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Under Revised D.C. School Boundary Proposal, High Schools Would See Changes

A committee is working on changes to D.C.'s four-decade-old school boundaries and feeder patterns.
A committee is working on changes to D.C.'s four-decade-old school boundaries and feeder patterns.

The boundary of one of the city's most popular and sought-after high schools would shrink substantially under a proposal released by the D.C. committee exploring changes to the city's school boundaries and feeder patterns.

The revised proposals from the D.C. Advisory Committee on Student Assignment would see Wilson High School's boundary — along with the boundaries of many other high schools — change. In Wilson's case, the boundary would move north and west, cutting off some parents east of Rock Creek and lopping off a portion of the boundary that extends across downtown towards Capitol Hill.

Under the committee's new proposals, many families now zoned for Wilson — which is overcrowded, and is almost evenly split between in- and out-of-boundary students — would move to Eastern High School on Capitol Hill. That school's zone would move west of the Anacostia River to take in students from the shuttered Spingarn High School, while a newly renovated Dunbar High School would draw students from a large swath of Ward 5.

The proposed changes are part of a broader set of recommendations from the committee, which since last year has been considering and debating altering the boundaries and feeder patterns that determine what schools the city's children attend. City officials say the boundaries and feeder patterns are outdated — they were last changed 40 years ago — but the discussion over revamping them has provoked concerns among mayoral candidates and residents alike.

Unlike a first set of proposals released in April, the revised proposals focus more on establishing a predictable path for students from elementary to high school. The committee dropped "choice sets" — under which students would give up by-right access to a single neighborhood school and instead apply by lottery to a group of elementary schools — and instead set itself on aligning boundaries and feeder patterns.

"The basic framework of the proposal is a core system of zoned schools where every kid has a right to an elementary, middle and high school and those schools build into feeder patterns," said Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith in an interview with WAMU 88.5.

According to Smith's office, currently 74 DCPS elementary and K-8 schools operated within 104 different boundaries, and 22 percent of students have rights to multiple schools due to boundaries that were not re-aligned after schools closed. That has created overcrowding in certain schools while leaving others under-enrolled; all told, only one-quarter of DCPS students attend their in-boundary school.

"Unlike what we have now, which is boundaries and feeder patterns that really don’t match up, the proposal really tries to create a more coherent system of elementary schools that feed into middle schools that feed into high schools so that there can be increased investment on the part of families, cohorts can really stick together, schools can plan vertically from elementary to middle to high, which right now is really hard to do because of the mismatch of boundaries and feeders," she said.

The proposals also call on D.C. to open a number of new schools — including some that were closed last year for low enrollment. In Ward 4, the committee recommends reopening McFarland Middle School, which closed in 2013, while opening a brand new middle school in the northern portion of the ward. It also proposes a new Center City middle school and a middle school in Ward 7 with specialized and selective programming.

"Many community members feel really strongly that a stand-alone middle school provides a better option for their kids," said Smith, explaining that the committee wanted to move away from education campuses that serve K-8 students.

The committee's recommendations, culled from public feedback and debate after a first set of proposals, also include setting aside at least 10 percent of seats in elementary schools for out-of-boundary students, as well as giving priority to at-risk students when the apply to out-of-boundary schools where fewer than 30 percent of students are considered at-risk.

And in another proposal to aide at-risk students — who will be getting more per-pupil funding under the 2015 budget — the committee focused on transportation for elementary school students. If a student lives more than a mile from their in-boundary school, the city would provide their parent with free transportation on Metro (students already ride free) or offer the student priority access to a closer DCPS school.

The committee also proposes closer collaboration with the charter sector, which educate 43 percent of all students, to better assess and control for the mid-year transfer of students between the systems and the opening and location of new schools.

Smith stressed that many changes would be phased in and some students grandfathered into their current schools and feeder patterns, and that debate would continue on the proposals ahead of a final recommendation to Mayor Vincent Gray expected in the fall.

"There are obviously lots of things to balance, but the feedback process was very helpful. And so once again, we’ll be putting out draft boundaries and expect to get more feedback, so those should not be seen as final either. We think those will also benefit from more feedback," she said.

But even when the committee finishes its work, there's little certainty as to whether parents and students will ever see the changes become a reality: mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser and David Catania have both said they want to pause the process until a new mayor is elected.

Advisory Committee Draft Proposal and Boundaries - June 2014 for Web

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