Reforms are Working

By UELIP Associate: Michael Blume

DCPS received very good news last week.

At a standing room only meeting, Chancellor Henderson released DC CAS scores from the 2012-2013 academic school year. The DC CAS are a series of standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards, and measure a student’s mastery of reading, mathematics, science, and writing composition. This year’s scores revealed that DCPS improved its proficiency in all subjects more rapidly than in any year since 2009. In just the second year of Chancellor Henderson’s ambitious five-year strategic plan, student outcomes across the district are improving as dramatically as planned. Although much work lies ahead, the data is compelling evidence that DCPS’s reforms are working.

This news is especially rewarding for everyone in Central Office who works tirelessly to support the over 46,000 students enrolled in DCPS. Of the nearly 600 Central Office staff members, most have the talent to pursue more lucrative careers in other fields of work. Unlike teachers, principals, and other school-based positions, Central Office employees are rarely acknowledged for their service to the district. And while their colleagues and supervisors may be grateful for their efforts, most Central Office staff will never receive a medal from the president or win a free trip to the Bahamas.

What they do receive, however, far exceeds any external recognition or monetary bonus. Committed to DCPS’ mission of providing every student with access to a quality education, Central Office employees receive a deep sense of fulfillment when they can see their work bear fruit—from a low-performing elementary school that drastically improves its proficiency rates to a high school that shows signs of reduced truancy—all of Central Office is dedicated to its students’ outcomes. In this most recent case, the fruit comes in the form of across-the-board higher DC CAS scores. It’s great to see how everyone has collectively celebrated this positive news.

My office has been especially energized by the good news. I am working in the Office of Special Education (OSE) with the Operations team. As a Finance major committed to education reform, I would be hard-pressed to find a place more suited for my business skills and education bent. Operation’s responsibilities are dynamic and wide-ranging. They include, among other things, communicating all policies that might affect OSE staff to any relevant stakeholders, taking care that Medicaid is properly administered to all OSE employees (over 300—OSE is the largest office), and ensure that all OSE human resources’ functions are running smoothly. In short, we support every OSE team and employee, and address any operating needs that arise in their day-to-day work.

I have been very fortunate to assist Operations in a number of facets. When I was assigned my role on the Operations team, I thought I would do little more than basic clerical work (forming spreadsheets, filing records, etc.) I was wrong. Instead, I have been able to interview managers, meet with employees, draft documents, and communicate major policies to upper management. As part of my summer long project to analyze the Central Office hiring process, I have solicited feedback from a wide-range of people, and I have used their recommendations to improve the current hiring process. Although I lack the experience of a Bain consultant, my work has not been all that different from one. And while I may not offer the same focused solutions that a trained professional would, I have done my best to bring everyone’s feedback together in a way that makes sense and can lead to improved practices. Honestly, I have learned more about organizational operations in two months at DCPS than I have learned in four semesters of business classes.

DCPS has set the bar high in terms of organizational commitment to its mission. Although most employees are overworked and under-appreciated, all realize the good they are doing is not measured in dollars and cents. It’s measured in the special needs student who receives the highest quality individual service. It’s measured in that 9th grader who has dreams of becoming an engineer during his advanced chemistry class. It’s measured in each Central Office celebration over district wide testing improvements. And that’s what I will miss most when my summer with DCPS is over.

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