Ward 1: Mt. Pleasant Parents Fear Boundary Changes Will Shut Them Out (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Ward 1: Mt. Pleasant Parents Fear Boundary Changes Will Shut Them Out

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and here in D.C. Election Day is just around the corner. And before April 1st arrives, we wanted to explore how the issues in this mayoral campaign are playing out in neighborhoods across the city. So we sent each of our reporters to one ward of the District and the stories they brought back run the gamut. From stories about where we live…

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

00:00:32
The human is like an animal. We going to find somewhere to live.

SHEIR

00:00:36
…to stories about how we get around.

MR. JOE STERNLIEB

00:00:38
We have to figure out much smarter ways than everybody getting into their private SUV to move, you know, a mile down the street.

SHEIR

00:00:45
Even stories about the air we breathe.

MS. PETA-GAY LEWIS

00:00:47
I keep my windows closed year round because the pollution comes in the home. So we're hostage, almost.

SHEIR

00:00:59
But first, 9 out of 10 public-school parents say an important factor in their vote for mayor this year is education. That's according to a recent poll by The Washington Post. And a key source of anxiety for many of these parents? Getting their kids in to top-performing schools. The D.C. Public Schools use certain boundaries and feeder patterns to determine where to send students. But as Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith points out, those boundaries and patterns are getting kind of old.

MS. ABIGAIL SMITH

00:01:26
We have not revised boundaries in a comprehensive way across the city since 1968. And during that time there have been immense changes, both in terms of school supply -- lots of new schools that have come online, both DCPS and public charter schools that have closed. And then shifts in demographics, in terms of where the population density is across the city. And while all of that has happened, there haven't been any comprehensive updates to the boundaries.

SHEIR

00:01:51
So, as we've reported on "Metro Connection" in recent weeks and months, D.C. is finally reworking those boundaries, which will, inevitably, rezone certain neighborhoods to different middle and high schools. An advisory committee is expected to release a first-draft proposal to working groups of parents and residents next month. The final plan will appear in September, though it wouldn't take effect until the following school year.

SHEIR

00:02:12
So right now, things are kind of up in the air. And that has some families concerned, including families in Mt. Pleasant, in Ward 1. The neighborhood lies at the eastern edge of the zone that feeds into Deal Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School, two of the city's best traditional public schools.

SHEIR

00:02:30
But both Deal and Wilson are bursting at the seams at this point, and many Mt. Pleasant parents worry that under the new zones, their kids would be sent to the Columbia Heights Educational Campus, or CHEC, where the graduation rate is 58 percent, and Cardozo High School, where the rate is more like 38 percent. To find out more…

SHEIR

00:02:51
…I'm headed over to Mt. Pleasant to the home of Hendi Crosby Kowal.

MS. HENDI CROSBY KOWAL

00:02:54
We can sit at -- if the table is easier we can sit here.

SHEIR

00:02:57
We should sit anywhere where I can easily, you know, be sort of across from the three of you.

SHEIR

00:03:02
Hendi has a fourth-grade daughter at Francis Scott Key Elementary and a sixth-grade daughter at Deal. Hendi and I were joined by Natalie Kontakos.

MS. NATALIE KONTAKOS

00:03:09
I have two daughters and they are four years old.

SHEIR

00:03:12
Twins, actually. And they happen to attend Bancroft Elementary with the twin sons of Kenny Day, who, in the 1980s, was a student at Deal. But back then, Kenny says, Deal didn't exactly have the stellar reputation it has now.

MR. KENNY DAY

00:03:26
Everyone moved out after the riots of '68, so they had to cast a big net just to keep the schools open. And it was by no means a utopia. I mean, I wouldn't send my kids to what Alice Deal was when I went to it. It was a dangerous school. I mean this was 1983, 1984. It was a little bit of the Wild West up there.

MR. KENNY DAY

00:03:43
So completely different experience than what is going on up there now. These schools were crumbling. So I think it's fantastic that all these resources have been drawn into Wilson and Deal and also all the other, you know, elementary schools around there. But it wasn't always like that.

SHEIR

00:03:58
There's a petition circulating among Mt. Pleasant parents. And some of the language which says, "If Mt. Pleasant lost access to these top schools, then families would be discouraged from putting down roots here, and move out of the neighborhood or the District entirely." So basically, isn't it sort of up to parents -- if a school is struggling, if parents move away, are they really helping that school improve?

DAY

00:04:16
So it's only so much. And I think when you take a situation like Bancroft -- my hat's off to the folks who, four or five, six years ago were sending their kids here and saying, "No, I'm going to stay here. I'm going to go to the school. I'm going to go here. This is my school. This is my neighborhood." And these are the parents who are still really involved in the school and have fifth-graders at the school.

DAY

00:04:34
You know, I just can't thank them enough. They made the school what it is. And we're very much involved, but you can only do so much. Parents of pre-K to fifth-graders still have a great deal of control in their family's lives. Families tend to be a little bit more intact at that age. And a little bit more nuclear with extra support from grandmas and aunts and other people.

DAY

00:04:54
And I know I'm sort of like making big, far-reaching socioeconomic reaches here, but it just seems like it's easier to keep a school body and parents involved at this young level. You get to a middle school experience, even in "nice neighborhoods," parents tend to let their kids go on autopilot a little bit more and it's up to them, and it's up to their peers.

DAY

00:05:13
And unless you get that high level of involvement from everyone at that the school and in the school community, from teachers and principals and the PTOs on down, it's just tough. In PTA meetings at Bancroft a couple years ago we said, well, why -- let's just make Bancroft the next Janney or the next Lafayette or the next Oyster. And I think, in some ways, we've succeeded. So shouldn't we get the reward of being able to go to Deal/Wilson? We did our part.

KOWAL

00:05:41
It's hard because I totally know what you're saying about the whole idea of improving schools by going to the schools. I just think it takes more than that. I think it takes kind of a critical mass of student body feeding in that's going to want to take it to the next level. But I think it's also an administration, and I think it's also the resources that are given to the school. So there's a lot that has to happen in order to get it to the point where I would feel that it would be in any way comparable to what we've got now. I hate to say that I don't want to make my kids the guinea pigs, but I don't.

SHEIR

00:06:13
So it sounds like all of you are very much invested in the neighborhood, but there is a chance you would leave.

KONTAKOS

00:06:19
I think that we would consider it. And I think we are invested in the neighborhood. I love living here. And the school has momentum, really because more people in the neighborhood, both of the Latino or Hispanic families, as well as the non-Hispanic, Latino families, are going to Bancroft more. And I think that momentum would be in jeopardy if the boundaries were changed.

DAY

00:06:50
You know, we love our neighbors. We really do. We love our home. We've actually got a little patch of grass in the back and we're in Rock Creek Park. And I love Mt. Pleasant and I love the diversity, and I love Bancroft and everything about this. But I love my kids more. And if it comes down to a situation where we're no longer going to be rolling up to Deal, and my kids are going to CHEC or Cardozo, that is a non-starter. Period.

SHEIR

00:07:23
Those were Mt. Pleasant parents Kenny Day, Hendi Crosby Kowal and Natalie Kontakos. We'll be looking more closely at Deal Middle School later in the show, and asking whether its success can be replicated elsewhere in the city. In the meantime, to find more information about the new public school boundaries, including a timeline for the redrawing process, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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