Collaboration & Community with School Buildings

One of the great hopes for the new cross sector task force for collaboration between charters and DCPS is that school building use will be rationalized across the district. Ideally, duplicative programming in adjacent schools can be avoided—and new schools created with community input that reflects community needs and desires.

Examples abound of the urgent need for such collaboration.

Earlier this year, for instance, community members in Ward 6 voiced concerns when Washington Global, a charter middle school approved this spring, announced it was locating a few blocks from Jefferson Middle School, which offers a similar program and is underenrolled. How is Jefferson, they noted, supposed to thrive when its resources are dependent on its enrollment–and Global targets the same student population as Jefferson?

Similarly, last fall community members in another part of Ward 6 publicly engaged former deputy mayor for education Abigail Smith when she proposed using a closed DCPS elementary, Gibbs, for a charter school. Community members noted that there was no real dialogue with the community on what they wanted the building to be used for or what needs existed in the community. And despite ruling that the building could not be used for any other city use, DGS (the city agency in charge of DCPS buildings) never made public its decision making process for the school.

Now that the collaborative task force is in motion, public input in its discussions is vital. Meetings will be closed to the public (minutes will be published). Although the deputy mayor has outlined steps for public engagement, it behooves education councils and other interested parties across the city to engage in whatever way possible, to ensure a broad and representative view and thus the best possible recommendations.

Related to that deep need is the involvement of the education committee of the council.

For instance, buried on page 57 of the final education committee report on DC’s education budget was a note about a possible roundtable later in 2015 with the deputy mayor for education to ensure a way to make school building re-use “fair, transparent, and consistent.”

Right now, no hearing has been scheduled.

Similarly, the final committee report also referenced (p. 74) a deadline of October 1 for a report from the task force “on the strategic plan and timeline for the process of formalizing the disposition of former DCPS buildings to charter schools.”

Seems like fall will be a busy time for discussing school building use and disposition.

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