Town Topics Feb. 21, 2018

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School Chancellor Antwan Wilson at the Duke Ellington School rededication in August. Photo by Ari Golub.

By Peggy Sands and Robert Devaney

Deputy Mayor for Education Resigns, Chancellor Follows

Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles resigned Feb. 16. Four days later, at close of business on Tuesday, Feb. 20, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the resignation of Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson. Wilson went on administrative leave effective immediately pending agreement on the terms of his departure.

Wilson, who replaced Kaya Henderson, had served a total of one year and three weeks.

After the inspector general’s office reportedly alerted Mayor Muriel Bowser that Niles had helped Wilson’s daughter make a midterm transfer to the popular Wilson High School without participating in the My School DC Lottery, the writing, it seems, was on the wall.

The transfer broke a strict policy banning preferential treatment for the children of government officials that the chancellor himself wrote just months earlier. It was instituted to ensure that “No past or current public officials will receive such a placement, to limit any possibility of favoritism or improper use of public office.”

Three months later, Wilson violated that very policy. Calls for his removal began soon after Niles’s departure, though the mayor ordered Wilson to write a public apology to parents, taking full responsibility for his wrong decision and asking for forgiveness. The first Council member to suggest that Wilson resign was Robert White on Feb. 17; others came on board over the next few days.

Wilson’s family moved from California to D.C. last summer. Two of his children gained entrance into J. O. Wilson Elementary School through the lottery. His oldest child enrolled in the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, but, according to the Washington Post, it wasn’t a good match. Wilson had his wife arrange through Deputy Mayor Niles to transfer his daughter to Wilson High, despite its wait list and the new policy.

Bowser said she had instituted “corrective actions,” including the removal of the chancellor’s child from Wilson High. The city’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability and the inspector general were enlisted to examine if the chancellor had violated the city’s code of conduct.

The mayor might have decided that quick action was particularly urgent because of recent reports by the inspector general that former Chancellor Kaya Henderson had allowed well-connected parents and government officials — including two senior aides to Bowser — to bypass the school lottery last year. In addition, DC Public Schools is currently embroiled in a crisis of trust after reports showed that some high schools had allowed large numbers of students to graduate though they did not meet attendance requirements, among others.

Niles’s chief of staff, Ahnna Smith, was named interim deputy mayor. Chief of the Office of Elementary Schools Amanda Alexander is now interim chancellor.

D.C. Tuition Assistance Program at Risk

Mayor Muriel Bowser set up a petition to save D.C.’s Tuition Assistance Program. Courtesy Office of the Mayor.

The District is facing the possible termination of a program that subsidizes up to $10,000 of college tuition for D.C. high school graduates who attend a public university in any state in the U.S.

Established in 1999, it is called the DC Tuition Assistance Grant. More than 26,000 D.C. high school graduates have received the funds to help bridge the gap between in-state and out-of-state tuition at state universities, mostly in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware. But the new 2019 federal budget passed by Congress and signed by President Trump on Feb. 8 would defund the entire $40-million program.

Developed because of D.C.’s unique status as a separate district established in the U.S. Constitution and partially overseen by Congress, the program is a component of the District’s effort to offer its 682,000 residents all the higher education benefits of a state.

In 1977, the public University of the District of Columbia was formed, merging the District of Columbia Teacher’s College, Federal City College and Washington Technical Institute. In 1996, the District of Columbia School of Law became part of UDC. In 2009, a community college offering associate’s degrees and vocational and professional certificate programs was added to the umbrella UDC system, which offered bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

However, tuition was high compared to in-state tuition for residents of other states. And D.C. residents had to pay hefty out-of-state charges to enroll outside of D.C. The Tuition Assistance Grant was created to help remedy the situation.

“In 2018, when the cost of college is at an all-time high, it is unfathomable that any leader working to build a safer, stronger, and more competitive country would choose to cut a program like this rather than expanding it,” Mayor Bowser wrote in a Feb. 15 letter.

But budget documents about the program claimed: “While this program has helped many D.C. residents afford college, the financial position of the D.C. government has significantly improved since 1999 providing D.C. with flexibility to allocate local funds to support its residents.”

The mayor has urged all residents to sign a petition at savedctag.dc.gov.

Albright Honored by Georgetown University

Georgetown University professor Madeleine Albright was the 64th secretary of state. Courtesy Department of State.

“Rising isolationist sentiment poses a significant threat to democracy,” said Madeleine K. Albright on Feb. 12 at “Diplomacy in the Defense of Democracy,” an event held in Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall. The former secretary of state was there to receive the 2018 Raymond “Jit” Trainor Award for Excellence in the Conduct of Diplomacy from the School of Foreign Service.

From 1993 to 1997, Albright served as the 20th United States ambassador to the United Nations. She then became the first female secretary of state, from 1997 to 2001, under President Bill Clinton, a 1968 School of Foreign Service graduate. Since 2016, she has been Michael and Virginia Mortara Distinguished Professor of Diplomacy at the school.

In her remarks, Albright, 80, said her diplomacy and policy advocacy have focused on the need to unite theory and practice. “One of the reasons why I was really excited to come to Georgetown to teach was that I had seen that disconnect, and I really was very happy to be a part of working on some connection.”

She expressed concern that the current administration is threatening key tenets of past American international policies by “stepping away from America’s historic commitment to human rights,” withdrawing from agreements such as the Paris Accords and Trans-Pacific Partnership and transforming the U.S. “from a partner to a pariah at the United Nations.” She added that the administration “also has tried, unsuccessfully so far, to slash the State Department budget.”

Albright introduced the world to the art of diplomatic pin wearing, Dean Joel Hellman noted with relish. He was referring to her habit of wearing one of her ever-growing collection of brooches to express her attitude toward a negotiation or an event in which she was participating. It became known as a diplomatic technique called “Read My Pin,” Hellman said.

On Monday, Albright was wearing a pin depicting the Statue of Liberty.

Whole Foods Fans Petition to Reopen Store

Almost 1,000 fans of the Whole Foods Market at 2323 Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park have had it. They want their store back and they want it now!

“It is time to come together as a community to take action,” wrote Emily Appel in a Feb. 12 email. “I have created an online petition to the landlord, S.C. Herman & Associates, and Whole Foods with a goal of pressuring them to come to a resolution on their lease. PLEASE support our neighborhood by signing. It’s very quick.”

The store has been closed since March of last year. Initially, it closed temporarily to deal with roving rodents. Then, while they were at it, some remodeling was begun. That escalated into a conflict with the landlord over the terms of the lease and permits, leading to lawsuits. Adding to the uncertainty, Whole Foods was acquired by Amazon last June. No one seems clear on the plans for the store. But neighbors are fed up.

Some are not in support of the petition, however. “No need,” wrote Jessica Hill in an email response. “The new Trader Joe’s opening on Wisconsin Ave will be even closer to Georgetown.”

Coming to the former Holiday Inn site at 2101 Wisconsin Avenue, Trader Joe’s is expected to open next year. The Whole Foods petition is available at: chn.ge/2H3i1s3.

OBITUARIES

Tennis Guru Ravi Shankar, 49

Ravi Shankar died on Feb. 4 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Though he shared a name with the world-famous musician, he didn’t hold a sitar; he held a tennis racket (actually lots of them). At age 19 in Delhi, India, he opened his own tennis academy. It became the third largest in the region of over 20 million people. Shankar became a well-known tennis personage in Washington, D.C., after moving here in the mid-1990s, teaching the sport he loved and becoming the go-to expert for restringing and repairing tennis and squash racquets. He had a sophisticated knowledge of string types and racquet differences — something area players at all levels, from beginners to professionals, came to appreciate. He could make a big difference in how you played. Shankar worked at the Drilling Tennis Shop in downtown D.C. for eight years before opening his own shop, the Tennis Zone, first in Chevy Chase and then at 2319 Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park. Many who knew him used the words “kind and caring” to describe him.

Architect Pamela Heyne, 76

Pamela Heyne Widell, who died on Feb 4, was well known in Georgetown. Educated at Smith College and the Yale School of Architecture, the architect and author of two books lived for many years on the 1400 block of 35th Street. She was an expert in using mirrors as interior architectural enhancements and designing kitchens in the exuberant style of renowned chef Julia Child. Over the years she worked with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Keyes Lethbridge & Condon and Peter Vercelli. She taught at Catholic University and lectured on mirrors throughout the U.S., in Canada and in France for Saint-Gobain. She was active in Christ Church on O Street, wrote for The Georgetowner and was beloved in Georgetown for her many community activities. After moving to St. Michaels, Maryland, with her husband Carl Widell and daughters Katya and Svetlana, she served on the Christ Church vestry and on the boards of the Avalon Theater in Easton and the Talbot County Historical Society. A memorial is planned for Saturday, April 14, at 1 p.m. at Christ Church in St. Michaels.

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