The District of Columbia School System is set for the 2017-2018 school year with early openings and a new teacher contract.

On Aug. 14, 13 schools on the elementary, middle, and high school levels started classes in the extended year program. This program starts the school year earlier than the traditional term and has more frequent breaks, but a shorter summer vacation.

Antwan Williams, the chancellor of the D.C. public schools, joined D.C. Mayor and other leaders in education to announce a new contract for the city’s teachers. (Courtesy photo)

D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson said the extended year program is a benefit for everyone involved. “We are able to build on the success that the students have and they will retain a lot of what they have learned,” Wilson said at a news conference at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Ward 5 on Aug. 14. “That’s why it is important to keep students in the classroom.”

The extended program has schools in Wards 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8. The only high school is Roosevelt’s STAY program for students who want to get their high school diploma in a non-traditional fashion.

Wilson, however, was at Bunker Hill for another reason. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), D.C. Deputy Mayor of Education Jennifer Niles, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) and Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis joined him to announce a tentative agreement on a new contract with the District’s public school teachers.

“We have a deal,” Bowser said. “Since 2007, the District of Columbia has blazed a trail to better schools – investing more resources in our classrooms, adding exciting new programs for our students at all levels and pouring billions of dollars into our school buildings. Yet for too long, our teachers have not been shown the appreciation nor presented the compensation they deserve. But with this agreement, together we will give our teachers their proper due and send a clear signal that we are all in for kids.”

The union’s members have been without a contract since 2012. Under the proposed contract, educators will get a 4 percent salary increase in fiscal year 2017, a 3 percent increase in 2018 and a 2 percent increase in 2019 as well as other benefits. In addition, the school system and the union will work collaboratively on school management issues. Davis said the contract is acceptable.

“We make better decisions when teachers are part of the process and it is important that teachers feel valued every day as they work in service of young people,” she said.

The District of Columbia public schools employs 4,015 teachers and serves nearly 50,000 students, according to data from the school system. School system data reveals that first-time teachers start at $53,000 a year and says that is the highest in the country for that category.

Michele Merriwether, an early childhood education teacher at Bunker Hill, told the AFRO she is glad an agreement was reached. “Honestly, I haven’t read the whole thing but it seems there are no red flags there,” Merriwether said, referring to possible punitive actions on teachers without recourse. “This contract is long overdue.”

The D.C. Council must approve the contract and it will not convene until the end of its summer recess in mid-September.