While there has been lots of news over the past few months about Near Southeast getting some of the amenities that it has lacked for a long time (restaurants, grocery), one service that the neighborhood continues to be without is an open elementary school within walking distance. DC Public Schools closed Van Ness Elementary
at 5th and M SE back in 2006 because of a lack of school-aged children in the neighborhood thanks to the emptying of the Capper/Carrollsburg
public housing project in advance of its reconstruction as Capitol Quarter
, but kept the building in its inventory knowing that eventually the neighborhood would fill back up and a school would again be needed.
Fast forward a few years, and the neighborhood now has a number of families with small children, who get to look at unused Van Ness every day while sending their children across South Capitol Street to Amidon/Bowen Elementary in Southwest. So the Parents of the Capitol Riverfront organized themselves to advocate for getting Van Ness reopened
, and put together a "delightful" public meeting
with then-interim chancellor Kaya Henderson. But DCPS announced last March
that the numbers didn't yet support the reopening of Van Ness, saying that it was most likely the school would not reopen before 2015.
But area parents have continued to try to find a solution, and when word got out a few months ago that the well-regarded School Within School
at Peabody Elementary was looking to expand its program and would need a new and larger space, Near Southeast parents began to investigate what it might take to get SWS into the neighborhood, whether in the Van Ness building or in some other solution, perhaps even using the modular classrooms (i.e., trailers) that Capitol Hill Day School has been occupying at 5th and K during its building's renovation.
But today a statement from Henderson being sent out to various neighborhood mailing lists seems to put the kabosh on this movement. While the notion of using the CHDS trailers is "an interesting one," Henderson says that school system "already has too many schools that are too small to sustain themselves," and so it would be a "poor stewardship of the public's resources" to pay rent to put SWS in trailers or wherever if there are already a number of available facilities that could be used. Plus, those other facilities are located where placing SWS "could have an equally or potentially greater positive impact."
The statement doesn't specifically explain why Van Ness itself is not an option to house SWS, and perhaps someone who's been close to the many meetings that parents have apparently had with DCPS could explain that in the comments. It seems to still boil down to the neighborhood just not having enough students to support a school, whether it's SWS or a "normal" elementary school. Van Ness is currently home to some administrative offices, plus needs what has been rumored to be a couple million dollars in renovations to get it ready, and it does appear that DCPS is holding fast to its previous ruling that Van Ness won't be back in the system before 2015. But it's also not hard to imagine that neighborhood parents will continue to try to get a school, any school, as soon as they can.