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Suki Lucier – Education Public Roundtable – DCPS’ Plans for Shaw Junior High School and Banneker Academic High School – November 15, 2018

My name is Suki Lucier. I’m the mother of a second grader at Seaton Elementary school and the president of the Seaton Parent Teacher Organization.

When I was pregnant with our son in 2010, along with the typical questions about when I was due and if we knew if it was a boy or a girl, we also got asked over and over about when we would be moving out of the city. Not if, when. And when we said that we had no interest in moving, we usually heard the same response: but what will you do about schools? I mean, maybe you’re ok through elementary school, but there’s no way you can send him to a DCPS middle school!

At the time, it felt like we had plenty of time to figure out what would be best for our child and family (and, to be totally honest, time for DCPS to get better) but before we knew it, it was time for our son to start school and we chose a charter school in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, we came to realize that even though the school was in our neighborhood and we formed friendships with many of the families and teachers at the school, the fact that those families came from all over the city made it difficult to build a strong school community, and the school never felt like it was part of the neighborhood.

All that changed when my son moved to our neighborhood, in-bounds school, Seaton Elementary, for pre-k 4. We had heard a lot of great things about Seaton- that they had an amazing principal, teachers and staff, a uniquely diverse student population, and quite possibly the most impressive school garden in town- and we quickly learned that while all of those things are true, Seaton’s best quality is one that’s hard to quantify on a DCPS school profile: Seaton is truly a neighborhood school and an anchor in the community.

Being part of the Seaton community has made us feel involved, invested, and connected to our neighborhood and city like never before. We love being part of the parade of families walking and biking into school in the morning and seeing familiar faces all over the neighborhood. I didn’t fully appreciate how meaningful it is to be a part of a community like that, or how beneficial it is for the neighborhood, the school, and its families until I had the chance to experience it, but now that I have, I strongly believe that every child and family in the district should be able to have that same experience. I believe that every child in the district should be able to have a clear path from pre-k to graduation through quality neighborhood schools.

But for Shaw, it’s not even a matter of having a quality neighborhood middle school, it’s that we don’t have a neighborhood middle school at all. Our by-right feeder middle school, Cardozo Education Campus, is over a mile from Seaton, and almost two miles from families living near Seaton’s eastern boundary of North Capitol street. That’s not a neighborhood school, and the hole that leaves in the community is only worsened by the fact that the middle school at Cardozo has always been presented as temporary measure and lacks a strong feeder pattern. Only Seaton and Garrison feed directly into Cardozo as Ross has the option to feed into School Without Walls, and the Spanish Immersion program at Cleveland has the option to feed into McFarland Middle School.
We feel the effects of this all the way down at the elementary level, where Seaton loses kids in 4th and 5th grades because their parents are getting them into elementary schools with strong middle school feeder patterns. And so we looked across the street to where Shaw Middle has sat empty of students, but full of promise for the neighborhood and our kids, for over a decade, and we waited for it to be our turn.

We had good reason to believe it would be our turn eventually: there had been money in the budget for renovating or rebuilding Shaw Middle School every year since it closed, the 2014 Final Recommendations on Student Assignment Policies and DCPS School Boundaries had included a recommendation that DCPS should open a stand-alone middle school at the original Shaw Middle School site, and Shaw had exploded with families since then. And just last year, Mayor Bowser stood in front of our community and said that DCPS remained committed to opening a middle school at that site.

So you can imagine our surprise and dismay when we learned that the Mayor and DCPS had decided to move Banneker High School to the Shaw Middle School site without doing any meaningful engagement with the Shaw community. Now they say that they want to engage with us and they claim that they care about the opinions of the community, but they fail to respond to the request that is being shouted at them from across the city to put the breaks on the plans to move Banneker to the Shaw site until an analysis can be done on the full impact of that decision on all the involved communities. Not only do they insist on pressing on, they refuse to even do us the courtesy of telling us why it is so urgent to do so. Schools are built once every generation or two, so why is this process being rushed like this?

When I was reading about the history of Shaw Middle school, I learned that prior to the school’s relocation to the site at 925 Rhode Island Ave NW in NW, it had been known as “Shameful Shaw” for the deplorable conditions under which students had to study. Please don’t let this be the 21st century version of Shameful Shaw.

To that end, I ask that there be a complete pause in the process of moving Banneker to the Shaw site until the council is able to complete an investigation into the following questions:

-What was the exact timeline of events, including: the decision to remove funds that had been earmarked for the Shaw Middle School renovation; the decision to use those funds to renovate MacFarland Middle School, which is in the mayor’s home ward; the Shaw Middle School site being seen as being available for other options besides a neighborhood middle school; the Shaw Middle School site being seen as an option for Banneker; and the start of the official Banneker Modernization process?

-Has the Banneker building has already been promised to someone, and if so, when it was promised and to whom? Are the rumors that it has been promised to a charter school true, and if so, when was that deal made? Is the refusal to push pause on the Banneker relocation process due to the fact that the current Banneker site needs to be turned over to someone else by a certain date?

-Was the timing of the decisions surrounding moving Banneker to Shaw and the related extremely limited community outreach done intentionally to limit community feedback, particularly from at-risk communities such as non-native English speakers?

-Is there truth to the Mayor’s reported statement that the reason for expanding Banneker is to ease crowding at Wilson and that her plans for a middle school in Shaw are to open a city-wide, test-in school? If so, what are the Mayor’s justifications for denying Shaw a neighborhood, by-right school? Why does Shaw have to pick up the tab for the rest of the city?

This matters. This matters so much. The people who questioned us about our plans to move once we had our son may have been way off base about our commitment to staying in the district, but they were right about how important middle school is. It’s make or break, for students and for their families, but also for DCPS, which is why it’s so frustrating that DCPS refuses to listen to the repeated requests to pause the Banneker relocation process until a full analysis can be done as to whether there is a need for a stand alone neighborhood middle school in Shaw, and if so, whether the neighborhood and city would best be served by having a middle school at the former Shaw site.

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