More Funds for Ward 6 Schools

Jefferson Academy and Capitol Montessori Get Additional Funds.

Photo: Andrew Lightman

Jefferson Middle School Academy and Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan in Ward 6 could receive $1 million and $4 million more respectively for capital projects in DC’s Committee on Education proposed fiscal year 2017 education budget. The DC Council voted on May 17 to bump up Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Capital Improvement Plan budget by $13 million to $440 million, but the budget must await final votes to pass into law.

Funds for Jefferson (801 Seventh St. SW) could help upgrade the science labs, and those for Capitol Hill Montessori (215 G St. NE) could pay for a new heating and cooling HVAC system and new ceilings.

New Modernization Criteria Method

Education Committee Chair David Grosso also released his own criteria for prioritizing the modernization of DC Public Schools (DCPS), including 4,600 data points in 10 categories to rank all 112 schools. Compared to DCPS’s and Bowser’s rankings, Grosso’s theoretical tool ranks Jefferson No. 10 and Capitol Hill Montessori No. 4. “I am especially grateful that my colleagues once again supported the Committee on Education's approach to depoliticize funding of our school modernizations,” Grosso said. “Our model – based on equity, student demand, community-centered schools, and transparency – prioritizes the schools in greatest of need.”

The criteria include: 60 percent equity – 25 percent for date and type of last construction, 20 percent for fiscal year 1998-2015 investments per square foot, and 15 percent facility condition; 20 percent demand – 10 percent for the five-year average building use and 10 percent for the five-year average enrollment growth; and 20 percent community – 5 percent child population growth, 5 percent by-right need, 5 percent modernized square foot in feeder, and 5 percent at-risk.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said he commended Grosso’s new criteria tool for the modernization of schools and plans to continue advocating for monitoring its use in the coming years. It’s not yet perfect, but it’s a necessary start. “It’s absolutely in the right direction,” Allen said of the method. “The next step is establishing it as the tool we use year in and year out.”

Mayor Bowser’s modernization plan pushed Jefferson’s modernization back five years and omitted Capitol Hill Montessori entirely, and that decision doesn’t sit well with him or the Education Committee, Allen said. “When I sat down with the mayor I let her know that I’m disappointed that it got pushed back,” he said. Putting in $4 million for the Montessori and $1 million for Jefferson shows a move in the right direction, though, he said.

Grosso also plans to work with the council on a law that incorporates a version of the criteria tool into the modernization process. The legislation would help standardize the approach to modernization. “My hope is that there will be more certainty,” he said. “The more we can give parents, teachers, and school administrators confidence that we’re going to do the modernization in this time period, the less controversy there is.”

Continued Frustration for DCPS Parents

Jefferson’s renovation was set for 2006 before the phased modernization plan pushed that date to 2016. Now the full modernization plan has set the school’s renovation for 2021, 15 years after the promised date. Students in Jefferson feeder schools like Amidon-Bowen Elementary (401 I St. SW) deserve more commitment from the District’s leaders, said Martin Welles, former president of the Amidon-Bowen parent teacher association (PTA).

Welles testified before the Education Committee on several occasions as a parent with three children set to attend Jefferson in the next five years. “What I as a parent am looking for is a commitment from city leaders that shows that Jefferson matters as much to them as it does to me,” he said. 

Amidon-Bowen underwent a phased modernization in the old plan, but five years later it’s still not completed, Welles said. The new full modernization plan threatens to displace whole schools full of children for extended periods. There are pros and cons to each plan, but Welles said what the community wants is dedication and for the pushbacks to stop. 

He appreciates the DC Council’s proposal to put $1 million into science labs for 2017, but he wants the District to see the school’s whole potential: it could hold upwards of 600 students at the heart of billions of dollars’ worth of development in Southwest and has transportation access. “We’ll happily take [the funds] but it doesn’t address the immediate needs of the school, which is a modernization,” Welles said.

Other parents also feel frustrated by the continued lack of communication from DCPS, said Brent Elementary parent Ivan Frishberg. He testified at the 2016 education budget hearing and asked for more transparency and community engagement on DCPS’s plans and budget. “It’s hard for us to feel like we’re going to invest in the school and take on this decision,” Frishberg said. “We at least want to feel like the school district is engaged with us along the way.”

His oldest child is a third grader but will filter into Jefferson in a few years, he said. Many parents who know Jefferson’s principal and teachers value the academic quality the school provides. But they worry that the perceptions of others who see the school’s structural failures may damage the school’s overall success. “A lot of these decisions [for funding] come based more on fear and perception than on first-hand experience,” Frishberg said. “Jefferson is high functioning. This is clearly a school that’s working.”

According to Grosso, his modernization rating system shows more transparency and solid data than DCPS’s system. “There’s a lot of things that still need to be addressed and addressed pretty immediately,” he said. “But I think there’s some sense from the council’s work that the school communities are being heard and progress is being made.”

To learn more about the Ward 6 parent community fighting for commitments to modernization, visit the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSO) at chpspo.wordpress.com.