The battle surrounding Banneker Academic High School’s relocation and expansion at the shuttered Shaw Junior High School site recently wrapped up with the approval of the finalized FY 2020 budget that funds the District’s top achieving high school’s move to 9th Street and Rhode Island Avenue, as intended by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).
Moments before the vote during Tuesday’s D.C. Council Committee of the Whole meeting, lawmakers approved, in a 7-6 vote, an amendment by D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At large) that would speed up modernization of Banneker Academic High School, located on Euclid Street between Sherman and Georgia Avenues in Northwest, and fund a study about Banneker and Shaw co-existing in separate buildings on 9th Street and Rhode Island Avenue.
“Part of the reason we’re at this point is because Banneker had been skipped over because of the lack of swing space. By not accepting this amendment, we would be adding to this problem,” Grosso, also chair of the Council Committee on Education, told his colleagues on Tuesday.
The vote around Grosso’s amendment split along racial lines, with Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8), Robert White (D-At large), Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), and Anita Bonds (D-At large) joining their colleague.
“We have an opportunity fix this. By voting for my amendment and modernizing Banneker in two years,” Grosso said in a conciliatory tone. “Moving Banneker doesn’t have to preclude or prevent a middle school in the area or on the site. A majority of the council is in favor of co-location without connection. Everyone said they would like a win-in. This is a win-win.”
The Banneker conundrum, along with that concerning United Medical Center, Project Empowerment, and the Housing Production Trust Fund, counted one of the more prominent debates during the budget season, due in part to the larger conversation about gentrification among Banneker students and alumni.
Since D.C. Mayor Bowser’s announcement last fall that Banneker had been slated to relocate, and expand enrollment by 300 students on the campus of the former Shaw Junior High School within the next three years, families living in the Shaw area and the Banneker community had been at odds about the future plans of that location. Both sides led protests, hosted community meetings, and visited the Wilson Building on numerous occasions.
Some Shaw-area parents said they consider Mayor Bowser’s move a slap in the face, especially since they’ve been promised a neighborhood school since Mayor Adrian Fenty’s tenure. As mentioned By D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) during Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, there has also been speculation that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser would give 800 Euclid Street NW to private developers once Banneker relocates.
To the chagrin of members of the Banneker community, Cheh and five other D.C. council members sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) in early May in support of a plan that would modernize Banneker in place. Proponents of the Banneker move pushed back against that option, stressing that the students, like their peers in other D.C. public high schools, citing the practicality of that option.
A couple of weeks ago, in response to the May 1 letter, more than 40 Banneker students, dressed in business attire and accompanied by two teachers, lobbied D.C. council members over the course of three work days. They spoke with a staff member in Bonds’ office, as well as Gray, White and McDuffie. Since then, students have also met with D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At large), who recently visited the Banneker and Shaw sites.
Banneker, an alternative education institution since 1981 and an International Baccalaureate World School since 2001, currently provides more than 400 students with a rigorous, highly-structured academic experience geared toward college readiness. In 2017, it gained recognition as a National Blue-Ribbon School. For several years, 100 percent of its senior class gained acceptance to at least one college or university, collectively amassing millions of dollars in academic scholarships.
In the days leading up to the final council vote that would determine the future of Banneker Academic High School, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said he remained confident that the executive office’s plans would come to fruition.
“We know for certain that we need to relocate and expand Banneker High School. We have been engaging deeply with the community on the Shaw Middle School question,” Kihn told The Informer, as he described the D.C. Council’s 7-6 vote earlier in the month to reduce funding for the revitalization project as a situation that doesn’t benefit opposing parties.
Furthermore, Kihn questioned the relevance of the Shaw Middle School discussion, especially given what he described as uncertainty about the need for such amenities.
“If it turns out the projected population growth and attendance would warrant a building of a middle school, there are lots of options on the table, including co-location to that Shaw site,” Kihn said. “There are other options, including the Garnett-Patterson building. There’s this important question as stewards of the education system of whether we need a new middle school, [but] it’s a separate question.”