Schools Monday: Celebrating Mediocrity
This Thursday evening, the enablers of the D.C. school system's decades of mediocrity will gather for what is being billed as "a celebration of the work and contributions of former Superintendent Clifford Janey." Sponsored by DC Voice, one of the many non-profits that have worked around the edges of the system for years without making much of a difference in the schools themselves, this "Night of Appreciation" is being advertised as an act of "Respecting the Past."
More like celebrating failure, really.
There's no question that Janey was treated shabbily by Mayor Adrian Fenty, who sent the schools chief packing in the most demeaning and snide manner possible. Janey learned that he was out in an 11:30 p.m. phone call, his email account was canceled and his cell phone silenced a few hours later, and he was not permitted back into his office to clear out his things.
But the mayor's poor treatment of the ousted superintendent in no way justifies a celebration of Janey's overly contemplative and sluggish approach to the job of reshaping the city's school system. Janey was a nice guy who had some good ideas about what direction the D.C. schools should move in. But he never seemed to have the slightest sense of urgency about the schools or the children sentenced to rot in them. Not on curriculum, not on instilling rigor in schools that haven't seen it for decades, and not even on what should be the easy part of the fix--the buildings.
Janey did announce a $75 million "repair blitz" early this year, but Fenty's new school facilities chief, Allen Lew, was disappointed to find upon taking office that the summer blitz that was to assure that basic repairs be completed by the time school opens next month has not even started. "The contractors haven't been hired," Lew told WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi. "The procurement won't be done till August." So Lew is retooling the effort to focus on broken bathrooms and leaky roofs, postponing work on heating systems until the fall.
"The blitz program hasn't been started," Lew said, noting that some buildings don't even have enough electrical capacity to support the air conditioning or computers that Janey repeatedly promised he was putting inside those buildings.
Janey deluded himself into thinking that modest improvements at central headquarters would somehow translate into a different experience for kids in schools. He focused, for example, on equipping schools with computers without taking into account that many school buildings lack the electrical capacity to handle new technologies, and that many schools that do have computers leave the machines locked up in inaccessible closets because they don't have staff who know how to run the equipment or because they fear that the machines will be vandalized or stolen.
Yet Janey, in an accounting of his purported accomplishments, boasted about facts that simply made no sense to those who had actually visited the schools:
In the fall of 2005, DCPS had 68 schools that were not fully wired for computer network and Internet access. Today, 43 of those previously unwired schools are now wired. All schools in the system are now connected to the DCPS network and the system operates 10 times faster than it did two years ago. This will bring network and Internet access into every classroom, learning space, and most administrative areas within these schools.
There's no reason to think that Janey didn't try his best. But he was nobody's first, second or even third choice to be superintendent, and his lax attitude and sluggish pace were part of the reason for that initial skepticism. Sadly, he never did anything to change the minds of school board members and others who were in on the last superintendent search. Now, he's playing the petulant loser, making outlandish demands for a massive severance package and refusing to take calls from his successor. Celebrating his tenure seems the worst possible signal to send about standards and goals in a school system that once again stands at the starting gate.
By Marc Fisher |
July 16, 2007; 7:00 AM ET
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