D.C. Council Chairman (and likely next mayor) Vincent Gray vowed to improve special education and create universal access to infant and toddler programs at a Thursday night town hall held in Ward 3.
Hundreds of designer-suit clad Ward 3 residents, many of whom likely broke for incumbent Adrian Fenty in September's mayoral primary, crowded into St. Columba’s Episcopal Church at Albermarle Street, NW, to hear from the man who lost their vote.
“We need to reform special education,” Gray said. “We have one of the most challenged educational systems in the nation. We spent $166 million last year on kids in private schools because we couldn’t accommodate them in our public education system.”
Gray said universal access to infant and toddler programs would provide an early start that children who come from socially and economically challenged situations otherwise would not receive.
Gray also honed in on his work as chairman, specifically charter school legislation. Nearly 30,000 District students, Gray said, are enrolled in charter schools, as a result of the council’s efforts.
“I was proud to move it through,” Gray said. “And frankly, I’ve worked to do two things -- that is to support education reform in the District of Columbia and offer accountability.”
Gray, a product of the District’s public schools, defended his education.
“Yes, I think I got a good education, and yes, I understand that traditional public education has truly fallen upon hard times,” he said.
Gray defined hard times as excessive dropouts, failed students, frustrated parents and ineffective teachers.
Interestingly enough, this second of eight scheduled town halls eclipsed Michelle Rhee -- current Mayor Adrian Fenty’s handpicked chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. Instead, Gray discussed reform and collaboration, saying they work best when intertwined.
“They don’t have to be strange bedfellows,” Gray said.
Gray named the council’s creation of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization (OPEFM), headed by Allen Lew, as one of his gains.
He also credited the D.C. Council with creating the District’s first community college and implementing the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE), which has a budget of over $400 million.
District resident and attendee Milton Grant, 66, agreed with Gray’s views on education.
“I’m a native Washingtonian. My parents had to send me to private school, so that I would get a quality education, and I have had to do the same for my twins.” Grant said. “We are the nation’s capital and should be self-contained in education.”
Candace Nelson, a 34-year-old Vince Gray for Mayor volunteer, echoed Grant’s sentiments.
“It’s not a gimmick or catchy tune,” Nelson, also a D.C. resident, said. “In general, he seems to be a collective and collaborative leader. I like that he’s bringing that into education reform.”