GU Students Protest School Closures
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 17:02
Fifteen D.C. public schools will close next year as part of a plan to reduce expenditure on the District education system through consolidation, prompting concern from Georgetown students involved in the literacy program D.C. Reads.
Under the School Consolidation Plan of 2013, authored by District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS ’92, GRD ’07), Kenilworth Elementary School in Northeast D.C., where 42 Georgetown D.C. Reads tutors assist students Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, would close in July. Current Kenilworth students would be relocated to either Thomas Elementary School, which would provide transportation, or to Houston Elementary School, where they would have to walk close to a mile to get to school.
Just Education D.C. — an educational reform advocacy group composed of D.C. Reads tutors, Georgetown students and community members — organized the walk from Kenilworth to Houston Elementary to draw attention to the route’s danger from several hazards, including traffic. About 20 Georgetown students participated in the demonstration.
“To walk from Kenilworth to Houston is to cross an interstate highway then go through Deanwood Metro, which you can imagine is not necessarily what you really want your 5- to 10-year-olds from your community doing,” said Matt Kerrigan (SFS ’13), a coordinator for the D.C. Reads program.
Kenilworth Elementary only has about 170 students and suffers from low enrollment, like many of the schools scheduled to shut down. DCPS hopes to save money by closing these small schools and transferring the students to other schools in the system.
“We actually want to use the savings from subsidizing small schools to be able to create schools that have the budget to focus on teaching and learning,” Henderson said on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMV Radio Nov. 14. “It’s going to be reinvested in the classrooms that the students are moving to, to be able to provide them with things like reading interventions, better extracurricular activities, all kinds of things.”
DCPS officials reiterated in an interview with The Hoya that the current plan increases efficiency.
“Consolidating schools will allow DCPS to spend resources more efficiently and to provide a better complement of services to students at all schools,” DCPS Press Secretary Melissa Salmanowitz said.
However, Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander, whose constituency includes Kenilworth Elementary, said that DCPS should be investing more money in Kenilworth, not less.
“[What] we want to see are the resources put into the schools where there is low enrollment and there is low performance so that parents can be attracted back to those schools,” Alexander said. “A lot of our parents are opting out of their neighborhood schools because they don’t feel that they can achieve the best outcome for their [kids], and that’s why there’s low enrollment."
“There is not a shortage of young people in Ward 7, but there is a shortage of confidence that our schools are offering the best for our young people.”
Some students agreed, adding that it was a sign of disconnect between the city and the people.
“Kenilworth has been one of the most underserved communities in D.C.,” Kerrigan said. “This closing of public spaces in the Kenilworth community is just sort of a symbol of that lack of engagement from the D.C. city council and from D.C. city offices.”
Apart from the transportation concerns, critics say that eliminating a school is eliminating a focal part of the community. After the closure of a recreation center and a public park in 2009, the school is one of the only public spaces left in the community.
“The focal point of every community is the school,” Alexander said. “That’s why people decide to move to an area. That’s why people who are planning to have children decide whether they’re going to stay somewhere or not.”
Some Georgetown advocates agree that decisions about the school system must look beyond finances.
“Saving money where you can is always a good thing, but more importantly, saving money at the expense of students and student well-being is not a positive,” Helen Conway (COL ’15), chair of the D.C. Reads Advocacy Committee, said. “I understand the need for school closings from a fiscal standpoint, but I don’t think that the decisions were made with students at the forefront of the decision. Fiscal concerns shouldn’t come before student success and community success because these schools are vital parts of these communities.”
Other Georgetown students do not entirely oppose the school’s closure but object to the way it is being done.
“We’re not saying that the closing of the school is the ultimate mistake, because a lot of the community members feel that closing the school might be a better option because of underenrollment,” Cat Skolnicki (COL ’13), a D.C. Reads coordinator who helped organize the walk, said. “We are against the solution as it is now.”
She added that if the building is repurposed as another public community space, the closing could have positive effects. According to the DCPS reorganization plan, city officials are open to discussing the development of a recreation center on the site of the elementary school, and the school will reopen when there is sufficient demand.
“If they can use the building for something that is going to help build the community’s infrastructure, like a recreation center, then maybe the closing of the school will be a good thing,” Skolnicki said.
The headline of the print version of this article incorrectly states that D.C. Reads protested Kenilworth Elementary's closure. An advocacy group called Just Education D.C., which includes several members of D.C. Reads, was responsible for the protest. This updated online version includes the correction.