Saving Fillmore, Residency Requirements, School Nurses

Why Fillmore Arts should be saved.
***For students who will be left without a decent art program, it’s a matter of equity
***For the city, it’s a model that should be mined

Some of you may have sent your kids to the Fillmore Arts Summer Camp, located in the Hardy school building in north Georgetown. We did, and our kids loved it.
During the school year, Fillmore has a more fundamental role: Providing arts education to students from schools that, mainly for space reasons, cannot provide it on their own. DCPS plans to shut Fillmore down after this school year. Its argument: That the cost of Fillmore is too high relative to arts education in other schools, so offering it amounts to an inequitable distribution of resources.
In fact, much of the high cost is due to DCPS’ unwise decision to use charter buses instead of school busses to transport kids between their school and Fillmore.

Further, because the schools using the program (in Ward 3, they are Stoddert and Key) have no space for an art room, eliminating the program would leave the students in these school with an inadequate “art on a cart” program. The cost of expanding the school’s space would likely far exceed the much small extra costs now incurred.
Further, many schools across the city get extra funding to support special programs. There’s nothing inequitable about providing modest extra funding to these schools so that they can provide the arts education that their students otherwise wouldn’t get. These arguments are well made in this ANC 3B resolution and in this petition.

Fillmore is a model that shouldn’t be lost
But there’s something else. Until last spring, I had never seen Fillmore at work during the school year, providing arts education to DCPS students. In my lack of familiarity, I was not unlike the former DCPS chancellor who made the decision to shut it down or our new Interim Chancellor, who must determine whether to follow through on that decision. Neither, as of today, has visited.
But then I visited, and I was knocked out by the quality. It made me imagine the possibilities of arts education in a new way: Sculpture, animation, digital etching, collage, and block printing, not to mention superb programming in such standard offerings as instrumental music, theater, drawing, and painting. Possibly in part because they spend roughly two straight hours (a week) at it, kids were absolutely engrossed. Maybe because they can choose from so many options, maybe because of the enthusiastic artist/teacher staff, or the top-end digital arts and performance spaces, every child was captivated. These kids were finding joy, feeling their abilities, and experiencing “flow,” that euphoric energy that many kids never find in their other studies.
But it’s not just that: They were also learning vocabulary and social studies and science, in settings where they learn by osmosis, not instruction. In a paper sculpture class, kids learn fringe, spiral, pleat; in other graphic arts classes, they learn silky, cellophane, grit, texture, burnish, and translucent–words that strong readers will run into in the many books they read, but poor readers may never confront. Students use African drums and make art based on indigenous textiles, learning about the cultures that produced these arts, use complicated computer programs, and more.

DCPS made big headlines a few years ago by committing to provide strong arts education in every school. I’ve never seen a study of any sort indicating how well that’s going. My educated guess is that many DCPS schools still lack good arts programs. (Small, even medium-sized elementary schools simply wouldn’t have the resources.)
Fillmore is a model that can help and inspire DCPS as it tries to truly build genuinely good arts programs for every DC student. Teachers and DCPS leaders should thoughtfully and transparently consider what aspects of this program can reasonably be brought to school-based programs and what that would require. And they should consider what can only be provided in a Fillmore type setting. Then, and only then, should there be any serious consideration of eliminating the program. Because once you end it, it’s over. It would be the destruction of an incredible infrastructure—both the staff and the physical plant. It would be the waste of a multi-year investment in a great arts program.
Maybe in the long run, there are better ways to get great arts to all students than through an off-site center, though I doubt it. Meanwhile, to eliminate this program before it has been fully mined for its ideas and talents would be a tragedy.
I urge you to sign this petition.

Weigh in on new Residency Requirements

When I campaigned, I talked a fair amount about the ridiculously burdensome process parents had to endure to constantly reestablish residency, especially when we had kids at more than one school. There was much sympathy for that view. But I also got a lot of pushback, from residents who felt that despite the requirements, families from outside DC regularly got away with enrolling their kids in DC schools due to looseness in the process.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Schools (OSSE) is now revising its approach to residency requirements, with a plan that it hopes will relieve the burden and tighten up the process. Specifically, it will use the simple fact that a family has filed taxes in DC as evidence of residency; parents need only consent to allow the DC Office of Finance and Revenue to affirm that the family paid DC taxes. This should greatly relieve the paperwork burden on parents–and the use of tax payment should assure DC residency.
But, anyone who chose not to go the tax verification route (and that would necessarily include families that had moved to DC since filing their taxes), could still use other evidence to establish residency, including the same fallible records accepted now, including drivers licenses, which don’t expire for many years, and leases and utility bill which apparently are easy to alter.
Another problem I’ve heard: Under this proposal, the responsibility for establishing residency falls on the school district or, in the case of some charters, on the school (because they are in effect their own school district). Schools and districts may not be the right enforcers of the policy, as their funding rises with additional enrollment. Further, at the school level, schools rightly have an interest in comity and shouldn’t be in the position of questioning the presence of a given family.
OSSE is taking public comment on this through October 24. You can see the proposal here Please weigh in at OSSE has the option of revising. Then the State Board of Ed has the option of approving or disapproving the final OSSE proposal. So, please, let me know your views as well, right here.

Proposal would eliminate full time school nurses.

Nursing staff are assigned to DC schools based on a contract with the city’s Department of Health. The DOH plans to change the contract, leaving schools with more limited part-time nurse coverage. I think this is a terrible move. As I’ve noted in many tweets, kids just don’t decide to have allergy attacks or accidents on a part time schedule. For a fuller discussion of the very flawed proposal, see this letter sent to city officials by the Ward 3 Education Network. Here is Fox 5’s coverage of the issue. And, by clicking here, you an sign up to testify before City Council on the issue this coming Tuesday.

Happy Fall!!!!

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