After days of calls for D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Antwan Wilson to step down amid revelations of his misuse of the school lottery system to benefit his daughter, the schools chief offered his resignation Tuesday to Mayor Muriel Bowser.
The news came on the heels of Deputy Mayor of Education Jennifer Niles’ resignation in connection to the incident, in which Niles reportedly gave one of Wilson’s children preferential treatment for an out-of-boundary school placement — a direct violation of a mayoral order issued last year.
Just a few weeks ago, Niles and Wilson stood together in celebration honoring the District’s top teachers with cash prizes, as DCPS attempted to move forward from the graduation-rate scandal dogging the schools system.
Now, both disgraced officials have been referred to the D.C. Office of the Inspector General for separate investigations.
“This September, my family faced a difficult decision where we felt that my child needed to transfer schools,” Wilson said in a statement issued before his resignation was announced. “I sought assistance on how to do this correctly, and as a result, my child was transferred to another school. However, the process I followed did not align with DCPS policy.
“My decision was wrong and I take full responsibility for my mistake,” he said. “While I understand that many of you will be angered and disappointed by my actions, I’m here today to apologize and ask for your forgiveness.”
Wilson issued the apology after Niles’ resignation, intending to stay on with support from the mayor, but was forced to reverse course as calls for his job by members of the D.C. Council grew too strong.
“After listening to many community members, families, stakeholders and officials it became very clear to me over the last several days that Chancellor Wilson would be unable to successfully lead the schools having not been able to regain the community’s trust,” Bowser said during a media briefing at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest to announce the decision.
“We will be moving forward focusing on our students, our teachers, our staff and placing our attention on what D.C. Public Schools need,” the mayor said. “There are too many tough decisions in the coming months to have any distractions. We want to make very clear to parents and students that we are going to support them in every way possible.”
Bowser said Amanda Alexander, current DPCS chief of elementary schools, will serve as interim chancellor.
“She will bring that experience and commitment to all of the students of DCPS,” the mayor said. “We’re focused right now on finishing this year and finishing it strong. We have the right leader in Dr. Alexander to do that.”
When questioned about why she didn’t immediately call for Wilson’s resignation, Bowser said she wanted to give him a chance to rectify his wrongdoing.
“Chancellor Wilson is an extraordinary educator — he’s built a career on helping students and transforming schools and he is a human being that made a mistake,” she said. “I felt very strongly about giving the chancellor the opportunity to explain that mistake and to regain the trust he needed.”
At-Large Council member David Grosso, who chairs the council’s education committee, also did not call for an immediate firing, but accepted Wilson’s resignation.
“His actions violated the trust of the DCPS community and I believe it has become evident that no amount of effort on his part would restore their faith in him,” Grissom said. “His departure will allow the school system to move beyond this distraction and allow our focus to be shifted back to working in the best interest of our students.”
At-large Council member Robert White said Wilson needed to go after such an egregious act.
“I have lost confidence in our DC Public Schools leadership,” White said. “Just months after Chancellor Antwan Wilson helped write a policy to prohibit public officials from obtaining discretionary school transfers, he has broken that policy, and with it, the trust of our DCPS parents and students. This violation comes just days after an internal investigation revealed a widespread culture of passing students who had not met the DCPS requirements, which led to 34 percent of students graduating with the assistance of policy violations, in all but two DCPS high schools.”
White said that as a member of the council, he has seen no accountability within DCPS’ central office.
“With a persistent achievement gap, high teacher turnover, and mounting education scandals, the cornerstones for rebuilding our schools must be public trust and accountability,” he said. “Without these, the future of our public schools is in jeopardy.”
Fellow Council member Vincent Gray echoed White’s sentiments.
“It is clear to me that Antwan Wilson, chancellor of DC Public Schools, [needed to] resign immediately,” said Gray, Ward 7 Democrat and onetime mayor of the city. “This is not a conclusion I come to lightly, but the facts as presented by the Bowser administration are clear: Wilson willfully violated his own policy and attempted to shield the scheme from critical eyes.”
Despite the chorus calling for Wilson to resign, he did have sympathizers, most notably the mayor.
“I recognize that the chancellor had what he thought was an untenable family situation, and he was trying to resolve it, and trying to resolve it by asking his supervisor what to do,” Bowser said.
Wilson started his tenure just a year ago after a nationwide search for the leader of the historically troubled system.
Before coming to D.C., he served as the Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District in California. He had one year remaining in his two-year contract with DCPS.
A source who spoke to Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said she didn’t support the call for Wilson’s resignation.
“He made a mistake and his apology should be enough,” the source said. “His two youngest daughters are enrolled in their neighborhood school, J.O. Wilson, one of the worst DCPS elementary schools in the system.”
Grosso said there are still are a number of critical issues the system faces, including graduation rate accountability and closing the achievement gap.
“I fully intend to examine these issues, as well as the chancellor’s recent actions, as part of the DCPS performance oversight hearing scheduled for March 1,” he said.