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Holding Candidates Accountable to the Community—Mobilizing Students and Parents to Stay Civically Engaged

August 23, 2010

by Ben Murphy, Program Officer

Last week’s torrential rains and flooding didn’t keep more than 250 DC students, parents, teachers, and concerned residents away from the Charles Sumner School auditorium. Reflecting the deep passion and concern in the community around education, five local nonprofits (DC Voice, Youth Education Alliance, EMPOWER DC, STEP Up DC, and the DC Language Access Coalition), collectively known as Communities for Education Organizing (CEO), attracted a standing-room-only crowd to hear firsthand from candidates running for election in the DC Mayoral, City Council Chair, and City Council At-Large races.

Parents, students, teachers, principals—these are the voices that the candidates heard from at the forum—voices that are all too often drowned out in the contentious dialogue on education in the District.

The students’ voices were perhaps the most compelling of the evening—I applaud them for the courage it took to stand up in front of so many adults and speak from their own experience in schools. The students spoke passionately about the issues they face in finding adequate guidance counselor support, access to teachers and resources who are bilingual, and how to respect students’ perspective in the process of school reform.

The CEO member organizations nonprofits are striving to ensure that the people affected by school reform are those who are empowered to make decisions that impact education. Their goal is to double the number of students who graduate from high school and successfully transition to college graduation.

These CEO nonprofits aren’t just pulling together candidates forums—collectively, with funding from The Community Foundation and a coalition of eight local funders, they have won an impressive slate of victories in the three short years that they have been working together. Among the most impressive are:

  • Securing $4.5 million in increased support for students who are not proficient in English.
  • Winning legislation that mandates that DCPS high schools maintain a student-to- guidance counselor ratio of no less than 1:250, where previously the ratio had been as high as 1:500!
  • Securing $1 million in additional funding for guidance counselor professional development in 2010.
  • Securing time in front of the City Council for a budget oversight hearing crafted, and moderated, by students and parents.


In a nod to CEO’s theme of empowering the community, the forum came to a close with a call for the candidates to raise their hand in a pledge to keep their doors open and meet regularly with students and parents on education issues, should they be elected. Every candidate raised his or her hand.

The Community Foundation and its funding partners have raised and granted more than $2.4 million over three years in the CEO initiative, underscoring our commitment to young people and education in our region. Funders, corporations, business, parents—anyone who wants to see the District’s young people succeed in school—can join the effort spearheaded by Communities for Education Organizing!  To learn how you can help support this critical work, contact me at (202) 263-4765 or

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