Saturday, November 13, 2010

Washington Post Online: Gay Ballou senior survives ordeal

By Bill Turque

The new Washington Blade tells the remarkable story of Ballou STAY senior Kadeem Swenson, forced by his parents to leave his Waldorf home two years ago when he came out as gay. He lived in abandoned apartment buildings in Congress Heights for a time while continuing to attend school.

Read it here.

Here is an excerpt from the remarkable story:

With some financial support from his grandmother, he managed to get through his junior and part of his senior year at Ballou while hiding the fact that he lived a secret life as a homeless person. He stayed most of the time in a debris-strewn abandoned apartment building a few blocks from his school with no electricity or running water.

“I never really told anybody because I didn’t want anybody to have pity on me,” he said.

In what school officials and LGBT homeless youth advocate Earline Budd call an extraordinary story, Swenson told the Blade how he maintained a positive outlook and an overarching desire to succeed at school under the most trying circumstances.

“I want to go to college and study business,” he said. “And I don’t want to just run a business I want to own it.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Washington Times: House GOP to push for school vouchers- Revival of D.C. program eyed

By Deborah Simmons- Washington Times

November 9, 2010

Despite the opposition of the incoming D.C. mayor and the Democratic president, key House Republican lawmakers say they will push a popular school-voucher program that was canceled by the Obama administration.

A spokeswoman for Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and likely chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said her boss and other House leaders continue to support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program and intend to pursue its revival.

"Congressman Kline is very focused on restoring the program," spokeswoman Alexa Marrero said.

She added that presumptive House Speaker-to-be John A. Boehner and Rep. Darrell Issa, incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees D.C. affairs, also "remain strong supporters" of the D.C. voucher program.

Advocates "can count on" Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and the ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the District of Columbia, to push for re-funding vouchers, said his spokeswoman, Alisia Essig.

In 2009, Mr. Chaffetz co-sponsored Mr. Boehner's Preserving D.C. Student Scholarships Act, which would have re-funded the Opportunity Scholarships program, she added.

In 2004, the Bush administration established the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program to provide economically disadvantaged students up to $7,500 in tuition to attend private and religious schools of their parents choosing. But President Obama wanted to direct federal dollars elsewhere, and Congress obliged by prohibiting new students from enrolling in the program.

Advocates said Mr. Obama opened wide the door for a renewed push for vouchers when, in post-election comments last week, he said that education is one area where he and Republicans might find “potential common ground.”

The incoming Republican-led House offers the best chance to expand the voucher program for children trapped in underperforming D.C. schools, advocates said.

"By taking action, reversing course and saving the endangered D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, President Obama will rescue the educational futures of thousands of low-income children who live just blocks from the White House," said former D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, who advocates the three-pronged education-reform approach of public schools, public charter schools and vouchers.

"The president will find a ready and willing coalition of Republicans eager to help him on this — as well as legions of supporters, Democratic and Republican, in Congress and in the District of Columbia itself," Mr. Chavous said. "Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan indicated that education would be an area of mutual collaboration with Republicans. I submit that the D.C. [Opportunity Scholarship Program] is the place to start."

Despite his canceling the Opportunity Scholarship Program, Mr. Obama has been supportive of school-reform efforts, including the possibility of teacher firings, though, like most high-ranking federal elected officials, he sends his own children to a private school.

The U.S. Constitution empowers Congress with wide latitude regarding D.C. affairs, and federal lawmakers have traditionally exercised that prerogative during the appropriations process. Unlike his two predecessors, incoming Mayor Vincent C. Gray opposes public funding for school-voucher programs.

Read the remainder of the article by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Washington Post: Interim Chancellor Henderson Steps Up

Interim D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson officially planted her interim flag Wednesday morning in a brief message to DCPS parents, pledging a seamless transition from the Michelle Rhee era.

"Many of you know me well," the former Rhee deputy said. "A 13-year resident of the District, I've worked side-by-side with Michelle Rhee for nearly four years to shape the turnaround of our public schools."

Here's the full statement:

This week, I begin serving as your new Interim Chancellor of D,C, Public Schools. Although my title may be different, my steadfast dedication to reforming education in the district remains unchanged.

Many of you know me well. A 13-year resident of the District, I've worked side-by-side with Michelle Rhee for nearly four years to shape the turnaround of our public schools. With your unwavering support, we've all seen reform pivot education in our city - and we're going to keep going!

The DCPS management team remains intact and focused on continuing reform. And we know that we can count on you to continue this journey with us.

I am excited about the success that we will continue to achieve together. I am equally excited that my tenure begins with our district-wide celebration honoring highly effective educators. A "Standing Ovation for DC Teachers" recognized the supermen and superwomen who educate our future leaders, and I can't think of a better way to illustrate the enduring quality of our reforms.

Continued progress is not an option; it is a necessity for our children's future. And it is reassuring to know that I can depend on your continued support.

By Bill Turque | November 3, 2010; 8:44 AM ET

Monday, November 1, 2010

Washington Post: Will Gray retreat on school reform? Here are 5 tests

By Richard Whitmire

On Oct. 24, soon-to-be-departed D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty wrote a farewell in The Post’s Outlook section: “We’ve done our best. Now it’s up to you.” Wisely, and appropriately, they kept their message at 30,000 feet. The big picture.

Allow me to address worried parents at ground level. How will you know if likely future mayor Vincent Gray succumbs to virulent anti-Rhee sentiment among some of his supporters and shifts her radical school reform agenda into neutral, to the kind of feel-good reforms seen in many urban districts. That is, just enough tinkering to trigger positive headlines but not enough to upset anyone — or really help students improve.

As Rhee indelicately put it just days after the primary, that would be “devastating” for D.C. students.

When it comes to education, Gray’s heart appears to be in the right place. He seems sincere when vowing to continue education reform. Certainly, his approval of Kaya Henderson as interim chancellor — Rhee’s close friend and deputy chancellor — is a positive sign. But let’s be real. The pressure to ease off Rhee’s reforms will be intense.

In Washington, much of the recent bump in enrollment comes from middle-class families, black and white, enrolling their sons and daughters in pre-K programs. I’ve interviewed some of those families. Rhee gave them confidence, while Gray worries them. If they sense that Gray will scale back the D.C. reforms, they will want to look for charter schools, private schools or a new home in the suburbs.

Here are five indicators that might help parents searching for clues about the future of the city’s schools. If any of the following pop up in the news, it’s time to worry: