But also because she is always covering up, upholding or involved directly in a political mess for her personal profit. Yet, she is seeking to keep her job while everyone else loses theirs.

Local Leadership Matters

  This mess and many others (i.e. the Park Southern problem, the United Medical uproar, the D.C. General disarray, etc.) is what happens when the future of D.C. residents is placed in the hands of D.C. gentrifiers. You may recall that the Washington Teacher’s Union spoke out vehemently against Chancellor Wilson’s appointment. Yet, Messy Muriel moved forward against the demands of the professionals who know the students best. Imagine how our schools would improve if we provided the opportunity to a seasoned, long-term, D.C. Public School Administrator? Someone who has also taught in D.C. Public Schools particularly those East of the River.

 I asked residents who currently have D.C.P.S. students matriculating within the system what they are looking for in the next Chancellor. In order to protect these parents and students, we will only identify them by the ward they reside in. Their responses were as follows:

 

Ward 1

“It seems like there is/was a learning curve for the old Chancellor. I want to know that the next Chancellor knows this school system and what changes we need immediately.”

Ward 2

“I need our new Chancellor to understand that Ward 2 is more than School Without Walls and Duke Ellington. Our schools are not a photo op.”

Ward 3

“I think we need to look at successful school models and bring in a team. This may be too much for one man or Woman. I am also open to removing our schools from Mayoral control. Maybe this is too much for a Mayor’s already full plate.”

Ward 4

“I think we need to let the teachers and parents pick their Chancellor. If they won’t be our boss or teach our child it isn’t our business.”

Ward 5

“I work in an alternative school and have a 12 yr. Old. I see first-hand the disregard for students who need extra support. Especially if they are Black. We need a person of color who has worked with special needs learners.”

Ward 6

“I don’t trust anything anymore. It seems that everyone who has been appointed to anything is corrupt. I want a task force created that lets us start from scratch. I’m talking about letting us write the job description and everything. We know what we need most.”

Ward 7

“We need to get these schools away from these corrupt people. We need someone who is not tainted by the politics. We also need someone who has been in the school for a while. I’m tired of hearing how bad schools are. I’ve met several older teaching professionals who have given specific strategies for improving the schools but they are transferred from problem area to problem area. Let them be the Chancellor. They know what they are talking about.”

Ward 8

”My answer is simple. I would like a Chancellor that will fight for equality and is not afraid to reach out to the people.”

 In short, local leadership matters when seeking to create sustainable success in school environments. It seems clear, that we need to stop letting strangers have the final say over our communities. This practice did not begin with Antwan Wilson. The same sentiment was true regarding Michelle Rhee and her protege turned plus-size model Kaya Henderson. The first time our prospective Chancellor comes to Washington, D.C. should not be for the job interview. Especially when we have competent candidates right here who are interested in serving our students and their families.

What About The Students?

 The main character in this story often goes unmentioned; the students in D.C. Public Schools and D.C. Public Charter Schools are being robbed of a quality education and humiliated in mainstream media. These youth cannot vote for their Mayor or Board of Education Representative. They can not appoint a Chancellor. They are not present at job interviews when their teachers, administrators, and principals are selected. Yet they pay the highest price for pay to play politics. These students remain in classes with tourist teachers who have no understanding of the economic or educational trauma they have endured. They didn’t deal with that in Wisconsin or wherever they came from. Truthfully, their only interest is getting those student loans paid. Meanwhile, their students can’t even complete collegiate level assignments. We owe these students far more than a qualified, culturally competent, trauma-informed Chancellor; but at least we can start there.

Aiyi'nah receiving an award from DuVal Senior High School in Lanham, MD with her family.

From Problem To Solution

  We could all go on and on about the past horrors of the D.C. education system. My own family sent me to all Maryland schools ensuring that I learned something. However, running is not the answer. Our solutions will only be found by looking to the future and taking action in the present. The facts remain that Antwan Wilson is unemployed and we still need a Chancellor. The Mayoral election will play a large part in this process. Messy Muriel will duck, dodge and delay transparency and accountability until she feels confident she will be re-elected. This means time is truly of the essence, and we must appoint an Interim Chancellor that knows D.C. Public Schools, students and their extenuating circumstances intimately. Someone who has integrity that is unwavering. We need someone unbought and unbossed by Messy Muriel. I could offer theoretical processes for creating different task forces and more effective hiring processes. But it is pointless as long as our schools are under Mayoral control and we have Messy Muriel as Mayor.  I would appoint Ms. Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teacher’s Union for our next Chancellor.

Ms. Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teacher's Union

  However, I have no pull with the green machine.  I can only urge anyone truly concerned with this issue to deeply consider who needs to lead? I want to challenge everyone to do research on viable candidates and dive into the selection process. We must make this a talking point of the upcoming elections. We must allow students and the people who work directly with them to be centered in these conversations.  We must hold Councilmember Grosso’s feet to the fire as Chairman of the Committee on Education. Councilmember David Grosso, Chair of the Committee on EducationDon’t worry, I’m hoping to interview him next week. Along with every member of the Committee on Education. D.C. voters hold just as much control as our current Mayor. The best way to fix D.C. schools is remembering that while schools may be under Mayoral control, the Mayor is under voter control. You can hire or fire her with your vote. I'd say Mr. Wilson isn’t the only person who should join the unemployment line. In order to let D.C. values in we have to get Messy Muriel (and all of her henchmen) out.