Neighborhood Schooled As parents in places like Capitol Hill embrace neighborhood schools, has D.C.'s black middle class given up on them?

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In Ward 6, parents didn’t rely on the government. They knew their needs and created their own plan for satisfying them. Later, after they were organized, they approached DCPS.

Look at the formula from 2009. DCPS’ decision to close a neighborhood middle school suddenly had locals anxious about the system’s ability to educate older kids, says Wells. They took a survey and began drafting a statement of needs. One Tuesday night during Snowmageddon, they hammered out the final details. They presented their plan for Capitol Hill middle schools to Rhee in March 2010.

“I was very impressed,” says Rhee, who now heads the national nonprofit StudentsFirst. “The other thing that superimpressed me: They didn’t say, ‘It’s our way or the highway.’”

Less than six months after receiving the Ward 6 parents’ blueprint, DCPS formally accepted the middle school plan. It includes, among other things, the creation of a sixth-grade academy at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and an International Baccalaureate program at Eliot-Hine. “The community itself provided so much capacity,” says Rhee. “To have it happen without a lot from DCPS created a better dynamic.”

“If we hadn’t done [the plan], I don’t think DCPS would have decided to have an IB program at Eliot-Hine,” says Wells. “It’s created a lot of energy and excitement.”


So far, Wells says, she’s measuring progress by the expanded “educational opportunities available within DCPS, such as Montessori, language immersion, the quality of teachers and principles, and the number of families choosing to invest in their neighborhood public schools,” rather than test scores. And yes, the improved options came on the back of a local economy that saw housing values shoot up and scores of well-off, well-educated parents move to the neighborhood. But those newcomers improved the schools for more children than just their own. “These people in Ward 6 sat down at a table because this was about their kids,” says Henderson. “They went to meetings and started to realize we have some of the same hopes and dreams. There are huge collateral benefits when that happens.”

“We hope we can get them talking to Ward 5 people,” Henderson adds. I hope so, too. But I have my doubts.

It’s no secret that the down economy has hit D.C. hardest in Wards 5, 7, and 8. But there’s the possibility that the recession will bring at least one positive, if unintended, consequence: With fewer people able to pay the freight for private school, more parents will be forced to keep their kids in their neighborhood schools. And as recession-affected parents stick with local public schools and charters, they’ll further reduce the number of out-of-boundary slots available. (The city is also about to undertake a major new study seeking to link school capacity with neighborhood needs.)

“There is a burgeoning group of parents who look like Ward 6 and are starting reinvest in neighborhood schools,” says Henderson. “Economics have driven middle-class black people to figure out other options and they are looking out across the feeder pattern.”

“Ward 5 has to reorient itself,” says Councilmember Wells. “If it can think more entrepreneurial, more innovative, it has the greatest opportunity to replicate what happened in Ward 6.”

But if more established parents like Zapata and Jones can’t galvanize and organize, without DCPS’ assistance, there may be others who can. Young black professionals are arriving to communities east of the Anacostia River and even Brookland in Ward 5, where housing prices are still fairly affordable. “I got an email out of the blue from a woman who lives in Ward 5,” says Suzanne Wells. “She doesn’t even have children, but she’s getting started early.”

Maybe the hope for predominantly African American neighborhood schools is with the outliers. Bring them on.

Correction: Because of an editing error, this story originally wrongly attributed this quote, which came from Suzanne Wells, not Tommy Wells: "We turned in our application in July 2005. Within one week, they got back to us and said yes they would help."

Our Readers Say

Why do we have a SBOE?
Brilliant article. I wish I had more to say, but I'll leave that to more enlightened commenters. Thank you for an insightful and very well-written piece.
No sister we have not given up. As a membver of the black middle class with a pre-school age child my wife and I have not given up on neighborhood schools. However, we are very concerned about high test scores in math and reading as well as the schools we research offering a foreign language.

On the other hand over the past years the black middle class has fled the District of Columbia and moved out into Maryland and Virginia for better schools and larger real estate which supports your viewpoint. For the those of us that remain in DC are concerned about the economy which is shrinking the black middle class and we are concerned about teachers that are committed to teaching our children.
I apologize for not editing my last comment; however, I am sure you can see the intent of my comment. Also the black middle class has shrunk and the black neighborhoods has become more diverse with large ratios of latino and caucasian populating previously historic black neighborhoods and schools. Caucasians and Latino's like the black middle class will make sure that neighorhood schools are academically sound.
This article is actually pretty ridiculous. If the schools are complaining that local parents are abandoning them, the onus should fall on the schools to improve and make an effort to raise their quality to a level where middle class parents feel comfortable attending them.

The current arrangement works out well for everyone: middle class parents get to send their kids to schools that they find acceptable, while the teachers and administrators who rely on the status quo get to have their lives continue as normal in the poor-quality neighborhood schools. The government could just as easily launch an initiative to raise the quality of the neighborhood schools up to middle class standards, but they choose not to.
@Just Me, this article did not say that schools are complaining that local parents are abandoning them. Local parents just ARE abandoning neighborhood schools. Relying on schools alone to educate students is the ridiculous point. A family that expects something for nothing gets an equal return on its investment (of time and energy). I don't know of any teachers or administrators who rely on the status quo to have their lives continue "as normal" in poor quality schools. "Normal" educators don't choose "poor quality" when they choose their professions ... they leave. Retention rates for first year teachers are very very low. After three years, DCPS retention rates are around 50%. Government helps those who help themselves, esp. in the District. In education, cooperation and collaboration achieves better results (the whole is great than the sum of the parts) than relying on others, esp. "the government." Your comments don't sound like those of a parent.
Parents, businesses, realtors, elected officials (like former School Board Member now CM Tommy Wells), philanthropists and other engaged citizens one cohort before the estimable Suzanne Wells' oldest child started at the Cluster Schools devoted a great deal of effort to make the Cluster School (and Hine Junior High) everything those schools at the heart of Capitol Hill could be.

At both Hine, at least until developers decided they wanted Hine closed for condos and community support was withdrawn, and at the Cluster, there was a visionary principal in place to cooperate and coordinate with the volunteers to make their efforts effective.

Suzanne Wells came along and insisted, over the apathy and occasionally even the resistance of parents and neighborhood school administrators, that ALL schools in the greater Capitol Hill neighborhood, throughout Ward 6, participate in the renaissance that the Cluster School still exemplifies. Suzanne Wells was a beneficiary of the work of those who came before her at the Cluster School, and has given back to the benefit of those who follow at many, many more Ward 6 schools.

Hence, Capitol Hill Public School Parents Organization.

As Barras points out, the same opportunity that Suzanne Wells grabbed for Ward 6 schools could be replicated in Wards 5, 7 and 8, and should be.

What's "pretty ridiculous" is the idea that DCPS has a magical "initiative to raise the quality of the neighborhood schools up to middle class standards, but they choose not to." There is no magical top-down initiative that does that, hidden away in some dark closet at DCPS HQ. There is only the long-term commitment over several cohorts of DCPS families, led by volunteers like Suzanne Wells (and John Pfeiffer and his pals before Suzanne), to make neighborhood schools excellent.

You should pitch in to help your neighborhood schools improve, JustMe.

I don't have patience for newbies and naysayers who throw up their hands say it's totally up to DCPS to make all public schools as good as those in Ward 6. In my experience, it works the other way: Parents and neighbors commit themselves to improving neighborhood schools, pitch in, stick with it for dozens of years, and schools improve.
A very good article. Thank you.
Jonetta Rose Barras tells a fascinating, but ultimately misguided story.

The number one problem with failing DCPS schools is the teachers. Only the teachers can change the experience for the children in the classroom. I entered my child in our Ward One elementary school and immediately joined the PTA with other new parents. Our group of Pre-K parents developed a plan not totally different than what was proposed in this article. This proposal was rejected by the principal, the vice principal and by some senior teachers. The school barely focused on academics in favor of DANCE, music and cultural studies that obsessed over the children's ethnic and religious identities at the expense of reading and math. Religion, taught in public school, sheesh. I cannot stress enough that the children were NOT TAUGHT MATH in Pre-K in favor of teaching DANCE. Many young teachers and several senior teachers sided with us but it was too late. After the school lottery the PTA members started to receive notices that their kids could attend schools where academics were supported by teachers and not rejected. Out of our group, 2 families stayed to enter Kindergarten at that school, all the rest left to join schools where the parents established academic-focused schools during the gentrification years of the early 1990s and they had 10 years of success. I jumped for joy when I learned that Michelle Rhee fired NINE teachers at that school because they needed to go. Where were the Ward 5 teachers when people with newly-minted Catholic U PhDs bought houses next door? Now that the majority of those neighborhoods are university and graduate school educated, their inner city focus is like setting up a homeless shelter to help the poor residents of Spring Valley. Those teachers live in a dream world of crack war DC of yesteryear, not the REAL Yuppie DC today. We live in the real world, they don't.

Our children only have one chance to attend Kindergarten and only a fool would waste it on a teacher whose only qualification is that she knew Marion Barry well enough in 1986 that he got her a job. There is no reason to waste that important year fighting a teacher who doesn't believe in teaching academics. This article should have been written by a parent with children in school, as it is, it misses the most important point by a mile in favor of a dog-bites-man story that is off-center.
*I don't have patience for newbies and naysayers who throw up their hands say it's totally up to DCPS to make all public schools as good as those in Ward 6. In my experience, it works the other way: Parents and neighbors commit themselves to improving neighborhood schools, pitch in, stick with it for dozens of years, and schools improve.*

Sorry, that's silly. If teachers and administrators in schools don't know how to teach classes, build curriculums and programs, and run schools, they should find another profession. It's almost as though they think the parents should those jobs for them. Why is it the parents' fault for not "being involved" if DCPS administrators are fine with poor-quality libraries and a lack of amenities like language immersion that would be appealing to middle class parents? The parents of Ward 5 are doing the right thing-- placing their kids in schools that care enough about them to be worthwhile.
As usual, Ms. Barras writes another race-baiting, "this one's better than that one" story to the detriment of our collective psyche. I really cannot stand these kinds of stories that only serve to marginalize. This could have more aptly been titled, "East of the River Parents Abandoning EOR Schools for Capitol Hill." Or "More Out of Boundary Kids Attend Capitol Hill Schools." That's more of what's happening here.

Ms. Wells and others definitely need to be commended for what they have done. I'm an EOR mom, with two kids in a Capitol Hill school and the emphasis is there on reading, writing and arithmetic, which I wouldn't have received in my neighborhood school (which, by the way, I still have to take the lottery to get into. Go figure. I'm a couple of blocks from Anne Beers and can't get in. So no one has given up on a neighborhood school. We're just in another neighborhood.)

What Barras fails to note, which one of those she quoted did in fact say, is we don't have a lot of time, by the time our children enter school. Maybe it is our fault that we weren't paying attention by the time kindergarten rolls around. But if I take time to be organizing and working on improving say, Winston, my child will still be going through a system that does work nor educate her. By the time I look up, she's in fifth grade and can't read well. Then, I would have failed her and my child is no guinea pig. Winston got kids from 5 to 17; I'm not sending my kid there.

I think most of us know that our kids will succeed in the Ward 6 schools; and (1) we may have to work on our neighborhood schools but accept and understand that our children will never get the benefit of the improvement; or (2) we work with the younger non-mothers who want to improve the schools and help improve it for their future offspring.

Not sure what but something is missing.

The writer talks about schools in Ward 7 & 8 in and out of the article but doesn't talk with anyone on this side of town that is a regular person. Only political people. Step foot inside our schools on this side of town -- talk to parents, teachers, and community people. Then I will have something more to say.

Congratulations to these Hill parents who have fixed the schools for their neighborhood children and the cross-town children.
This is a provocative article, but I think it spends too much time dwelling on a thesis that increased parental involvement leads to better school infrastructure, which in turn leads to better student outcomes. It's true that the sequence of events does run that way, but the improvement in infrastructure is really a side effect.

The real relationship is, increased parental involvement leads to better student outcomes. Parents who actively care about their children's education are the best predictor of academic success. Good teachers are important and good school buildings sure don't hurt, but even top-notch teachers on a modern campus have trouble reaching a student who doesn't care and whose parents don't make it clear how unacceptable that is, while even mediocre teachers can turn out successful graduates given their choice of students.

In the immediate case of the Ward 6 schools, the critical mass of active parents is expressed in concern about the library, but that's because it's the obvious outlet. If the library was fine, they'd turn their attention to the computer room or the chemistry lab or the gymnasium or the soccer field -- the key is that there is attention, not where it's directed.
If what C-minus says is true, and it most assuredly is wrong, then we can safely fire all the teachers because only parental involvement is key to education. It's a commonly repeated republican talking point, a blame-the-poor and blame-the-parent story that is used to suggest lowering taxes.

Unlike what C-Minus suggests, good teachers save students who grew up in rough families every single day. They are capable of doing it and they do. When they don't they need to be replaced by those who will.
One thing Ms. Barras does not take in consideration is that maybe the black middle class has decided not to even deal with the bureaucratic public school system being ran by incompetent leadership.

There are 3-5 charter schools opening per month in DC and half are by local educational advocates.

And even though charter schools are struggling as much as DCPS to gain traction, they give the parents more control, imput and access to the staff and admin. Actually, charters are outperforming DCPS on the DC-CAS, in enrollment and graduation rates. (i.e., Friendship Collegiate, Kipp, Idea, Acheivement Prep)

Just Me…I concur with your “TRUE” STATEMENT THAT Ms. Barras is ignorant about.

Just Me #5...stated;
“…This article is actually pretty ridiculous. If the schools are complaining that local parents are abandoning them, the onus should fall on the schools to improve and make an effort to raise their quality to a level where middle class parents feel comfortable attending them…”

Ms. Kenya Henderson should have EQUAL standards for ALL SCHOOL TO provide THE NECESSARY funding, resources and care and attention that is equal in all PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

WHY SHOULD IT BE NECESSARY that there is a “Black Middle Class – Ms. Wells” to have Henderson and the school system DO WHAT THEY ARE OBLIGATED AND PAID TO DO IN the first place?????

Ms. Barras has misplaced the onus of responsibility on the Black Middle Class when Henderson and the school system is not providing the full and complete amount of needed resources for all public schools.

Barras this is the true DISPARITY you have brought out in your article but FAILED TO MENTION.

HAS MS. BARRAS…interview Black Middle Class families to get their answers and report of failed attempts to get funding or even a “positive” response from Henderson or the school system? How many meetings have Blacks attended just to be ignored or lied to by School Officials?

Ms. Barras…why do Capitol Hill, [Congressional aides’ living quarters] gets more responsive action from the D.C. school system…while the Black Middle Class has been hounding and crying and pleading with the same school officials AND RECEIVED NO POSTIVE ACTIONS????


If Ms. Wells lived in a predominantly Black area of the city and was successful in achieving the same results [as she did with Capitol Hill] THEN THAT WOULD BE WORTH your [Ms.Barras] time and ink to write about.

Ms. Wells has the juice from all her residents on Capitol Hill WHO happen to be WELL CONNECTED to the same U.S. Congress Representatives and Senators WHO CONTROLL THE District of Columbia. How can Ms.Wells fail to get what she and residents on the Hill wants and demand from Kaya Henderson and the school system?

Barras…you lost touch with the Black community…I am not impress with the achievement of a Capitol Hill Resident who has the BACKING OF THE U.S. CONGRESS TO make changes in the District.

Barras…if Ms.Wells can do this for her Capitol Hill people…Where is her [Ms. Wells]compassion TO GIVE THE SAME energy and some of her winnings to HELP all Black children in the District?

Barras your article is lost and so are you when it comes to pitting this current achievement of White against Blacks in this District of Columbia.

Wake up…Trusting Citizens.

Calvin H. Gurley
Amen, Mr. Gurley, Amen.
@Calvin H. Gurley, half (50%) of the kids at Capitol Hill Cluster School (DCPS) TODAY are from families living in W7 and W8. Ms. Wells IS giving of her time and energy to help them. Why don't you step up to the plate, instead of shouting insults from the peanut gallery in Takoma Park? Why did you stand on the sidelines and do nothing and just quietly let the city close your alma mater, Hine Jr. High? Onus is on you, if you are willing to recognize your responsibilities and stand up to fulfill them. Or, just walk away...
Steve (Ward 6) #you are a provocateur and you are twisting the true issue of Barras article.

Locals abandon neighborhood schools to get what Capitol Hill children are receiving from a PUBLIC SCHOOL – high class learning.

Steve you have to see for yourself and enter any school in the city [except Ward 6] and see what is lacking from what Ms.Wells has provided for the Cluster Schools program. Where are the counselors, the teacher aides and other resources that the Cluster School has but is not found in other schools?

The article stated…that Ms.Wells developed and submitted their OWN positive teaching program that Kaya Henderson and DCPS approved and sanctioned!!!!!!

So, Steve (Ward 6) why hasn’t Kaya Henderson copied this Cluster School Learning program to be activated in all PUBLIC schools? Why haven’t Henderson copied the Cluster’s school policy and the principal and teachers agreements and activate them in other schools- since this Cluster program is a winning and golden???

Steve (Ward 6) you have not traveled outside your comfort zone Ward 6…you are very myopic when it comes to education outside Ward 6.

I attended Payne EMS, Hine Jr. High and graduated from Eastern H.S….I know Ward 6 and its activities. Mother lives on Bay Street, sister ANC Commissioner lives on Burke St. I was raised in Ward 6.

TRULEE PIST you have the history of the Cluster Schools as it were; but the onus is on the teacher and the supervision and guidance of the principal.

Steve (Ward 6) stated; “…Relying on schools alone to educate students is the ridiculous point. A family that expects something for nothing gets an equal return on its investment (of time and energy)…” We disagree. And, it is not RIDICULOUS – perhaps to your upbringing.

Steve we don’t expect something for nothing…however, when there is more than “to educate” children.

When I say teachers – that includes counselors and teacher aides, and other resources. Children must be given responsibilities and expectation from teachers, teachers must enthrall and encourage children, teachers must inspire children and when one child is lacking more attention must be given to that child.

Parents…should and must support the teacher…but parents are not ACADEMIC educators that is the job of the teacher.

Ward One Parent clearly stated; #9

“…Only the teachers can change the experience for the children in the classroom…”
Another point about Cap Hill Cluster School - none of them are passing AYP. As a matter of fact according to 2010 DC-CAS scores,

Stuart-Hobson - 48% proficient in reading 45% proficient in math
20% advanced in read 21% advanced in math

Watkins - 53% prof in reading 42% prof in math
11.5% advanced in reading 16% advanced in math

There are a few charter schools in Ward 7/8 that outperform the cluster schools completely.
At Brent on Capitol Hill the school made AYP and its results relied on African Americans and economically disadvantaged students. That's the fact Jack.
Trulee don't know jack about me.

Trulee Pist...have you heard of the Eastern H.S. Alumni?

Mr. Preston is the President and I refer your comments to him and what we [the alumni] are doing at Eastern H.S..

Trulee Pist...stated; "... half (50%) of the kids at Capitol Hill Cluster School (DCPS) TODAY are from families living in W7 and W8. Ms. Wells IS giving of her time and energy to help them..."

That is just the point...that you refuse to see. Ms.Wells is helping those who attend HER CLUSTER SCHOOL PROGRAM. Fine and Dandy.

Ms. Wells can be the school leader for all the Public schools!!! Why duplicate what Ms.Wells is good at doing - getting Henderson and DCPS to bring the needed resources to the Cluster as well as for ALL PUBLIC SCHOOLS?

Did not Henderson state; “…“We’re spending more this year in Ward 6 than in any other ward in the city,” says current DCPS Chancellor Kayla Henderson..”

Trulee Pist -who is Henderson going to be more receptive, me or Ms.Wells to get the JOB DONE in all PUBLIC Schools???

Ms. Wells has the OPPORTUNITY TO BE THE "the Education leader" for all PUBLIC SCHOOLS. She is certainly doing well for the Cluster System...and got Henderson's ear and her check book. Why not Ms. Wells??? I will support you.

Now, argue with yourself after you answer the above question.

Wake up...Trusting Citizens.
"I attended Payne EMS, Hine Jr. High and graduated from Eastern H.S….I know Ward 6 and its activities. Mother lives on Bay Street, sister ANC Commissioner lives on Burke St. I was raised in Ward 6. "

Ah, so it's true you ran away to leave DCPS' kids to their fate. Thank God we've got folks like Wells who are part of the solution, and not whining from the sidelines while actively defunding the system by moving out of the city. Maybe you and PG resident Courtland Milloy cam start a Hypocrites Club.
Trulee Pist stated; #18
Why did you stand on the sidelines and do nothing and just quietly let the city close your alma mater, Hine Jr. High?

Because I was fighting those Hill residents from putting their hands on Eastern H.S.

Trulee Pist…I am upset as you are about the Hill residents [Congressional aides] taking over Hine Jr. School.

But, you know the numbers and you know the influence and juice that those Hill-Congressional residents have with your City Council and school board!!!

It started way before Hine Jr. High demised.

It was Councilmember Sharon Ambrose who did the gerrymandering for the Hill and cut off Ward Six at the John Phillip Sousa Bridge. Now, Ward 6 is predominantly white cutting off the mostly Black residential Anacostia, GreenWay, Fort Dupont Park, Panorama Room parts of the then Ward 6 across the bridge.

Those Blacks [along with Rosedale, Old City and Lincoln Park Blacks] who could fight and OUT Number the same Hill residents were cut off…and more of the Southwest [then Ward 2] white community became WARD 6.

What do Tiber Island, (the new) Arthur Capper, and S.W. residents feel about Hine Jr. High closing…none of their children attended there.

So that is your answer. No excuse, but more of the Hill playing gerrymandering and politics to become a force. A history lesson for you… since you must have slept through "it" while living in Ward 6.

Wake Up…Trusting Citizens.

Calvin H. Gurley don't know jack about this city.

Takoma is the D.C. side "label" ...while Takoma Park is the Maryland, Montgomery County side "label".

Oboe stick with the topic...and stop attempting to inflame the issue with personal attacks that are wrong and show a lack of knowledge about D.C.

Note...I did not use the word "stupid".
I think this is a Real Estate story, disguised as an Education article. Ms. Barras is still so busy re-litigating the Fenty/Gray Mayoral race that I think it colors her view point here. Are we supposed to be surprised that wealthy and well connected people are good at manipulating the levers of civic power? Did you not just witness the city redistricting battle where these same Ward 6 folks prevailed despite Ward 7 having both the sitting Mayor and Council Chair as residents?? Dog-bites-man.

Congratulations to Ms. Wells for learning how to work the system. Now that Urbanism is in style, she has an army of legislative aides and lobbyists to help carry out her visions. Great. Meanwhile in the "outer" wards, the Black middle class that Ms. Barras enjoy tut-tutting so much have either 1) Taken the out-of-boundary/charter route (like myself), 2) have kids who have aged out of the system or 3) are just biding their time until they move to PG County.

Grassroots reform is not going to bubble up from every neighborhood at the same pace. In my opinion, it is the job of our HIGHLY paid administrators to select the best of the reforms and apply them across the system as appropriate.
Mr. Gurley, why would you want to exclude Hill residents from Eastern? What school would you suggest they be zoned for instead? Wilson? (Some parts of the Hill actually were zoned for Wilson not so long ago . . . )

It's just interesting because you seem to enjoy telling Hill residents where they should and should not go to school, and you also criticize Ms. Wells for not meddling with the schools of wards outside of her own ward. I give you points for consistency! But I think most people appreciate those with a dash of modesty trust that people in other neighborhoods know what is best for them and will work towards getting that. If the Chancellor is not heeding those leaders in wards beyond Ward 6, that is certainly not the fault of Ms. Wells!

I will say it and SAY IT AGAIN.

Where are you Ms. Wells…are you [Wells] ready for this???

"...Barras…if Ms.Wells can do this for her Capitol Hill people…Where is her [Ms. Wells]compassion TO GIVE THE SAME energy and some of her winnings to HELP all Black children in the District?

Just imagine; ”…Ms. Wells’ educational renaissance that changes the entire D.C. educational system..."


I like would like Ms. Well to replace the now School Chancellor Kayla Henderson.
Ms. Henderson can always resume her Deputy Chancellor position to assist Wells.

Ms.Wells...has alot more than what Kayla Henderson has "not"...

1) a school improvement plan created for the Cluster Schools, and

2) STRONG connections WITH the U.S. Congress [Congressional Aides & Lobbyist who live on the Hill, Southeast D.C.]...meaning possible financial support from Congress.

Think about it Mayor V. Gray...reconsider Ms. Wells for Chancellor.

Calvin H. Gurley

Note: for Ms.Barras.
The above is the compelling issue that you should have exposed. a.Wells achievement versus Rhee and Henderson lack of knowing how to improve a school system – and who is more connected to the U.S. Congress’ ear and check book.

b. Mayor Gray’s judgment to keep Henderson and not explore more outwardly and focus on Ms.Wells’ achievement at the Capitol Hill Cluster program…and other superintendents willing to take on the challenges of D.C. P.S.
"Takoma is the D.C. side "label" ...while Takoma Park is the Maryland, Montgomery County side "label"."

Please. Takoma is "DC" as much as Palisades is DC.
Tiber Island resident here. We favor Ward 6 having two middle schools (not four) and Ward 5 gaining one MS. Plus a controlled choice middle school option.
Ms. Wells, and Mr. Wells (Councilmember) have both advocated for and spent time with the Amidon Community. Amidon has a lot of good things going on, and it has a lot of potential, but it needs to improve. Here in Ward 6 the ties that bind are the ties that have us going to middle school and high school together. Spend five minutes with Ms. Wells and you will be charmed, inspired, and better informed. She is a Tyler parent, she rides a bike all over the Hill with child in the caboose. She's a modern day Atticus Finch - she's our moral compas on the Hill, Old City, Southwest and Near Southeast. She's Mother Teresa of Hill East. She's a little too open minded for my tastes, and I still give her my support. She's not a "moral compas," but my kids have a nice library thanks to CHPSPO.
Louisa…you are not privy to the moves that the Capitol Hill Cluster is doing at Eastern H.S. Therefore, your misinterpretation about me not wanting the Cluster management to also manage Eastern H.S. is blindly incorrect.

Cluster management can and should manage the Eastern H.S. with all their new SCHOOL IMPROVEMENTS.

However, (the plan) when local students who are in blocks of Eastern H. S. cannot attend their nearest High School…that - is a problem?

The New Eastern H.S. has excluded all students within walking distance…and only opened the school [Eastern H.S.] for 9th grade level students. So where do 10th and 11th graders who are within walking distance go to complete high school????

Louisa…you do not attend public meetings in Ward 6... To know these disparities. Therefore, please do not condemn me for brining equality for all Ward 6 children who live within walking distance of Eastern H.S.

Number #27
Louisa….without compassion stated; “…If the Chancellor is not heeding those leaders in wards beyond Ward 6, that is certainly not the fault of Ms. Wells!..”

How insensitive can you be…to those other Black children who do not have An “effective” leader [like Ms. Wells] THAT THE SCHOOL SYSTEM “RESPECT AND LISTEN TO”.

Louisa… why do you believe or think that the current school system or Kayla Henderson do not respect or listen to or give the same appreciation to Black Middle Class parents and school leader as they do with Ms. Wells.

My last blogs tells you why.

Again, Ms. Wells lives in the circle of Capitol Hill Congressional leaders, Congressional aides and staff who work for the U.S. Congress!!! Ms. Wells have the support and the force of these connected Capitol Hill residents who are connected with the U.S. Congress.

Louisa…educational leaders outside Ward 6 do not have this same support or and commitment from these Congressional connected residents of Ward 6.

Henderson caters to the U.S. Congress, to their congressional aides and staff who live on CAPITOL HILL!!!!!!!

Why can’t Ms.Wells…also be the driving force to push for the same support and reform that she gains for the Cluster School to ALSO INCLUDE ALL PUBLIC SCHOOLS????

Please respond Louisa.
Mr. Gurney, at post 24, you said you were "fighting those Hill residents from attending Eastern." You did not say anything about Capitol hill cluster management. Thanks for clarifying now that your problem is with cluster school management. I'm curious why you say i dont attend ward 6 public meetings and that am unaware of disparities in the neighborhood. Neither of these comments are true. Nonetheless, I am impressed with the speed with which you have twisted your condemnation of Ms. Wells into commendations. Bravo! That is some fine (and appropriate) backtracking there!
Here's another good analysis on the topic of improving education in DC.

His main points:

The biggest problem with the disparate "school reform" movement in DC, split between proponents of traditional public schools, charter schools, and even private school vouchers, is that the social, organizational, and community capital available to be directed to school improvement is dissipated amongst all of these separate movements, and the massive amount of capital that is necessary for the improvement of the very much dysfunctional traditional public school system cannot be obtained as for the most part, the most able parents and families have been diverted away from the public school system.
Man, am I off the hook today or what? I've made this article about ME, ME, and ME.

Furthermore, I DEMAND FULL REPRESENTATION in this article. And since Ms. Barras has NOT INTERVIEWED ME, this article CLEARLY is invalid.

Just because i DO NOT LIVE in Ward 6, does not mean I don't have plenty to say.

Now, I ask all of you to pay MORE ATTENTION to me.

Louisa, PLEASE RESPOND TO ME. My ego cannot take being ignored.

Number #34
Louisa...can you read or can you not read? Please do not mis phrase me.

I wrote; "...Because I was fighting those Hill residents from putting their hands on Eastern H.S..."

Not what you thought you read...stopping from attending Eastern. Please get it correct.

Where did you come up with Capitol Hill "management"?

Then you would know about the 9th grade only attendance plan. Louisa you have some twisted reading.
Gurley's ego...whoever you are and why you are hiding is the same contempt that you have for Black children who are not given the same resources as your friends' children on Capitol Hill.

You hide from this disparity...

You feel the ego and you should not unless you too are guilty of not believing equality in the school system for all children.
The black kids on Capitol Hill are doing better than most, and it is happening at a lower per pupil expense. To support black kids is to support Capitol Hill Schools.
Oboe...your # 23 stated that I left D.C. kids and went out to P.G. Maryland with Courtland Milloy.

Oboe stated;
"...Ah, so it's true you ran away to leave DCPS' kids to their fate. Thank God we've got folks like Wells... not whining from the moving out of the city. Maybe you and PG resident Courtland Milloy cam start a Hypocrites Club. "

What is this crazy talk in your # 29? You don't know that Takoma is in D.C. and Takoma Park is in your I made it clear in #25.

So what is the problem of you not knowing the difference?

Lets talk about Ms.Wells helping other Black children in their school district and get off attacking people.
Yeah, Ward One Parent? You may want to read what I wrote, instead of the version you made up. I said that engaged parents are the most important element, not the <I>only</I> important element. What else is important? Well, to quote myself, "Good teachers are important".

I assure you, I'm not doing this out of any hostility to teachers. Quite the opposite! I want teachers to be as successful as possible, and I know that motivated parents lead to motivated students, and motivated students make any teacher more successful. How do I know this? Because my mother is a teacher, and my father was a teacher until the day he died, and I listened to them when I was growing up. I assure you, I am not agitating for my mother to take a pay cut.

Yes, a good teacher can save a troubled student; my parents certainly saved more than their share. But they couldn't save <I>all</I> of them. Good parenting can prevent troubled students from arising in the first place.
Although I strongly agree that parents MUST take an interest in their childs education, this article clearly misses the point. It is not the parents job to run the school system, it is the parents job to make sure their child receives a quality education. For an article which questions the "Black Middle Class", it completely forgets about the other half of the equation, which is DCPS. It is the job of DCPS to make sure that all children have access to quality learning and recreation facilities, to allow this responsibilty to fall on the parents is malfeaseance on the part of the school system and the local government. Parents pay their fair share of the taxes yet many of the services (mainly schools) have shown no return. How can middle class black families be expected to invest in a school system that will not meet them half way?

In your article why are individuals like Henderson, Jones and Zapata passing the buck, looking for the next Ms. Wells? They are in position of authority in which they should be leading the charge. As a Chancellor of DCPS it should be her goal that every school under her power be atleast clean and filled with resources children need to be successful in academia. All this article illustrates is that DCPS still believes in seperate but equal and that there are 2 DCPS's based on social economic lines. We need a School Board member, Elected official, Mayor and chancellor who realizes that you have to fix up EVERY school and not just give "the squicky wheel, all of the oil"
Brent's DC-CAS scores for 2011

White 94% proficient or advanced in reading. Black/AA 73% proficient or advanced in reading.

Whites 81% proficient or advanced in math. Black/AA 55% proficient or advanced in math.

Sound like the achievement gap is alive, well and growing on Capitol Hill, despite what Brent boosters want to insist.

As you cite - Brent AAs are 73/55 percent proficient in reading/math. But more importantly, Brent’s econ-disadvantaged are 71/55 percent proficient in reading/math. Something is happening there that benefits AA students and econ-disadvantaged more than most any school in the city.
This article really misses the point. The idea that the black middle class has abandoned the "poor quality" neighborhood schools in favor of more "effective" schools should be put in the right perspective. At the end of the day, any parent with an ounce of self respect wants the best education for their kids. Unfortunately, as Mr. Gurley so ably points out, many of the "high quality" schools are not located in the "neighborhoods" and this is so for many reasons. Clearly, the schools that are located in white areas and are heavily populated by white kids get more resources and oft-times the best teachers. Again, there are many reasons for this reality, the least of which is that politicians in this city see well educated and influential whites as a political threat, thus, they are more inclined to ensure that their needs are met. People like Mrs. Barras who have a history of attacking her own people would never deal with this story from such an angle, because she too has a plantation mentality which causes her to believe that "the man" ice is colder.
Strong schools are less expensive to operate. The list below are middle schools ranked by their budgeted per pupil expenditure. The strongest schools have the lowest per pupil expenditure.

1. Deal MS - $8,400
2. Hardy MS - $8,400
3. Stuart Hobson - $8,876
4. Souza - $10,839
5. Hart MS - $11,161
6. Miller MS $12,048
7. Johnson - $12,464
8. Eliot Hine - $12,791
9. Kramer - $ 12,921
10. Jefferson – MS - $13,441
11. Brown MS - $14,839
12. MacFarland MS - $15,184
...we need to hear Rick Mangus's voice on this issue...
@Mahdi Leroy J. Thorpe, Jr: Out of curiosity, what ward do you live in? I am a caucasian in Ward 4 with a young son; the demographic scenario you describe sounds very much like our little corner of upper NW. I'd love to replicate what Wells did in CapHill with other like-minded parents.
Dan, your relentless boostering of Brent is a real turnoff.

It's a nice school and it's gentrifying rapidly. The school would not have made safe harbor this year if you had to rely strictly on the scores of your African American students. (55% proficient in math still doesn't cut it, sorry.)

Brent is one of the few schools East of the Park that can count on their in boundary populations being high SES. That's great for test scores. Congratulations. Now can you back off the test prep in the upper grades and spend more time on the museum program? If so, you'll like have all high SES kids in the upper grades and your test scores will soar.

Much overlooked in this article and these comments. Starting with the fact that the much lauded Cluster is really not all that great, the Ward 6 Middle School Plan put forward by CHPSPO and adopted wholesale by dcps has yet to show any real results and was more of a pr booster anyway, and several of those schools feted in Ward 6 ( JO Wilson and LudlowbTaylor: both feeding into Stuart Hobson) seem to have cheated their way to higher test scores, and two Ward 6 schools seem to have dccas scores hovering in the teens and low twenties ( Tyler and Amidon Bowen: feeding into Eliot Hine MS and Jefferson MS respectively ). There is a long way to go before we can declare school reform success around here.
I'd like to point out, in case people forget, that Ward 6 does have othe schools beside the (roll out the carpet and queue drums) schools on the Hill. Even (gasp!) Walker Jones.
Watkins ES 2010/2100 DC CAS were:
Math Reading
62.62 63.59

Stuart-Hobson MS 2010/2011 DC Cas scores were:
Math Reading
65.17 68.72

Stuart-Hobson is 85% African American and a Title I School

Stuart-Hobson has a population of 413 of which 74 Students (17%) are from Ward 8, 99 Students (23%) are from Ward 7 and 45 Students (11%) are from Ward 5.

In 2009, Stuart-Hobson’s graduating eighth graders enrolled in the following college preparatory schools: Benjamin Banneker SHS (6), School Without Walls (19), McKinley Technology HS (18), Duke Ellington School of the Arts (6), DeMatha Catholic HS (1), Phelps SHS (6), Woodrow Wilson SHS (8), North Point High School for Science, Technology & Industry (1), Washington Latin Public Charter School (2), Gonzaga Senior High School (2), National Collegiate Prep Public Charter School (4), Georgetown Visitation Preparatory (2), Holton Arms (1), Sidwell Friends (1), and Maret (1).

It took 6 years of continuous work for CHPSPO to get here from there.

There is no magic bullet and for the same process to succeed in other areas of the city you will indeed need: dedicated parents who are in it for the long haul, intellectual capital that can help you navigate DCPS, The City Council, Neighborhood and regional entities, non profits, and educational advocates.

They you will need the vision to see what others want, the patience to help them refine their desires, the organizational skills to pull it all together and keep everyone focused on what is best for the entire ward and the fortitude to never give up or never give in.

The Capitol Hill Cluster of Schools is fortunate to have parents that are in it for the long haul (pre K3-8th grade) and they have the patience, vision and drive to advocate for changes at the middle school level even though their kids may be in Pre K.

Most individuals want and crave immediate changes and are frustrated when they can not see an immediate return on an investment of time or talent.

DCPS collapsed because of years of neglect and it will take rears of focused efforts to solve the problems.

In closing, the Capitol Hill Cluster of School is not the beneficiary of the larges that you envision. Stuart-Hobson has the lowest per pupil funding of any Middle School, there are no athletic fields or age appropriate play grounds, the gyms were built in 1927 and home games and practices are held at one of the local rec centers. DCPS turns a blind eye to our needs as they do many of you. When we advocate forcefully we are viewed as pushy and intrusive yet to be any other way is to allow them to give us more of what they have been giving us the last 40 years.

What we do have, however, are great teachers, committed parents and kids that want to succeed.

The Cluster is not the fair haired child of DCPS as many of you believe-it is a place where people are in it for the long haul and start at Pre K and work until the 8th grade...... now with Eastern open, maybe Pre K -12th grade.

Ward 6 parents started working first on the demands that aprents deisred for thier local elementary school then they focused on their feeder middle School. Now all roads lead to Eastern.

Thomson also feeds into a Ward 6 school.
It's so important that we encourage our teachers, parents and children. It takes a lot of work, but parent involvement is key. Parents who can need to encourage other parents who are struggling. Schools need to work to provide a receptive and supportive framework. Good schools, especially public schools, are the bedrock of a healthy democracy.


“Building strong children is easier than repairing broken adults." 
-- Frederick Douglass

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
935 children tested of all ethnicities
375 African Americans (proficient 74% reading, 80% math)
211 Econ-Disadvantaged (proficient 63% reading, 71% math)

299 children tested of all ethnicities
64 African Americans (proficient 67% reading, 70 math)
20 Econ-Disadvantaged (proficient 65% reading, 65% math)

87 children tested of all ethnicities
62 African Americans (proficient 73% reading 55% math)
31 Econ-Disadvantaged (proficient 71% reading, 55% math)

430 children tested of all ethnicities
360 African Americans (proficient 64% reading, 61% math)
170 Econ-disadvantaged (proficient 54% reading, 48% math)

212 children tested of all ethnicities
143 African Americans (proficient 52% reading, 50% math)
66 Econ-Disadvantaged (proficient 38% reading, 33% math)

64 children tested of all ethnicities
57 African Americans (proficient 33% reading, 42% math)
39 Econ-Disadvantaged (proficient 39% reading, 49% math)

142 children tested of all ethnicities
139 African Americans (proficient 18% reading, 15% math)
129 Econ-Disadvantaged (proficient 17% reading, 15% math)
I don't like Suzanne Wells, I find her to speak with fork-tongue. She gets results and I guess I am grateful. Don't be fooled there are those who got results for their individual schools. Case in point, I would think those advocates for Woodson did a successful campaign. I would think those of Ward 7 did a successful campaign for high-schools in general. You have a new comprehensive high-school and two highly-acclaimed chartered high-schools in Ward 7, that ain't chopped-liver.

Wells disdained for Tommy has changed and I wonder why?
Good point, So You Say!! I didn't even think of the advocacy that went into getting a Woodson redone and redeveloped; and of course, now, there's discussion about overhauling Ballou in Ward 8. Not to mention Phelps, which is 5, I believe.

My original point too is that we're not leaving the neighborhood schools by choice either. Some of us still have to lottery into schools that are a block away from our homes.

Again, Barras is on her own agenda and has no credibility with me.
That part about how somebody's fundraiser friend drummed up $2.4 million in a couple of months--so easy to replicate! Why didn't those ward 5, 7, or 8 folks think of that? Social networks and the kind of wealth they are connected to are clearly a critical factor in making this kind of transformation possible. At my kids' (DCPS, ward 3) school, the African-American and Latino parents are every bit as *involved* as the white parents. But when it comes to fund-raising: the money comes mostly from the white families. The disproportion is shocking (and completely confidential, which is to say, not discussed).
Wow! What a great article by Jonetta Rose Barras!!! She explains EXACTLY what I have wondered about for a long time. Why do middle class blacks in D.C. always participate in their own downfall in education by supporting teacher's unions. Its good to get some culture from Ms. Barras that explains that in the culture, teacher's are to be honored. Thats great. Also, the teaching profession provided a way forward for blacks in the face of job discrimination, etc.

So, what I STILL don't understand. Why not CHANGE your MIND??? Adapt! Say to yourself, "that was then, this is now." Obviously, things have changed, and the way for the vast majority of inner-city poor AND middle class blacks to move up economically is to get a better education than they HAVE been getting. Its time to wake up, "ya'll." In the parlance of dramatic civil rights talk, its "time to throw off the chains of the teacher's unions oppression." Put another way, its time to get a clue.
Folks: Everyone needs to tone it way down. This is already a contentious subject. Feel free to address it, but be civil about it.

Your first paragraph is on point. However, your second one is uninformed.

I normally don't respond to comments in such a forum. But, your comments about Henderson Zapata and Jones(me) passing the buck is terribly uninformed. I invite you to spend some time with me and explore what's being done about improving Ward 5 schools. I also invite you to join me on the quest to improve our schools.

Sir, I'm leading the charge everyday to improve our schools, from a position of limited authority.
Ms. Zapata serves in an unpaid volunteer role with no authority. Now, Ms. Henderson that's another story, she has authority to make changes. If you want to say Ms. Henderson is passing the buck so be it.
Just so you'll know:
Under the 2007 DC school reform act The school board became primarily advisory except on a few areas of policy. Those areas are truancy, standards, and teacher certification. We don't have the benefit of following up on the progress or lack of progress of the policy we pass.
Help the School board regain some authority and you will see a higher level of oversight resulting in improved schools.
This article is ahistorical. Stuart Hobson and the Capitol Hill Cluster Schools have always had a relatively strong, multicultural parents' organization since the 80s. The Capitol Hill Classic has always been around as an indicator of the parent efforts at those schools. Students (black and white) from Stuart have always gone on to great high schools. Way back in 1994, I went from Watkins to Stuart to Holton Arms, and eventually on to Duke, Gtown (masters), and Northwestern (phd). I am a black woman whose mother was extremely active the entire time I was in the cluster schools, and when my sister went to other DCPS schools for elementary in high school.

Articles like these do nothing bring about real change. It is fundamental attribution error to think that this one woman's efforts reflect anything about the black middle class in DC or their abandonment of anything. Plenty of black middle class families use and actively engage with DCPS.

Any cursory look at the literature will tell you black middle class families may have similar income to their white counterparts (patillo 2005, marsh 2010, etc) but they are not as wealthy and their children face much different peers at school than their white counterparts because they live in different neighborhoods.

I am confused as to Ms. Barras' need to constantly disparage the black community here in DC. She is an ill-informed polemic who is more worried about clicks than actually reporting and analyzing issues facing our changing city.
YouTube is world's biggest video sharing web page, no one can defeat it. Every one upload video clips at YouTube then get embed code and post anyplace.

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