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International Programs in DC Public Schools

The idea of creating the DC Center for Global Education and Leadership (CGEL) grew out of the work of Sally Schwartz as DCPS’s Director of International Programs. In this role, from 1999-2008, she worked with schools and administrators to encourage and support global teaching and learning in DCPS classrooms, and helped facilitate connections between interested schools and outside partners with global education resources.

DCPS has a long tradition of offering strong international and multicultural education programs to its students. By virtue of its presence in the nation’s capital, with its wealth of international institutions and resources, DCPS has been able to take advantage of unique opportunities and rich learning experiences in the field of global education. DCPS has benefited from collaborations with many generous external partners, including universities, federal government agencies, embassies, museums, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations. In recognition of this work, the Council of Chief State School Officers awarded its International Education Award to DCPS in 1999.

From her vantage point in the system, Sally was convinced that despite its significant challenges and well-publicized problems, DCPS enjoyed tremendous, largely unrecognized potential to become a national leader in K-12 global education. DCPS had the advantage of:

  • A strong track record of successful international educational programs
  • A significant corps of globally experienced and informed educators
  • Parents and community members who understand the significance of global knowledge and foreign language learning
  • An almost unlimited reservoir of locally available international resources
  • A high concentration of employers requiring a globally skilled workforce
  • Internationally renowned universities with strong global studies programs
  • An increasingly international population in Washington, DC and in the public schools

Meeting the Challenge

Despite its potential, DCPS also has had real impediments to building a “world class” systemic approach to global education. Because so much of the programming and resources are contributed by outside organizations, the results tend to be intermittent, discontinuous, and inequitable. Too often, more advantaged students enjoy more access to quality or advanced programs. Global education is still largely seen as a luxury in a district with significant problems and persistently low-test scores. Building a “global system,” where teaching about the world is systemic and embedded across the K-12 curriculum, is clearly not the first priority for school leaders who face so many other urgent needs. And with the historic high turnover of leadership within DCPS, it has been difficult to build a case or sustain an effort to move beyond a random, non-strategic approach to global education. For the same reasons, local government funding to support global or international programs is limited. Everyone likes global education, but it is no one’s priority.

The implementation of systemic global education for all DCPS students will require sustained, committed leadership from inside the system, and a substantial investment of financial and human resources from outside. After discussions with DCPS leaders, as early as 2003, the idea of establishing a nonprofit organization as a vehicle to advance this work emerged.

Creation of CGEL

The DC Center for Global Education and Leadership was envisioned as an independent nonprofit organization, standing outside DCPS but working closely with it. The Center will be able to work more effectively with external partners, experts, and funders to mobilize the resources needed to support the systemic “globalization” of DC Public Schools.

In 2003 DCPS signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Phelps Stokes Fund, which agreed to incubate CGEL and serve as its fiscal agent. An initial grant from the Better World Fund/UN Foundation supported the initial global education programs and the start-up of CGEL.

In 2007, CGEL was legally incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the District of Columbia, and received its 501(c)(3) designation from the IRS in 2009. We are most grateful to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP, who served as pro bono counsel during this process. The Community Foundation of the National Capital Region maintained a fund for CGEL during this transition period.

Sally Schwartz met with DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson to share the goals of CGEL and invite a strong working relationship. The concept of the organization fit well within the new administration’s vision for a more effective way to work with external partners. Sally worked for one year as Director of Global Initiatives in the Office of the Chancellor, and in 2008 left to devote her energies full time to building CGEL into a vibrant and energetic organization working to realize its vision. She currently operates virtually out of local coffeehouses and libraries, and looks forward to establishing a CGEL office with staff during the 2009-10 school year.

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