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Building Spruce-Up A Lesson in Teamwork

Volunteer painters Vernard Portis, front, Ron Shuler, and Melissa Goodrich put the final touches on a mural in front of P.R. Harris Educational Center in Southeast.
Volunteer painters Vernard Portis, front, Ron Shuler, and Melissa Goodrich put the final touches on a mural in front of P.R. Harris Educational Center in Southeast. (Photos By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Theola Labbe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sure, it was Saturday. But for more than 1,600 District employees, residents, parents and volunteers, yesterday was a day of work.

The crowd fanned out to the city's 141 public schools to pull weeds, paint, trim shrubs and perform other manual labor as part of the annual beautification day, the District school system's traditional back-to-school cleanup held the weekend before classes start.

In Northwest Washington, volunteers swept outside Brightwood Elementary, carried textbooks to classrooms at Shepherd Elementary and scanned textbooks into the computer at Marie Reed Learning Center. In Northeast, at Woodson Senior High School, they painted the front lobby.

The paint rollers came out at Tubman Elementary in Northwest, where volunteers applied a coat of off-white to freshen a scuffed restroom wall. That job was on the list of tasks for a custodian to do, said Principal Sharon Bovell, but it helped "to have a few more hands."

This year's effort had two new leaders: Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. Early yesterday, they planted zinnias outside the Patricia Harris Educational Center in Southeast. Rhee wore a bright red T-shirt celebrating the cleanup, one of thousands donned by volunteers and given by Target, whose $27,000 donation also included water and snacks at each location. The District provided $60,000 in supplies.

With classes set to begin tomorrow, Fenty has taken public steps this past week to demonstrate that his new authority over the 55,000-student school system will bring improvements. He announced additional spending on school repairs and championed a $2 million effort to properly sort millions of school employee records.

On Friday, in lieu of his weekly Cabinet meeting, Fenty and his top aides -- including Rhee, City Administrator Dan Tangherlini, Acting Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier -- painted, trimmed trees and removed graffiti at Drew Elementary in Northeast.

"A community is only as great as the citizens who live in it and who work to make the schools great," Fenty said yesterday.

Rhee, who plans to enroll her daughters in a D.C. public school tomorrow, said yesterday's community efforts were "an excellent opportunity to work together for the betterment of kids."

D.C. police Inspector Linda Brown wiped sweat from her brow as she shoveled dirt outside Tubman Elementary. Lanier, she said, put out a call to the entire force to volunteer. Brown even brought along her sons, Thomas Gilmore, 15, and Robert Gilmore, 16, to help.

Inside the newly refurbished library, 10 volunteers opened more than 70 boxes and reshelved the books. Many of the volunteers came from the Church of Christ across the street. Librarian Salom� Swaim supervised the effort.

"For me, this is essential," Swaim said. "If I were to do it all by myself, it would take hours."

PTA President William Jordan, 45, brought his 10-year-old son, Osei Jordan, who quietly filled a trash can with cut branches and took the refuse out of the school's spacious courtyard.

William Jordan said he relished seeing the volunteers working to spruce up the school. But he added that he hoped the boost of energy from parents, the community and the city's new education leadership would carry on throughout the year.

"What happens after the next day after school opens and the next day after that?" Jordan asked. "I'm really looking for steady improvement."

Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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