Since its 2014 closure, some Ward 7 community members have fought to keep Winston Education Campus [EC] in the D.C. public school building inventory with the hope that it would eventually reopen as a middle or high school that meets the academic needs of Ward 7’s youngest residents.
However, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s FY 2023 budget proposal has jeopardized that vision. It not only allocates funds to Winston EC’s demolition and reconstruction as a citywide project-based learning facility, but also finances the construction of an entirely new high school on MacArthur Boulevard in Ward 3.
That high school would serve as a feeder school for Hardy Middle School students and address the overcrowding at nearby Wilson High School. Much to the chagrin of Ward 7 community members who have sought investments for their neighborhood schools, Bowser said 500 seats have been set aside for students designated as “at-risk.”
In expressing her dissatisfaction with this aspect of Bowser’s budget proposal, Dr. Marla Dean said Ward 7 parents, out of frustration with the lack of school choices in their community, often send their children to middle and high schools in other parts of the District. As a result, students spend hours on daily commutes to and from their out-of-boundary school.
Dean told The Informer that the construction of a new high school in Ward 3, a community with a smaller population of school-aged children, further exacerbates inequity and perpetuates the narrative that communities located east of the Anacostia River have nothing to offer when it comes to education in the District.
That’s why Dean wants Bowser to reconsider her plans for Winston EC.
“In Ward 7, there aren’t any other buildings left to create sensible feeder patterns so if we lose this, we don’t know what the path will be forward to correct this situation,” said Dean, chair of the Ward 7 Education Council.
“We don’t know anything [about what Winston EC will be] but we do know we need a feeder pattern. We’re the only ward with a net positive birth rate in the last census count and this community said they wanted the building to stay in the DCPS inventory,” she said.
Many Argue Ward 7 Has Been Forgotten
Ward 7 has 18 public schools, two of which serve middle school students and two others that serve high school students. One of those two high schools – Ron Brown Preparatory High School – serves only young men. In some cases, like that involving students from Kelly Miller Middle School, the feeder pattern ensures entry into either H.D. Woodson High School or Eastern High School in Ward 6.
While some of the elementary schools provide dual-language programs and other special offerings, parents have been hard pressed to find similar programming at the middle school level. That’s why, as has been the case in years past, families spent much of the school enrollment season exploring options in other parts of the District.
This situation occurred as community members at Anne Beers Elementary School, Burrville Elementary School and other schools continue to complain about infrastructure issues. Meanwhile, no capital improvement projects regarding Ward 7, other than the revamp of Winston EC and citywide enhancement of school HVAC and boiler systems, have been included in the FY 2023 budget.
In her assessment of Bowser’s budget proposal, Ward 7 State Board of Education [SBOE] Representative Eboni-Rose Thompson lauded the plans for Winston EC and the investments in school-based mental health services and nurses but said the mayor had serious blind spots when it came to improving Ward 7 schools.
“In that sense I do not want to come out of the pandemic returning to normal. I hoped to use this budget to create a new normal that moves schools like Beers, Burrville, Plummer and Nalle up the timeline and urgently addresses their needs,” Thompson said.
“I am happy to see the addition of Winston and look forward to planning how it may serve our community in the future but I cannot stress the urgency of supporting students now with quality, nurturing programs in their communities not across town,” she said.
Paving the Way for Charter Schools
Some parents, like Brooke Russell, continue to argue that a lack of investment in education east of the Anacostia River often paves the way for charter schools, such as KIPP DC Benning Campus which has been in the community for more than 20 years.
Earlier this year, Russell, a millennial and lifelong Ward 7 resident, sent her daughter, a one-time Eastern HS student, to live with her father in Howard County, Maryland after determining that the school didn’t meet her academic and social needs. This decision came months after Russell refused to enroll her daughter, a freshman, in H.D. Woodson.
Russell described the ideal public high school as one with upgraded amenities and programs that build students’ skill sets and their sense of community. Most important, she said, that school would serve not only students in Ward 7 but those hailing from Wards 5 and 8. Right now, such a public school doesn’t exist for a large swath of youth in Ward 7, Russell lamented.
“Charter schools are big business [and] they were about to put DC Public Schools out of business. They definitely put them out of business in Wards 7 and 8,” Russell told The Informer.
“With elementary schools, they make it so that parents want to be involved but [that doesn’t happen] at the middle and high school levels. There’s not enough outreach to give students basic needs. They should stop putting us in a position where we don’t want to be here,” she said.