Historic Thaddeus Stevens school to reopen under new program

Ten years after being shut down, a local historic school will once again open its doors to students in time for its 150th anniversary.

The former Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School on 21st Street will reopen as an expansion of the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens – a pre-K through eighth grade school in the West End – and house an infant and toddler development center as early as next fall, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced this month.

After years of uncertainty surrounding the school’s fate, community members said bringing the Stevens School into the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens will provide much-needed space for students at one of the most coveted and high-performing schools in the District.

Bowser’s announcement came three months after D.C. Public Schools withdrew funding for the Ivymount project, a private, special needs education program slated to operate in the school. The program was forced to scrap its plans for the school after the District’s decision.

Patrick Kennedy, the chairman of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said while there is disappointment that the Ivymount program fell through, the ANC was satisfied that the school will once again educate D.C. students.

“I think this community was very strongly opposed to closing Stevens in the first place 10 years ago,” Kennedy said. “We knew there was a lot of latent potential and demand for traditional public education in this community.”

Jennifer Niles, the deputy mayor for education, said the new plan took shape after officials reviewed enrollment data at nearby D.C. public schools and projected which areas of the growing city would need more space for students.

“The Thaddeus Stevens School will be a vibrant community asset in the Foggy Bottom and West End communities,” Niles said in an email.

Niles added that child care was added to the plan because this year the D.C. Council committed to increase access to child care through $11 million in investments to create nearly 1,000 additional spots for infants and toddlers in care centers across the city.

ANC Commissioner William Kennedy Smith said Stevens School will most likely be used to handle the overflow from Francis-Stevens and educate some students up to third grade through a separate provider, but the plans have not been finalized.

“The bottom line at this point, however, is that it is too early to declare success,” he said.

School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens saw a 17-percentage-point increase in English language arts assessments and an 10.6-percentage-point increase in math last school year, according to D.C. Public Schools. School Without Walls High School obtained a 0.9 percent increase in English and 16.6 percent in math.

School Without Walls Principal Richard Trogisch said the partnership will provide needed space for the growing student body in the program. School Without Walls provides a humanities-focused education for students accepted through an application process.

Located on 21st Street., the Stevens School is in between two other School Without Walls programs – School Without Walls High School on the Foggy Bottom Campus and School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens, in the West End near Washington Circle.

Trogisch said he has not met officially with the D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who will determine the age groups that will attend the school. Representatives from both school campuses, ANC members and neighbors will discuss future plans through a committee.

“Not having been in the building, it is difficult to have a vision, but we are excited to be asked and be involved in the historic school,” he said.

Opened in 1868, the historic school was one of 23 D.C. public schools that closed at the end of the 2008 school year by Chancellor Michelle Rhee during education reforms. Its students were relocated to the Francis-Stevens Education Campus, according to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development’s website.

Developers Akridge and Argos Group will complete renovations on the school building, which will be overseen by the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, the Deputy Mayor for Education, the D.C. Department of General Services and DCPS, according to the release.

Lee Granados, a parent of two Francis-Stevens students, said the reopening of Stevens School is in line with D.C.’s emphasis on the child care options, which she said have been ignored for too long. Parents with children three years or younger sometimes have had to move to another part of the city because of the high cost of child care in the area, she said.

“It creates a divide of the have and the have-nots,” Granados said.

Justine Coleman contributed reporting.

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