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In Judge Kaye K. Christian’s courtroom, Delabian Rice-Thurston is writing in the large black book she keeps discreetly in her lap. She has filled dozens of these tomes over the years, ever since she became the director of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools in 1983. That’s 14 years of tracking one of the most miserable educational systems in the country.

The books contain the sins of the D.C. Public School System (DCPS). There are many, many books and many, many sins: elementary schools without libraries, a third of the teachers without certification for the subjects they teach, SAT scores 200 points lower than in neighboring jurisdictions, and the lowest salaries for teachers in the metro area—all despite spending more than $7,300 per student, the highest cost in the nation.

This school season’s transgressions are old news to Rice-Thurston: the last of more than 11,000 fire-code violations that Parents United discovered in DCPS schools in 1990 by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request after the D.C. Fire Department wouldn’t cough up the schools’ inspection records. At the beginning of the decade, the FOIA documents showed an average of 45 fire-code violations per school in 94 buildings.

After warning DCPS to get its act together and getting little response, Parents United sued the city on March 3, 1992, which is why the school system has ended up in front of Christian, making excuses and begging for slack. Christian has not been so inclined, forcing mass closings when it became clear that student safety had been compromised. And even after getting its brains beaten out in court, the newly generaled DCPS still doesn’t seem to get it. That’s why Rice-Thurston is here taking notes and names on this hot Aug. 8. It becomes clearer with each passing day that D.C.’s schools will not be ready for the opening bell.

“Some people criticize our stand on repairs,” Rice-Thurston tells me. “There’s no law that says children have to have computers or chemistry labs in a school or even a sweet-smelling bathroom. But there is a law that says the schools have to make repairs and make these buildings safe.”

She admits that the sight of school-age kids hanging out on street corners through most of September will be a disturbing one.

“It breaks my heart. It obviously wasn’t supposed to be this way. In a way, it puts the whole psyche of the community out of order,” she says. “The way things are supposed to happen, the day after Labor Day, kids are supposed to go to school. They’re ready and their parents are ready.”

But Christian, who oversees the suit filed by Parents United, does not think the schools are ready. In Christian’s courtroom—the last one on the left on the second floor of the Moultrie Courthouse on Indiana Avenue—kids aren’t first; their safety is. Rice-Thurston has been in Christian’s courtroom at least once a week since early July, watching as a schedule of repairs has been shredded by gaffes, poor planning, and an overwhelming practical challenge.

She usually travels downtown from her red brick house near the Fort Totten Metro stop by train and joins the reporters on hand to watch the tango between Parents United and “Marion Barry et al.,” as the suit is known. Barry is no longer part of the action, and the elected school board has been relegated to bystander status. A board of appointed trustees and the general they hired are now running the show. Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed. The infrastructure is crumbling, academic standards are nonexistent, and the kids continue to drift. Would that Christian could court-order DCPS into competence.

At the hearing, Rice-Thurston—who is viewed as a godsend by many District parents and a holy terror by many of the folks at DCPS—is dressed like Clair Huxtable. She wears pearls and clip-on gold earrings. The rest of her uniform—nubby green short-sleeve cotton sweater, full skirt, and black digital Timex stopwatch—is more soccer mom than downtown agitator.

The look is part and parcel of her effectiveness. For more than a decade, Rice-Thurston has been overwhelming opponents, who always seem to underestimate her. That’s because, in a city full of divisions, Rice-Thurston can go anywhere and talk to anybody. Although she is black, her appeal is ambiracial, allowing her to cross to the other side of Rock Creek Park from her Ward 4 northeast Washington home and land with a great deal of impact. A few days later, she can appear on the other side of the Anacostia River as the local black icon who has made DCPS backpedal and the Washington Post kiss her butt in search of another good quote.

Today, Rice-Thurston and Parents United’s pro bono lawyers, Barbara Kagan of Steptoe and Johnson, and Mary Levy of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, patiently wait for the proceedings to commence. They’re used to waiting. Levy has worked for Parents United since 1983; her office is a floor above Rice-Thurston’s 400-square-foot bunker near Dupont Circle. Kagan, who has been on the case since 1992, has an office across the street.

To their left are the bureaucrats of the city. Gen. Julius Becton, the D.C. financial control board’s appointed head of DCPS, isn’t here; he is just back from his 10-day Alaska cruise. Neither is his point man on the fix-ups—another general—chief of operations Charles Williams. (Neither responded when asked for comment about Rice-Thurston.)

The generals are represented by Gene Kilby, facilities manager for DCPS. He’s backed up by Harold Johnson, an unctuous young man whose dark double-breasted suit easily makes him the best-dressed man in Christian’s courtroom. Their attorney is Brenda Walls of the D.C. Corporation Counsel.

Across from the two sides is a posse of six uniformed firefighters. These five men and one woman hold the cards that determine whether the schools will open or close, and this morning it doesn’t look good, in spite of Kilby’s reassurances. With fewer than four weeks to go, roof repairs on 49 of the 50 schools are less than half completed. According to the fire inspectors, the schools’ contractors have failed to get permits to put oversize propane tanks on the roofs of some of the schools, and in some cases fires have broken out. The usual suspects—asbestos and lead-based paints—have been discovered. At Truesdell Elementary, asbestos has entered through a third-floor window, and the deadly dust is everywhere. Christian, a product of the city’s schools, has a son starting eighth grade at Deal Middle School in Northwest. She is visibly disturbed by the testimony.

When pressed on the progress of the work, Kilby mentions that most of the schools are “10 to 15 percent complete.” Plans for the repairs count as 10 percent, so less than a month before school was to have opened, they’re just getting started. (A herculean effort, helped along by judicial prods from Christian, has since resulted in most of the schools being certified as safe for the revised opening date of Sept. 22. A few will remain closed when school opens this week.)

After three hours of going over the status of each school, Christian calls it a day and leaves the courtroom. The press in the courtroom pounces, not waiting for the two sides to leave their perches. At first, Kagan and Johnson do the talking, expanding on their positions. But when Williams’ double-breasted-suited assistant appears to misspeak, Rice-Thurston is quick to jump in.

“Hold on there,” she interrupts. And then she’s off, rebutting Johnson and taking the reporters through the long history of the suit and more recent critical developments. She mentions that she met with Williams way back in March and was assured that the city would begin working on the roofs as soon as the schools were vacated in June. Rice-Thurston says she tried to create a joint contingency plan with the general but was rebuffed. She says Williams claimed there would be no problem with the schools being repaired on time. (We all know how that turned out.)

The reporters write down every word, much of which will appear as stone-cold fact on the evening news and tomorrow’s papers. They rarely challenge Rice-Thurston. She knows her facts too well.

The District of Columbia’s public school enrollment peaked in 1967 with a population of just under 150,000 students. After the civil disturbances of 1968, flight to the suburbs—by both black and white families—began in earnest. The empty homes were gradually filled by yuppies or gay men and women, who, while enriching the city culturally, helped to empty the schools. The wealthy and the powerful who stayed sent their kids to private schools, including Barry’s oldest son Christopher, who attended St. Albans.

By 1979, the student population in the public schools had dwindled to 113,000, and the city projected a further drop to 101,000 the following year. The racial makeup of the student body was becoming predominantly African-American. In response to dwindling enrollment, Barry proposed a 1980 city budget in which schools would get a 4-percent cut in funds. The number did not factor in the nearly double-digit inflation of the times.

Part of the cost cuts proposed by Barry were to come from the elimination of 839 jobs, of which 750 would be teachers, regardless of talent. Rice-Thurston’s husband, Bob, was one of those fired. (He has since been re-hired and works at Lafayette Elementary School.) The teachers’ union and its citywide seniority system forced some schools to fire a third of their teaching forces, while others underwent little downsizing. The remaining teachers were called upon to fill gaps at other schools and often found themselves teaching second grade even if they had spent a lifetime instructing the sixth. average classroom size went from 25 to 28 students.

The resulting chaos and anger helped spawn an advocacy group first known as Parents United for Fuller Funding, or PUFF. (That unfortunate acronym was dropped when the group began using its present name in the late 1980s.) Parents United would grow to include representatives from a majority of the District’s schools, with a newsletter that circulates to 8,000 interested parties and an annual budget of $150,000, mostly from foundation grants. But at first it was just a core group of interested parents, including Rice-Thurston. Levy says she can still remember Rice-Thurston showing up at early Parents United meetings with her younger son Edward, who was just a baby at the time and whose diapers needed changing during breaks.

“As I recall, we were impressed with Delabian’s enthusiasm when we met,” says Parents United founder Rod Boggs, director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. “That, and she was a mother, with a son about to enter the school system.”

“I’d just left the Planning Commission, had two children, and was in the middle of preparing a new résumé when Rod Boggs called me,” Rice-Thurston recalls. “The timing was right, and it was the right place to be.”

Rice-Thurston was hired for $15,000 a year in 1983. She is currently paid $35,000.

“Delabian’s biggest strength is her ability to articulate to parents,” says Boggs. “Each night she’s somewhere in the city informing groups

on the status of the schools and what Parents

United is doing. Her commitment is apparent. She

won’t grandstand.”

When I point out that the city’s schools are no better—if not worse—after more than a decade of her earnest advocacy, Boggs is quick to defend his protégée and the organization he founded.

“But where would [the students] be if not for Delabian?” he asks.

It’s a legitimate question. Rice-Thurston has been a foot soldier on many fronts in the school system, fighting for adequate funding, teacher and student standards, and most recently, safe buildings. But many of the victories have been hollow ones. In 1986, D.C. spent just $4,100 per student. A decade later, funding has risen by $3,000 per student, most of which has gone down a rathole of excessive administration and downright malfeasance. Of course, pointing out how much waste there is in the system isn’t a great strategy for ensuring continued funding, so Parents United hasn’t been one to point fingers in that particular direction. Parents United made sure that DCPS became one of the best-funded school systems in the nation, but it didn’t have much success in making sure all those new dollars accrued to the benefit of the children the group purports to represent.

“It wasn’t wasted effort, and it wasn’t wasted funding. No, we haven’t gotten what we have wanted in terms of a high-quality education for kids,

but those battles needed to be fought,” Rice-Thurston argues.

she admits that merely seeing after the roofs over students’ heads hasn’t been completely satisfying.

“We have an odd problem in that children are not guaranteed a quality education. We have done everything that we could, and yes, it still hasn’t raised the quality of instruction in the schools. The only thing that we have been able to come up with for now is that kids are entitled to safe buildings. That has hopefully raised consciousness about some other things that kids are not getting in our schools.”

Long before Rice-Thurston was standing on the courthouse steps as an upholder of truth in the current court case, Parents United had established itself as a credible source of information in a system that was a little short on facts. Many public officials called Levy for reliable data before stepping up on an educational issue.

But good data alone won’t heal the system. Parents United and Rice-Thurston are not above jumping up and down a bit for the cameras if that’s what it takes to get the point across. Since the beginning, Parents United has always understood the value of a good photo op, the kind that drives coverage and mobilizes parents. In 1986, Rice-Thurston helped organize a group of 3,000 students and parents to demonstrate in front of the District Building. After tying up rush-hour traffic for a few minutes, the group released several hundred green balloons, which were supposed to symbolize a $6-million shortfall in the school budget, blaming it directly on Marion Barry. The cameras rolled, and Barry was forced to respond.

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The organization has never resorted to bake sales or candy promotions, instead using its connections to raise funds through splashy movie premieres—Gandhi and E.T. among them—back in the ’80s. In 1988, the group began giving the mayor embarrassing 3-foot-high annual “report cards” on how he was handling the schools. The following year, Barry was graded in 29 categories; a third of his grades were Fs. In the case of teachers’ salaries, Barry received an F-. The report cards were unveiled with great fanfare at schools on both sides of Rock Creek Park, and the ink flowed.

Parents United’s antics got attention partly at the expense of the city’s 101-year-old Parents Teachers Association—which still resents being usurped by the younger group. Many inside the organization don’t hesitate to denounce Parents United’s grandstanding ways.

“We object to Parents United meeting with the city and excluding other groups, including the PTA,” fumes Alieze Stallworth, legislative liaison for the city’s PTAs.

Hazel Brown, a teacher in the city for 30 years, put all six of her children through DCPS and is currently a vice president of the PTA. She thinks Parents United is more interested in press clips than in report cards. “I’m not always sure that they’re interested in our children,” she says. “What they’re really about is power and getting in the newspapers. They’d like to run the schools…”

Brown stops midsentence.

“Nobody pays us. We’re all volunteers. And yet [Parents United] solicits money from [the PTA],” she adds.

But Parents United owes its very existence to the toothlessness of the city’s PTAs. Currently, some 74 schools in the District have no real PTA at all. And in a city where the majority of students come from single-parent households, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

By the end of the ’80s, Parents United was getting sizable foundation grants. Currently, its $150,000 budget—not including pro bono legal work and in-kind donations—is funded through the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, the Cafritz Foundation, and the Freddie Mac Foundation. It is these funds that help fuel one of Parents United’s strongest weapons, its monthly 12-page newsletter, which is mailed to members, community leaders, and the press. The newsletter is Rice-Thurston’s megaphone. She’s not shy about using it as a bully pulpit to show that her group is more than just a lawsuit factory. (It has also successfully sued the city for such negligences as providing no medics at football games and allowing nurse shortages in elementary schools.)

“Every student will read five books each semester, write reports on them, and be required to rewrite them until they get an A,” suggests Rice-Thurston in one of her edicts to DCPS. When I ask her if that applies only to high school or if it includes middle-schoolers as well, she surprises me by saying it applies to all grades.

“Why not? Children are expected to read in the first grade. The books can be for the appropriate level.”

Saying it won’t make it so, but Rice-Thurston says there is no big secret in getting District schools back on track: Parents have to get and stay mad.

“Aggressive parents are what makes for a good school,” she says, a secret pushy suburban moms have known for decades. And she believes parents in the District have to push, because many of the people who have operational or budgetary control over the schools are not necessarily vested in its success. Rice-Thurston says the men on Capitol Hill who hold the District’s educational purse strings might be happy to see the crippled system fall further.

“I feel that the Congress, which is Republican, is actually pretty happy that our school system—in spite of good intentions by good people—is failing, because they want people to believe that nothing will work here but vouchers,” she said in a recent radio interview.

For the time being, both Congress and parents have to believe that Becton will succeed where others have failed. If nothing else, Becton’s credibility on the Hill is a huge asset.

“The thing that he brings to bear is that Congress likes and trusts him much more than the previous leader. There is a lot to be said for that,” Rice-Thurston says. Still, although she was no lover of deposed DCPS superintendent Franklin Smith’s amiable fecklessness, she’s not sure the generals sent in to shore up the system are going to have any better luck.

“Quite frankly, I am hoping that Gen. Becton is not going to get discouraged here. This isn’t the kind of situation where he can just call up four more tanks to take the hill. When he was introduced, I was worried that he didn’t know what he was getting into. He would say, ‘We are going to do this, and we are going to do that.’”

She recalls, “There was a lot of hubris and brave words. Maybe they can pull it off. I want them to succeed because I have a child in this system, but they have promised the moon. Maybe they shouldn’t have promised to totally redo 54 roofs. Maybe they should have just promised 10 or 20. We are willing to settle for what’s realistic; we just want to make sure that something happens.”

That urgency to get something—anything—done led Parents United into a motion in July before Christian asking that schools be opened even though roof work was proceeding. In hindsight, it was a terrible idea. Among other fiascoes, a giant pot of tar spilled over the side of the building at Wilson High, which is where Rice-Thurston’s son would have been if the motion had prevailed.

“We were confronting some very upset parents, and they are our constituents. It would have been a disaster,” Rice-Thurston admits. “The judge looked over our motion, decided to put safety first, and ruled against us. Sometimes losing is a big win.”

Rice-Thurston has just finished jogging four miles even though it’s 102 degrees outside, and her home is without air conditioning. After showering, she’s in an old T-shirt and shorts, unbothered by the heat. The detached brick house is quiet; the only other person present is Jeremy, a French exchange student staying here to sample the wonders of a D.C. public school education. Her husband Bob Thurston is off playing soccer with their younger son Edward. Their elder son, 19-year-old David, is en route from New York, where he’s a sophomore at Columbia University.

Rice-Thurston answers questions in a precise manner, the way daughters of military officers might be expected to speak.

“My father was a Tuskegee Airman, a pilot, so I was born in Alabama. After the war, he stayed in the military. We moved around when I was small, living in the District, then Michigan and the Philippines before moving to Denver when I was 8. I did the first grade at Young Elementary here.”

She goes to a living-room bookcase and gets a hardcover titled Black Airmen. A photo of her father, Col. Price D. Rice, is one in a line of pilots portrayed on the inside pages. He is something of a war hero, I later discover, having flown dozens of missions in P-40 and P-51 fighters over North Africa and Sicily for the fabled African-American flying unit.

Education has always been a family passion. Her grandmother obtained a degree from Atlanta University at a time when few black women received college educations, and though her grandfather was several semesters short of a law degree, he was still able to pass a state bar exam and become an attorney.

“My dad graduated from Springfield College in Massachusetts and later got his master’s from American University here. Mom graduated from Talladega College [in Georgia]. She got her master’s from the University of Denver while raising the family. I always remember her studying, studying. All of my sisters [Diana, Daphne, and Debra]—poor Daddy never did get a boy—have at least one degree except Daphne, who’s a few credits short.”

Her early public school education in Denver was typical of the ’50s. The family moved to the city a year before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which desegregated most public institutions, including public schools. Rice-Thurston went through most of it: She watched a sister go through forced busing, saw the city making school boundary changes to create de facto segregation, remembers her mother fighting to get her youngest sister Debra into a prestigious Denver public school. Her own neighborhood was block-busted.

“We were one of the first black families to move into an all-white neighborhood,” she recalls. “A few years later, the whites had moved out and the street was all black.”

Rice-Thurston says she still frets about getting a failure notice in the ninth grade for algebra and not being able to help her own two boys with their high-school trigonometry.

“I couldn’t understand the substitution of letters for numbers,” she admits. “Eventually, something the teacher said made it click. Later, I dropped trigonometry because I didn’t want a bad grade on my transcript.”

Her parents divorced during those years, but it was amicable, and Rice-Thurston moved in with her father.

“My mother lived nearby, but I still wasn’t above playing off one against the other when I wanted something. I remember getting my father to buy me a pair of heels when I was 12, against my mom’s wishes,” she recalls.

She graduated from East Denver High School, a melting pot of whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Japanese whose parents had stayed after being interred in Colorado camps during the second World War. Still, there was time for middle-class pleasures. Rice-Thurston became a white-gowned debutante and paraded through a ballroom as Price Rice’s eldest “crumbcatcher,” a term he used for all his daughters. She remembers her father resplendent in dress military blues, with her on his arm as he presented her to Denver’s black society. “It was all pretty bougie,” Rice-Thurston says, giggling at the memory.

Given her family’s emphasis on education, there was never a question about whether she would go to college. “I wanted a good liberal arts college, somewhere I could also study modern dance. I chose Grinnell [in rural Iowa]. There wasn’t a lot of discrimination there, no sororities, and everything on the campus was free except for the food. My graduating class had just four blacks.” (Her B.A. was in political science.)

(Her elder son David, who was a National Merit Scholarship finalist at Wilson High—a Ward 3 high school, as Rice-Thurston’s critics are fond of pointing out—has also been seriously into modern dance since his early teens. At age 16, he choreographed a recital of the D.C. Dance Ensemble. During his Columbia years he’s been spending a lot of time in Harlem learning from the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. And Edward will play on this year’s Wilson High soccer squad—if the schools ever open, that is.)

Rice-Thurston took her poly-sci degree and in 1966 headed for Toledo, Ohio, where she snagged a job on the city’s planning commission. The late ’60s were years of picket lines and civil disturbances, but Rice-Thurston missed that revolution. She says she believed that city planning itself was a form of activism, a utopian dream that said that if a city performed well, then blacks would be lifted up.

After three years of tasting Toledo’s government, Rice-Thurston decided to get a master’s in city planning, enrolling at George Washington University and moving to the District. There, she met Bob Thurston, a white D.C. grade-school teacher, at a dinner party at a group house just off Dupont Circle while she was a GW student and a new employee at the District’s Planning Commission.

“He had this truck, an International Harvester van, and I had purchased this used desk from the GSA. I promised Bob I would fix him dinner if he’d pick up the desk in his truck and help me get it up to my apartment.”

Thurston may be the only sixth-grade teacher in the District of Columbia public school system with two master’s degrees—one from Johns Hopkins in history and another from the University of the District of Columbia in mathematics. When it’s mentioned that the degrees should put him in line to become a principal soon, Rice-Thurston bristles ever so slightly and quickly reasserts that her husband has never had any ambitions beyond being a teacher.

“Bob is a very, very good teacher,” she says. “The schools need more male teachers.”

Rice-Thurston says her father wasn’t happy about her marrying outside the race, but Paul Thurston, Bob’s dad, went to meet him in San Francisco before the wedding, and in the course of conversation pulled out a stunning photo of the engaged couple together. Her father studied the picture.

“Well, maybe they won’t be your usual people,” he offered.

Rice-Thurston is not so unusual that she could kick up endless controversies without making some substantial enemies.

Maudine Cooper, the appointed vice chair of the board of trustees for the schools, is more than willing to slam both Rice-Thurston and Parents United. When DCPS’s opening date was pushed back to Sept. 22, she first suggested that parents “give the child-care bills to Parents United,” a statement she later retracted. Still, Cooper quietly seethes when she is asked about Rice-Thurston’s advocacy.

“Who does she purport to represent?” Cooper asks. “She’s out there arguing for the interests of Ward 3, which is all that Parents United represents.”

I point out that Rice-Thurston lives in Ward 4. “But where do her children go to school?” Wilson. “Where does her husband teach?” Lafayette. “Ask where the people around her in [Parents United] live.” Ward 3.

Rice-Thurston makes no bones about getting her kids into choice Ward 3 schools.

“I tell people that I would rather do anything you have to do to get your kids into the school you want to get them into than go into private schools. Stay public and do what you have to do to get your kids the education that you think they deserve. If you have to rent an apartment in the right neighborhood for a month, then do it. I always like to remember that saying from the book What Makes Sammy Run? In it, he says, ‘What kind sissy word is “fair”?’ Nothing is fair. You do what you have to do.”

Geography aside, Cooper says, “she should drop the suit.”

“I have had people ask me, ‘What in the Sam Hill were you thinking? You knew they wouldn’t be able to fix all the fire code violations,’” says Rice-Thurston. “Well, at the very least, we should give our children a way to get out of building if it starts on fire.”

Angie Corley, the Ward 5 school board member, also thinks Parents United should give up the lawsuit, likening its position to winning a fight on a schoolyard but not letting the loser up.

“It’s time to trust the city and trust the [control] board,” she says.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong,” says former Parents United co-chair and now Ward 3 school board member Jay Silberman. He resents Cooper’s implication that Parents United is a white pressure group from the western reaches of the District. He points out that his predecessors as co-chairs, Iris Toyer and Linda Moody, were from Wards 6 and 8, respectively.

“Parents United’s board and the leadership [are] both salt-and-pepper and citywide,” he says. Given Parents United’s historical savvy in public relations matters, it’s no coincidence that the most public face in Parents United, Rice-Thurston’s, is a black one.

“The pressure for high-quality education tends to come from well-educated and politically savvy people in a city. Many of those folks happen to be white, but what difference does it make?” Rice-Thurston says. “When it comes to education in the District, all of us are on the Titanic. Some of us are on the upper decks and some of us are on the lower decks, but we are all on the same sinking ship.”

Rice-Thurston says she will be with Parents United three more years. When Edward graduates from Wilson, that will signal the end of her involvement in Parents United as well. Some of her fellow activists claim she’s a cinch if she wants to run for a school board or D.C. Council slot, but Rice-Thurston insists she’s not a politician.

“Marion Barry was better as an outsider. Once you get on the inside, it’s harder to do things. I don’t want to wind up as an apologist,” she says.

“The people on the outside are the ones who give the people on the inside the incentive. I don’t know if I could do it any better from the inside. I’m more interested in how you propel children and nurture them at the same time,” she adds.

Rice-Thurston now expects that some of the schools won’t even make the Sept. 22 date, putting the college-bound students in a bind—they’ll have less time to prep for the December SATs.

The propelling and nurturing of her own children is almost complete, but it’s clear that in spite of her 14 years of advocacy, the problems at DCPS will endure after she moves on. Even if she hasn’t single-handedly gotten the crippled system back on its feet, she doesn’t believe the task is insurmountable.

“It’s like fighting cancer when it’s in its end stages,” she says. “Sometimes it’s difficult to see any progress, but you keep on fighting because that’s all you can do.”

Rice-Thurston doesn’t see anything magical about her presence in the middle of the fight to make schools better.

“I haven’t done this as well as it needs to be done. I am hoping somebody who realizes what needs to be done comes along. I would tell them that things could have been worse if we had done nothing, and I refuse to have them be worse. That isn’t an option.”CP

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Darrow Montgomery.