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DC-CORE Member Sophia Baratta Testimony on OSSE Independence Legislation

Testimony before the DC Council

By Sophia Baratta: Teacher at Hendley Elementary (DCPS), active WTU member, DC-Core Member, EmpowerEd Opportunity Fellow, Ward 5 Resident

Given: Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Good afternoon, council members. Today, I am sure you already have and will continue to hear many statistics and facts about why these bills are important. I am not here to add to these statistics. I am here as a teacher to discuss my personal experience with school governance in Washington, DC.

I have testified at board of education meetings and listened in on others as I continue to hear teachers and parents share their frustrations, disappointment and requests. Most of these hearings end the same way, with representatives sharing their concerns and frustrations but unable to do much more than make suggestions to the mayor.

The same people who are being heard by those with no power are being ignored by those with the ability to make changes. Countless teachers have expressed their fears and questions in town halls and meetings where DCPS refuses to share or answer the questions. We are not being heard beyond the board.

One part of these bills involves allowing DCPS staff to serve on the board of education. One specific time I feel this would have been beneficial was back in April 2019. All extended year schools were visited by the Office of Talent and Culture to discuss the loss of pay and cuts made mid-school year. When we pointed out that doing this is violating the terms of our contract, we were told it was our “personal choice” to stay with the district moving forward. This was the first major incident in which I noticed that DCPS was not held accountable for their actions. I believe if we had teachers serving on the board, this unfortunate treatment would not have gone unchecked.

When DCPS sends out an email with factually incorrect information or the mayor holds a press conference contradicting what teachers are experiencing or seeing at schools, who is holding them accountable? When reopening began, the chancellor touted how all schools have safe conditions for returning to in-person learning; yet we’re still seeing and hearing from teachers about filters that are either not working or not present. Having teachers on the board would help keep DCPS accountable for this.

Just two weeks ago, the mayor sent out an email claiming to provide a substitute teacher to each school this year. Having teachers on the board would help keep her accountable for this.

As a teacher in a RISE school, a 1- or 2-STAR school, I am being held accountable for a system I had no say in. Why do teachers and principals have to take responsibility for our allegedly failing schools but those in charge of school governance do not?

It is my hope that regardless of whether these bills pass or not, that the public will gain a voice and there will be a system in place to hold everyone accountable - not just the voiceless and powerless.

Thank you.

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