Housing Complex

Next Step for Struggling Roosevelt High School: International Relations?


Superlatives haven't been kind to Roosevelt High School. As I laid out in a January cover story, Roosevelt has the lowest enrollment of any neighborhood high school. It has the most test-takers who scored "below basic" in math on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System, and the worst "math and reading growth" figures.

But now D.C. Public Schools is hoping to add a new superlative to the mix: most international.

School and neighborhood advocates told me that if Roosevelt—located in the increasingly wealthy Petworth area—is to see its fortunes rise with those of the surrounding neighborhood, it'll need to establish special academic programs to set it apart from other schools. DCPS seems to have found one such program.

In a press release, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced a proposal to "transform Roosevelt High School into a new international relations focused school." The school, temporarily located at the shuttered neighboring MacFarland Middle School, will move back into its old building after renovation is complete in the fall of 2015. Henderson's proposal is tied to opportunities presented by the new building, whose design she hopes will contribute to international programming.

“When we modernize our schools, we don’t want to just stop at the building," Henderson said in the release. "The modernization gives us a chance to take a look at what’s happening inside and outside.”

The change would take effect when Roosevelt moves into the modernized building and could include dual-language programming, international travel for students, and classes in business, finance, and "international culinary arts."

That could make Roosevelt a draw for some students who might otherwise have avoided the struggling school. But at a school that's already having difficulty with basic math and reading skills, there's some question about whether a conversion to an international relations focus might be too much of a jump. As D.C. activist Ken Archer tweeted after the press release went out:

DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz dismisses that line of criticism. "I think that the nature of skeptical people is to be skeptical," she says. "I am not going to let people who are skeptical get in the way of our excitement about this project."

Dan Gordon, who manages high school planning and design for DCPS, says that the school's international student body and its location—along, naturally, with the rest of the school system—in the nation's capital make international relations a logical choice, even in a school with low math and reading scores. "I think it’s a false choice to say that you have to either work on helping the students who struggle to read and do math at grade level or have robust programming," he says. "The two can coexist."

Salmanowitz emphasizes that nothing is set in stone; this is simply a very early stage of planning, subject to community input. "This is a suggestion we’re putting out to the community," she says.

This post has been updated to include comment from Salmanowitz and Gordon.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Ward4Rez

    Semantic note: international relations is the study of how governments interact with each other in the international political system. Some refer to it as "world politics". It is a field of political science with a long theoretical history.

    This is about giving an international emphasis to a school that is struggling. Not necessarily a good decision either--but not the same as establishing an "international relations" course at the high school.

  • sbc

    have they considered

    a) reopening McFarland so there's a prek-12 cluster on that site? Powell is getting more popular so having a middle school nearby could keep families from there in DCPS instead of leaving for charters.

    b) feeding more of the bilingual programs to McFarland, then Roosevelt? Right now Oyster goes to Wilson (but the suggestion was to move it to Cardozo, which many parents strongly dislike); Marie Reed and Cleveland go to Cardozo; and Powell, Bruce-Monroe, and Bancroft go to CHEC. Roosevelt's only feeders (Truesdale and West) aren't bilingual. And Powell is right near Roosevelt!

  • B

    How is this different than the International program that Wilson had in the 1990s? It seems like DCPS is rehashing stuff from the archive, changing locations and calling it new.

  • fongfong

    This "late to the party" thinking about Roosevelt is indicative of how DCPS is out of its league when considering capital improvements. They redid Roosevelt at great expense with no clue about how they would use it. They now have only 250 students at this site and are scrambling to figure out a way to use it.

    Earlier this year, DCPS tried to get the DC International School to move into Roosevelt to try and jump-start this international school curriculum. This was after DCI identified and was granted a space at Walter Reed to establish its own separate middle and high school campus. For whatever reason, DCI is not heading to Roosevelt, but as punishment Mayor Gray decided to reneg on a promise to fund DCI's construction at Walter Reed.

    Families who attend charter schools should not be held hostage when DCPS is unable or unwilling to properly plan how its buildings are to be used. I am glad Catania has recognized how bad DCPS is at planning, and has reprogrammed funds budgeted to improve Springarn to schools that actually need it.

  • Petworth parent


    I agree that DCPS does not plan well but to portray DCI as the victim is just wrong. Only when charter schools are required to take all students in-boundary and stop cherry picking students and kicking out those with behavior or academic problems, can they actually have a leg to stand on.

  • fongfong

    Not sure where having a lottery for children equals cherry picking. Parents are free to choose to apply for whichever school they choose - that is sorta the essence of charters. Happy to have you apply through the lottery, just like every other parent with kids in a charter had to.

  • DC Guy

    Why should charters (or any school) not excuse children who are disruptive in the classroom? It is ridiculous to think that kids who are detracting from others have the right to stay in school. To what end? If they don't want a high school diploma and an opportunity to move on to vocational, community college or University, then they will not have a viable situation in adulthood. Sure, DCPS should have a place for those kids and there should be safety nets for the families so that all involved understand what is at stake. However, DCPS and Charter families should also have an expectation that kids who are there who want to learn and achieve have the opportunity to do so.