DC mayor’s race: Robert White offers boarding schools for at-risk kids

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DC mayoral candidate Robert C. White Jr. said he wants to open more public boarding schools in the district, perhaps for students as young as kindergarten.

White announced this new plank of his campaign platform in a speech Wednesday, in which he said the city’s traditional public and charter schools are failing to meet the educational and developmental needs of many students. He offered vocational training that will prepare students for jobs in plumbing and carpentry that don’t require college degrees, as well as internships for students whose home life gets in the way of their academic performance.

“Some of our students need a 24-hour academic support environment,” said White, a general council member who is challenging incumbent Mayor Muriel E. Bowser in the June Democratic primary on a platform which includes several large and expensive public programs.

DC already has two public boarding schools, and both have been deeply troubled. Monument Academy Public Charter School, which opened in 2015, has about 100 students and has already reported hundreds of serious security incidents, including sexual assaults and 88 cases of students leaving without permission in a year. The school’s governing board voted to close it for safety reasons, then it reopened.

The security warnings have been coming for months. But regulators have not forced Monument Academy to make changes.

At SEED Public Charter School, a 12-year-old died suicide in his dormitory. The school then closed its middle school and now operates solely as a high school.

But White said providing students with a safe place to live, healthy meals and a good night’s sleep would help many people who have unstable lives at home, including some of DC’s more than 5,000 public school students. whose families are homeless. He estimated that the annual cost per student in the city was about $40,000.

White said that despite safety issues at SEED, at-risk students there — those identified by the city as homeless, in foster care, in families receiving welfare or food stamps, or markedly behind in grade – perform better than in other schools.

The data suggests otherwise: In 2019, just 8% of the school’s students achieved scores deemed at least “meeting expectations” on standardized math tests – half the rate for at-risk students across the country. school district – and 13% met expectations in English, compared to 21% of at-risk students citywide.

The proposal is unusual from a candidate who speaks of the need to strengthen the city’s traditional neighborhood schools and who has criticized the opening of new schools rather than investing in existing ones. But citing local and national examples — including the nonprofit Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania, which enrolls low-income students as young as 4 in boarding school — White said he wanted to provide options boarding school from primary school and would be open to either extended days or overnight stays for students from kindergarten age.

A handful of DC residents, including some in White’s left-wing base, were quick to express concern about children leaving their family homes. Some have noted Native American student history being educated in government-run boarding schools that were sometimes abusive and designed to alienate them from their culture.

“I was determined to vote for Robert, but government-run boarding schools are such a bad idea that I’m not sure I can vote for him now,” said a former ward advisory commissioner. tweeted.

Ronald Thompson Jr., a DC public school graduate and working as a local policy analyst, said boarding schools may have attracted some of his classmates who lacked stable housing.

“In the black community, boarding schools are seen as having positive aspects, in a city where we have high housing costs and where we have a youth homelessness issue,” Thompson said in an interview. “How do you answer the – valid – questions about the history of boarding schools and their role as places of behavioral control?”

Thompson also noted that left-leaning DC defenders often call for a shutdown of new schools, not an expansion. “The candidate himself pointed out that we have too many schools,” he said.

White also said on Wednesday that as mayor, he would strengthen the district’s existing programs for training high school students for the workforce, with an emphasis on teaching students a trade such as auto mechanics or technologies information that does not require a university degree. Less than a quarter of the city’s students graduate from college, White noted, saying the school system should focus on ensuring students who are not college-bound are ready after high school for more than a minimum wage job. .

“Young people who have no intention of going to university are leaving our schools without a career path,” he said.

White said he would allow students at any DC high school to participate in vocational training or an after-school internship, even if it means spending part of their school day at a site with a commerce program. missing from their school. Pressed for details by reporters, he said he would convene a task force to make recommendations within 120 days on how to boost job training.

He also said the skills training program would have minimal cost to taxpayers, pointing to other cities that have applied for philanthropic grants and federal funds to support public education.

In a Democratic mayoral race between Bowser, White, Councilman Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) and former ward official James Butler, which focused on the candidates’ differing views on how reduce the crime rate, White touted his educational plans as a way to prevent crime, just as he said his $1.5 billion plan to add 10,000 people to the city’s workforce would.

Trayon White has also launched an expansion of vocational training as part of his campaign, and Bowser has supported vocational programs at select DC high schools as mayor and recently spoke about the need to enable high school students to gain a more work experience.

Charles Wilson, an advisory ward commissioner who teaches carpentry, said Wednesday morning at White’s campaign headquarters that he agreed such programs could reduce crime. “People with skills don’t go out and waste their lives,” he said.

Raymond Bell, who runs a program that trains high school graduates for jobs as security guards and computer professionals and prepares them for commercial driver’s licenses, said none of the 2,000 graduates from his program had been arrested for a violent crime after completing his vocational training. An impressed murmur ran through the field HQ. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the answer to crime and violence in this city, and nothing else,” he said. White applauded.

Perry Stein contributed to this report.

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