High school students from 20 schools were blunt with District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson about how DCPS can better serve them, with many calling on the new chancellor to prioritize stronger internet connections and modern technology in the upcoming budget.

In a Dec. 21 meeting at the school system’s headquarters, students leveled criticism about internet connections they say move at a snail’s pace, a lack of computers or ones they say are too old and blocked websites that make it difficult for them to complete their work.

District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson. (Courtesy Photo)

Although Wilson doesn’t have the power to change internet speeds, he said he can — and he will —make a big deal about the importance of speedier connections.

“In my last few districts, being a part of that work, I am serious about getting it done here,” Wilson told reporters after the meeting. “We will have a technology plan in DCPS. I know the mayor is going to support that plan because she wants our students to be prepared for 21st- century opportunities, and this is a big part of the pathway to the middle class … and that is an important part of the mayor’s administration. And I am committed to helping get that done.”

Prior to his arrival to head the school system in February of 2017, Wilson served as superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District and as an assistant superintendent in the Denver Public Schools.

When it comes to blocked pages, DCPS uses IBOSS as a filter that ensures students can access authorized websites for instructional use, Kristina Saccone, Wilson’s press secretary, told the AFRO via email. Beyond that, DCPS has a process for approving pages that are blocked, but relevant for learning. This is all part of DCPS’ compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, she said.

The students’ 90-minute forum with Wilson represented a critical piece of DCPS’ multilayered budgeting process. Additional opportunities for parent and community input — through surveys, online forums, living room chats and Chancellor’s cabinets — will continue this month.

DCPS reserved February for developing its early budgets with projected revenues, explaining how it supports DCPS’ priorities and incorporates feedback from students, principals and the school community.

Between February and March, principals secure their budget allocations and build their budgets with help from the school community and local school advisory teams. At the same time, the mayor’s office announces its revenue projections that are the bedrock for DCPS’ budget.

After that, DCPS sends its final school and central office budgets to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in March. Later that month, the mayor will present the entire D.C. government budget to the D.C. Council for review and an eventual vote.

Another issue was school personnel.

Shayair Blackair of Coolidge High School in Northwest D.C. implored Wilson to hire teachers who actually care about students. Teona Spriggs of McKinley Tech in Northeast D.C. said its principal needs to care about the kids and help make the environment more inviting. Nya Settles of Woodson High School in Northeast D.C. said substitute teachers should know what they’re supposed to be teaching.

Wilson said he’ll follow up with leadership at those schools to track down and resolve the issues.

“The larger themes of what the people were talking about — showing students that you care, making sure that students are challenged — those are the things that we put in the strategic plan because those were things that I was hearing and feeling as I went around, as areas of improvement,” Wilson told reporters. “We have to train to make sure our leaders are up on the best practices that they could be implementing across every school to make sure students know what they expect in them and that they know what are the students’ needs.”

Another area of the students’ concerns focused on resource allocation.

Kadeem Preston, an aspiring actor attending Anacostia High School in Southeast D.C., requested a drama program that prepares students like him for acting. Over at Banneker High School in Nortwest D.C, Sierra Lewter said the school needs additional guidance counselors to support kids so they don’t drop out of school.

Shaelyn Ames and Tatiana Robinson from Ballou High School in Southeast D.C. said the school should hire more social workers and offer a flexible class schedule for students who are essentially raising their younger siblings without parental guidance.

“A lot of times, people assume students don’t come to school because they’re skipping,” Robinson told the AFRO”. “But they have legitimate responsibilities.”

Other needs were more basic. Emely Flores from Columbia Heights Educational Campus in Northwest D.C. wanted a new turf field. Kamashae Tolliver requested a modern stage at the school, with upgraded lighting and dressing rooms that lock. A required course focusing on financial literacy was another popular idea.

Wilson pledged to keep students apprised on which of their ideas get into the eventual budget process.