Rough Ride Can a new building, redrawn boundaries, and a changing neighborhood transform D.C.'s struggling Roosevelt High School?

When construction workers beginning the renovation of Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School last fall removed the ceiling in the cafeteria, they found a surprise. The newly exposed top of the wall revealed part of a mural, spared the five layers of yellow paint that had been applied to the rest of the wall over the decades. A muscle-bound trapeze artist hurtled into the air while Mickey Mouse looked on gleefully. Two men surveyed a parcel of land, while a Paul Bunyanesque lumberjack laid down his axe. A cowboy on horseback galloped along, guns blazing.

Photographs by Darrow Montgomery

Together with restoration experts, the team uncovered more of the mural. Their discovery, it turned out, was a 1934 New Deal–funded fresco by a 26-year-old artist named Nelson Rosenberg, who called his work “The American Panorama.” The glorified workmen and athletes who had once beheld the Roosevelt Rough Riders eating their lunches had been covered up and then completely forgotten over the next 80 years.

The construction team is restoring the mural, which spans two walls of the cafeteria, and may move it to the school’s entrance to give it greater prominence. It’s a fraction of the work that’s being done to restore Roosevelt to its former glory. The $127 million, two-year school modernization aims to revive and elevate the 1932 Colonial Revival building, “a building that has great DNA,” says lead architect Sean O’Donnell of Perkins Eastman, but that’s fallen into disrepair. The elegant front entrance, with its grand staircase and ring of columns, has long been blocked off by plywood, forcing students to snake their way through a narrow parking lot to the back door. The stately brick facade, topped with a proud white steeple gazing down on 13th Street NW, is marred by flaking paint, forbidding grates on the windows, and graffiti. Inside, water damage is everywhere, hallways are dark, and many of the windows in the classrooms fortunate enough to have them are cracked.

The new Roosevelt will be a palace by comparison. The front entrance will be restored; flanking it will be two more columned entrances to the arts and athletics wings of the school. The claustrophobic central courtyard will become a spacious, glass-topped atrium, and two new courtyards will be added to bring light into the building’s dark, 1970s-era additions.

But the glamorous new building will be mostly empty. The old Roosevelt had a capacity of 1,059 students; the renovated version will hold about the same. Last year, 473 students attended the school, and the projected enrollment for this year was just 446. That’s the lowest enrollment of any of the District’s nine neighborhood high schools.

Part of the problem is the school’s poor track record, reflected in dismal test scores, that may be scaring off potential students. Last year, more test-takers at Roosevelt scored “below basic” in math on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System exam than at any other D.C. Public Schools neighborhood high school—45 percent, to fewer than 20 percent who scored “proficient.” In math and reading growth, which compare students’ progress to that of peers who started at the same achievement level, Roosevelt likewise comes in dead last. Fewer than half of entering Roosevelt 9th-graders graduate in four years.

Roosevelt’s declining enrollment comes as its surrounding Petworth neighborhood is on the rise. Once poor and crime-ridden, the area around Roosevelt is at the epicenter of D.C.’s gentrification wave. Luxury apartment buildings and upscale restaurants have sprung up around the Georgia Avenue Metro station. Last year, the Washington Business Journal labeled Petworth “D.C.’s Hottest Housing Neighborhood” for its 42 percent jump in housing prices from the year before.

The Petworth boom comes with its own problems; low-income families are starting to find themselves priced out of their longtime neighborhood. But it’s also brought a large number of educated middle-class professionals, often with young children. In theory, these families would someday send their kids to Roosevelt, which would boost enrollment, bring socioeconomic diversity to the school, and help mitigate some of the problems that tend to be associated with high-poverty student bodies.

In theory.

In reality, few of these children are likely to attend Roosevelt. Historically, families of means moved out of the District or sent their kids to private schools when they reached school age. These days, there’s an increasing tendency to opt for charters or follow convoluted feeder patterns to DCPS schools west of Rock Creek Park. If the trend holds, Roosevelt won’t be a school that’s reflective of the neighborhood around it, but one for students who can’t find a way out.

The same issue is playing out across the city. The District’s population is growing rapidly, and young parents with money who in previous generations might have moved to the suburbs are often choosing to stick around to be near work and take advantage of life in the city. At the elementary-school level, these parents are becoming active in improving their children’s schools and recruiting friends’ and neighbors’ kids, too. But there’s a drop-off after that; only one neighborhood middle school and one neighborhood high school in the entire city enjoy a strong enough reputation to attract many families with the ability to choose. And so parents try to send their kids to those schools or put their fate in the hands of the charter-school lottery.


Roosevelt is far from the only underenrolled school. Dunbar and Cardozo high schools, for example, both moved into gorgeous, large modernized buildings this year, but Dunbar’s latest official student total is 504 and Cardozo’s 537—both barely higher than Roosevelt’s. Both schools, like Roosevelt, are in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods where the ability to attract those new residents to the schools is still in doubt. And both schools have struggled with low test scores; at Dunbar, once the city’s premier high school for black students, only 17 percent of students are proficient in math and 18 percent in reading, even worse than Roosevelt’s numbers. Roosevelt isn’t alone in this trend. It’s just the most extreme example in some ways, with the lowest enrollment in a neighborhood undergoing arguably the most change.

It’s tempting to look at this issue as just a matter of race or income, of attracting middle-class white kids to poor majority-black and majority-Hispanic schools. There’s more to it than that. As the city’s school-age population grows, the question is how to ensure that neighborhood schools are truly schools for everyone, not just those who aren’t wealthy enough to move to the suburbs or go to private school, savvy enough to game the system, or lucky enough to win a lottery.

The next year and a half could provide the answer. In 2015, not only will Roosevelt students begin classes at their modernized building, but the city will also implement a revised boundary and feeder system that could reroute students to underenrolled schools like Roosevelt. How these changes are carried out will determine whether the new Roosevelt will rise on the fortunes of its surrounding neighborhood or continue to lose students and prestige to schools elsewhere that can claim better reputations.

Diane Rehm found her 55th high school reunion dispiriting. Returning to Roosevelt in 2009, the 1954 graduate saw a shell of the school she remembered so fondly.

“It just seemed so dark, so gloomy,” says Rehm, a Petworth native who now hosts the Diane Rehm Show on WAMU-FM. “It sure looked as though it had deteriorated greatly.”

When Rehm was a student, she recalls, the teachers were inspiring, the environs safe, the building immaculate, and the students’ bad behavior mostly limited to smoking cigarettes on the steps down to Upshur Street NW, to which the administration generally turned a blind eye.

“By today’s standards, I had at least a first-year college education at Roosevelt because it was such a fine school,” she says. “The teachers were absolutely outstanding. We were outrageously privileged in those years.”

Change came quickly after Rehm graduated. Her final year at Roosevelt brought the Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education and Bolling v. Sharpe that turned a 100 percent white school—albeit a diverse one, with Greeks, Italians, Poles, and a large enough Jewish contingent to earn the nickname “Jewsevelt”—into a 0 percent white one in a matter of years.

But while the student body changed, the academics remained strong. Maurice Butler, who retired in 2010 after 35 years as a social studies teacher and administrator at Roosevelt, says that when he arrived there in 1975, the school was “99.99 percent” black but could still boast of delivering a top-notch education.

“Roosevelt, when I first got there in the ’70s, was a very good school with a good reputation,” says Butler, a Roosevelt loyalist whose study in his Petworth house doubles as a shrine to the school, with dozens of yearbooks and boxes of memorabilia and newspaper clippings. “It was an honor to go to Roosevelt.”

One of Butler’s early students, Isabel Wilkerson, became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism. Many of the city’s power brokers were 1960s-era Roosevelt alumni: When Marion Barry’s third term as mayor spiraled into drug-riddled scandal, it was Roosevelt alum Carol Thompson who covered for him as city administrator, Roosevelt alum Rasheeda Moore who set him up, and Roosevelt alum Sharon Pratt Dixon who succeeded him as mayor.

The drug epidemic that snared Barry didn’t spare Roosevelt, and “things went into the toilet” in the early 1990s, Butler recalls. He stopped walking to work there out of fear for his safety, even though he lived just four blocks away.

“Things got really crazy,” he remembers. “We went into a huge nosedive where education wasn’t important. It was survival that was the important thing. I remember coming home and showing my wife where my insurance policy was.”

The school’s reputation tanked, and middle-school guidance counselors waived students away. So did Butler: His son wanted to attend Roosevelt, but Butler put his foot down. Enrollment dropped substantially, and violence consumed the school. In 1991, a Roosevelt senior out to lunch at a nearby carryout was kidnapped and killed. In 1994, students attacked a police officer patrolling the school’s halls. In 1996, an ROTC instructor at Roosevelt was badly beaten by a group of students when he told them to stop smoking marijuana in the hallway and go to class.

Those were the dark days; according to Butler and others, things took a turn for the better under Principal Learie Phillip in the late ’90s. But the upswing was temporary, and enrollment has tumbled again, from 812 in 2007 to 625 in 2010 to 473 last year.

That’s partly due to an abundance of new choices for parents. In 1996, acts of Congress and the D.C. Council allowed for charter schools in the District. In the 18 years since, the share of public school students attending charters has climbed to 44 percent. Charter schools, in a sense, provided an answer to the same kind of question that’s swirling around DCPS now: how to provide families that couldn’t afford private schools with a good, free option for their children. The result has been, in many cases, a better education for low-income D.C. kids—but it’s also precipitated the shrinking of the traditional schools, particularly middle and high schools.

Still, charters alone aren’t responsible. A second change also siphoned students away from neighborhood schools like Roosevelt. In 2009, the city revised its rules to allow students to attend out-of-boundary schools if they go to elementary or middle schools that feed into those schools. That’s enabled many students living near Roosevelt to cross Rock Creek Park and attend well-regarded Alice Deal Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School. According to an analysis by the 21st Century School Fund as part of the boundary review process, 209 children living within the Roosevelt boundary attended Wilson last year—representing nearly half of the number of students who actually attend Roosevelt—in addition to the others who attend other neighborhood or application-based public high schools (plus the ones at charters).

Finally, some families simply cheat by listing a relative’s address or even renting a basement apartment in boundary for Deal and Wilson, says Jeff Steele, who founded and runs DC Urban Moms and Dads, the leading online discussion forum for local school issues. “Drawing school boundaries isn’t just like drawing voting boundaries,” says Steele, whose lives not far from Roosevelt but whose children attend Deal and a charter school. “If they told me to vote somewhere else, I would. If they told us, ‘Go to Roosevelt,’ we just wouldn’t go.”

The abundance of options for D.C. families highlights “the benefit and the cost of choice,” says Cathy Reilly, a Ward 4 resident and executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators, an education advocacy coalition that’s met monthly since 1998. “We’ve adopted a philosophy of, ‘If you don’t like it, leave.’ When I was growing up, it was, ‘If you don’t like it, how can you make it better?’”

She adds, “I have the right to go to Deal and Wilson, and I live less than a mile from Roosevelt.” This system has likely been a boon for neighborhoods like 16th Street Heights, attracting families who wanted to send their kids to those west-of-the-park schools, but a curse for Roosevelt, depriving it of needed students. The area whose residents are entitled to attend Wilson now consumes nearly half the city, and Wilson’s enrollment tops 1,700 students. Roosevelt’s enrollment is barely a quarter of that.

Roosevelt students and staff don’t have to look far for a model of how to turn around a struggling school. Powell Elementary School, located just a block down Upshur, enjoyed a good reputation when Rehm went there in the late 1940s and when Butler attended in the early 1960s. But like Roosevelt, Powell fell on hard times as many middle-class residents, black and white, fled to the suburbs, and parents avoided it when they could.

When 16th Street Heights residents Andy Rowe and Patricia Abaroa were shopping around for a pre-kindergarten program for their son last year—families aren’t automatically guaranteed admission to their neighborhood school for pre-K, unlike for older grades—they felt as if there were a commandment, says Rowe: “Thou shalt not go to Powell. Hearst and Eaton [two elementary schools west of Rock Creek Park] are there for you.” Carla Ferris, who owns a pet-sitting business, was told by her sister who taught at Powell, “I would never want your kids to go here.” Martha Holley-Miers, a Petworth resident, drove by the school and thought it appeared on the verge of collapse. “Nobody that I knew really talked about Powell,” she says.

And yet all three have children at Powell. They were impressed by visits, increasingly positive word of mouth, praise on DC Urban Moms, and, in Ferris’ case, a change of heart from her sister, who told her, “This is a great school now.” Powell is so popular these days that the waitlist this year was 150 names long, at a school that enrolls only 33 to 73 students per grade.

What accounts for this abrupt turnaround? Parents gush about Principal Janeece Docal, who took over in 2009 and has aggressively courted neighborhood families with weekly Tuesday tours, Thursday coffee sessions, regular community walks, and appearances at local events. She calls family engagement one of her “main levers” for improving the school, and she’s been assisted by the Flamboyan Foundation, which works to get parents more involved in their children’s education and is in its second year partnering with Powell.

Until this school year, Powell students fed into MacFarland Middle School, and from there to Roosevelt. But the city closed MacFarland last summer due to underenrollment—Roosevelt is using the abandoned MacFarland building while it’s being renovated—and Powell graduates will now head to the Columbia Heights Education Campus and from there to Cardozo High School. That deprives Roosevelt of perhaps its most promising feeder elementary school at a time when Roosevelt needs all the motivated students it can get.

The only schools left to feed into Roosevelt are the West and Truesdell education campuses. Combined, those schools have just around 63 8th-graders to send to Roosevelt next year—a fraction of what the school needs to maintain its enrollment, let alone boost it to sustainable levels.

David Catania, who chairs the D.C. Council’s education committee and is contemplating a run for mayor this year, says the city has “dismantled the feeder system leading into Roosevelt through closures and redirections.” D.C. allocates education dollars on a per-student basis, so schools with fewer students have less money to spend on school-wide benefits like mental health services, librarians, and special course offerings. That in turn creates what Catania calls a “death spiral,” making the school less successful and less attractive to potential students, further diminishing enrollment.

Catania has accused Mayor Vince Gray’s administration of neglecting middle schools, which are mostly underenrolled as many elementary-school parents, sensing weak options for middle school, opt for the charter-school lottery when their children approach middle-school age. Last year there were 4,123 students enrolled in kindergarten at D.C.’s traditional public schools, but only 2,279 in 6th grade. DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who declined to be interviewed for this story, referred me in an email to a letter she wrote last month to the DCPS community promising a middle school plan as part of the fiscal year 2015 budget.

Some neighborhood advocates say it’s impossible to channel the energy of Powell at Roosevelt unless there’s a middle school to restore the old feeder pattern that established a quasi-campus of Powell, MacFarland, and Roosevelt, as well as the Petworth Library, in close proximity. “I don’t see how it can work without MacFarland,” says Reilly. “They have to reopen MacFarland. There has to be a middle-school option.”

But Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, who’s leading the task force that’s set to deliver recommendations in May for the first comprehensive redrawing of school boundaries and feeder patterns since the 1970s, says reopening MacFarland when Roosevelt moves back into its building in 2015 is “not something that’s currently on the table.”

Without reopening MacFarland, the most obvious way to boost enrollment quickly at Roosevelt is to change school boundaries or feeder patterns. That would most likely involve taking students away from overcrowded Wilson, perhaps in neighborhoods like Crestwood and 16th Street Heights, and depositing them at Roosevelt and other underpopulated schools. Such a move could run up against the law, since Wilson’s boundaries were drawn broadly for racial integration purposes, and would certainly anger residents of those areas who expected to send their children to Deal and Wilson. As a result, Smith says, a grandfathering provision will allow people to stay at their old schools for a time, though not so long as to “grandfather their grandchildren,” as some people want.

Of course, there is another way to boost Roosevelt’s enrollment, though it’ll take time. According to Smith, there are 2,000 high school–age children living within the Roosevelt boundary. Most of them are going to charters, out-of-boundary schools, or application-based public schools. But if Roosevelt can persuade even half of those students that they’ll get an equally good education there, the school’s enrollment problems will be solved. The solution is simple, if not easy to accomplish: All Roosevelt needs to do is become a better school.

Ivor Mitchell makes a habit of roaming his school’s halls in pinstriped suits and sneakers. The suits conform to the formality he projects: He addresses all staff members by their last names and introduces me to nearly every student and employee we pass as “Reporter Wiener.” The sneakers reflect all the ground he covers, both in the school and in the neighborhood, which he makes a point of exploring in the mornings after arriving from Baltimore, a daily commute that begins at 5:15 a.m.

Mitchell is in his fourth year as Roosevelt’s principal. He was the fourth principal of the school in six years when he arrived, and he faced skepticism about whether he’d really stick around after spending four years as principal of a Baltimore application-only high school. “That weeding-out process meant that we didn’t see all the students that a neighborhood high school sees,” says Mitchell. “And after four years and really wanting to be in education and wanting to make a difference, that’s why I got involved. I wanted to be in a neighborhood high school.”

Behind Mitchell’s studied formality is a burning intensity in his eyes, an almost missionary zeal for giving Roosevelt students every advantage enjoyed by their peers at higher-prestige schools. Working in an urban public school means confronting hundreds of difficult backstories, and Mitchell seems to know them all. He stops one student in the hall to ask about his recent attendance issues. The student’s absences are due partly to poor health and partly to his daily trek from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. But when Mitchell asks why he’s truant—a word Mitchell patiently defines—the student says he simply doesn’t own enough clothes to compile a daily outfit, and would prefer it if the school adopted uniforms.

Mitchell says his goal isn’t to be the best school in the city. He just wants it to be seen as a competitive option for families living in the neighborhood.

Nearly every neighborhood parent I speak to says that if Roosevelt is to rebound, it’ll need to establish special academic programs that’ll set it apart. Mitchell has a few ideas about what these could be, but he says his “main mission” is preparing students for college and careers. When Mitchell started at Roosevelt, he created a college and career center, with counselors to assist students with applications and decisions.

As soon as I arrive at the school for my first visit, we make a beeline for the center, which is clearly Mitchell’s pride and joy. It’s after 4 p.m., but the center is buzzing with students. Mitchell repeatedly boasts that nearly three-quarters of the senior class—a depleted bunch, since fewer than half of the school’s 9th-graders earn enough credits to continue to 10th grade—has already been accepted to at least one college, and it’s only January. Mitchell has created a wall of shame of sorts, a public list in the hallway of all the seniors who have not yet sent in college applications and filed them with the school. It’s about 35 names long.

I ask Mitchell what pitch he would make to Powell parents who might be uneasy about sending their kids to Roosevelt someday.

“We’re trying to send a message that, listen, we are a viable option,” he says. “I don’t want to be the principal that says, ‘We’re better than.’ What our message has been to all of these schools is, ‘If you’re looking for college and career, we are not void of that.’”

There’s evidence that Roosevelt is already improving. The school’s truancy rate—the percentage of students with at least 15 unexcused absences—dropped from 48 percent in the 2011-2012 school year, among the highest of the city’s neighborhood high schools, to 32 percent last year, among the lowest. The hallways during and between classes are quiet and orderly. And the support system Mitchell has put in place has given a sense of security to some students.

Senior Caiya Hawkins came to Roosevelt from Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, whose principal was murdered in 2010. “My principal got killed, so I didn’t want to get attached and get hurt,” she says. “But I met Mr. Mitchell and he told me what was important to get done. When I came here, the staff helped me get my grades back together, helped bring up my GPA.” Hawkins was recently admitted to Hampton University, which she plans to attend.

Roosevelt students feel the school’s poor reputation is a holdover from a more difficult past, one that doesn’t reflect reality today. “I have a lot of friends at [McKinley] Tech and Banneker [High School], and they think we’re not doing anything,” says Hawkins. “The work here is challenging.”

“I think people are stuck on the old reputation of Roosevelt, where there were fights every week,” chimes in senior Daquan Jones, who’s been admitted to three colleges and is awaiting word from his top choice, George Washington University. “But over the years, the dropout rate has decreased and the academics have improved.”

Changing the community’s perception of the school, then, is perhaps the biggest challenge ahead for Mitchell. He’s put together teams of staff members to pay visits to West, Truesdell, and Powell and promote Roosevelt’s achievements. He’s also reached out to the embassies of Ethiopia and El Salvador—the neighborhood has many immigrants from both—to market Roosevelt.

But some members of the community are skeptical that the school can turn around its reputation quickly. Ronald Hampton, a retired police officer and Petworth resident who served as Roosevelt’s PTA president and still volunteers there, agrees that Roosevelt’s bad rap is outdated. But he’s blunt about its prospects for attracting new neighborhood families who don’t fit the school’s racial or socioeconomic profile.

“It was the white folks who pulled their children out of schools ’cause they didn’t want their kids going to school with black children,” he says about the school’s change in the 1950s and ’60s. “I don’t think that those families are going to send their kids to Roosevelt or Coolidge [the other Ward 4 neighborhood high school] as long as those schools are 85 percent black.”

Still, the renovations could be a major selling point. The school’s staff and students have had to cope with difficult conditions in the crumbling building. Carey Hartin Dukes, who taught at Roosevelt from 2001 to 2008, remembers a week or two one January when the heat wasn’t working in much of the building, and she and her students had to wear hats and gloves in class. Butler recalls blackouts when students in his windowless basement classroom would pull out the cell phones they weren’t supposed to have for use as makeshift flashlights.

And the need for students to enter through the back of the building has been deeply demoralizing, Mitchell says. “It has been one of the most frustrating things for the students, for the community as a whole,” he says. “If I’m in Woodson [High School], I go through the front door. And then of course having a primarily African-American and Latino population at the school, that also sends certain messages of entering through the back, even to adults and staff. So this modernization, just the students and staff seeing the construction has been invigorating. They finally feel a sense of equality.”

Modernizations at other neighborhood high schools—Roosevelt will be the second-last to be renovated, with Coolidge to follow—have produced a bump in enrollment. Mitchell expects the same for Roosevelt. But parents say it’ll take more than a new building to attract them.

“If you give me a gleaming building with a lousy academic program, I’m not going to go there,” says Ferris. “The building is the icing on the cake. But you can’t have the icing without the cake.”

All the ingredients for a rejuvenated Roosevelt could be coming together now.The fact that the reopening of the building will coincide with the implementation of new feeder patterns is coincidental, says Smith, but it has the potential to be hugely consequential, giving the school a boost to its enrollment and reputation all at once.

Still, a new building and the addition of another middle school or two to feed into Roosevelt won’t solve the school’s problems alone, if many of the most motivated students and families who could be going there enter the charter lottery or finagle their way into Wilson instead. With nearly half of the District’s public-school students attending charters, this is a city-wide issue that threatens the basic concept of a neighborhood public school, and it’s one DCPS will have to confront, sooner or later. And Roosevelt, despite Mitchell’s claims to the contrary, will have to persuade the brightest kids in and around Petworth that it’s actually better than the abounding alternatives, not just an adequate fallback.

In some ways, Roosevelt is already succeeding beyond the school of 60 years ago. When Rehm attended, she recalls, nearly every student graduated, but only a third of them went on to college. (Rehm did not.) Now the majority of the senior class is college-bound. But in Rehm’s time, just about every child in Petworth went to Powell, MacFarland, and Roosevelt. Now the luxury of choice has made the neighborhood high school dispensable for many in the neighborhood.

Will the parents who helped revitalize Powell feel comfortable trying to do the same at Roosevelt? Ferris says that if things remain as they are, she won’t send her 4-year-old daughter to Roosevelt. “I don’t want to send her to a giant empty building where she’d be the odd man out,” she says.

Holley-Miers holds out hope that by the time her pre-kindergarten daughter reaches high-school age, Roosevelt might be a good choice.

“I would love that,” she says, “but I also know that a lot of things need to change.”

Our Readers Say

“I don’t think that those families are going to send their kids to Roosevelt or Coolidge [the other Ward 4 neighborhood high school] as long as those schools are 85 percent black.”

Sad but true.
This is a good article and raises some good questions.

"With nearly half of the District’s public-school students attending charters, this is a city-wide issue that threatens the basic concept of a neighborhood public school, and it’s one DCPS will have to confront..."

This quote however is the main one. The charter schools in DC are dismantling the public school system. The ability for charters to kick out troubled students and leave the conventional school district to address the students with the most severe needs is quickly establishing a system for motivated students and one for others.

It's a much bigger problem then boundaries.




@noodlez - Why are you yelling?
You can't run a mental health clinic and jail in a school.

Fix the rules around expelling the worst of the worst, and the below average kids will immediately become above average students. THAT will attract white families, but that's really immaterial. What you want is black kids to do better regardless of how many white kids are there. Black kids will do better when they don't have to worry about their violent peers.

A lot of black families relish the "toughness" that surrounds the violence in the community making it even harder to solve politically. They think the toughness is the way to excel, instead of the biggest impediment to achievement. When 50 year old men are still driving around acting like tough guys, and mom's are screaming at and hitting their < 2 year old children, you have a fundamental violence problem with your community. It's *slowly* getting fixed, but it's not being confronted.
<b>noodlez</b> It's the mayor who sets the renovation and closing for public schools. Not the ward councilmember. If you want to set the credit or blame at the feet of anyone for Roosevelt or McFarland, or Ellington or Dunbar, look to the administration.
You know that.
As long as the majority of the DCPS overall population is AA then it will never be a percentage at Roosevelt that's noteworthy. Look at your largest high-school in DC which is Wilson their white population is less than 20%. Did not and have not DCPS tried this guinea pig experiment with Eastern. Such the case they closed Eastern and relaunched it with just only 300 handpicked/selected incoming 9th graders. They let the community (whites) pick the Principal and here it is almost 3-years later and Eastern just has only one white male student in the entire school who just transferred in this month. So in reality whites are all talk with no bite. Their lost in certain aspects but others gain. Instead of build it and they will come, more so build it and they will not come. So be it.
Wow, another Muriel Bowser accomplishment. Vote Muriel for mayor!
If you're interested in what's going on at Powell, come check out our school during a Tuesday morning tour (9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m.), an open house on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 5:00-6:00 p.m., or Saturday, Feb. 22, 10-11 a.m., during one of our Saturday academies.

Andrew Rowe
Parents Organized for the Power of Powell
Actually, the trasformation of the schools and the timeline for such was a plan ironed out and put in place by former Mayor Anthony Williams and then Superintendent Janney. They did not just "find" the money to do this. That is not how the government budget operates. Funding and finalizations of the plans was put before the city council and approved a year before the Fenty-Rhee era, yet persons who are new to the city do not know this. Meanwhile, the current school and government administration takes the credit for having this done - while all the time, increasing the strength of Charter schools, dismantling the public system so that more Teach for America and other Rhee-backed educational programs can get funding. I wish DC citizens were not so gullible. But, there it is.
Sorry, I've done a LOT of renovation work in DC high schools and the lack of respect from the students and their nitwit parents is astounding. When kids are running their mouths non-stop, cursing ANYONE who looks the wrong way at them, act like complete fools toward anyone "acting white" (i.e. showing ANY level of scholastic achievement), there is NO CHANCE these morons will develop into anything worthwhile as teenagers.

When parents who give a damn about their kids are given the chance to move their kids away from the trash in society (or the kids of illegal immigrants who don't speak English), they RUN toward charter schools so their kids have a chance at a REAL life. DC's political correctness, teacher's union idiocy and lack of accountability from the school system to take on these problems has killed off "public schools".
The biggest challenge to DC high schools is that there are just a finite number of students. The oldest of the currently glut of pre-schoolers -- won't be freshmen until around 2020.

No matter how many amenities you add or how good the programs become, it will be zero sum game until that moment: Additions at one school will come at the expense of another.
I live in Roosevelt's boundary but my address is for Alice Deal so my children attended Wilson. I graduated from Roosevelt but it was not the school it has become. At Wilson, the student populated has exploded. The kids fall in the cracks if the parents do not engage. The student population spans from Southwest DC to upper northwest. Wilson has a way to insure they do not have probem students who live outside of their boundary. Wilson will put out any student whose high school is not listed as the student's neighborhood high school. They classify feeder pattern students as out of boundary and use it as a threat to transfer the student to their high school in their neighborhood. They then send a notice to the parent stating the student did not meet out of boundary rules. No other school in Wilson's surrounding area classifies feeder pattern students as out of boundary students. Wilson has used this practice as a means to reduce their number of problem or low performing students. This is how they keep their test score high. The schools in receipt of the students get the lower performing or problem students. I am now paying for my child's education who now attends a private school at my expense. Wilson was nightmarish and a disappointment. It is no better than Roosevelt or Coolidge who cannot turn away students. The odds will always be in Wilson's favor. They do not play with test scores they just transfer out where the can lower performing students.
No Longer @ Wilson.

You seem to be confusing two effects. One is that you can take a sub par student and put him in a good school and he's still more than likely going to be a sub par student.

He'll benefit from the prestige of the school that's been built up by the good students, but that doesn't mean he's a good kid because he went to a good school. It appears to be an intractable problem that the families of sub par students in DC can't get their sh*t together and teach their kids respect for themselves, their teachers, and their community and behave like normal people. They've got a disease and their getting it from their mommies and daddies.

On the other hand, you could take all the above average kids at Wilson and put them at Roosevelt, and Roosevelt would be a top performing school (in need of renovation). Why? because it's not about "school" it's about the families and the students. Yes there are probably some mediocre teachers, but even the worst teachers would do fine with smart motivated kids.

The other issue is filtering out low performing and bad acting kids: we need more, not less of it. If you're kid can't say yessir/yes mam and do their homework, then they belong on the street or bagging groceries. Kids who don't give respect don't belong in a school.
I live in Petworth and am zoned for Powell and I'd be happy to send my kids there (don't have any).

And if Roosevelt were a good school I'd gladly send my kids there, even if it was 85% black (I'm white). The racial makeup of the school is immaterial to me. But it doesn't matter, because though we live in walking distance of Roosevelt the DCPS site claims our middle school is Backus and our HS is Cardozo. So much for neighborhood schools! Backus may as well be in MD.
You can't really say that the school is majority AA anymore. It's a very strong presence of Hispanic students as well. The article brought up some very valid points. I live in walking distance of Roosevelt. I went to and graduated from Roosevelt in the 70's however, I would not allow my son to go there. I managed to get him into Wilson. He wanted Wilson. He wanted the diversity and the curriculum that was not available to him at Roosevelt.

I don't see the parents (new to neighborhood and white) sending their kids to West and Roosevelt. They shuttle their kids. I don't even see the African-Americans sending their kids either. The Hispanics send their kids to the multi-cultural school on 16th street.

The system is definitely broken. However, I feel that it will take more than just changing boundaries and gutting out a school and doing it over to fix the problems at hand.
NO school coming from trouble times will survive or flourish without parent involvement and being a voice for your child and others that are there. Its almost like by the time a kid gets to middle school - families get complacent with allowing the SCHOOL to teach, keep the doors open, keep everyone safe, get the rift-raft handled etc. WHEN CLEARLY DCPS is a BROKEN SYSTEM - know your expectations are JUST THAT when a system is as broken as this one is. I think we all need to become accountable now for the major shift that is needed! A great school is a VALUE added benefit to its residents for MANY reasons. On any given day a new law could pop up about busing or a busing freeze can be instituted. All they can focus on when the area school is in jeopardy IS enrollment and tests that merely validate not educate these children. Changing boundaries is a band-aid on a GUN SHOT WOUND. This is the ONE thing we should be able to make right across the board!
@dab -- Thank you so much for writing the truth!!! I hope more people listen; it's hard to fix a problem if you don't know its genesis.
Even Wilson has lost some of their status and they are still 90% better than the others.
Despite the glimmer of hope it offers, this article is deeply depressing.

The telling problem is that the genuine answer to the problem, that "all Roosevelt needs to do is become a better school," appears halfway along. Most of the discussion, in one way or another, blames the students for the management and discipline shortcomings of the school. The long discussion of the feeder patterns implicitly blames poor performance on its students.

When is DCPS going to stop blaming its students for its bad schools?

What is depressing about this article is that it accepts this thesis, that everything that is wrong is to be laid at the feet of bad parents. Even most of the comments.

No wonder the charters are booming. At least they understand that they cannot blame their failures on the parents.
If a white majority is a bad thing, wouldn't a black majority school be a good thing? the cognitive dissonance of the refusal to talk about the obvious
Great article. Well done.

The T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School Success Story

T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. “School to Aid Youth” High School is an alternative high school educational program for District of Columbia residents. This school year, 2013-2014 total enrollments have increase over 20% to 844 students register. T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School is designed for non-traditional adult learners and offers a wide variety of courses for adults who wish to continue their education or participate in a specialized career education program. T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School is committed to providing a quality academic education and a technical program that meets the needs of the adult learner population. The workforce development being done at Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. is a value-added program in the District of Columbia Schools. T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School supports an adult learner population that is often disenfranchised and needs additional academic and social supports to succeed. T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. does this with a trained staff of highly-qualified teachers, including academic, GED, ESOL and special education educators. The support staff includes counselors, a homeless liaison, community outreach and an administration team that works tirelessly to support the students, teachers and staff in their efforts to make Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. an exemplary workforce development program in the District of Columbia Schools. T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School's mission is to advance the Desire, Determination and Dedication of each student and these are the standards that each student, teacher and support staff is held to each and every day.

Education Matters

All Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. students learn the skills that are the keys to success in the 21st century workplace and in higher education. Every student is a valued member in our learning community and works hard to achieve their best academically. Further, Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. students are given the opportunity to earn Certifications in MS Office, Insurance, Culinary Arts, Barbering and Cosmetology while in the S.T.A.Y. Program. These skills translate into job opportunities when they leave the program. Students can also earn the required hours needed to take the Barbering or Cosmetology licensing exams. Though the exams are given off-site, the students leave the program well prepared to successfully navigate and pass the exam.

Personal Attention for All Students

The Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. high school program is designed to allow teachers and staff to get to know all students as individuals and to respond to their specific learning needs. Each student works with a counselor to have a detailed plan for graduation—identifying the specific courses they must take, opportunities they should pursue, and extra help they need in order to succeed in high school and beyond. And every student receives academic and social support from their teachers, counselors and supporting staff throughout their time in school. T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School have a time-tested system in place to identify those adult learners who struggle in reading, math, or any core subject, and every student receives the time and resources for the immediate help they need to stay on course or get back on course.

Bringing the Real World to the Classroom

T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High school program helps students make the connection between book learning and the skills needed to be successful in life. Students must develop the work habits, character, and sense of personal responsibility needed to succeed in school, at work, and in society. As a workforce development program where our students are adult learners, we work to make the course work relevant and meaningful. This is particularly important as Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. student body is comprised of students for whom academic success has not been easy and the courage to return to school and be successful in an academic environment where students are honored and respected by the teachers and staff members. The academic classes and the career development classes all include elements of real world connection and the staffs of both programs actively plan and engage in collaborative planning that ensures that the students receive an education that will serve them well in the community and in the workplace.

Family and Community Involvement At Roosevelt S.T.A.Y.

These Students thrive because T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School encourage positive learning relationships among families, educators, faith groups, civic organizations, businesses and other members of the community. This is exemplified in their many partnerships with community groups, University Partners and local businesses. T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High school have many chances to exhibit their skills through the school's Market Day Program, Hair and Barbering Contests and other activities. They can voice concerns, share ideas, serve as student body officers, and suggest ways to improve the school. The school leaders reach out to the Petworth neighbors by attending community events and forming partnerships with local organizations and local businesses in order to increase effectiveness and tap additional resources.

A Safe Learning Environment

At Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School they do their best to advance the safety of the students, teachers, staff, and visitors. The school is kept free of drugs, weapons, and gangs. Principal, Dr. Yisrael, works hard to build a climate of trust and respect. He knows the students and greets them and engages them in conversation in order to get a pulse on their academic and social growth. T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High school students are encouraged to seek peaceful solutions to conflict, and the school responds directly to any bullying, verbal abuse, or other threats.

Skilled Teachers At Roosevelt S.T.A.Y.

T. Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High school teachers are highly skilled in the subjects they teach and know how to teach all students, from all kinds of backgrounds. The job training classes are taught by practitioners who are the best in their field. The academic teaching force is made up of many accomplished teachers who are very sensitive to the needs of the adult learner and work tirelessly to make their return to school a success for each Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. Student. Many of the teachers have advanced teaching degrees and years of experience working on the high school level. The administrative team offers them the guidance and mentoring that our teachers need to be successful in the classroom. All teachers have enough time to plan lessons, carefully review student performance, and continuously improve their practice. We have a robust data collection and testing program in place and every student is cognizant of their tests scores and are given the chance to have a successful experience. Additional support is offered to those students who need it through tutoring, counseling and mentoring.

Strong Leaders

Roosevelt S.T.A.Y has a very skillful principal, Dr. Sean Yisrael, who supervises personnel effectively, manages finances capably, and keeps the organization running smoothly. Dr. Yisrael has built the S.T.A.Y. program into a growing program that reaches and exceeds its targets. He has created a program with a mission and a vision around Desire, Determination, and Dedication. The program also has a strong educational leader in its Literacy Coach who has done an exemplary job of defining a vision of academic excellence, works with teachers to develop an engaging and coherent curriculum, and serve as a mentor and role model for teachers and students alike.

Necessary Resources

Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. provides all students and teachers with the books, computers, laboratory equipment, technology, and other resources they need to be successful. And they maintain safe, clean facilities that are fit for teaching and learning. The Coordinator and Homeless Liaison run the Student Resource Room tirelessly to secure necessary items for the homeless students in the program. The Coordinator brings numerous resources to support the students in need.

User-Friendly Information

The community members have easy access to information that gives a clear, straightforward picture of how well the school is serving all of its students, including those from every income level, ethnic group, and racial background. Some of the key pieces of information include a school’s graduation requirements, graduation and dropout rates, and student performance on state tests. The school's website (, facebook (rooseveltstay) and twitter also serves as a point of information for the school and community.
I would be curious how many of Roosevelt's students could really read the above post.
As I was reading this article I could not help but wonder if M. Madden (Editor)is going to send [his daughter] to Roosevelt.
kaynice ( snicker )
@ Kaynice:

As my daughter won't be going to high school for more than a decade and isn't a public figure, I've edited your comment to remove her name. Thanks. Check back with me in ten years or so and I'll let you know what I'm thinking about Roosevelt then.
While poor teaching and poor teaching morale are definitely a problem, poor teaching has it's roots in parent's refusal vote intelligently during the school board years. The school board was very much captured (regulatory capture) by the teacher's union and thus the school hiring and firing was optimized for political optimization. Furthermore the school board was a "minor leagues" or farm team for the DC Council. You cut your teeth, made your allies, and if the school budget for infrastructure repairs was zero dollars, no one in power really cared. Teachers were hired based on connections, and if you've paid any attention to standards at education colleges, they're abysmal and ripe for chicanery.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court had turned the school system into a petri dish of individual civil rights and most black parents supported this (politically) with the support of well meaning, but ultimately stupid liberal whites. The long and short of it was, students threatening, assaulting and murdering teachers with absolutely no ability to ensure a safe environment without a massive debilitating lawsuit and certainly very little money to ensure a physically safe school. It's almost comical to see the hysteria today over "guns in schools" given how bad it was under black rule in the 80's and 90's.

But at the end of the day, black parents represented the unfettered majority electorate in DC, were the PTA, and it was their kids going to school and acting like clowns and worse. No group of parents "did" anything to fix the problem electorally or within their families. Most of the problems like attitude and respect didn't cost actual money and were within people's ability to solve. The standards for DCPS actually were lowered to meet the expectation that these kids didn't need or want to be in school just to make the public graduation rates and test scores higher.

The only thing that "white" parents bring now is the respect for education and schools and the expectation that their kids will do well and not goof off (yes this is all generalizations, but we're talking about the majority culture imposing their will on the bureaucracy).

And when we're talking about successful charters, they're ability to kick out bad kids *is* the difference.
I graduated in 1966 in a school that advocated quality education for all who wanted it. Roosevelt had a graduating class of approx. 500 students. But there was also prayer (not a moment of silence), dedicated educators and a safe environment.
In this high tech age, we sometimes forget important basic principles.
I Am a Roosevelt Student Who is In the 9th Grade Academy and I think It is an Amazing school that coming from someone who attended private school most my life and this being my first time at public school maybe if the writer interviewed students people would know the real Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School it is a great school
Charter Schools area band-aid approach for a school system with a major trauma. With some planning, the charters should all be closed starting at the elementary school level. All students should go to their neighborhood schools that have been re-organized and given new leadership in an appropriate facility. Each year the neighborhood school system would grow and Charter Schools will be phased out all of the way through to 12th grade. Those active and engaged charter school parents will be forced to hold their neighborhood schools accountable. There will be a more equal distribution of academic talent throughout the city's school. DCPS schools should seek to hold their students and families to standards more similar to those of charter schools. If the families are not able to live up to the commitment (behavior) then their kids get put out of their neighborhood school and get bussed to an alternative school with staff trained to handle them, and hopefully rehabilitate them and return them to their neighborhoods. That's what the charters do. If a student can't follow its rules, they kick them out and send them to their neighborhood school. Usually a dose of DCPS gets a kid to turn things around while their parents struggle to find them another charter school for the next school year. Thereby making the neighborhood schools a type of "holding cell" or rehab.

DC's public schools are simply mismanaged. The charter schools (some) are better managed. They have the same kids. The charters just have higher expectations for the students and hold the students and parents more accountable. They are more autonomous and capable of making decisions about "what is right for students", and are without the heavy red tape associated with any outside of the box thinking a creative principal or other DCPS school leader might have.

There's also the mindset of students attending DCPS schools v. Charter Schools (and maybe Wilson). Students have been told for, so long, that their schools are bad and not worthy of respect that they believe it and in fact, perpetuate it. In charter schools students feel as if they chose to be there, or were selected to be there, and that their "space" is not to be taken for granted, as it can be lost or taken away. It has value. In addition to the charter schools, the private school skim the real cream from the city and offers scholarships to its best and brightest to study along side of the children, of the who's who, in Washington, DC. The magnet school also draws many of the city's best and charters take up the slack. But what about the Gonzaga's and Dematha's of the city? They take the best athletes, those with promise, right out of their neighborhood schools with promises of D-1 scholarships and ESPN interviews. Athletics were once a real source of pride at all of the DCPS High Schools, the bands, the cheerleaders and dance teams...what happened? Everyone knows how valuable a good athletic program can be to a school and to its community. How many coaches have turned around a student athlete who felt like they had little to offer the world? Athletic success can do a lot to improve the reputation and desirability of a school. What about the gospel choirs and jazz bands DCPS used to be known for? What about the arts and all of the programs that have been cut from schools and their funding now used to pay for security and metal detectors?

It seem strange to me that the leadership of the charter schools so often get it right when the leadership of DCPS gets it wrong. Maybe integrate the charters into the neighborhood schools???? It could work. Again, with some planning and creative thinking, move a successful charter into Roosevelt's building and expand its programs. Most of the charters have sub-par facilities and are over-crowded anyway. Have the school transform from charter to a type of co-op or jointly run DCPS/Charter School. Maybe make the charters neighborhood based rather than by lottery. It's a shame how that works. I met a woman who lives across the street, literally a stone's throw, from a successful charter school and her child cannot attend because it is a school with a lottery, and she didn't "win"...crazy.

I know my ideas are big and radical, but that's what it's going to take to fill Roosevelt and restore faith in DCPS again.
The organization is only as good as its leadership. The principal of this school whom I have first hand knowledge of because I am employed there is not very good. He also surrounds himself with individuals who do his bidding. Therefore, anybody whether it is a student, teacher or executive who dares oppose him, their head will roll. I said this to say that there will never be growth in that building until the source of the problems is eradicated. He needs to go. He is a vindictive, rude, and destructive person. He does not deserve to lead that school when the building is modernized. He is referencing the "back door" issue but he is the one who squash flee his tyrannical reign. Most people with an ounce of common sense do not want to put up with his nonsense. Most of the teachers hold Master's degrees but are not allowed to have self expression for fear of retaliation and backlash. The other Executives "kiss his derriere" for lack of a better word. These are grown people who are so afraid for their jobs they jump when he says how high. He definitely is suffering from a Napoleonic Complex. I personally have been targeted by this principal. He does not maintain discipline. He just wants to be friends with the kids on FACEBOOK. I as a staff member would not in my wildest dreams bring my child to this type of low-performing,ghetto school. The children are wild and out of control. They will attack a teacher in a heartbeat because they know that there will be no consequences from Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Howard. Ms. Eichelberger, the "Chief" of Transformation needs to transform her negative and pompous attitude. Mr. Flynn is a lackey with no integrity. I do not blame Caucasian families, or African American, or Latino families, or Asian families for desiring to send there children to a safer, cleaner, more respectful environment. 90% of the students who go there are trouble makers and delinquents. The students who stay focused and graduate know who they are. They work just as hard or harder than other DCPS students because for the most part the teaching staff gives demanding instruction except for a few who may feel that these kids are poor so I don't have to teach. There are some bright, motivated, and good kids mixed in with a bunch of bad ones. I have seen some science projects done by a former colleagues science students that were awesome. They integrated technology, communication, and research in a way that was totally outside of the box. They also seemed to be happy and proud to do so. But last year Mr. Lee (talented man} transferred to guess where Wilson High because he fell out with the principal. All of that talent left with him. In fact the previous year, he fired the whole Science Department who happened to be white, Asian, and one African American. The new replacements were black a very knowledgeable group as well. The previous group gave "too many F's". Another colleague who taught English very well I might add, was under pressure to change the F's to D's or better to increase the schools passing rate regardless of the fact that these students were sometimes truant 20 plus days or never even showed up. Finally a very perky African-American Math teacher left to go to law school because she was receiving pressure from the top to fix her grades and God knows what else because this principal has an eye for ladies. In a nutshell it is a terrible place to learn and I applaud the decent immigrant students and American students who attend daily because they have no connections or options. I also extend kudos to the teachers and staff who have to endure the discipline problems and the ill-suited principal. I feel they should change him to a less polarizing person. Ms. Henderson certainly got this wrong.
I attended this school back in 81-82 and a ROTC member, i remember being the only 1st Lt. in that school during my time there and also 1 of the 3 white people that went to that school at the time but had a lot of friends in there, yes I was in the (A) crowd due to my association with a lot of friends but never suffered from my academic programs (stayed a B student)when i left i went to the military after serving my time with Major Odell Graves and Lt. Randolph (RIP) i do miss this school and will return to see it again but wonder about the attention this school is getting lately >>>>>GO ROUGH RIDERS
As a former teacher of Roosevelt I can agree with Barnes No about Mr. Mithell's leadership. I started at RHS when Dr. Acosta was the principal. I enjoyed her leadership. True, the school had it's issues but she stood more for the teachers. When Mitchell became principal his approach was trying to befriend students. He even shared with them about how when he was their age he had a girlfriend who terminated a pregnancy. I really felt that was too much information to share. I was one of the teachers who did try to stand up and was reprimanded for trying to stand up for whats right. I went to the union (which was useless) about problems but they in turn told him and then he and the AP Ms. Walker (who was equally as ineffective) persisted to make the remainder of the school year hell for me. The special education students were all placed upstairs in a secluded area over the gym away from all of the other classes. It was pretty much just a holding place for all the students with behavior problems. To seclude special education students from the general education students is illegal! He did many things that were against federal regulations and the powers that be in DCPS knew about it. There will be no improvement in that school until DCPS starts hiring qualified candidates to lead schools. Ms. Walker had a very nasty attitude and was a teacher when I first started at RHS. The promotion to a leadership position went to her head. It made me realize the reason why in most cases when teachers or dept heads are promoted they often switch schools. The adjustment was horrible. Even one of the AP's quit mid year. I really hope there are changes made so that students can receive a quality education someday. I actually felt bad for them having to go there.
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