D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser welcomes students to the newly modernized School-Within-School at Goding in Ward 6. Here she greets Michelle Cooper and her daughter Grace. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser welcomes students to the newly modernized School-Within-School at Goding in Ward 6. Here she greets Michelle Cooper and her daughter Grace. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

District government officials kicked off the new school year excited about what they described as an uptick in citywide enrollment. These developments occurred amid ongoing efforts to fill more than 100 teacher vacancies and address dozens of school building work orders.  

While D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) alluded to an influx of families turning to District public schools, she said preliminary enrollment figures wouldn’t be available until after Labor Day. At the moment, however, District public and public charter schools are estimated to have an equal share of more than 94,000 District students.  

On Monday morning, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee acknowledged his colleagues within the Bowser administration, particularly the Department of General Services (DGS) and the DC Department of Transportation, for supporting DCPS central office’s preparation for the first day of school. 

“We’re proud that our teams have been working to make sure we’re ready for day one,” Ferebee said. “It’s so great to know that we have more young people walking into schools today. We’re so excited that more families have chosen DC Public Schools as their option. The partnership between home and school is critical to realize students’ full potential.” 

This academic year, DCPS will utilize a combination of contracted staff, substitute teachers and support team members within the central office to serve teaching roles while officials work to fill staff vacancies. Over the summer, DGS has received 870 work orders for facilities maintenance with 200 orders coming in daily.

 As of Monday, only 100 work orders remain open including those concerning water fountains coming off of the wall. 

Though the Prince George’s County public school system faces similar challenges, like 900 staff vacancies and bus driver shortages, officials continue to push forward in the realms of mental health, COVID mitigation and school boundary changes. 

Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Dr. Monica Goldson highlighted the launch of Cherokee Lane Elementary School, one of 10 facilities to be constructed within the next four years with a focus on sustainability and safety. 

Amenities at the Hyattsville, Maryland-based school include cameras, hallway doors that can be locked from the main office and a common area with mobile bookshelves. 

In the District, Bowser spent the first day of school extolling the modernization of School within School at Goding Elementary School. For decades, the Northeast-based school known to community members as SWS has fostered a child-centered learning environment inspired by an educational philosophy known as the Reggio Emilia approach. 

Over the next six years, the District will dedicate $246 million to the modernization of schools, libraries and recreation centers. The newly-modernized SWS has two new wings, a new gymnasium and library and stormwater management system among other amenities.

On Monday, Bowser joined D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), D.C. State Board of Education Representative Jessica Sutter (Ward 6) and others for the third consecutive first-day-of-school ribbon cutting at a Ward 6 school. 

Several minutes earlier, hundreds of families converged on the entrance of SWS to take photos, hug their young ones and engage staff members. Children reunited with their friends while a staff member sought out those who haven’t conducted a home COVID test. 

Bridget O., a Northeast resident and mother of two SWS students, expressed some concern about COVID and monkeypox. Even so, she relished an opportunity for her daughter, a recent SWS enrollee, to overcome a speech impediment and feel the love of teachers that her son received at SWS for years. 

“I’m looking forward to more openness and everything being more well-rounded [with] teachers working together this school year for my daughter,” Bridget O. said. “I like the diversity and mix of cultures. We have COVID and monkeypox [out here] but we’ll get through it.” 

For Denise, a mother of an SWS fifth grader, this academic year will be the continuation of a fruitful relationship that has allowed her son to deeply explore his interest in science. On Monday morning,  Denise took her son’s photo and spoke at length with school officials, many of whom she has known for years. 

“I’m expecting the same great things: good leadership, community and academics,” Denise said. “We’re coming out of COVID and we won’t be back to normal but this is a good start. We do what we always do. I want my son to continue to love learning and move on to middle school.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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