The decision to move a crowded, popular high school to the site of an abandoned junior high school in the District’s Shaw neighborhood is highlighting the competing interests that confront administrators in a fast-changing city.
City officials announced Friday that Benjamin Banneker Academic High School will relocate to the site of the vacant Shaw Junior High School a mile away, increasing capacity by 300 students.
But the move is already generating opposition from families in Shaw — a gentrified part of the city that is experiencing a baby boom — who had hoped the property would be used for a new neighborhood middle school.
Paul Kihn, acting deputy mayor for education, said the city would tear down the shuttered Shaw Junior High School in the 900 block of Rhode Island Avenue NW and build a high school in time for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
The 500 students at Banneker post some of the highest standardized test scores in the city. The school had 715 applicants for 150 seats in the 2017-2018 school year, according to city data.
“If you look at the enrollment in Banneker, you will see that students come from all over the city,” Kihn said. “One of the reasons we are really excited is that we think this will provide additional opportunities for students who currently want those opportunities but don’t have access to them.”
A decade ago, students from the old Shaw Junior High School building were relocated to another property. Families in Shaw said city officials had promised to move middle-schoolers back to the heart of the neighborhood when a new school was built. Citing declining enrollment, the city canceled those plans in 2013.
But over the past five years, Shaw has experienced a surge in young families. On Friday, Kihn and Amanda Alexander, interim chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, said they would begin formal discussions to create a middle school for Shaw students. They said the Banneker campus — in the 800 block of Euclid Street NW — would be considered. But Alex Padro, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Shaw, said that would be too far for many Shaw families.
“To use the most important community asset that remains to be developed for anything other than a middle school is a slap in the face,” Padro said.
Middle-schoolers from Shaw now go to Cardozo Education Campus.
Suki Lucier — president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Shaw’s Seaton Elementary School — said many families don’t view Cardozo as a suitable middle school option, so their kids flee Seaton in fourth and fifth grade when their parents feel the students have better odds in the school lottery.
Seaton, located near the vacant Shaw school, has experienced an influx of educated and upper-income families.
Lucier said neighborhood schools help a community prosper and that, without them, the consequences can be significant.
“It makes people much less likely to invest in the community,” Lucier said. “We get much less involvement from parents in our older grades. If you have one foot out the door you are not going to be fully invested in the community.”
The city already has plans to open a middle school next year in the Brightwood neighborhood. Students from that middle school will feed into Coolidge High School.
In another sign of projected growth in enrollment, the city in 2016 reopened MacFarland Middle School as a dual-language school to feed into Petworth’s Roosevelt High School. Coolidge and Roosevelt have ample vacant seats for students, but are in gentrifying neighborhoods that have more young families moving in.
The city announced last week that it would open a new high school east of the Anacostia River in partnership with Bard College that would allow students to earn their high school and associate degrees at the same time.
Kihn and Alexander said school openings are based on enrollment projections, and they anticipate thousands more students to enter the city’s schools in coming years.
“We have enough kids in this city to fill our schools,” Alexander said. “And our charge, our challenge, is to make them aware of the wonderful programs that we do have available so that families will select [D.C. Public Schools], so that [D.C. Public Schools] will be their first choice.”