By: K. Levek
In a close election, only two years ago, Philip Pannell lost his run for the Ward 8 State Board of Education seat. Trayon White, who heavily campaigned against him and won, has resigned from the post in order to take a job at the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Pannell says he is running again because he was passionate about the seat then and he is even more passionate about it now. “I am running because I want to see the students here in Ward 8 have better outcomes in education than they are getting now.”
Pannell said he feels that the community could be doing a lot more than we are doing in quality education. “We’ve heard it take a village to take a child, but what happens when the village is uninvolved or dysfunctional?”
Pannell is active in Ward 8. Pannell is a civic and political activist, a community leader, a Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) advocate and he is a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC), former President of the Congress Heights Civic Association and current leader of several ward 8-based organizations. He says he understands what it means to serve.
As for the educational seat, he said, “I think I could play a role in moving the agenda towards quality education.” Looking at recent District of Columbia Public School statistics, many schools in Ward 8 are performing below average and on a scale of 1 to 10 ranks 1, 2 or 3. Pannell says, “These are not desirable schools. We have to demand better for our children.”
We asked Pannell what would be his first resolution if elected and he said he would seek to address the community credits high school students are lacking to graduate. Students need 100 hours of community service to graduate. Seniors have not been able to graduate because they do not have the 100 hours. “I will require that over a 4 year period student have to do a minimum of 25 hours per year.” He said this will help students who face the challenge of making up the hours when its close to graduation time. “Eventually I’d like to increase the hours over the years. I would like to see our students interning in the ANC offices,” he said.
Immersed in the D.C. political scene Philip began getting involved in the community-based organizations and creating ones that didn’t exist. After a school shooting at Ballou Senior High School in the early 2000s he made it is business to help form a Parent Teacher Student Association where he served as the treasurer for many years. Most recently he is in the process of helping to establish a Jr. Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program at the school, attempting to forge a partnership with the local Boeing Naval Base and the newly relocated Coast Guard. “Our community has so many treasures and our students are missing out,” he said.
Missing out is something Philip rarely tries to do. He has said that whatever cause, organization or event his is committed to he participates fully. If elected, he wantes to conduct an organizational audit of all the traditional public schools in Ward 8 to find out which schools have and do not have Parent Teacher Associations /Parent Teacher Organizations /Parent Teacher Student Associations (PTA/PTO/PTSA) and identify those that need strengthening. Of the 39 public/public charter schools in the ward, 18 are traditional and Pannell says organizations like PTAs help parents get serious about their child’s education and become constructively involved.
Formerly serving as the treasurer of PTSA at Ballou, he says he understands the importance of these organizations and the critical roles they can play in a child’s educational process. He currently serves on the school’s School Improvement Team. Other ideas he wants to institute in the role include raising the reading levels in the ward. He said he would propose to have more opportunities where high school students are reading to younger children. “Many of the children in the ward are not being read to by their parents because of their own mis-education,” he said.
He also plans to address the truancy crisis. “You can go to any school and see that we need to engage volunteers. If the community is involved in developing an atmosphere that’s involved in truancy, then maybe we will see the numbers drop,” he said. “We have to develop more co-curricular activities for the students. There’s something that goes on in school where a child finds his passion. It can’t just be athletics,” he said. Many of the ward 8 schools have far less co-curricular activities outside of sports compared to the large variety offered at schools across town. Art, dance, music, choir, drill teams and other activities can help children began to develop a passion. Pannell believes community resources like the local hospital, United Medical Center, should be able to have a mentorship program with schools to mentor students who want to go into the medical fields.
He says that after he’s been in office one full year, he wants to come to the community with a report card to ask the residents to grade him on what he has done. He said, “I want to change the trajectory of the Ward 8 education!”
The Capital News has looked at the other candidates in the race and while some of them may be teachers in the ward, their work in the Ward 8 community don’t compare to the countless years Pannell has invested into the ward. Thus, we enthusiastically endorse his candidacy, as we did two years ago, for the Ward 8 State Board of Education seat.