From the suburbs to D.C., and pleased with the public schools

For decades, families left the District for the suburbs in search of strong public schools. But a growing number of young parents are now choosing to stay, attracted by new energy in D.C. charter and traditional schools.

And at least one young parent has made a reverse migration, leaving the suburbs behind in favor of city life.

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Jessica Hare, 31, moved from Maryland’s Charles County to Washington this summer. She was seeking a shorter commute, a walkable lifestyle and more time each day with her three children.

But she also found Powell Elementary in Petworth, where her second-grade son and pre-kindergarten daughter are thriving.

“It’s an awesome school,” Hare said. “I haven’t met anybody who isn’t completely and totally 100 percent in love with their job.”

When Powell Principal Janeece Docal arrived several years ago, she started holding weekly parent coffees, and teachers began making home visits, working to build a community of parents from widely varying backgrounds: The majority of students at Powell qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and most speak English as a second language.

Enrollment has nearly doubled since 2009, from 219 students to more than 400, and families have organized a campaign to press local lawmakers to pay for a building renovation.

Abigail Smith, the city’s deputy mayor for education, said that the efforts underway at individual schools such as Powell — including by parent activists and principals working to create a welcoming environment — are helping to attract a growing number of families to D.C. schools.

Enrollment is up nearly 18 percent citywide over the past five years. “Some big piece of that is families with young kids who are choosing to stay, and not move out to the suburbs,” Smith said. “That’s exciting.”

Hare said she had been nervous about enrolling her children in D.C. schools, given their long-standing poor reputation. But that’s a reputation in need of an update, she said.

She said she has stronger and more positive relationships with Powell teachers than she ever had in Charles County. And she appreciates that her children are growing up in diverse classrooms, learning from kids of all different backgrounds.

“It’s an awesome school,” she said. “I really do believe in Powell, and I believe they’re doing great things for our kids.”

Hare said that some parents of her children’s classmates are poor, and others speak limited English. But at school meetings, it’s clear that all parents are bent on helping their children succeed.

“We still segregate ourselves socioeconomically and I think that’s a shame,” Hare said. “We need the diversity. … There need to be the parents who can send their kids elsewhere but choose not to, and say, ‘I believe in DCPS, in all of the kids of DCPS — not just my own kids.’ ”

 
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