DC Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators (S.H.A.P.P.E) Testimony Cathy Reilly – Exec. Director
Thank you for this opportunity to offer testify on the Mayor’s and DCPS’s recent decision to – Expand Banneker to 800 students
– Relocate the school to the Shaw site
– Further postpone planning and budget for a needed middle school in Shaw
First I would like to strongly affirm the necessity for Banneker to get a beautiful modernized building and that there be no delay. The conflict before you today did not originate with the Banneker community. You are the oversight body, there are excellent options here for everyone involved.
The decision I would like to focus on is the one to raise the enrollment of Banneker HS to 800 students. The history of the discussions indicates that this initiative came from the Mayor/ DCPS as a way to grow the enrollment in DCPS and respond to a demand that they see for selective admission.
With the announcement of a BardDC eventually growing to 600, DCPS will have 7 application high schools. The Mayor has thus announced an increase of at least 900 DCPS high school application seats going forward. I was curious as to what these decisions might tell us about the vision for DCPS high schools. While I understand that DCPS is assuming that a number of the incoming students will come from charter, private and additional residents, it is still worth looking at the direction this expansion of application seats is taking us. I also do not believe the number of applications in the lottery can be a sole basis for these assumptions. Families are applying to private, charter and public schools and preserving many options.
Looking at our current projected numbers with the addition of BardDC, this Banneker expansion and including Ron Brown as a lottery specialty high school, we have 7 application/lottery high schools which would serve 37% of our enrollment. Our 9 neighborhood high schools (with Wilson serving 29% of these students) would serve 51% and our 6 alternative high schools 12%. We already have capacity to serve an additional 3000 students in our high schools (with the exception of School Without Walls and Wilson). We should be using this already beautifully modernized capacity. Not paying to build capacity we do not need at the high school level.
By expanding the selective admission schools, we are stratifying our public system, we are exacerbating existing divisions and setting up a system that looks like tracking. It appears to us, that the response to the crisis last spring in the comprehensive high schools was to open more selective options, and concentrate ambitious students in separate schools. It was not to highlight what we have and offer more support and creative programing for all of our secondary students.
An alternative vision might have looked at all the possibilities for attracting students to the stunning High School buildings the city has modernized. Expanding and getting the word out on what exists is a start. Application academies within a high school where there are some shared courses and experiences plus increased programming like what will roll out at Coolidge in the fall could be dimensions of this vision. DCPS could maximize its advantage as a system instead of looking at each school as a single unit. Families choosing DCPS at the elementary level would see relief from the lottery and anxiety of chance in the investment in strong feeder systems like the Shaw community has been asking for.
After resolving this issue, we might go forward with a DCPS master facilities plan process with a vision guiding decisions on how much capacity DCPS should have in the application only select high schools; or whether and where schools should be sited—whether we need more high schools or are risking closure of some; or whether to open middle or other schools and where to locate them. Right now, each school is planned independently. Master planning is critical because decisions made about one school affect other schools and communities. We started to build part of this with the Student Assignment Recommendations.