Orr Parents Take to Radio to Advocate for New Building

(L-R) Orr parents Bernard Dickey and Sirrell Phillips prepare to go on the radio with Nancy Huvendick, Daniel del Pielago, and Allyson Criner Brown (not pictured).
(L-R) Orr parents Bernard Dickey and Sirrell Phillips prepare to go on the radio with Nancy Huvendick, Daniel del Pielago, and Allyson Criner Brown (not pictured).

orr-yep-article-pull-out“The [condition] of the building doesn’t reflect the community inside the school,” stated Orr Elementary (DCPS) parent Ms. Sirrell Phillips in a radio interview to discuss the pressing need to modernize the building where her youngest child attends pre-Kindergarten.

Phillips and another Orr parent, Mr. Bernard Dickey, were featured guests on Taking Action, a weekly radio show hosted by Empower DC on WPFW 89.3FM. The parents and community supporting Orr Elementary, located in Ward 8 in Washington, D.C., have been forced to organize once again to prevent further delays to a long-promised modernization.

Host Daniel del Pielago, an education organizer with Empower DC, interviewed the parents along with Teaching for Change associate director Allyson Criner Brown and 21st Century School Fund program director Nancy Huvendick.

The radio show began with an overview of the history and process of school modernization, moved into the challenges at Orr, and drew connections to the proliferation of charter schools in D.C. (particularly in the neighborhoods close to Orr).

Phillips and Dickey spoke about the deep sense of community among parents and staff that defines Orr Elementary. “It’s like one big family,” stated Dickey. The host, del Pielago, observed, “there’s a real community that’s been built at Orr, and that’s why we need to strengthen that school not push it back.”

The conversation quickly turned to the poor conditions of the building, safety concerns, and the distractions to learning caused by the open classrooms as the parents made the case to restore funding for their school’s modernization to the 2015-2016 budget. Dickey described how he purchases traps to catch pests in the building with his own money.

Orr is one of the last open space schools in D.C. that has yet to be modernized. It is also considered to be one of the DCPS schools in the worst physical condition, receiving ratings of “poor” and “unsatisfactory” in assessments by the Department of General Services. The Orr community was not formally notified of the delay has received no reasoning or justification.

Then-mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser tours the open classroom space of Orr Elementary with parents in June 2014.

Analysis from the 21st Century School Fund shows that schools like Orr, which serve communities and feed into high schools with largely African American and low-income families, have received significantly less investment in the Capital Improvement Plan than schools in more affluent parts of the District.

Phillips noted that in 2014 D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser visited the school and called the conditions unacceptable. Phillips called on Mayor Bowser, DC Public Schools, and the Department of General Services, which manages facilities and implements building modernizations, to follow through.

Parents and community members are asking everyone to contact the DC Council Committee on Education and the Office of the Mayor to request that funding for Orr’s modernization be restored in the 2015-2016 budget.

Program with parents begins at 5 minute marker:

Tellin’ Stories at Orr Elementary is supported with generous grants from the Gwendolyn and Morris Cafritz Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, and an anonymous foundation.