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D.C. Official Says School Boundary Proposals Will Change

Abigail Smith, D.C.'s deputy mayor for education, said on Friday that three proposed amendments to the city's school boundaries and feeder patterns will change before they are finalized.

Speaking on WAMU's The Politics Hour, Smith cautioned that the proposals put out by an advisory committee earlier this month are merely starting points for conversation on the controversial issue.

"Our expectation is that we're not choosing among policy example A, B and C," she said. "We wanted to provide three examples so people can see how these things fit together, but we imagine that we'll probably end up with example D, E, F or X, Y, Z once people figure out what pieces of this seem workable to them, seem like they resolve some of the challenges that we have."

The three proposals would reshape the city's four-decade-old school boundaries and change how seats at elementary, middle and high schools are assigned by 2015. Under one proposal, parents would choose their preferred elementary school from a set of three or four nearby schools, while another proposals would create new middle schools and a third would use a lottery to assign all high school seats.

Currently, students can attend schools in their boundary and feeder pattern, though inconsistencies in quality have led parents to look elsewhere for schools. Only one-quarter of parents currently send their children to in-boundary schools, while 43 percent choose charter schools. Last month, the city published results of its first common lottery, which was used for seats in 200 public and charter schools.

The proposals have produced anxiety in some parents and provoked responses from legislators, including two mayoral contenders. While Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said she would push to maintain some feeder patterns and by-right neighborhood schools, Council member David Catania (I-At Large) said he largely opposed all the proposals and instead wanted to focus on improving quality at all schools.

Speaking on The Politics Hour, Smith said that the task of improving schools and changing boundaries and feeder patterns goes hand-in-hand.

"That work of improving schools is the daily work of schools right now. DCPS is working hard to do that at the school level, communities are supporting that. In the meantime, families want to know that they can have access to high quality schools. And for some families they feel like they've got that right now. And some families don't," she said.

After the show, Smith also addressed grandfathering students into their current schools and feeder patterns, how charter schools fit in and the timing of the process.

On Grandfathering Students In

"We know that there will be grandfathering on a couple of fronts. One for individual kids. We don't want individual kids who are already in a school to have their experience disrupted. Our expectation is, at the very least, who a kid enrolled at a school through whatever the previous policies were would be able to stay at that school. Similarly, in terms of feeder patterns, if we end up with a system where fsome eeder patterns have changed, we would want kids to have a runway on that. We would not anyone who is in the fifth grade in 2015-16, for example, to have to go to a different school from what they expected. Exactly where we draw those lines we'll have to figure out."

How Charter Schools Fit In

"There are a couple of specific policy areas where the policy scenarios that we've put out do intersect with charter schools. One is the possibility of inviting charter schools to participate in a choice set, another is around the possibility of identifying charter schools that could have a matter-of-right feeder to DCPS schools. We certainly are open to continuing that conversation, with a caveat... many things we would do on the charter front would take legislative changes and congressional approval."

On The Timing

"What we're seeing and what every community that tackles this is seeing is that there's never a good time. It's a really hard thing for communities to go through. Most communities go through it on a much more regular basis than we have, so perhaps they're more used to it than we are. It's always a challenging community conversation, so I don't know if there's ever a good time."

Comparison Chart of Policy Examples and Current Conditions


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