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Becky Reina Testimony – Education Public Roundtable – DCPS’ Plans for Shaw Junior High School Campus and Banneker Academic High School – November 15, 2018

Hello, I‘m Becky Reina, mother of 2 Cleveland Elementary School students. Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

I want Shaw Junior High School to be reopened as a middle school fed by Seaton, Cleveland, Garrison, Ross, and Thomson Elementary Schools as envisioned by the Office of the DME in 2014 as a result of many hours of public engagement.

I want Banneker to be thoughtfully renovated elsewhere, after real, public engagement with the Banneker community, its neighbors, SHAPPE, and all other interested stakeholders. A renovation at Banneker’s current historic building makes sense to me, but I think that decision should be made in cooperation, publicly, not by the mayor alone, and based on data about the need for expansion and an assessment of how that expansion will affect other DCPS high schools and their feeder schools.

While I prepared this testimony, a friend told me after watching a Shaw Middle School advocate shaming the acting DME at a public meeting, that they were not effective. I suspect none of us are — because we are too angry. We are angry and exhausted from years of begging the city to listen to us, from years of broken promises by mayors, DMEs, and Chancellors. I personally testified to this body in 2015 about my disappointment that Shaw MS had disappeared from the Capital Improvement Plan without explanation. I was in a meeting in your office Councilmember Grosso, with you and Councilmember Allen and Shaw Middle School advocates, in 2015, 3 years ago. We, I, want a strong feeder pattern from PK3 to 12th grade, in every part of the city. I want city leadership to meet the needs of every child in their own neighborhood.

Shame on the Mayor for making this zero sum: Banneker or Shaw, but not both. I would like to read an excerpt from the website, DC Urban Moms and Dads. On, November 10th, an anonymous poster stated that Mayor Bowser attended a West of the Park community meeting and when asked what she intended to do about overcrowding at Wilson High School, she said:

“The quickest way I can reduce crowding and demand for Wilson is to get Banneker at Shaw opened as quickly as possible…If we move them to Shaw, I have 350 more seats we can fill; these are families who would otherwise be clamoring to get into Wilson or SWW…

We can also increase high quality middle school seats by taking the current Banneker space and creating a new, high quality middle school open to all District residents.”

I was not at the this meeting. So you must now ask the Mayor if she said this and if so, what she meant. When I read this, I do not hear an advocate of strong neighborhood schools in every neighborhood. I hear the Mayor telling affluent, mostly white people, that, ‘I will keep those striving students of color out of your high school. I will open more specialty programming away from you to keep your program the way you like it.’

I find this unacceptable. Our goal as a city should always be to meet the needs of the kids who need the most first, to create schools that are racially and economically integrated, that stitch our city, our children, our lives, together —not further apart. More gimmicky, specialty programming will not do that. Another charter school will not do that. More “choice” will not do that. Neighborhood schools do that, especially in mid city, where that diversity exists in our neighborhoods. You fix structural deficits by doing the hard work of supporting kids where they live and where they already go to school, not quick fixes that juke the stats.

I have been standing at the front of my children’s school, talking to fellow parents and grandparents about this. They do not look like me, they did not grow up with the advantages I had – roughly 50% of students at Cleveland meet the city definition of At-Risk (the same is true for students at Garrison and Seaton). These are parents I only know through Cleveland. We are part of a community we have built together because of our differences, because of our kids, because of our school. Shaw Middle School is what these parents want – some of them are Shaw Junior High School alumni themselves. And these parents want your help.

On a recent conference call about middle school options in Shaw – a call that was secret until we found out about it by accident – a DCPS representative asked, “How should we engage these parents if they never show up?” A lack of effective engagement shouldn’t translate into discounting a community or renouncing efforts to engage them directly. These parents want the city to ask them what they want, to listen to the answers. We need the Council’s leadership on this. Please, reopen Shaw as a middle school. Please help us create a strong feeder pattern from PK3 through 12th grade. Do not let the Mayor make these decision without us.

Thank you.

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