For many young D.C. parents, city schools remain a sticking point
De’Andre Anderson and his wife don’t have children yet. But when the couple bought a home in Southeast Washington after years of renting on Capitol Hill, Anderson, 43, began mulling what they could do to help the neighborhood schools. ¶ Now Anderson is leading a campaign to persuade Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to establish the first application-only secondary school east of the Anacostia River. ¶ “I would like to have some quality schools in my neighborhood — or at least on this side of the river — that I could send my kids to,” said Anderson, who moved to Hillcrest with his wife, Lemlem Meconen-Anderson, 35, last year. ¶ The District’s struggling school system shaped city demographics for decades, pushing countless young families and parents-to-be into the suburbs in search of a decent public education. ¶ But that long trend now appears to be shifting. Public school enrollment in the District has risen nearly 18 percent over the past five years, mostly in the early grades and charter schools, as an increasing number of parents have been persuaded
to give D.C. schools a try. The change comes as young, affluent people who have flocked to the District over thepast decade — millennials and members of Generation X, born in the 1970s and 1980s — seek to stay in the city, reluctant to give up their urban lifestyles for cul-de-sacs and long commutes.
They have been wooed by free preschool programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds, a growing number of charters that offer specialty programs and — in some parts of the city — newly revitalized neighborhood schools.
But whether young parents and those who plan to have families will stay in the city over the long term is an open question, and one that may depend on their collective willingness to participate in schools that previous middle-class generations have sought to avoid.
They grapple with angst over charter-school enrollment lotteries with admissions odds that rival Ivy League universities; lingering uncertainty about the strength of academic offerings; and simmering tensions over delicate issues of race and class that sometimes flare up in PTAs and community groups.
“If parents make the commitment to keep their kid in the neighborhood school, and their neighbors make the commitment to keep their kids in the school, they’ll find that they’ll create the school they want,” said Suzanne Wells, a D.C. parent whose organizing efforts helped turn Capitol Hill schools into some of the most sought-after in the city.
Still, many young people remain deeply ambivalent about how and whether the District’s schools will work for their children over the long term.
“This has been great, but for the next phase of life, we’re just going to have to suck it up and move to the suburbs,” said Columbia Heights resident Jennifer Thompson, 28, who said she and her husband are not willing to send their future children to city schools.