DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson may have thought stacking her task force on libraries with her own people would squash the hue and cry for a full-time librarian/media specialist in the city's traditional schools. She now knows she was wrong.
Members, particularly those who receive paychecks from DCPS, demonstrated integrity and courage. They focused on the needs of children.
A little background: Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Henderson in DCPS' 2013 budget eliminated funding for libraries at schools with student populations of 299 or less. Larger facilities could retain their librarians, but only if principals used "flexible funding"; that money, in many instances, also helps pay for instructional staff. That left as many as 17,000 children without a full-time librarian in their schools.
Peter MacPherson and the Capitol Hill Public School Parents Organization held numerous demonstrations and posted an online petition, galvanizing thousands of parents and education advocates locally and around the country. Henderson subsequently agreed to retain some of the librarians who hadn't found other jobs and had been evaluated as effective. She also set up the task force to review DCPS' use of librarian/media specialists and recommend ways to enhance literacy.
That task force presented its report. After researching other school districts, it essentially suggested Gray and Henderson reverse themselves. The group recommended "one full-time library media specialist at all DC public schools with the necessary additional funding provided by the District."
The library task force also urged the creation of an "evaluation rubric" to support the growth of "exemplary programs"; allocation of an annual per-pupil library allotment to help fund the development of in-school library collections; and the establishment of a "multi-year Creating a Culture of Literacy Campaign" that would seek out partners to help support DCPS' library program, engaging the entire community.
"The chancellor would be wise to act fully on their recommendations," MacPherson told me last week as we discussed the report. He said it "reinforced what advocates have been saying for the last nine months."
Despite the high quality of the task force's work and report, Henderson basically has kept it in hiding. She didn't issue a general press release. Nor did DCPS' spokesperson Melissa Salmanowitz honor her pledge to me of providing notice when the task force had completed its work. That promise came after DCPS refused to open the group's meetings to the public.
Under Henderson, DCPS has become a covert operation: Select information is provided to select individuals or groups. Sometimes, notice about important meetings is given at the last minute, as if by design to reduce public engagement. Equally significant, the chancellor seems to believe what happens at DCPS is only the business of the parents whose children attend those facilities.
Public education is funded by all District taxpayers. They have the right to know how, when and for what their money is being used. Gray and Henderson would help themselves and the reform movement by operating in the open -- instead of undercover.
Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.