SAC advocates for quality of learning in DCPS high schools

Hadley Carr

The Student Advisory Committee (SAC) has continued to meet virtually this year to address the mental health and educational concerns created by the online learning environment. 

Founded by former state board representative Karen Williams, the committee, made up of students from schools across the District, meets weekly to discuss improvements to the DCPS education system.

As a co-chair and student representative, BASIS DC junior and Co-Chair Alex O’Sullivan runs the committee meetings with Duke Ellington junior Shayla Dell. The SAC provides a yearly report with recommendations for the DC State Board of Education based on extensive findings and communication with students in schools across DC. 

The 2019-2020 final report of the SAC centralized upon three main issues: post-secondary preparation, maximizing productivity within the classroom, and distance learning. 

O’Sullivan and Dell also serve as honorary members on the State Board of Education. While the two cannot vote on official matters, they have a shadow vote. O’Sullivan adds that such a power has allowed him to “sway the votes of other State Board of Education officials countless times.”

To begin their weekly meeting on March 8, O’Sullivan posed the question: “What TV show have you recently binged?” Following the lighthearted discussion, the committee jumped into business, where students were offered a space to discuss the quality of learning in school. 

For some it was a feeling of pride, as they had successfully advocated for change at their school; they felt their voice was being heard. For others, the frustration was tangible. 

Students are worried about the format of AP tests, and overwhelmingly, the quality of education during distance learning. 

Dunbar junior Gary Murray was particularly frustrated with the lack of action in his school. “All I’ve gotten are excuses,” claims Murrray, after emailing countless staff at his school, “I haven’t gotten any real changes.”

While 20 students were in attendance, the group still lacked representation from all schools in DC, particularly students from Wards 7 and 8. 

Always aware of the issue, the SAC had made attempts to expand their committee, but after a town hall in December had no panelists from Wards 7 and 8, the committee began directly and persistently communicating with students across DC.

When it was created, the SAC aimed to have a representative from each school. While the committee has never accomplished the goal, O’Sullivan adds that, as a result of grassroots work, the SAC is 15 schools closer to a fully representative committee.

The lack of school representation is not simply within the committee, but also within responses to surveys and other pieces of data that make up the committee’s research. 

Particularly during the pandemic, “it’s been difficult to gauge certain audiences…[the committee] receives a lot of responses from schools like Wilson and Walls; schools that are typically represented in the conversation about [education] issues.”

Overall student engagement has also been lower due to the pandemic. After eight hours of school-related calls, O’Sullivan adds that few students “want to go to another two hours worth of calls to complain about the first eight hours.” 

O’Sullivan and Dell may be the only representatives at meetings with the State Board of Education, but members of the SAC still express their voice within their school communities and at town halls hosted by the committee. 

Duke Ellington Junior Alyssa Richardson takes great pride in such meetings, noting that “many teachers, administrators, parents, and students have found the [town hall] meetings extremely informative and helpful.”

“Whether they get the best grades, whether they’re the star athlete, whether they’re the class clown, everyone cares,” says O’Sullivan adding that, “there isn’t a single conversation that [students] shouldn’t be a part of. We are primary stakeholders in our education system.” If interested in joining, students can contact [email protected] for more information.