Saturday, December 22
Among the hundreds of protests and political rallies that take place in Washington regularly, the march to keep the Stevens Elementary School open ranks as one of the smallest. But what it lacked in numbers, it made up for in energy.
Foggy Bottom children, teachers, parents and GW students marched Monday night to a meeting with school officials at St. Francis Junior High School to protest the planned closure of their building. The largely empty streets of the business district rang out with cries of “Keep Stevens open!”
In mid-November, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty announced a plan to close 24 public schools in the District, a move the mayor said would save the city $23.7 million. Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School, located at 21st and K streets, is one of the many slated for closure. The students would attend St. Francis.
Freshman Whitney Ewing was one of many students in attendance Monday who volunteers at Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School. Several times a week, Ewing walks the short distance to Stevens and helps with after-school programs and tutoring sessions. On Monday, she stood before Rhee and asked that she not close the school and move them into another school.
“I do understand the reasons. However, it comes down to: are you really doing a better service to kids by overcrowding them?” Ewing said. “My fear is that students at GW will be less likely to tutor with the program, one of the reasons that students at GW choose to tutor at Stevens is because it is so close.”
Rhee said Monday night that the money saved would bring her closer to the goal of providing full-time art, music, and physical education teachers at each D.C. public school.
Discussion of the proposal between Rhee and parents became heated at times, especially regarding the integration of younger children at Stevens with the older population at St. Francis.
Selena Brown, whose daughter travels to Stevens from the District’s Southeast quadrant, spoke about of concern.
“If I wanted my child to be in an unsafe environment I could take her right back to Ward 7,” Brown said.
Professor Jay Shotel of the GW Graduate School of Education and Human Development said school closings are not uncommon in urban areas in the U.S. where enrollment is dropping.
“The problem (Rhee) faces is that many students are leaving the system for charter schools,” Shotel said. “From a business perspective she needs to make sure she has a critical mass of students in buildings.”
Parents and community activists in Foggy Bottom have defended Stevens Elementary as a school that produces high quality students and as an invaluable resource for parents who work in the nearby business district.
Some protestors of the school closure see the move as an attempt to develop property close to K Street.
Nathan Saunders, the general vice president of the Washington Teacher’s Union, who marched with parents from Stevens Elementary, emphasized the need for parents to be aware of what is going to happen to the schools and to have a voice.
“I don’t believe the community or any of the teachers are taking an unreasonable position in trying to be involved . Stevens is on a valuable piece of real estate,” Saunders said.
Erika Mercer Epps, a parent who organized the march, came away disappointed from her discussion with school officials.
“It was very frustrating and in fact, insulting that they would not have materials prepared to address our school transition,” Epps said. “It’s as if they are leading us blindly, by faith, when we don’t have a relationship with this mayor.”