Since January, 2003
 (a random before-and-after moment)
September 2003
June 28, 2007
New Jersey at L, Looking East (see more)

A group of neighborhood residents organizing as "Parents on the Capitol Riverfront" have come together over the past few months to lobby the DC public school system and city officials to consider reopening Van Ness Elementary School, which was caught up in the DCPS downsizing at the end of the 2006 school year, after most of its student body moved away with the closing of Capper/Carrollsburg. Elementary school-aged children who live in Near Southeast are now in the boundaries for Amidon-Bowen Elementary School across South Capitol Street in Southwest, which is a bit of a hike from locations like Capitol Quarter.
In a recent e-mail to me, representatives of the group explained their motivation: "A quality school is not only good for the kids, it's a necessary amenity for retaining existing and attracting new residents to our neighborhood. We love our neighborhood and are dedicated to living in DC, but that dedication rests upon the opportunities available for our kids. The amazing Canal Park planned for the neighborhood is great and will be well-used by kids and adults alike, but it takes a school to keep the community of families here."
Over the past few months, the group has met twice in small targeted meetings with Michelle Rhee, as well as with Tommy Wells, and are working to get another meeting scheduled with Rhee that could include all neighborhood parents. There is also apparently a survey from DCPS being distributed by e-mail regarding Van Ness and the number of children in the area, and the parents' group is wanting to be sure that the survey gets to everyone with kids.
DCPS has told them that, in order for a viable elementary to be opened (grades Pre-K3 though 5), it needs to have 250 students. The group says that they've been told that "it might be possible to phase in the school, starting with Pre-K3, Pre-K4 and Kindergarten for the first couple of years and then slowly expanding up through 5th grade," so they are trying to determine exactly how many school-aged children are in the neighborhood, along with possible projections of how many more might arrive over the next five years. They are also looking at whether a large number of parents currently on the waitlist for Brent Elementary might be willing to send their children to Van Ness out-of-boundary, to help increase the number of potential students.
The parents' group now has a Google Group set up, where any interested neighborhood parents can request membership.
The school's location at 5th and M, SE, is one that has been being eyed for a while by various interested parties, and there have been talks in the past about perhaps selling the land with a requirement that the purchaser build a new school close by. Another discussed option has been co-locating a new school building with the long-delayed Capper Community Center. And the Marines have also been looking at the school's land, either as part of their space needs for the new barracks or as a place where other landowners (like the Housing Authority) could relocate planned uses if the Marines were to take their land for the barracks.
The original Van Ness Elementary School, on M Street between 3rd and 4th, opened in 1909, and was for much of its life a segregated school for black children. (You can see it at far right in this photo from 1939.) It was replaced during Integration by the current building at 5th and M in September of 1956, although the old school building at 4th and M (eventually known as the Lenox Annex) remained on the city's property rolls under varying uses. In the 1970s it was a special education school, then an adult education center in the 1990s, but finally the building was demolished in the late 1990s for what has since become the 300 M Street SE office building.
Comments (16)
 More About Van Ness Elementary Home


L Fifth St says: (9/12/10 7:37 PM)
This is inspiring and welcomed news for those of us planning on moving to the area with young children or planning on having children. Where do Capitol Riverfront families currently send their school-aged children?

L Fifth St says: (9/12/10 7:37 PM)
This is inspiring and welcomed news for those of us planning on moving to the area with young children or planning on having children. Where do Capitol Riverfront families currently send their school-aged children?

natalie says: (9/12/10 7:38 PM)
Here is a link to the survey for anyone who is interested.


natalie says: (9/12/10 7:41 PM)
About that link, the survey is the sixth bullet down under 'building on momentum.'


Liz says: (9/12/10 7:44 PM)
There are surveys for interested parents at the Capitol Quarter sales office and Cornercopia. If you sign up for the parent group, we could also send you an electronic copy.

Liz says: (9/12/10 7:47 PM)
Just saw that the link to the survey was posted above. All parents should take a minute to fill it out! I would encourage people who are thinking about becoming parents in the next few years to fill it out as well. Just note that somewhere on the survey.

Meredith says: (9/12/10 10:18 PM)
@L 5th St, I know of local parents who send their children to DC charters in various parts of the city, Brent Elementary (our closest elementary school although technically we're out-of-bounds so must enter a lottery), and one who goes to Amidon-Bowen in SW. Some families I've talked with have looked into or are planning on sending their kids to either St. Peters or Capitol Day School--both close, both private. MANY families have babies or toddlers who are not yet school age, so are working through those decisions now and hoping for a good public option.

We welcome all current and future Riverfront parents to weigh in and get involved!

Jennifer says: (9/13/10 10:06 AM)
Below is the link to the survey -- a good quality school in the area would increase the value of our community. We need to get every parent or potential parent counted because they won't open unless they think they can get 250 children in the school:


James Ryan says: (9/13/10 7:22 PM)
This is not going to happen. And, I have yet to see any hard data to show this is going to improve our home values. There is no way they will get 250 students. In addition, most kids in this neighborhood will be going to a private school (or, they should considering the education at dc public schools).

I appreciate what the administration is doing to improve the schools but they are still awful. How much is the private school on the hill? Like $8 grand a year...nothing compared to the difference in education a student would receive.

The political folks attending meetings are trying to get votes in the election. They know it is not going to happen. If Fenty loses, this proposal falls off the map. If Fenty wins, the proposal gets put on the back burner.

For those opposed to the recreation center, the public school will bring about similar issues.

I will guarantee this school is not going to reopen. If anything, they are going to be closing more schools.

SE says: (9/14/10 9:16 AM)
@James Ryan, Your information about the quality of DCPS schools and their enrollment is terribly outdated. The closest DCPS school is Brent Elementary which had a waitlist for every grade. Parents across Capitol Hill have been working hard with their local elementaries to improve their neighborhood schools and it has had an impact on their property values. I sincerely hope that Van Ness follows the same trend.

Your impression of tuition at privates is also low. Capitol Hill Day School is about $24,000 per year. St. Peters is more affordable at $10,000 per year, but I'm not convinced that the education is superior to that at the public elementaries.

MJM says: (9/14/10 10:56 AM)
Everyone should post posts w/o 'factual' facts - those are the best kind :)

Getting this school re-opened is nothing but a win-win for the area. For those with kids and for those living here that will/want to have kids one day - to have a school so close by will be a positive.

JD - correct me if I'm wrong which I might be because I haven't researched too much of the 'recent' schools in SE (only the first ones around here) but thought I found some materiral that Van Ness was built to create a self contained community around the Capper community.

Liz says: (9/14/10 11:26 AM)
James, when is the last time you have been in a DCPS elementary school? I am a DCPS elementary school teacher, so I can tell you, firsthand, that there are some GREAT DC public schools. A private school does not necessarily mean a better school. It seems a little ridiculous for people to spend $25,000 a year on an elementary school when they can send their kids to a great free school. I will definitely be saving my money for my son's college tuition, instead of wasting it on a private elementary school. I encourage you to come to the next Rhee meeting. Hopefully she can change your pessimistic attitude.

Mark says: (9/14/10 12:57 PM)
James - thanks for adding nothing but negativity to this discussion. You obviously don't have school age children (or children?) - that said, if you live in the area you should care regardless, because historically proximity to a good school increases your property values.

James Ryan says: (9/14/10 6:38 PM)
Two kids - private school.

I respect all of your opinions. My apologies for stirring such a whirlwind here. I will not get into the public vs. private debate (I am a public school kid).

I will make this prediction though - no way is this school getting reopened. The only real reason Rhee attended these meetings was to sell everyone in voting for Fenty (which I just did by the way). Congrats, you got played by a great politician - politics 101 folks.

JD says: (9/15/10 9:26 AM)
So, I'm wondering--do the parents trying to get Van Ness reopened feel like the mayoral election results will have any impact on a potential reopening?

James Ryan says: (9/15/10 1:40 PM)
JD, Yes, there is no question. First, even if Fenty got reelected, there was a slim chance of the school reopening. Now, with Rhee departing, this school has no chance of reopening. It is not even part of Gray's platform.

I am not being the grim reaper here folks, I am just guaranteeing this will not happen. But, if the school does reopen, I will be the first to admit that I was wrong. And, I will let everyone here come up with a reasonable punishment for my ignorance and lack of foresight - drinks at Justin's, ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, coffee at Starbucks, whatever.

I admit it was unfair of me to criticize the DC public schools and compare them to expensive private institutions. My argument was not necessarily for or against DC public schools; instead, it was the realization that the school will not reopen. I voted there yesterday and the school is in poor condition (the little I saw of it). There would be massive start-up costs associated with this project.

On a side note, I love living in Near SE. Hopefully, the new administration will continue the private-public partnership to continue progress. I visited Yards Park last night and it looks great.

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