Control of Special Needs Transportation Goes Back to District

Graduation Rates Go Up At District Schools

Henderson to Release School Closure List Tuesday

Nothing to Do For Winter Break? Try D.C. Winter Camps

Control of Special Needs Transportation Goes Back to District

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After 17 years of federal control over Washington D.C.’s special-education transportation program, the reins have been handed back to District officials. Announced on November 8, Judge Paul Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today agreed to end Supervising Court Master supervision.

Transportation service for special needs students has been under federal court supervision (under a division of the State Superintendent of Education) for over 15 years now as part of a 1995 class action lawsuit made by parents and students over a lack of reliable transportation. Problems cited in the lawsuit included an inadequate number of buses to transport special needs students and problems with arrival punctuality and time management.

Officials announced in June that D.C. has demonstrated that its city staff can provide safe and reliable bus transportation to school for its 3,100 special education students. The city has now developed the financial and management support that is needed to run the special needs transportation system. Helping this is a five-year capital investment of $28 million to continue service investments. This includes upgrades to the District’s bus fleet.

The court previously ended the requirements in the case governing payments to non-public special education schools and related service providers, according to the announcement. All parties involved agreed to a payment and dispute-resolution process that should ensure a smooth transition of court control over the system back to the District. Made effective on November 1, 2012, the payment and dispute process is governed by the District’s rules.

“This decision to remove federal supervision over special-education transportation is a major accomplishment for the District government – and one my administration has worked hard to achieve,” Mayor Vincent Gray said in a press release. “This crucial service will now once again be run exclusively by the District government…These students deserve every opportunity we can provide in education, and I’m proud to say that they are getting the kind of service they deserve. I’m also deeply appreciative for the skilled representation provided by the Office of the Attorney General under Irv Nathan’s leadership.”

A court date has been set for December 19 for a final “fairness” hearing on dismissal of the 1995 case that initiated federal control over the bus system.

“Ending federal court supervision over our local functions has been among our highest priorities,” said District Attorney General Irvin Nathan in a statement. “The Gray Administration has followed through on its commitment to invest resources and talent into the District’s student transportation services and end of the Supervising Court Master’s oversight is a reflection of the great progress and the durable improvements demonstrated by the District.”

November 12, 2012

Graduation Rates Go Up At District Schools

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High school graduation rates across the District’s public schools increased by 2 percent for the class of 2012, according to results that were released by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education on November 8.

The results came after officials applied the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR), which is a rate required by the US Department of Education. The 2010-2011 academic year was the first time that the District used the ACGR computation. As calculated by the ACGR, 61 percent of the District’s students graduated from high school in 2012 with a regular diploma after a four-year period, compared to 59 percent of students in 2011. Overall, 21 out of 44 DC schools had rates above the state average, with 10 schools graduating over 80 percent of their 2011-2012 cohort class.

“I am pleased to publicize our steady advancement in DC public high school graduation rates,” District Mayor Vincent Gray said in a statement. “Ensuring a high-quality public education for all of our students has been one of my administration’s top priorities, and these graduation rates show real progress.”

While there was not a very significant difference in graduation rates for traditional high schools from 2011 to 2012, it was at non-traditional high schools that the rates really went up. At non traditional public schools, there was a 7 percentage-point increase in graduation rates.

Graduation rates rose specifically at Luke C. Moore High School, an alternative secondary school that serves students ages 17 to 20 who have dropped out of other schools or have been facing difficulties in a traditional school setting. Luke C. Moore saw a 12 percent rise in its graduation rate from 2011 to 2012. In an announcement from the school district (DCPS), Principal Azalia Hunt-Speight credited the impressive leap in graduates to the school’s establishing a focus on a student-centered and student-supported climate and culture.

For the 2010-2011 school year, Luke C. Moore implemented a new, non-traditional, accelerated master schedule, along with online learning, evening credit recovery and portfolio-based classes to help its students prepare for the real world. In addition, teachers and school leaders communicated with students through various channels that make them more comfortable in a learning atmosphere— including text messages, emails and through social media.

“Our graduation rate is holding steady, but we can and should do better,” said DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson in a press release. “Overall, there is room for significant improvement.  I’m proud of the schools that made gains and, specifically, I want to applaud Luke C. Moore for the school’s tremendous growth. Luke C. Moore’s success shows that when given the right supports, all of our students will graduate.”

November 11, 2012

Henderson to Release School Closure List Tuesday

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The long awaited list of the District’s public schools to be closed finally has a release date. School Chancellor Kaya Henderson will announce the school closing list on Tuesday, reports are now saying.

This announcement comes swiftly after an allegedly fake list of proposed schools closings made its way around the Internet last week.

The exact amount of schools to be closed is not yet known, though officials have said that the schools that will be closed are ones that are largely under-attended and/or underperforming. A DCPS-commissioned study that was released in January identified schools that were at risk for closure, particularly those in Wards 4 and 5. The Washington Post reports that Ward 4’s Coolidge and Roosevelt High Schools and Ward 5’s Spingarn High School are at especially high risk because of their “underenrollment, poor student performance and lack of recent modernization.”

According to D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, underpopulated schools will be the most focused on.

“I know there are some schools that are grossly under-enrolled,” Mendelson told the Post. “It’s hard to justify keeping those schools open. … If you want librarians and art teachers in every school, you have to have a population sufficient to pay for it.”

Former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee created controversy in 2008 when she ordered the closing of 23 schools . This was the last time that the city closed down public schools, and the entire endeavor ended up costing the District about $40 million, the reports D.C. Schools Insider. The Huffington Post suggests that due to current low enrollments (45 DCPS schools have enrollments below 300 students), Rhee should have closed even more schools.

There are several reasons for the District’s public schools seeing fewer and fewer students, although the obvious one by far is because of the charter schools that have been gaining momentum and popularity in recent years. Charter schools have opened their doors to more students, and the city’s parents compete to get their children enrolled in one of them.

Henderson said in late August that she would reveal the list of closures in November or December, despite two public hearings on the matter being scheduled for this Thursday, Nov. 15 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Monday, Nov. 19 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Jon A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Ave NW. Members of the public who are interested in speaking during the hearings have until Nov. 13 to sign up. More information is yet to come about community meetings that may come up as a result of the proposed closures list.

November 10, 2012

Nothing to Do For Winter Break? Try D.C. Winter Camps

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Now that it is November, many families may already feel themselves looking forward to winter break. However, some parents may also find themselves looking for childcare services for some if not most of the days their children will have off from school (after all, most jobs do not give their employees the same amount of time off, and some may even have to work on holidays and weekends). However, there are better options to daycare or simply having children stay home all day. There are many winter break camp and other activity opportunities all over the Washington D.C. area. Registration for some of the programs starts early, so it is a good idea to stat checking them out now.

Various private and specialty schools throughout the region offer winter camp programs— often ones that focus on sports, science, the arts or other activities that interest children. Some of these include:

-Westminster School, Winter Wonderful Camp

-Georgetown Day School, Camps and Classes

-Lowell School, Winter Break Club

-Sheridan School, Winter Camp

Art, music and theater classes in particular are rising in popularity among extra activities for children. Not only are they a way of keeping children occupied over winter break, but art camps provide a fun, productive and creative atmosphere in which children can explore and develop their artistic talents. They can also make a few friends on the side.

- School’s Out Theatre Camps for Kids, The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts

-Adventure Theatre

-Bach to Rock, Music Camp

-Create Arts Center, Winter Break Camp

-The Children’s Art Studio

Sports camps are by far some of the most commonly found winter break programs for children. There are many sports camps in the Washington D.C. area, and the following are just several of them:

-Washington Wizards & Mystics Holiday Camps

-HoopEd, Basketball Camp

-Virgina Baseball Club, Winter Program

-Loudon Gymnastics Center, Winter Camp

-Fit Kids, Winter Sports Mania

-Sports Camps Kids, Arlington Winter Camp

-Kettler IcePlex, Winter Skate Classes

-My Gym, Youth Gymnastics

Though certainly not as prominent as those in the summer or spring, there are nevertheless science and nature discovery camps in the winter. They are limited, but the programs are full of fun exploration and learning for child science enthusiasts.

-National Zoo, Snow Safari Winter Camp

-Ever Wonder Camps

-Montgomery Parks Winter Camp

November 6, 2012

What is ‘A Capital Commitment’?

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If you are a parent of a child enrolled in any of the District of Columbia’s public schools, you may have already heard about “A Capital Commitment.” After all, 2012 is the first year of this movement’s enactment. For those who are unfamiliar, here are the key concepts and how it affects you and your child:

What It Is

“A Capital Commitment” is a new strategic plan set in place until 2017 (it is a five-year plan) by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and School Chancellor Kaya Henderson. It has been described as an “aggressive effort to rebuild the public schools system.”

Primary Goals

The plan can be summarized into the following five main goals:

1)   Improve Achievement Rates

2)   Invest More in Struggling District Schools

3)   Increase the District Graduation Rate

4)   Improve Student Satisfaction

5)   Increase DCPS Enrollment

To be more specific, “A Capital Commitment” aims to have at least 70 percent of students proficient in reading and math by 2017, with the amount of advanced students doubling in the same time period. The 40 lowest-performing schools should see proficiency rates increase by 40 percentage points. When it comes to graduation rates, at least 7 percent of new high school students will graduate in four years. Satisfaction among students should rise to 90 percent of students saying they are happy with and like their school overall. With the improvements, the DCPS school system (the city’s traditional public school system) aims to increase enrollment at its schools overall.

How Goals Will Be Achieved

Obviously all of these goals are going to take some work. To start, DCPS will offer incentive to faculty and staff by rewarding those who are highly effective. The school system will also invest more in gifted and talented and AP (Advanced Placement) programs. Technology will also be increasingly used, allowing students to self-discover and teach by using the latest interactive tools. Lower performing schools will also receive the grants they need to succeed.

One of the more interesting proposals is that of the extended school day. “We have found that school ending at 3 p.m. does not work for anyone,” Gray said in an announcement earlier this year. “By having an extended school day, we can have after-school programs that can help our students academically.”

What Does This Mean For Parents?

If anything, the plan is geared towards District parents becoming more involved with their child’s education. When it comes to longer school days, parents will be able to save money on childcare and be able to help choose appropriate after school programs for their child.

How to Learn More

Parents can find detailed information of the strategic plan here on the DCPS website. Additionally, a discussion and presentation of “A Capital Commitment” will take place at the DCPS High School Fair on Nov. 17 at Eastern High School.

November 5, 2012

List of Proposed School Closings a Fake, Officials Say

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The pending closure of several of the District’s traditional public schools (the DCPS school system) has been a much talk-about subject for the past few years with the rising popularity and success of the area’s charter schools, but officials are now saying that a currently circulating list of proposed school closings is not accurate and did not come from the right sources.

The purportedly fake list began making its way around the Internet on Thursday evening. The document names a total of 38 schools as those being considered for closure. Several of those schools included are ones that D.C. has invested a lot of time and money in over the past several years, making the idea of their closure shocking and even absurd to local residents.

“We have no idea where this list came from, but it’s not from DCPS,” school system spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz told the Washington Post.

According to the Post, Ward 5 activist and former neighborhood advisory commissioner Debbie Smith-Steiner emailed the list of proposed DCPS school closures to various listserves. Smith-Steiner is saying that she did not come up with the list herself, but instead got it from an employee of the DCPS school system, although she has so far refused to name the alleged employee.

Some of the more improbable schools on the list of proposed closings include H.D. Woodson High School and Anacostia High School, both of which recently had entirely new buildings constructed at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars with features like the latest technology and athletic equipment. Also included on the list is Cardozo Senior High, which is currently undergoing costly renovations.

The list can be viewed here.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced in late August that she would reveal a list of proposed school closures in November or December, although two public hearings on the matter have since been scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 15 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Monday, Nov. 19 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Jon A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Ave NW. Members of the public who are interested in speaking during the hearings have until Nov. 13 to sign up. According to the hearing notice, Henderson is expected to announce the list of proposed school closings prior to the hearings (the week before), which if accurate, leaves her announcement to fall sometime this week.

There are currently 123 traditional public schools in the District, after the last round of public school closures came when Michelle Rhee shut down 23 (largely underperforming and/or with low attendance) schools in 2008.

November 4, 2012

DCPS Prepares for Hurricane Sandy

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As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the Mid Atlantic Coast, the Washington D.C. public school district (DCPS) is preparing by closing schools and canceling extra curricular activities.

As of Sunday at 3 p.m., the closure only applied to traditional D.C. public schools., which will be closed on Monday to all students and nonessential personnel (Central staff and essential school based personnel should refer to the DCPS website for updates about whether they will be required to report to work). Many charter and private schools in the area had not yet made the decision to close. According to the Washington Post, District mayor Vincent Gray urged these other schools to consider closure in an announcement made Sunday.

“Let me clear, this storm is unique, large, dangerous and unlike anything our region has ever experienced in a very a long time,” Gray said. The mayor also advised families to stay indoors during the Hurricane and to remain on lower floors in their houses or apartment buildings if they live near tall trees.

ABC News has posted these safety tips for families to follow.

The decision to close the schools for Monday’s classes came after a previous announcement made on Oct. 26 that said efforts would be made to keep the schools open. However, recent weather reports show Hurricane Sandy to be a potentially major threat to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. Cities across the region have already been shutting down schools for Monday, and some have also extended the closure to Tuesday.

“While it is difficult to predict with certainty the impact the storm will have on our schools, we want you to know that we are taking every precaution to prepare our schools for the storm and respond quickly in the aftermath to make any necessary repairs,” an announcement on the DCPS website read on Friday.

The precautions taken for Hurricane Sandy may remind some area residents of the effects of Hurricane Irene seen just over a year ago. Irene caused downed trees and power lines, resulting in several of the District’s traditional public schools to lose power. Fourteen of them were closed an extra day after the storm for repairs. The 5.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred within the same timeframe also caused other closures and delays.

Updates to the District’s traditional public school schedules can be viewed on the school system’s website, here. They will also be posted to Twitter and Facebook, but parents can also text NEWS to 91990 for instant text alerts.

October 28, 2012

School Enrollment Up All Over Washington D.C. Area

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Enrollment at D.C. schools is spiking this fall, and officials say the numbers are now breaking records. The number of enrolled students at both public and charter schools has risen by 5 percent this fall, making the total number of nearly 81,000 students the highest in over a decade. This news comes after a report earlier in the year that stated enrollment at traditional schools went down, while that at charter schools went up.

The number jumped the highest in the District’s charter schools— a result of some of the area’s traditional public schools closing and increasing application rates, as well as an influx of former private school students whose parents can no longer afford to pay their tuition. D.C. charter school students now make up 43 percent of the total public school enrollment, the Washington Post reports. Among all of the nation’s major cities, only New Orleans has a higher amount of its public school students enrolled in charters.

“Every student in a charter school is there because his or her family chose that school,” Scott Pearson, executive director of the charter school board, told the Washington Examiner. “This growth reflects the high demand for public charter schools by D.C. families.”

The rise isn’t just in the District. Meanwhile, the highest performing public school systems in nearby Montgomery and Fairfax counties have also been seeing an influx of new students for the past several years. This has resulted in school officials scrambling to find more space and seeking larger budgets. Both school systems grew by more than 2,500 students this year, according to the Examiner.

Not every school is packed full, however. Overall, the trend appears to be that schools in the District’s poorer areas have seen fewer and fewer students enrolling— much fewer than they were built for. This has resulted in a proposal to close some of these under-enrolled schools. At the same time, schools in more affluent areas have been the ones seeing a great rise in students, with educators struggling to make room for each new face.

“We are actively working to improve our schools for all of our students,” D.C. school system spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said in a statement. “We are hopeful with the strategic work we are doing, more families will continue to choose DCPS.”

The public school system’s enrollment numbers last peaked in 1967 with about 146,000 students, followed by a decline that lasted for decades.

The Office if the State Superintendent of Education will publish the complete enrollment report of area schools sometime within the next several months. Meanwhile, past enrollment numbers can be seen here.

October 28, 2012

Childhood Obesity May Result From Stressed-out Parents

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Stressed out parents produce children who are more likely to be obese, according to a study that appears in the latest issue of Pediatrics. This information comes after a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that obesity now affects over 17 percent of children in the United States, with obesity being more common among those with lower-income parents.

Overall, the study specifically linked fast food consumption among children to the stress levels reported in their parents. The researchers determined that obesity in children is linked to stress seen in parents after they examined responses from parents in a 2006 telephone survey of households in the Philadelphia area. These households included more than 2,119 families with children between the ages of three and 17. Among those children, approximately 25 percent of them were at a weight and BMI considered obese for their age. Children with parents who reported higher stress levels were more likely to consume greater amounts of food (specifically fast food), and they were also more likely to be considered obese.

“We do see this in clinical practice… Parents are often stressed and have a hard time providing healthy options,” Eleanor Mackey, child psychologist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., told WebMD. “You have a hard day at work, and trying to get a nutritious meal on the table can be overwhelming and expensive.”

D.C. has been taking action against childhood obesity for the past several years, and receives grants for educational programs on healthy eating and living. Nevertheless, the District’s first-ever obesity report was not released until 2010, in which obesity was reported to have increased over a 5 year period from 2003 -2007 for high school aged youth. Among D.C.’s low-income children, the rate of obesity has also gone up, now falling between 10 and 15 percent.

When examined among specific areas of the city, the District’s wards with the most supermarkets and food options were reported to have the fewest rates of obese children (and obesity in general), while those with the fewest food stores had higher overall obesity rates. Out of all the wards, Ward 8 had the highest reported number of obese residents (adults and children), while Wards 2 and 3 had the lowest numbers.

In the nation overall, obesity rates have been reported to have tripled since 1980. According to the CDC, about 12.5 million children are considered obese.

The abstract of the research published in Pediatrics can be viewed here.

October 23, 2012

October is College Awareness Month in D.C.

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October is College Awareness Month in the District, and the public school system (DCPS) has been holding a series of events to remind students and their families of the importance of higher education. These events could not come sooner, as it was announced late last year that the D.C. metropolitan area has some of the lowest college graduation rates in the country.

College Awareness Day took place last Wednesday on Oct. 10 , and students across the district took the PSAT on Wednesday, Oct. 17. The PSAT, or “Preliminary SAT” helps to qualify students for scholarships in addition to preparing them for the SAT, the most vital standardized test used for college admissions. More students will take the ACT, a similar test, later in the month on Oct. 27.

Nevertheless, the events this October are getting students and their families geared up for a bigger event in early November— D.C. National College Fair. In an attempt to help families in the area learn more about different college options and how to navigate the admissions process, the fair will let students and parents to meet one-on-one with college experts and also admission representatives from a wide range of and private, colleges and universities from across the country and the world. Those who attend will learn also learn about financial aid, course offerings and campus living in addition to other very helpful information about the college world.

“The resources and opportunities that the National College Fairs provide for students and their families are invaluable,” Greg Ferguson, NACAC Director of National College Fairs Programs and Services, said in a press release. “And admission professionals have been delighted by the caliber of students attending our programs.”

More information about the college fair, which will be held on Nov. 7, can be found here. Attendees are required to register beforehand.

According to an estimate from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, roughly only 23 percent of students who graduate from D.C.’s public high schools end up graduating from college or any other postsecondary institution within six years. Events like College Awareness Month and the D.C. National College Fair are aimed at changing these statistics.

As a continuous effort by DCPS, the public school system has partnered with various organizations and resources to help bring students and their parents more information about college. Some of these include:

-BigFuture College Match

-College Results Online (CRO)

-College Navigator  

-College Affordability and Transparency Center  

-Fair Test


-National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC)


October 18, 2012

D.C. Tests Out New Blended Learning Program at Hart Middle School

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The District’s schools are now testing a new “Teach to One” learning system, first used in New York before beginning its slow spread to other U.S. cities. The idea is simple— put around 200 students a large space with laptops and a handful of teachers, and have them learn at their own individual pace.

Adopted at Hart Middle School in SE D.C.— one of the District’s lowest performing schools— the system relies on a computer algorithm that determines where each student needs the most help. Students do their own work with their laptops and other materials, but a small group of teachers goes around to provide assistance where it is needed. Although it may seem strange to a society that has functioned on traditional classrooms of (usually) no more than 40 students and one teacher, this new setup saves the district money on staff and individual course costs while ideally providing a more personalized and effective learning experience for students.

Teach to One is part of the much larger and more widespread movement of “blended learning”, which incorporates computer lessons into everyday classroom instruction via games, videos, audio lessons and educational websites. According to NPR, many schools across the country have been adopting these new forms of teaching due to increasingly tighter budgets and the need to expose their students to modern-day technology and resources.

According to the Washington Post, the federal government is throwing its weight behind the effort as well, and officials are offering $400 million in competitive grants, called “Race to the Top grants”. These grants are essentially funds that will go to school systems that show initiative in putting forth innovative plans for tailoring education for individual students.

In New York, where the Teach to One program was first launched in 2010, there have nevertheless been mixed results of its success. In fact, two of the three New York City schools that initiated Teach to One have since dropped it altogether. The third has seen a significant improvement in test scores, but this did not happen until the end of the second year of the program’s running.

Despite this, Washington D.C. is hoping for success. “If it works like we think it will, it’ll be a game-changer,” Chancellor of Schools Kaya Henderson told the Washington Post.

So far, Teach to One has secured $13 million in its core foundation support, and the program is currently being run in eight schools across the country— five in New York, two in Chicago and one in Washington, D.C.

October 16, 2012

Family-friendly Halloween Activities in the D.C. Area

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With Halloween coming up in just two and a half weeks, the Washington D.C. area is gearing up with fun, spooky events and attractions for the whole family. Here are some great ones for consideration:

Fright Fest at Six Flags Great America

September 29 – October 28, 2012 in Mitchellville, Maryland. One of the largest Halloween celebrations in the D.C. metropolitan area is by far Fright Fest. The theme park is filled with family friendly events and decorated rides. There’s even a special trick-or-treat trail just for children.

Boo at the Zoo

October 26-28, 2012, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the National Zoo, Washington, DC. The National Zoo is hosting its own Halloween festivities where families can see bats, spiders, owls and other animals while on a trick-or-treat walk. People in costumes will hand out candy at more than 40 treat stations across the decorated zoo.

Halloween Haunt at Kings Dominion

September 28-October 28, 2012 in Doswell, Virginia. Similar to Six Flags, this amusement park is featuring a variety of Halloween themed events and specials. This includes mazes, “scare zones” and plenty of other attractions. During daylight hours, the festivities will be more family friendly, and kids can find plenty of fun things awaiting them in the KidZville and Nickelodeon Central sections of the park.

Hallowmarine at the National Aquarium

October 27, 2012, 12-4 p.m. at the National Aquarium in Washington, DC. The District’s very own acclaimed aquarium will feature Halloween-themed activities for children of all ages, including face painting, a costume contest, live music from “real swashbuckling pirates” and a spooky scavenger hunt around the exhibits.

Field of Screams’ Scream City at OBGC Community Park

September 14-November 3, 2012 at OBGC Community Park in Olney, Maryland. This is great for families with both older and younger children, as there are a wide range of activities. The Field of Screams is known for celebrating Halloween with a festival consisting of a haunted forest, a kiddie playland, a haunted hayride and a ten-acre corn maze, among other things.

Spy Fright at the International Spy Museum

October 30, 2012, 4-8 p.m. at the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. The District’s famous spy museum is holding a spy fright community night the evening before Halloween. Families will be able to create pumpkin disguises and wear costumes for a “disguise contest.” The museum will also feature a haunted house, face painting and a hunt through the exhibits for “goodies and spooky trinkets”.

October 14, 2012

$10 Million to be Raised for Early Childhood Education

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Local nonprofit organization Fight for Children has announced plans to raise $10 million for improvements to early childhood education in the District. The organization is known by most within the public school system as a booster of D.C. charter schools and the charter voucher program, but in recent years Fight for Children has focused more on strengthening child care, preschool and other early childhood programs crucial to a child’s educational development.

Fight for Children made its announcement on Oct. 10 at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Parkview. As part of the broader $10 million investment, Fight for Children will focus on the launch of Joe’s Champs, an early childhood program that will ensure children in the District’s highest-need neighborhoods are taught by highly-effective early childhood teachers.

“Research shows that children who attend effective pre-school programs are much more likely to be successful in school,” said Fight for Children President and CEO Michela English in a press release. “With Joe’s Champs we are focusing resources on thousands of young children in DC’s highest need neighborhoods. This program directly compliments and enhances the ambitious school reform efforts already underway in the District of Columbia.

Joe’s Champs makes up the bulk of a larger program called Ready to Learn DC, a program that focuses directly on education for three and four-year-old students. The program is built upon the following three points: 1) work with the District to hold early childhood education programs accountable for making sure children are ready for kindergarten; 2) ensure that all schools and programs in high-need neighborhoods have great early childhood education teachers, supportive school leaders, and the right tools to be successful; and 3) give parents useful information so they can make good choices on where to send their children to preschool and how to be an active part of their children’s education.

According to the Washington Post, the organization is hoping to partner with the Capital Teaching Residency, a local program run by E.L. Haynes, and KIPP, and the Baltimore-based Urban Teacher Center. Both are programs designed to train teachers and prepare them for the challenges of working in urban schools.

Both Tree of Life Public Charter School in Northeast and Ingenuity Prep Public Charter School in Southeast D.C. have already signed up for a training initiative that will start sometime next year. Over the next five years, however, Fight for Children hopes to reach up to 40 DCPS and charter schools, but to do this they need to raise more funds.

October 13, 2012

Nation Gets a C- When it Comes to Children’s Needs

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According to a national report card released on Wednesday, Oct. 10 by the First Focus and Save the Children organizations, the United States has earned an overall grade of “C-“ when it comes to meeting the needs of children. Artist ambassador for Save the Children Jennifer Garner joined Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn., retired) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in Washington D.C. to announce the findings of America’s Report Card 2012: Children in the U.S. Sen. Casey and Sen. Dodd also commissioned the report.

The released report card focused on the general needs in the following five areas of an American child’s life: economic security, early childhood education, K-12 education, permanence and stability, and health and safety. Each category was found to be lacking, hence the overall average C- score. After making various suggestions on how to better meet the needs of children by engaging the nation’s youth more in public policymaking and collecting data more frequently, the report card concludes with the words “We can do better.”

While the overall score is C-, the report breaks it down into individually graded categories. The five aforementioned areas were scored as follows:

Economic Security, D

Early Childhood, C-

K–12 Education, C-

Permanency & Stability, D

Health & Safety, C+

“The number of Americans living in poverty remains at a historic high, with nearly one in four children knowing all too well what it means to go without,” said Garner in the announcement. “Childhood poverty sets children up for failure in school, impacts their health, and can pre-determine the course of their lives. So why, then, are children being left out of the conversation during an election season in which the economy is the primary issue? We need to do better for our kids.”

Sen. Dodd and Sen. Casey also said that the nation’s politicians need to increase their focus on the nation’s youth. Dodd also urged voters to keep this in mind when casting their ballots. “Children can’t appear on cable talk shows, contribute to political campaigns or vote,” he said. “Politicians know this and listen to the loudest voices in the political arena.”

Sen. Casey agreed. “Preparing children for the future must be part of our strategy to continue to grow the economy and create jobs,” he said in a statement. “By giving our children the best shot at success, we can also boost the nation’s productivity, increase prosperity and fuel competitiveness.”

Full Focus and Save the Children are bipartisan advocacy groups that focus on making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Both organizations are headquartered in Washington D.C.

The full report card can be read here.

October 11, 2012

Charters May Give Preference to Nearby Children

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Public charter schools have no doubt risen in popularity in the District. Applications soar each year and families often find themselves fighting to get their child a spot. In an attempt to make the admissions process a little easier on schools, D.C. officials are now considering implementing an admissions preference for students who live nearby charter schools.

A 12-person committee met for the first time on the night of Oct. 2, beginning their talks of whether or not D.C.’s charter schools should follow an admission preference to students living in nearby neighborhoods. The Washington Examiner reports that former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown started the task force after hearing about man students who were shut out from charter schools right across the street or around the corner from their homes.

“What I most want is for the task force to make sure we have all of the consequences and ramifications really carefully thought out,” Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board told the Examiner. “My greatest fear is we make a recommendation that has unintended consequences.”

Despite this, the proposal has already met with some controversy and resistance. According to the Washington Post, the hardest hit area would likely be Ward 8, which currently has thousands of its children attending charter schools outside their area. Shantelle Wright, founder of Achievement Prep Public Charter School in Ward 8, told the Post that she doesn’t think her areas children should be blocked out of the system because of where they live: “I think there’s a higher obligation to make sure that options are available in the neediest areas,” she said. “There are children in my ward that we don’t necessarily offer a high-quality education.”

Nevertheless, some officials are insisting that starting a preference system would make sense because of the various DCPS schools that are expected to close within a year because of smaller size and decreasing enrollments. The list of the schools that will be shut down is to be released at some point this fall. The students in those areas are the ones who are expected to get preference for charter school admission, if the committee determines it is the right move to take.

Should the District move forward with starting a preference system, it would not be the first U.S. city to do so with its charter schools, although other cities have varied with the kind of systems they have in place. For example, New Orleans requires its charter elementary and middle schools to give neighborhood preference for half of their seats. In Denver, however, only public charters that used to be traditional public schools give preference to nearby children, and this is for only 20 to 40 percent of available seats.

October 7, 2012

58 Schools Now Operating Without Librarians

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It is no secret in the District that the D.C. Public School system (DCPS) laid off dozens more librarians this year, as it has been doing for the past several years. The school system’s staffing guidelines now only provide for a librarian at schools that have an enrollment of more than 300 students, meaning many elementary schools are out of luck. Those schools with fewer students can hire a librarian, but to do so means they have to find the funds elsewhere in their budgets, which means they would likely have to cut other programs.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s office issued a statement this summer that said 58 of the 124 D.C. public schools would not have a librarian on staff this year. This number is up from 34 DCPS schools without librarians last year.

Many opponents of the budget shift, primarily parents, have protested that students need librarians in order to learn how to use libraries, do research properly and build up their literacy skills. The schools without librarians still have libraries, but volunteers or even teachers are now running them, albeit having limited training in library science.

A librarian who worked at Cleveland Elementary School until last year told the Huffington Post in August that students used to come to her “knowing nothing about libraries,” and it was up to her to get them excited about borrowing books and learning. However, this was before the school’s funding for librarians was cut.

Despite the seeming finality (for now) of the budget cuts, some officials and parents of students in the DCPS system have been fighting to get librarians put back in the budget. One online petition started over the summer currently has 2,669 signatures and counting.

In late September D.C. Council Member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced new legislation that would require every D.C. public school to hire a full-time librarian, art teacher and music teacher. “It is hard for me to believe that we continue to invest nearly $2 billion a year into our public schools (yes, that’s ‘billion’), with the highest per-pupil funding formula in the nation, and yet have the worst educational outcomes in the nation,” Evans wrote in his constituent newsletter before announcing his proposed bill. “This suggests to me that our money is not being spent in the right places.”

Nevertheless, Mayor Vincent Gray spoke out against this bill.

“I’ve seen emails that people say the world will come to the end if we don’t have a librarian in a particular school,” Gray said in a statement. “I think that’s hyperbole, to say the least.”

October 6, 2012

New Children’s Museum Will Hold JumpOFF! Festival This Saturday

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The National Children’s Museum is set to host the fifth annual JumpOFF!, this Saturday, October 6. The yearly jump roping festival, which will feature live music and performances, will be held outdoors at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and is open to all members of the public.

Children and their families will be able to participate in “make your own jump rope” activities” in addition to viewing performances and appearances by world-renowned youth precision jump roping teams and the Washington Wizards/Washington Mystics street team. A live musical performance and presentation will also be performed by Bach 2 Rock. Food vendors and other community businesses will also attend the event.

Saturday’s event, which will take place from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., will be set up just feet away from the new museum facility that has yet to open. The National Children’s Museum operated as the Capitol Children’s Museum for 30 years on H Street, NE in the District. This year’s JumpOFF! event is helping to draw attention to the museum’s new location in Maryland and the countdown to its grand opening. Memberships to the museum will also go on sale starting this Saturday.

The new museum space is now divided into an indoor section and an outdoor section, the former of which will open this winter. The outdoor section is set to open in summer 2013. Among the museum’s many new features, one of the ones generating the most publicity are the new “Sesame Street” themed section for children ages 3 and under, which will features characters and props from the famous children’s TV show. The museum announced a partnership made last year with the creators of “Sesame Street” to give Elmo and his friends a museum home.

The new building will also include a 130-seat theater. Museum officials have stated that they hope these features will draw 480,000 children and their parents annually once they are officially open.

Once open, the National Children’s Museum will be open seven days per week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every year between Labor Day and Memorial Day. The facility will remain open two hours later during the summer months with hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Standard admission will be $10 per child or adult, and there is no cost of admission for children age one or younger.

The museum’s new location will officially open on December 12. More information about the event and the new museum can be found on the National Children’s Museum website. Photos from last year’s JumpOFF! and the new museum’s groundbreaking can be viewed here.

October 3, 2012

Plans Unveiled for New Ballou Senior High School

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Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials unveiled plans for the brand new Frank W. Ballou Senior High School building with Phase 1 to be completed by July 2014. The building is set to welcome its first students in August of that year. Images of the stunning new building design can be viewed on CBS DC.

“From the classroom technology and state-of-the-art band room to the parent resource center, childcare center and a health/dental center, the new Ballou will exemplify how a high-tech high school can provide learning and health and family services for an entire community,” Gray said in a press release.

The planned band room is particularly noteworthy, as a documentary film was released in 2008 about the school’s marching band. The film aired on the BET network in Fall 2009, and was promoted by various celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, who donated $100,000 to the school after seeing the documentary. The marching band has traveled to the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, and has also marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The new building will feature energy-efficient mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems, which will modernize the school and help to reduce energy consumption. Other green initiatives for the school include daylight and rainwater harvesting, rain gardens and photovoltaic panels that will be used to generate electricity. Classrooms will also be equipped with new data projectors and sound enhancement systems. In addition to traditional classrooms, the school will also have computer labs and flexible learning spaces to be used for multiple purposes. The plans also show that the building will be ADA-accessible and eligible to achieve a LEED for Schools Silver rating.

Other features will include a new, two-story cafeteria, library and media center, an auditorium that is predicted to be “one of the largest assembly spaces in Southeast Washington”, and an athletics wing with an indoor running track, gym, a competition level pool, fitness center and new health classrooms, among other specialized classrooms and labs. In total there will be 37 classroom spaces, 13 science labs, and 15 specialized education rooms.

“The design for the new Ballou High School will serve as a national model on how to use technology to support learning in the classroom, in energy and sustainability systems, and teach the next generation how it can protect the environment now and for generations to come,” Brian J. Hanlon, DGS Director, said in a press release.

Construction of the building will take place in two phases. Most of the facility will be completed in Phase 1, while Phase 2 will include the completion of a new football stadium and auxiliary field. The new facility will serve around 1,400 full-time students during regular hours and up to 900 part-time evening students.

October 1, 2012

District to Offer Pay Incentives For High-Performing Administrators

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A new plan will allow public school officials at the District’s public to offer raises to principals based on merit. This new system will be an addition to a current one that allows teachers and other school employees to receive pay bonuses based on good evaluations and the performance of their students.

According to the Washington Examiner, this new plan is part of a recent $62.3 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education. This grant— which came from the federal government’s Teacher Incentive Fund, a program meant to encourage pay-for-performance initiatives in the nation’s schools— was the largest of 35 similar awards announced Thursday by the Department. All high-performing administrator salaries will be eligible for an increase of $2,000 up to as much as $5,000 when they receive high ratings on the Impact evaluation tool— a score that is determined largely by student test scores, school faculty retention, efforts to engage with families and general leadership qualities. Those administrators working in D.C.’s 40 lowest-performing schools will be eligible to receive a much higher pay raise if they meet the right qualifications.

In addition to pay raises for high-performing school employees, the grant will also be used to help fund more training exercises for teachers, and will also allow the school district to employ an outside consultant to help recruit qualified, experienced teachers to work in the District’s poorest performing schools. School officials also told the Washington Post that they have plans to partner up with a local university to offer more leadership programs to their students, and have been in talks with Georgetown University.

“Whether urban or rural, traditional or charter, successful schools are not possible without great teaching and leadership,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a press release. “Our best teachers and principals are invaluable leaders in changing life outcomes for students. They are desperately needed in our struggling schools, and they deserve to be recognized, rewarded, and given the opportunity to have a greater influence on their colleagues, students, and in their communities.”

The Washington Post reports that the District was one of the first in the nation to implement merit-based pay programs for its public schools. Although the measure has been met with a lot of controversy and continues to, many other school districts have since developed similar programs.

“I fundamentally believe that our teachers and principals in DCPS are the most dedicated and most capable in the country and this grant will help us provide them with the support they deserve,” District School Chancellor Kaya Henderson said in a statement.

September 30, 2012

Survey Shows Parents Want U.S. to Focus on Children

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Most parents across the nation want President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney to explain in detail how they plan to address issues affecting families and children in the U.S., according to a new survey that arose from a joint initiative between the Center for the Next Generation and Parents magazine. Among many things, the recently released result show that 3 out of 4 parents feel the government is not doing enough for the nation’s children, and 4 out of 5 parents said the U.S. should focus more on reducing child poverty and improving education programs because it is an investment in the country’s future.

When asked how important they thought it was that the next president needs to make children and family issues a priority, 64 percent of parents said it was “very important” while 33 percent said it was “somewhat important.” Less than 5 percent described it as “not very important” and even less said it was “not important at all.” Over 58 percent of parents disagreed that the current presidential candidates are spending enough time talking about these issues.

The survey findings were released on Wednesday, September 26., and the entire results can be viewed here. There were 2,173 participants— all parents with children under the age of 18. Above all, the main finding of the survey was that the Great Recession has impacted modern family life in multiple ways. The National Bureau of Economic Research declared in 2010 that the Recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, but many others have speculated that it is not over yet.

If the Recession is in fact over, the survey from the Center for the Next Generation and Parents reveals that many American families are still feeling resounding aftereffects. One in 5 families have opted to not have another child as a result, and 38 percent of parents say their children are no longer able to participate in certain activities because of financial and time constraints. Parents are also working longer hours than they did before the Recession, and over a quarter of parents feel their children will be worse off than them in the future.

Nevertheless, unemployment rates in the District of Columbia have dipped in spite of major job losses in August. Job rates rose in Maryland and remained steady in Virginia, according to the Washington Post. This is only small consolation to parents, many who will face harsh financial situations when their children enter college. Currently 1 in 5 U.S. households are in student debt, driven by steadily increasing tuition costs and rising college enrollment during the Recession as a result of the lack of jobs.

September 28, 2012

Encourage Reading