D.C. officials on Thursday celebrated a $62 million renovation of Anacostia High School, a top-to-bottom overhaul that they hope will be part of a larger revolution at the long-struggling school.
“I look forward to the day when the ninth- and tenth-graders coming to Anacostia will be so well-educated, they’ll be the best educated in the world,” said Mayor Vincent Gray (D), speaking in the school’s refurbished auditorium before hundreds of students, teachers, alumni and community members.
Like many of the District’s schools, the 1930s-era Anacostia had fallen into disrepair. Walls were dirty and water-damaged, the electrical system was on the blink and the facade was beginning to crumble. An aging HVAC system left some rooms freezing and others overheated, and the plumbing was in such bad shape that sewage was leaking into a crawl space.
The new building boasts bright halls, a green roof, new computer and science labs and — students say — a vastly improved cafeteria. There’s a new library, a new parent resource center, child care center and health and dental clinic.
“I’ve been waiting for this day,” said D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who has often complained, since former mayor Adrian Fenty launched an ambitious effort to rebuild public schools in 2007, that neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River don’t get their fair share of construction dollars.
Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson also cheered the new building, saying that “we finally have the kind of facility that our students deserve here at Anacostia.”
But she departed from the celebratory mood to admonish a student who, at one point, stood up at his seat to chug a Snapple. That showed an attitude of disrespect, Henderson said, that needs to undergo as big an overhaul as the physical building itself.
“This is the city is saying to you, we have a commitment to you, you ladies and gentleman, and we have expectations for you,” she said. “It’s time to get your mind right.”
Anacostia is operated in a partnership with Friendship Public Charter Schools and serves teens in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Twelve percent of students are proficient in reading and 17 are proficient in math, according to their performance on 2012 standardized tests. About four in 10 students graduate within four years.
Principal Ian Roberts, who came to the school in 2010, said that while Anacostia and its students face huge challenges, they’re on the upswing.
“Students feel like they have a group of adults who really believe in them,” he said. “We’re going to transform how education is given to our students east of the river.”