On Nov. 8th, Ward 6 residents will elect a new Ward 6 representative on the DC State Board of Education (SBOE). Incumbent Jessica Sutter took office in 2019 but announced this summer she would not run for a second term. Brandon Best and Joshua Wiley have thrown their hats into the ring.
Both the name and the role of the board changed in 2007, when DC Council passed the District of Columbia Public Education Reform Amendment Act, putting the DC Public School (DCPS) system under mayoral control.
Since then, representatives to the DC SBOE focus on school policies instead of how schools are run. They do this primarily by discussing and voting on proposals formulated by the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE).
Meet the Candidates
Joshua Wiley (ward6wiley.com)
Joshua Wiley is an Assistant Principal at a Ward 4 DCPS Elementary school. He says that he is running to represent Ward 6 on SBOE so he can better advocate for families. “For this election specifically, if you don’t have kids in DCPS or DC schools, or if you don’t work inside DC schools – I’m not talking about central office, I’m talking about inside DC schools – I think you should let this election out. This is not for you,” Joshua Wiley said. “If you’re not living and breathing it every day, sit this one out.”
Working in the schools puts him in a unique situation to understand both the way schools function and the issues they face from the inside out, he said, helping them better navigate the system, providing avenues for solutions and helping them to get involved.
One of Wiley’s key concerns is teacher retention. “There have been too many times that students have come to me and said, ‘Mr. Wiley is this teacher coming back?’” he said. Teacher attrition takes away the community a child is building around them, he said, and a positive adult role model in their lives.
He wants to ensure teachers are being treated fairly, citing teacher concerns with the IMPACT system used to assess teachers, which has been criticized as biased by an American University study.
He wants to work towards greater teacher security, pointing out not only that the teachers union has been without a contract for three years and that charter school teachers work without union protection. Security should extend to pay, he said. A teacher starting out in DC might not earn enough to live where they work, which he said is unfair to the teacher as well as to the community that can benefit from their presence.
Wiley did not directly call for an end to mayor control of the schools. But he said anybody managing schools should solely focus on education, rather than managing it in addition to public safety, housing, health and the economy. Wiley stopped short of saying that DCSBOE should be running District schools, but did argue it should have a larger role. “What’s the point of electing people who don’t have a say?” he said. “I think the State Board of Education should be able to initiate some policy. “
Acknowledging the changes to the 2022 budgeting process, he nonetheless called for even greater school autonomy in the budgeting process. In terms of addressing the achievement gap, he said DC must first address the opportunity gap, saying that all kids should have access to after-school care and programs.
Pointing out that teachers are held accountable via promotion and pay for test scores every year, he argued that if the agencies charged with making environments conducive for learning fail to do so, there should be consequences. “So let’s say if half the HVAC in buildings are not working, somebody is getting fired,” he said. “Because if half the kids don’t pass a test, there are teachers getting fired.”
Wiley called for the revival of DC Council’s Education Committee, disbanded in 2020, saying it provided better oversight than the Committee of the Whole, but said additional checks and balances are needed in DC education.
Brandon Best (BestforWard6.com)
Brandon Best says he’s running for Ward 6 SBOE because he believes the District’s public and public charter school students should have the same opportunities as private school students.
Best was a teacher and a school level administrator in DC for 10 years before and spent eight years managing family engagement projects at DCPS and KIPP DC. He is now senior director of regional advocacy systems for the policy and public affairs team at a charter school network, where he is responsible for creating systems promoting family and community engagement and advocacy in 28 school districts nationwide.
He said his current role prepares him for the function of DC SBOE: advising on policy and providing support, advocacy and oversight of District schools.
“I think this is actually kind of important because the mission of the state board is to provide policy, leadership, support, advocacy and oversight. And it’s also noteworthy that the board views the way of accomplishing these things [is] by engaging families, students, community members along with elected officials – and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past decade.”
Best himself attended Ward 6 schools and says he is the only candidate in the race that has actually supported the ward’s families and schools. Having worked in both public and public charter schools, he said he understands the challenges in both systems.
He aims to bring his family and community engagement approach to SBOE. One idea is to add a parent and a teacher advisory committee to supplement the existing student advisory committee and comment on SBOE policy recommendations.
It is necessary to reexamine course offerings to ensure they are preparing students for the workforce, he said. “I think the question that we should all be asking is, how are we supporting our schools to prepare our children for the workplace of tomorrow?” Students should have the opportunity to enroll in programs around cognition, coding and financial literacy, he suggests.
Best is also interested in continuing to work to ensure students get to and from school safely, including working with the Safe Passages to Schools program. A few years ago, while employed at KIPP, he created a program called “A Mile in My Shoes,” where city leaders traveled to and from schools with students to see the challenges on route.
Asked about mayoral control, he noted that SBOE representatives do not have a say on who runs the schools, but said that DC Council should debate the matter. His role, Best says, is to work within the system and eliminate inefficiencies.
Those inefficiencies are largely between agencies, he said. He points to the dysfunctional HVAC systems in many District schools and the lack of streamlined communications that prevent efficient repairs.
Best agrees that teacher retention is a concern. He says the 2021 SBOE teacher retention survey found teachers listed reasons for leaving such as concerns with the IMPACT system, teacher safety, COVID protocols and teacher health. The IMPACT system needs to be re-assessed, he says, and teachers should be incentivized to stay for terms of perhaps four or five years.
“We also need to support our unions,” he said, “and [make] sure that our teachers have a contract.”
Noting that $1 billion has been allocated to address learning loss after COVID, he said he’d like to see transparency about how and where those funds are allocated. High-impact tutoring will be provided to 4,000 District students in FY23; it should be provided for more children, he adds. He said he would like to see each school have their own plan to address learning loss.
He does see challenges with the school budgeting process, saying he agrees with a funding model proposed by DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) that proposes that additional funds are given directly to schools that serve more at-risk students, as opposed to channeling it through DCPS Central Office. “I believe this is a viable option, as long as there is transparency around where the money is going,” Best said.