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Posted at 2:41 PM ET, 01/ 6/2011

New education team marches together at Sousa

By Bill Turque

Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined Mayor Vincent C. Gray at Sousa Middle School this morning for what seemed to be a high-end pep rally, assembled to show that in the post-Rhee era, the new players in the District's education hierarchy will be working more as a team.

Sousa Principal Dwan Jordon introduced the panel of Duncan, Gray, Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson and new Washington Teachers' Union president Nathan Saunders. The audience of mostly students, teachers and parents also included Hosanna Mahaley, Gray's selection for state superintendent of education -- who once served as Duncan's chief of staff when he was CEO of the Chicago public school system -- D.C. Board of Education President Ted Trabue and board member Laura Slover.

Everybody said all the right things about the importance of good teachers, engaged parents and safe schools.

Duncan, who during the primary campaign described himself as "a big fan" of Gray's opponent, incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, said he expected the gains under the Fenty-Rhee watch to continue. "There's no reason why D.C. can't be the best urban school system in the country in four, five, six years," he said.

Sousa is one of DCPS' genuine success stories. Jordon, a Rhee appointee, has led a turnaround in culture and significant gains in reading and math scores over the past two years. Ironically, the school is depicted as an educational wasteland in "Waiting for Superman," the documentary that follows Rhee's reform efforts but predates Sousa's revival.

"We want to be able to see every one of our children graduate from a school like Sousa," said Gray (D).

Henderson, echoing Gray's "One City" theme, stressed collaboration. "These are our schools. They belong not to me, not to the mayor, but to this entire community. And we all have to work together to make sure they are excellent."

Most noteworthy might have been Saunders, a fierce Rhee critic and rhetorical bomb-thrower as WTU general vice president, who now has a seat at the big table with Henderson and Gray. He was very much the labor statesman this morning, touting the potential of the new $84 million H.D. Woodson High School that will open this fall and praising Henderson for her efforts to move more aggressively on STEM education.

"I'm very excited about the chancellor's plan," said Saunders, perhaps the first time he'd uttered the words "chancellor" and "excited" in the same sentence.

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By Bill Turque  | January 6, 2011; 2:41 PM ET
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Arnie Duncan should stay out of DCPS school business. This jackass was a big fan of Rhee and Fenty and now he is peddling Henderson.

Another reason why Obama has loss my support.

Posted by: guylady201001 | January 6, 2011 5:12 PM | Report abuse

glady: perhaps the president can get along without your support. Calm down, Arne could be with us for up to six years, eh?

Saunders' comments were a bit surprising. We can probably still expect him to start rolling in grenades, figuratively speaking. Maybe he heard Gray's warning in the inaugural address. WTU can do better without Parker, no doubt, but an overly aggressive approach will probably be counterproductive. We can all get along.

Posted by: axolotl | January 6, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse


U are right--Obama will most likely get along without my support. But I do wish he would stop his lap dogs from interfering with DCPS.

Duncan did not raise any hxll in Chicago. But I hear he has game.

Posted by: guylady201001 | January 6, 2011 6:36 PM | Report abuse

No one cares what Duncan says. I agree with guylady, he needs to stay out of DCPS' business. Strange he's not mentioned the discrimination lawsuit Chicago teachers just won against him a couple months ago.

Obama needs to seriously rethink Duncan's appointment while he's in the process of reshuffling his cabinet.

Posted by: BitterJill | January 6, 2011 7:27 PM | Report abuse

lol...duncan who has a degree in sports. What a joke. Saunders like I said before can't do anything about impact as he promised. It's the law and he knows it. Now he is in Henderson's corner. Another joke. He got in office by telling lies, myths and fairy tales. When will DC teachers wake up! Education is a big money making business! None of the people who are in charge care about the children. That list includes, Henderson, Duncan and Saunders. Please don't forget Gray. He is all for charter schools who have the ability to hand pick their students and are not supervised by anyone. Then the charter schools brag on their padded results.Wake up Everybody!

Posted by: helluvateacher | January 6, 2011 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Finally...a positive DCPS story written by Bill Turque- perhaps, the Washington Post is capable of a story written that doesn't make copy and paste stories from disgruntled employees and fired teachers!

As far as Arne Duncan staying out of DCPS business...are you serious? The man is the Secretary of Education...who are these idiots that blog on here??

Posted by: teacher6402 | January 6, 2011 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Here's some very simple advice for Duncan and anyone else who truly wants to improve education:

Show respect and gratitude for the people who provide it.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 6, 2011 10:15 PM | Report abuse

teacher6402 must have missed the positive story Thursday on the progress DCPS has made in special education.Or does teacher6402 expect Bill to be Uriah Heep?

As for "There's no reason why D.C. can't be the best urban school system in the country in four, five, six years," he said.

by the time we reach that year, no one will remember what Secretary Duncan said.

Posted by: edlharris | January 7, 2011 2:58 AM | Report abuse


As always you are carrying Rhee/Fenty/Duncan pixx bucket.

The idiots you refer to are the ones who recognize that you troll the blogs while keeping your head up the Rheeformers behind.

Duncan is a national joke.

Posted by: bnew100 | January 7, 2011 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Yes, DC could have a great school system in 5 or 6 years--but only if social services has as much pressure on it to change as the schools do. By numerous accounts in other news outlets (though, no in the Post), DYRS and other child and family services are disfunctional and ineffective. Students need help in school and at home. If schools are doing their job and social services are not, it's just going to be that much harder to make progress.

Posted by: adriennespain | January 7, 2011 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Arne Duncan does need to go. It was obvious during Obama's election campaign that he was not well informed about education but the choice of Duncan was still disappointing. He may well know about making business leaders happy but his public statements and policy choices are an embarrassment to the Dept of Ed, besides being bad for children and schools.

The connections among Duncan, TFA alumni, the US Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, DCPS and now OSSE and the DC City Council (Sekou Biddle) mean less thinking and more testing, more removal of democracy in education. Who is going to stand up to this?

Posted by: dcparent | January 7, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Linda RTT--you constantly sound like Aretha Franklin. But teachers don't get full respect constantly unless they show that they put The Children first and are competent and do their work effectively. There is not enough of these requirements met for parents and others to bow down to teachers.

Posted by: axolotl | January 7, 2011 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Question: Who puts children first?

Answer: The men and women who care for them at home and at school. Yes, parents, guardians, and teachers put child first. Who else would it be?

Seriously, Ax: Who else could it be? Who do you think puts children first while they are in school?

Here's a simple experiment: Make plans to be in the classroom of a "bad" teacher when the fire alarm goes off (not an announced drill). See who is out last.

In all my years of teaching I never saw a single teacher who did not make children a priority while on the job, so I really can't relate to your point of view.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 7, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

This is great news! Maybe Sousa is becoming the new Hardy, cause Hardy is becoming the old Sousa. Seriously, please look into that story again.

Posted by: dcpsteacher1 | January 7, 2011 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Most of the fads that have dumbed down education and undermined teachers' classroom authority in recent decades have emerged under the rhetorical accusation, "children first."
Every supt or chancellor in the last 20 or more years has used that slogan or a variation of it.
What sense does that make, if schools are supposed to be where children/ students come to learn from adults (teachers).

Yet, one after the other, superintendents, now chancellors, who do neither know research nor care to know - and who promote the latest politicized so-called "child-centered" fads (such as: undefined "expectations," "learning styles," "90 minute class periods," "discovery," "group learning," "AP for all," etc.), use slogans like "children first" or "all children can learn" (or some variant) to stifle any real discussion of what type of curricula, reading instruction, etc.

The phrase "children first" allows school leaders to create the false impression that they are capable and skilled reformers who are coming into a school or school system that teachers have messed up. In fact, the policies and practices that previous supts either started or continued, largely continue.

So, the real direction of many of these school reforms is not to make schools more "child centered" (how about some clear definitions of what this is supposed to mean!), but to "center" them on protecting a careerist hierarchy that, more and more, consists of asst principals, principals, asst superintendents and core management who have had little or no classroom experience, and who view classroom experience as irrelevant.

The primary aim is not to reform the schools, but to nurture indicators of improvement that evoke more than they really mean - like scheduling the DCCAS in April, rather than May, when the brief spike in attendance during the [untimed] test days has been ratcheted up by intense student-find dragnets.
But once over, so is the pursuit of truant students.

Posted by: ehmartel | January 7, 2011 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Great Point.

Notice how no one is talking about the troubles at Hardy. Gray has become dumb, blind and deaf to the concerns regarding the tragedy taking place at Hardy.

Bill, get back on your job.

Posted by: guylady201001 | January 8, 2011 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Linda TRT -- so sad. Playing the obvious teachers role during a fire alarm is, indeed, very weak proof that a teacher puts children first. If that is the best you can do, you need to concede the point.

Never seen a teacher who is burnt out (for whatever reason, but clearly ineffective--listless, unenergetic, inattentive), less than fully competent (disorganized, weak skills, controlled by students, no lesson plan); marking time and waiting for pension; absent and late too much; poor communications skills; earns no confidence from parents???

I could go on. But all of these symptomatic dysfunctions are on display in many school systems. The proportion is not negligible. Teachers of this description often do not have the capacity or do not seem to put children first. They are too self-involved. They should seek other employment, as they do little or nothing or just set back our youngsters.

Look at the Washington Teachers Union and the AFT in New York. Come on...

Posted by: axolotl | January 9, 2011 7:11 PM | Report abuse

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