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Southeast Residents Rally to Keep Schools Open

Dorothy Rowley | 12/18/2012, 9:19 p.m.

A cadre of parents, teachers and community leaders recently gathered on the grounds of a Southeast elementary school to protest a controversial proposal by D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to shutter several neighborhood schools.

During a Dec. 13 rally at Malcolm X Elementary School in Anacostia, the fired-up group of more than 100 Ward 8 residents who vehemently oppose the 20 school closings - the majority of which are located in their neighborhoods - loudly proclaimed along with newly-elected D.C. Ward 8 School Board representative Trayon White, that "enough is enough."

Cynthia McFarland, 48, said that Henderson has lost touch with the needs of her community. "My grandchildren live in Ward 8," the Alabama Avenue resident said. "They go to school at Hart [Middle] and Malcolm X. I was raised in the public school system and walked to school. So did my children. Ms. Henderson needs to stop playing games and do what's not only right but necessary."

McFarland also stressed that given the large number of children who live in Ward 8, it's essential that all of the area's neighborhood school doors remain open.

According to a statement issued prior to the rally by organizers, many of those in opposition represent Ferebee Hope and M.C. Terrell/McGogney Elementary and Johnson Middle schools. "Parental, school and student choice are no longer a part of the equation in accordance with decisions regarding neighborhood school closings," a portion of the statement read.

Four years ago, at the behest of Henderson's predecessor, two dozen schools were closed throughout the District in an attempt at school reform. But Henderson, 42, admitted recently that those closings only proved costly and ineffective: while student test scores remained stagnant, DCPS enrollment figures dipped from 47,000 students to less than 45,000, and paved the way for public charter schools to gain leverage as the preferred education model.

White, who helped organize the Malcolm X rally, said it doesn't make sense to close any of the community's schools.

"We don't need less educational resources, but more educational resources," the outspoken 28-year-old protege of Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry, said. "A lot of factors have to weigh in on the closings, and so far, the chancellor hasn't [stepped up to the plate] with an adequate explanation. Dropout and truancy rates are already high in the area, and if she closes our schools, those rates will only increase."

White added that a major concern of parents has been plans to merge low-performing DCPS buildings with high-performing charter schools.

White said that in talks with Barry, he expressed that there's no guarantee DCPS will be more successful in its attempt at school reform.

"History has proven, especially since 2008, that if we continue to go down this road, we will be right back here again discussing another round of school closures," White said.

Henderson's plan - currently being studied by members of her administration - calls largely for the closings of under-enrolled and under-performing schools.

After her staff makes adjustments to the proposal, Henderson will confer with Mayor Vincent Gray, 70, and together in January, they will announce their final decision about which of the 20 schools will be closed.

Kim Harrison, 49, who works with Concerned Parents for Action Coalition, a citywide organization that advocates on behalf of public schools, drummed up support for the for the rally.

She said word of the closings have been exacerbated in the aftermath of a series of public meetings where Henderson shared reasons behind her proposal.

"We can't be quiet, as this is a bigger issue than we think," said Harrison, who lives in Southeast. "It's just awful, all this talk about closing our schools. Our children need a school that's in walkable distance - and they clearly need to be D.C. schools, and not charter schools," she said.

"In order for reforms to work, they're supposed to engage community stakeholders, parents, teachers and students, and Henderson's proposal has failed to include [that kind of input]."