School & District Management

Office Overseeing D.C. Performance in State of Change

By Catherine Gewertz — October 16, 2007 1 min read
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The District of Columbia might not be a state, but it has a state office of education. And that office just got a lot bigger.

The office that has handled just a few discrete functions, such as administering federally funded child-nutrition programs and verifying student-enrollment counts, is now taking on all the usual oversight roles of a state department of education. And it’s growing to more than 370 employees, from about 96.

The change in the newly renamed Office of the State Superintendent of Education is dictated by the June legislation that authorized Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s takeover of the city school system. (“Mayor Takes Control, Picks Novice to Lead Troubled D.C. District,” June 20, 2007.)

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See other stories on education issues in District of Columbia. See data on the District of Columbia’s public education system.

Aimed at clarifying state and local roles, the change gives state Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist expanded responsibilities, such as overseeing the district’s academic performance, and the staff members to back them up.

“We’re pretty close to being the same as other state departments of education,” Ms. Gist said, “except that we have only one major school district.” (Hawaii is the only state with a single, statewide school district.)

The purview of Ms. Gist’s agency includes the 55,000 students in regular district public schools, as well as the 20,000 in charter schools.

However typical some of its new functions might be of those of its counterparts in the 50 states, the District of Columbia’s state office still bears the stamp of uniqueness. No other state superintendent, for instance, answers to a mayor. Ms. Gist does; her four-year appointment, by the previous mayor, Anthony A. Williams, runs through 2009. She oversees the work of Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who also answers to the mayor. Mr. Fenty hired Ms. Rhee.

The city’s school board—now known as the D.C. State Board of Education—is responsible for setting broad policy, much any other state board of education. The panel is in transition, with five members elected and four appointed by the mayor. Next year it becomes an all-elected body.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 2007 edition of Education Week


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