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Nine out of 10 public-school parents say an important factor in their vote for mayor this year is education, according to a recent poll by The Washington Post. And a key source of angst for many of these parents is 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.
“We have not revised boundaries in a comprehensive way across the city since 1968,” she explains. “And during that time there have been immense changes, 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.”
As we have 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, according to their timeline. The final plan will appear in September, though it wouldn't take effect until the following school year.
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.
But both Deal and Wilson are bursting at the seams, and many Mount Pleasant parents worry that under the new zones, their kids would be sent to the Columbia Heights Educational Campus (CHEC) — where the graduation rate is 58 percent — and Cardozo High School, where the rate is more like 38 percent.
Kenny Day has twin sons attending Bancroft Elementary School in Mt. Pleasant. Day was actually a student at Deal in the 1980s, and he says back then it didn't have the stellar reputation it does now.
“Everyone moved out after the riots of ’68, so they had to cast a big net just to keep the schools open,” he explains. “And [Deal] was by no means a utopia. I wouldn't send my kids to what Alice Deal was when I went to it. So I think it’s fantastic that all these resources have been drawn into Wilson and Deal and also all the other elementary schools around there. But it wasn't always like that.”
Day is among the many Mt. Pleasant parents who have signed a petition asking D.C. to keep their kids in the Deal/Wilson zone: “If Mt. Pleasant lost access to these top schools,” it reads, “then families would be discouraged from putting down roots here, and move out of the neighborhood or the District entirely.”
He does acknowledge that if parents stay in a neighborhood, they could help improve struggling schools, “but it’s only so much.”
He says he tips his hat to the parents who, five or six years ago, opted to send their children to then-struggling Bancroft.
“[They] were 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, my neighborhood.’ And these are the parents who are still really involved in the school and have made the school what it is," Day says. "But parents of pre-K to 5th graders still have a great deal of control in their family’s lives. It just seems like it’s easier to keep a school body and parents involved at the young level. You get to a middle school experience and parents tend to let their kids go on autopilot and it’s up to them, it’s up to their peers.”
Day says families worked hard to make Bancroft what it is today, “So shouldn't we get the reward of being able to go to Deal or Wilson? We did our part!”
Hendi Crosby Kowal lives in Mt. Pleasant and has a daughter at Deal.
“I totally know what you're saying about the whole idea of improving schools by going to the schools,” she says. “I just think it takes more than that. I think it takes a critical mass of student[s] that’s going to want to take it to the next level. But I think it’s also administration, and 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.”
Natalie Kontakos, who, like Kenny Day, has twins at Bancroft, is among the parents who would consider leaving Mt. Pleasant if the zones changed.
“I love living here,” she says. “And the school has momentum, really because more people in the neighborhood, both the Latino and 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.”
Kenny Day agrees.
“We love our neighbors. 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, I love the diversity, and I love Bancroft and I love everything about this," Day says. “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.”
Music: "Weighted Hoolaloop" by Show Pony from Slow Danger