A Step Down for the Chancellor; A Step Forward for D.C.

By / 2.21.2018

This week, Antwan Wilson stepped down as Chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools after the majority of the 13-member D.C. City Council demanded his resignation for skirting the rules of the infamously competitive D.C. school lottery. Wilson ensured his daughter received a preferential transfer into the district’s highest-performing, non-selective traditional public school.

To the City Council, I would like to say: “well done.”

Wilson’s daughter was attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a selective performance arts school with a three-part admissions process. Ellington is generally considered one of the district’s better high schools; however, in the middle of the academic year, Wilson decided the school was not a good fit for his daughter.

Rather than abide by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) rules for a mid-year transfer Wilson approached the Deputy Mayor for Education to secure a placement for his daughter in Wilson High School. Following the district’s procedure for a mid-year transfer would have meant sending his daughter to her in-boundary neighborhood school, Dunbar High School.

Just half a year ago, in his “Vision for D.C. Public Schools,” Wilson wrote: “Families, educators and community members expect us to offer students a world-class education that will prepare them to think for themselves, work with others and lead in today’s complex world. They expect us to do that for every student in every neighborhood — without exception. And they expect us to do it with the same caring we would show our own children.”

They’re beautiful words, but his action speaks louder. He  didn’t show the same caring for every D.C. child as he did for his own; after all, he placed his daughter in front of the more than 100 other children on Wilson High School’s waitlist.

It also shows that he doesn’t really expect each high school to offer students a world-class education.

If Wilson really wanted for communities to believe that obtaining a world-class education for their children was a possibility at any district school, in any neighborhood, would he have sought preferential placement for his daughter at DCPS’s most racially and socio-economically diverse traditional public school? Wouldn’t he have sent her to Dunbar High School, where 100 percent of students are economically disadvantaged?

There’s no doubt that Wilson was just acting out of love and trying to do what was best for his daughter, but over 100 other parents wanted the same for their children. They just didn’t have the means to get it.

Wilson previously promised that DCPS would “develop a clear vision for equity that addresses race, income, disability, English-language fluency and other traditional markers for disadvantage, and then act on that vision in ways that strengthen opportunity.”

The lottery system is a crucial part of that vision for equity. It offers an equal chance for all students to receive placement in one of the district’s top schools, regardless of socio-economic status. Wilson even previously worked to strengthen the lottery rules by attempting to close loopholes that made preferential placements possible.

By going around this system, he betrayed parents, the DCPS community, and his own mission to create equity for all families in DCPS.

Wilson’s vision statement for DCPS was beautifully written, but if the Chancellor doesn’t believe in abiding by the system he created to help make that vision a reality for all parents and children in DCPS, then he’s not the man for the job.

The community has spoken, and, at least for once, the City Council listened.