d.c. schools insider

River Terrace Elementary gets one-year reprieve

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Staff writer Bill Turque writes a blog about D.C. public schools at voices.washingtonpost.com/dcschools. Below is an excerpt.

Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson has backed away from a plan to close River Terrace Elementary in June because of under-enrollment, citing the unique importance of the school to the isolated Northeast community. Henderson said she had been swayed by passionate testimony from school community members about the role of the school in the Ward 7 neighborhood, Benning Road NE, East Capitol Street SE, Interstate 295 and the Anacostia River.

River Terrace has only 148 students and its enrollment has dropped 42 percent over the past year - a decline facilitated in part by D.C. public schools' decision to remove the school's sixth grade in 2007-08. The school system had proposed busing River Terrace children to Nevel Thomas Elementary. Parents and staff argued that River Terrace has not been given a fair chance to thrive as a school. They also asserted that its value as the neighborhood's virtually-sole civic institution makes it more than just a school.

In a letter to River Terrace families Friday, Henderson said that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) had accepted her recommendation that the school remain open for another year: "I recognize the extraordinary importance of River Terrace Elementary to the community, especially given the unique geographic isolation of the River Terrace neighborhood. I am therefore willing to provide the school and community additional time to build enrollment and demonstrate the long-term viability of the school. I hope that the same passion and energy I witnessed in the numerous meetings about the closure proposal can continue to be channeled into supporting the school."

Henderson is pressing ahead with plans to close Shaed Education Campus, a PS-8 school in Ward 5, and send students to Emery Education Campus, which will be relocated to the old Langley School next to McKinley Technology High.

Friends of Bedford apply for charter

Friends of Bedford, the New York-based school management group ousted from Dunbar High School by the D.C. public schools in December, has applied to open a new public charter high school in Ward 4 in the fall of 2012.

Bedford, hired by former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee in 2008 to turn around Dunbar, was removed by interim chancellor Kaya Henderson amid growing concerns about safety and academics at the struggling high school. It is one of 19 groups that filed with the D.C. Public Charter School Board by the Feb. 1 deadline. Another applicant, D.C. Scholars, is partnering with Scholar Academies, the Philadelphia charter operator that took over Stanton Elementary last year.

Should Friends of Bedford win approval from the board, it will be the basis for an interesting experiment in urban school reform. Bedford attempted to turn around an established public high school and, in the estimation of the system, failed. Bedford leader George Leonard said his group never received the support the school system promised, and that while he had control of curriculum and staffing, he remained enthralled to union contracts and other city regulations. (Bedford still operates Coolidge High School under its contract with the city).

In starting a charter high school from scratch, Leonard would be working in conditions similar to those that helped him produce Bedford Academy, the school that caught Rhee's eye when she was looking for outside partners. The Brooklyn school, opened in 2003, eventually became one of New York City's top-performing public high schools. Freed from partnership with the school system, Leonard would be looking to duplicate that success.

The 19 applicants are a diverse group. City of Trees is seeking approval for a "Waldorf inspired" Pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade school in Ward 1. The Latin American Youth Center wants to open a Ward 1 school for young adults ages 16-24 who have not been successful in traditional academic settings. Driven to Succeed wants to found an all-boys high school in Ward 8.

Public hearings will be held March 21 and 22, and the Board will issue final decisions on April 25. A full list and description of the applicants can be found at www.dcpubliccharter.com .

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