Even some people who live near the angular, beige building at 14th and Farragut streets Northwest aren’t exactly sure what goes on inside, says Lisa Jackson.
She’s only too happy to tell them: It’s a school. And not just any school. It’s her school: West Education Campus, a D.C. public school whose students range from preschoolers to eighth-graders.
Lisa went there when she was a child. Her sons Matthew and Andrew go there now.
“Part of my divorce decree was that my kids would come here,” she told me when I ran into her at West not long ago. “I believe in a really good community school. For me it was about not just sending them here, but really rolling up my sleeves and bringing West back to the school I remember.”
You can help, too. West is the school I’m hoping you will support with your Giant and Safeway loyalty cards. (See below for information on how to do that.)
Lisa lives four blocks away, two houses from the home in which she grew up. The school — named for Joseph Rodman West, a U.S. senator from Louisiana — is celebrating its centennial this year, though the modern, open-plan building was built in 1976.
When Lisa went there, the school was exceptional — it prepared her for the rigorous academics at Banneker High — but in recent years it stumbled. There was a period when it went through three principals in five years. But since 2010 it’s been headed by the very energetic Andria Caruthers.
I’m tempted to say that West is Principal Caruthers’s work of art. Originally from Los Angeles, she earned her undergraduate degree in art from Northwestern, where she studied installation art and oil painting. Her dream was to join the Chicago police department as a forensic sketch artist, doing portraits of missing persons.
A neighbor who was a principal thought she had what it took to be a great teacher and recommended that she apply for Teach for America.
“I thought, if I get it, it’s meant to be,” Caruthers remembered. She taught the fifth grade in Los Angeles, moved to Nashville to study education administration at Vanderbilt while teaching third and fourth grade, then came to Washington, where she was vice principal at Takoma Education Campus. (In the District’s nomenclature, an “education campus” is any school that bridges traditional age groups, such as elementary and middle or middle and high.)
Two years ago she was tapped to lead West.
Among her first orders of business: hiring an art teacher. West hadn’t had one.
“Human capital is priceless,” Caruthers said. “I don’t care if you have a million dollars. If you don’t have the right people there, it doesn’t matter. We spend a lot of time hiring great people.”
This year also marks the long-awaited return of a gifted-and-talented program, retooled to benefit more students. Last year, West restarted some of its sports programs, including basketball and track. “This year we’re revitalizing the cheer and dance program,” Caruthers said. “They were award-winning in the ’90s.”
Lisa Jackson, chief information officer for a non-profit organization and treasurer of the school’s Parent Staff Community Organization, is delighted to see West headed in the right direction.
“We proved here at West that even a school that might be on the decline can be turned around,” Jackson said. “But it can’t just be left up to the school staff and administration to do. It absolutely does require the involvement of the parents.”
Said Caruthers: “We are in a good place. We have the momentum. Let’s keep it going.”
Linking your loyalty card to West is an easy way to help the school earn a few thousand dollars this year. Giant’s program, A+ School Rewards, runs from Friday through March 28. People must re-enroll their Giant cards every year. You can do that at www.giantfood.com/aplus. Put in your 12-digit Giant card number and the first three letters of your last name, then look for West or enter its identification number: 00150. Or you can call 877-275-2758. (If you don’t know your Giant card number, call 877-366-2668 and press Option 2.)
Safeway’s rebate program is handled by the California company eScrip. Participants must renew every year. To re-enroll, go to www.escrip.com and click on the red check mark that says “Renew your commitment to Safeway Stores.” Search for West, or enter the school’s Safeway group ID number: 500043281. To sign up for the first time, go to www.escrip.com and click “1. Sign Up.” You’ll need the 11-digit number from your Safeway card. If you punch in your phone number at checkout instead of using your card, you can get your card number by calling 877-723-3929.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.