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Tonight the interim chancellor of DC Public Schools Kaya Henderson met with a large and very involved group of parents (and a lot of toddlers, some of whom showed off their impressive lung capacity) who want to see Van Ness Elementary reopened.
DCPS told those assembled that it is committed to making a decision on Van Ness in January, and that the decision will be based on "whether the numbers work out," both in terms of whether there are enough school-age children to support the school and whether the economic realities of a budget-crunched city government can get scarce dollars shuffled to pay for getting the school reopened (which would require taking money from other schools that are in need as well). DCPS handed out an information sheet with some numbers in terms of children in the area and enrollment at nearby schools--I'm going to plead injury (thumb. ow.) and let you read it instead of summarizing.
Henderson mentioned many times the "positive energy" DCPS feels from the parents of the neighborhood, who clearly want a school opened immediately. There is no chance that Van Ness will open for the 2011-12 school year, the room was told, but one idea DCPS is looking at is possibly redrawing the boundaries for Tyler so that some of the Near Southeast children who live closer to Tyler than to Amidon (which is in Southwest) could go there. (One parent responded to this by saying that they hoped that all of Near Southeast could be included in a Tyler boundary redrawing "to keep the community together", and it's clear that many parents are not big fans of sending their kids to Amidon.)
At the end of the meeting, Tommy Wells said that with Van Ness in pretty good shape, capital funds shouldn't be a barrier to getting the school reopened if the necessary enrollment numbers are there. (Earlier, it had been announced [first by meeting organizer Bruce darConte and then a company representative] that EYA is pledging to undertake "buff and scrub" renovations at Van Ness if it'll help get the school reopened.)
Other than these items, the meeting was basically a "listening session," to allow parents to tell DCPS (again) their priorities and concerns. At the risk of being flip, I think I can boil it down to this: parents (and parents-to-be) in Near Southeast want Van Ness reopened. But it was a very collegial session--Henderson called it "one of the most delightful meetings I've been to."
So now the residents will wait to see what DCPS tells them---whether the school could reopen in 2012, or whether the numbers aren't quite there yet. It seems clear that DCPS expects Van Ness to reopen eventually--it's just a question of whether the timetable they come up with will be disappointing to the community.
[If this is less than complete, I apologize--I have to stop typing, I'm dying here! Feel free to use the comments to fill in what I didn't cover. You can also see Tommy Wells's tweets from the meeting for more.] For more background, browse my previous posts.
UPDATED to fix my Tyler/Brent mixups. As a non-parent, they're all the same to me. ;-)
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AKR says: (12/8/10 8:23 PM)
I thought the boundary redraw idea could open Tyler - not Brent - for local residents.

Also I heard the DCPS will make an announcement by Jan 31, 2011 whether it is feasible to reopen VanNess for the 2012 school year.


JD says: (12/8/10 8:27 PM)
Oops, thanks, fixed the Brent/Tyler boo-boo.

And yes, where I said in the second sentence of the post "DCPS told those assembled that it is committed to making a decision on Van Ness in January" would pretty much be along the lines of your comment. :-)


Bruce says: (12/9/10 8:43 AM)
It was a great meeting and my thanks go out to those who attended.
Liz, Jennifer, Kara and Anna (Parents on the Capitol Riverfront) really stepped up. Their hard work was appreciated. It was great to see the community so united.
Thank you to Brian Jackson of EYA for attending as well. The "buff and scrub" was well received by the Chancellor.
It was also great to see folks from across the great divide (AKA: South Capitol Street). Divide meaning that it's a pain to cross that street on foot!
ANC 6D07 Commissioner-elect David Garber was there as well along with ANC Chair Ron McBee. Thanks for the support!
As for JD, in the war of her thumb vs. her Blackberry, I'd have to give the victory to the blackberry in this round. Sitting next to me, she was clearly struggling with that injury. Although knowing how dedicated she is, nothing will slow her down. Thanks for attending!


JD says: (12/9/10 9:08 AM)
Thanks, Bruce, though in the interest of maintaining my geek cred I have to correct the record--it's not a Blackberry, it's a Google Nexus One. :-)


Bruce says: (12/9/10 9:22 AM)
JD; Potato potahhhhto!

I'm kidding, I dont mess with anyone's geek creds!
Especially yours...lol


jg says: (12/9/10 10:01 AM)
Thanks to everyone who helped organize this meeting and also to those who attended.

I walked away from the meeting not more or less hopeful that Van Ness will open in time for the 2012 school year. However, I did leave with a reinforced confidence that the Near SE community will do whatever it takes to make any school our children attend successful, and that we will hold ourselves and DCPS accountable for making it happen.


Anna says: (12/9/10 12:53 PM)
We were very pleased to see such a large turnout as well last night. We are 100% behind this project and certainly hope that DCPS will give us the go. Just imagine a school that we can walk to and see out our windows. Now that is why we live in Washington, DC!


swresident says: (12/9/10 1:31 PM)
I think it's interesting to contrast what these residents want with what other parts of the city have done. Ross Elementary in NW was a low performing school until new residents in the gentrifying neighborhood banded together to improve it, and now it's a huge success. The same thing is beginning to happen now at Garrison Elementary. With many of the planned residential units not built yet, the city's current fiscal crisis and ample room at Amidon, it seems to me (a parent-to-be in that school's district) that it would be more helpful to work to improve Amidon -- and advocate for an M Street streetscape project to make the walk there safer -- rather than demand a new school right now. I get why people aren't thrilled with Amidon but with a looming $500 million budget gap in 2012 I really don't see how this is a reasonable thing to ask for in the next 2 or 3 years.


Liz says: (12/9/10 1:49 PM)
A neighborhood school is definitely a reasonable thing to ask for our students. I do not consider Amidon a neighborhood school. It is over a mile away, across a dangerous intersection. I would be more willing to put my "shoulder" into improving a low performing school if it was actually in my neighborhood.


Mark says: (12/9/10 4:28 PM)
I'm going to have to concur with Liz's sentiment. We want a neighborhood school. Amidon - or any school - we have to cross a major highway to get to is not a neighborhood school. Moreover, no improvement to M Street is going to make going to and from Amidon safer for our kids - every time I cross S. Capitol I feel like I'm taking my life into my hands.


Jennifer says: (12/9/10 5:29 PM)
I'd also like to respond to "swresident" by clarifying that Near Southeast residents are not really asking for a "new" school: An existing building -- a former elementary school in very good shape -- is owned and currently used by DCPS for administrative purposes. We're just asking that this school that exists in our neighborhood be reopened for our kids.


Bruce says: (12/10/10 8:30 AM)
Let's keep in mind that the building was retained for a reason. It was not sold to developers, nor converted to other use.
Based on the number of residential units slated to be built in Cap. Riverfront over the next 5-7 years, the number of residents (with children) will certainly require a "new" school.
As Tommy Wells mentioned, it will NOT take much in terms of Capitol funds to get the building in shape and with EYA's (Capitol Quarter's builder) help, that expenditure just decreased.
Van Ness is NOT a new school, it was just put on hiatus until the neighborhood re-emerged.


M says: (12/10/10 9:22 AM)
I think Bruce's point is exactly right (and Liz and the others) about why Van Ness should reopen; however, I also think it behooves near southeast to fully support the efforts of our neighbors to the west to improve Amidon-Bowen and the efforts of our neighbors to the north to improve Tyler and Brent. We want all these kids to be ready to make Jefferson a great MS and Eastern a great HS. And by fully support, I mean I'm willing to commit some hours and dollars...and already have.


DLH says: (12/10/10 9:44 AM)
If Van Ness re-opens there will likely be plenty of space for SW residents to enroll their children. Also, if AppleTree opens an expanded facility in SW then area residents will have another option to look at.


Mark says: (12/10/10 10:51 AM)
DLH - excellent point - reopening Van Ness will be a boon to parents in SW as well. There will likely be some room in Van Ness, and due to the proximity of SW to Van Ness SW children will have some measure of preference to attend the "new" Van Ness in DCPS's school choice system.


JD says: (12/10/10 10:55 AM)
Don't forget that Amidon is only 62% enrolled, though (see the handout I linked to). And SW parents might feel the same way about traipsing across South Capitol Street to 5th and M in the same way that Near SE parents seem to feel about going to Amidon.


Mark says: (12/12/10 8:17 AM)
JD - the difference is that if Van Ness is reopened it would be the choice of a SW parent to send their child to out of bounds Van Ness. If Van Ness is not reopened SE parents do not have the same choice - we will be forced to send our children to a school more than a mile away across S. Capitol Street.

We don't want to be forced to send our children to a school on the other side of S. Capitol - and in another city quadrant. We just want to be treated like every other DC neighborhood - we want own neighborhood elementary school.

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