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

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the recent announcement that Banneker High School would be relocated to the Shaw Middle School site, and discussions would begin about future plans for a new middle school for residents who live in the Center City communities.

Today you will hear differing opinions, some supporting the decision to move Banneker Academic High School to the Shaw Junior High School campus, and others wanting to see the Shaw campus renovated for a middle school. I believe though there is much common ground among those testifying including:

– A flawed public involvement and consultation process was used to reach the decision to move Banneker to the Shaw site;
– Wanting Banneker to be renovated on schedule, and to have a high quality middle school in the next few years for students who live in the center of our city; – Our tax dollars should be spent wisely on school modernizations.

Flawed Public Involvement Process

There was $55 million in the Capital Improvement Plan as late as 2015 to renovate the Shaw Middle School as a by-right middle school for families in Wards 1, 2, 5 and 6. Without discussions with the community, the funding for the Shaw Junior High School was removed, and shifted to another school. About a year ago, in the Fall of 2017, DCPS began a feasibility study looking at moving Banneker to the Shaw Junior High School site. At no point during this time were there thoughtful discussions with parents in the center city area about how the middle school needs would be met, if Shaw Middle School was not renovated as a middle school. It appears there were limited discussions with the Banneker community after the feasibility study was completed in August 2018.

Had there been a genuine and transparent public involvement process, it would have allowed for thoughtful discussion on important issues such as:

– What are the pros and cons for expanding Banneker? And, if it is to be expanded, what is the right number?
– Are additional seats at Banneker really needed when we have an estimated 3000 open seats at our comprehensive high schools across the city? – What more should be done to strengthen our comprehensive high schools in order to attract students instead of adding more seats at a selective school?
– How might creating a middle school at the Shaw site help create predictable feeder patterns from elementary school through high school for residents in the center city?

Renovating Banneker and Creating a Center City Middle School

Nobody wants to see the renovation at Banneker delayed. It will be one of the last high schools in the city to be renovated, and it deserves a stunning renovation.

There is a general consensus that a new middle school is needed for families living in the center of our city.

Our tax dollars should be spent wisely on school modernizations

A recent analysis by Mary Filardo, Executive Director of the 21st Century School Fund, found a renovated Banneker at its current site could comfortable serve 700 students.

Her analysis also showed the current budget of $143 million to renovate Banneker is inflated. Roosevelt High School which was renovated in 2015 has twice the square footage of Banneker, and was renovated for $143 million. Banneker also received an extensive renovation to its third floor in 2017 that included a fully modernized library. Assuming limited renovation would be needed to the library, this could result in further savings and/or allow capital dollars to be used in other parts of the building. If the existing Banneker was renovated at a more reasonable cost than what is currently in the Capital Improvement Plan, the remaining funding could be put toward renovating the Shaw site as a middle school.

In closing, I recommend the city “take one step back before taking two steps forward.” The one step back would involve briefly holding off on moving Banneker to the Shaw site, and setting up a public engagement process with key stakeholders including Banneker families, families who would be served by a new Center City Middle School, and representatives from the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators. The goal of the engagement would be to find common ground and solutions that best meet the education needs of our city. It’s only after this engagement that the city can move confidently two steps forward with renovating Banneker and creating a new middle school for residents in the center city.

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