In Annual Pre-season School Inspections, Cheh Sees ‘night and Day' Improvement

WASHINGTON — At Horace Mann Elementary School, in Northwest D.C., the floors are gleaming; the classrooms are stocked with of books and teachers already at work, setting out the brightly decorated rugs where kids will gather for informal group activities.

But when the principal, Liz Whisnant, took Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh on a tour of the school Monday, Cheh wandered off and asked teachers questions such as whether their blinds work — even having a staff member pop into the boy’s room to check whether the toilets flush.

Cheh said she’s seen tremendous improvement in these factors. “I can tell you it’s night and day from when I started this 11 years ago,” Back then, she said, she would sometimes find classrooms without books — or even desks.

Cheh’s preseason inspections are about more than just examining the physical plant of each school: “It gives me a chance to talk with the principal and to see if there are any issues they have.”

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Whisnant took Cheh up to the rooftop garden where kids grow produce, and told Cheh that the electrical system that helps monitor the garden has been a little wonky; her staff has been checking into what’s causing it to trip repeatedly.

Enrollment at Horace Mann this year will be about 400, which represents some growth. “it’s lovely to have the summer to have some reflective time and time for really good planning,” said Whisnant. “We have a week before teachers arrive and then a week after that” before the kids come back to class Aug. 21.

Cheh has been concerned about how the D.C. Public Schools administration has been allocating money. Whisnant, asked about budget constraints, said with a smile, “I always have bigger plans than what the budget enables me to do. … More money — always great!” But she said that the school has added a position for this year: an “intervention teacher” in math.

“So we’re doing OK,” Whisnant said.

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