Neighbors rally to save local school

More than 100 parents, teachers, students and neighbors plan to make their case to D.C.’s public schools chancellor next week to keep the nearby Francis-Stevens Education Campus from shutting down.

Francis-Stevens is one of 20 schools targeted for closure across D.C. due to low enrollment, part of an attempt to create more financial stability in a city with a shaky public school system.

But widespread discontent over the shutdown surfaced at a public meeting Tuesday, where dozens of parents, school employees, families and students said the school – which became a combined elementary and middle school in 2008 – can still grow.

The community will present a plan to D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson on Dec. 5 to bring more students to the school and stop it from shuttering.

At the meeting, students read letters to local officials begging them to keep the school open, and parents lauded the school’s improvements in educational quality. The motion to close schools has triggered an outpour of criticism from many city residents and government officials since the announcement was made Nov. 13.

The 233-student school is located near 24th and N streets, and if it closes, students would be splintered off into Marie Reed Elementary School in Adams Morgan and Hardy Middle School in Georgetown.

Vice President of the Parent Teacher Association Tim Ryan revved up neighbors in the school’s auditorium, saying Francis-Stevens’ closure would set the neighborhood back as students are siphoned off into other communities.

“This building is walls, but the people who make it alive are the staff and students of Francis-Stevens,” Ryan said on behalf of the PTA. “We owe it to the past, we owe it to the present, and we owe it to the future to keep Francis-Stevens here.”

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who attended the meeting, called the plan to shutter the school a mistake.

Juan Blazquez Ancin, a parent of a preschool student at Francis-Stevens, said his main priority is to keep the school open as the neighborhood already has few schools.

“Essentially we want to raise awareness with the policy makers who made the decision to close the school that it will affect a lot of families in the neighborhood and a lot of children are receiving a really good education here,” Blazquez Ancin said. “What we hope to cover today is an understanding that this decision is not a popular decision, and there are other options.”

Dupont Circle resident Ellen Alerecht said she is “extremely pleased” with the education her preschool-aged daughter receives at Francis-Stevens. She said keeping the school open is for the “greater good” of the neighborhood.

The city’s plan calls for the School Without Walls, located on campus at 2130 G St., to expand into the Francis-Stevens building if the plan passes.

School Without Walls principal Richard Trogisch said last week that he was not notified of the plan until after Henderson made the public announcement, but that the school is in “preliminary planning” to address funding and increased space allocations.

The plans to shut down other schools around D.C. have drawn fire in other communities as well, four years after the city’s most recent round of closures under former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

About three-quarters of the Francis-Stevens student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches, and its test scores land about average compared to schools across D.C.

The final plan will go before Mayor Vincent Gray for approval in January.

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