I have worked within the DC political ecosystem in one way or another since 1999, starting in Mayor Anthony Williams’ administration. Although my world was policy and politics, I never paid much attention to DC’s education system, and more specifically, the “new” public charter school movement.
That all changed in August of 2009 when I had my first child, Derrick. Almost immediately, I began to learn more and more about the District’s educational landscape and, like most parents, was disappointed in the lack of high-quality options available. In Columbia Heights, we were eligible to enroll in three different neighborhood schools. However, none of those schools had scored above 20% in reading or math on standardized tests in many years. This led me to explore my options in the public charter school sector. While most of what I heard about public charter schools was negative, after doing the research, I realized that the issue of whether public charter schools were “good” or “bad” was largely based on partisan politics – not the children they served.
That being said, when my son became eligible to enroll in Pre-K 3, I had to apply directly to 11 different public charter schools because the universal lottery did not exist yet. I remember touring schools and feeling so overwhelmed with the process because I did not know if I was choosing correctly. I knew then that the application process needed to be changed and we needed to challenge our elected officials to improve our city’s educational landscape. I wanted to know who was out there advocating for parents and our children.
Then it hit me – I could become an activist! I could apply my knowledge of how the city works, and use my relationships and my experiences as a parent to help other parents navigate a system that – even with my background – was overwhelming. I began to meet with decision-makers and leaders in the charter school community, and eventually, those connections led me to PAVE.
While much has improved since I first learned about the public charter school movement in DC, there is a lot more change that needs to happen. PAVE is uniquely situated to help move the needle when it comes to advocacy on these key issues and empowering parents to take a stand for their children and the city’s children. We have been the missing voice at the table. PAVE has gotten us to the table in very short order, and we will be there for a long time to come.
By Joy Russell, PAVE Board Member and Mundo Verde PCS Parent