If the Bowser administration and DC Public Schools (DCPS) carry out a recently announced proposal for Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, the highly selective institution will relocate to the site of the former Shaw Junior High School and increase enrollment by 300 seats within the next three years.
But some members of the Shaw community said they want to stop those plans, calling for DCPS to follow through on promises to build a middle school on those grounds, or at least an educational campus that includes Banneker and a middle school.
“No one opposes the notion that Banneker should have the ability to increase its enrollment,” said Alexander M. Padro, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner of single-member District 6E01, an area that includes the Shaw community. “Our issue is that for the last 10 years, we have been waiting for a new middle school that was promised to us during a consolidation that combined Garnett Patterson and Shaw.”
Padro, a Shaw resident of more than two decades and executive director of Shaw Main Streets, Inc. explained what he described as a battle that has dragged on since the Fenty administration for a new middle school in the 900 block of Rhode Island Avenue NW to serve families in the community.
Earlier this year, as a participant on an advisory committee that mulled over the path officials would take for Banneker, Padro maintained his position that Shaw parents would reject any proposal that didn’t place a middle school on the controversial site. He said that request has fallen on deaf ears.
“It has been very frustrating to hear that [city officials] had been contemplating this without the Shaw community’s input to give us a high school that we don’t need instead of a middle school we’ve been promised,” said Padro, who emphasized that he and his neighbors would like an outcome in which Banneker receives its renovations and students in the community get a middle school.
Padro cited a recent feasibility study by the 21st Century School Fund touting the modernization of Banneker, located on Euclid Street, as the more cost-effective alternative that would allow room for 700 students in its current building and the return of a middle school in Shaw.
Banneker, an alternative education institution since 1981, provides more than 400 students a highly structured, rigorous academic experience geared toward college preparedness. Since 2001, it has been an International Baccalaureate World School and gained recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2017.
In a press statement, Banneker Principal Anita Berger described the move as an opportunity to build on prior successes and help more students defy the odds. A DCPS official said she was unavailable to comment further on the matter.
The D.C. Council Committee on Education scheduled a Nov. 15 roundtable to address the Banneker relocation plan, slated to include representatives from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education and DCPS as well as a comment period for people with varying perspectives.
Becky Reina, a seven-year LeDroit Park resident who signed up to testify at the roundtable, said students need resources within walking distance from their houses at a precarious stage in their development.
“DCPS hasn’t done a good job of creating a feeder program in the middle of the city,” said Reina, a mother of two Cleveland Elementary School students.
Reina said that though her children are on track to enroll in MacFarland Middle School’s dual-language immersion program, her concerns lie more with families who would have to send their young ones to Cardozo Education Campus, which she said has experienced some administrative instability in its expansion.
“There’s only so much you can do because Cardozo is an education campus,” she said. “Not a lot of kids from Seaton, Garrison and Cleveland go from those elementary schools to Cardozo Education Campus for middle school. Middle school is such a hard time of life so middle schoolers have unique needs and they need a unique focus.”
In 2014, after months of debate between city officials, parents and community members, then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration implemented new boundaries for the academic year that aligned each home with an elementary, middle and high school.
However, the absence of a nearby middle school in an area that includes the Shaw and LeDroit Park communities complicated matters for some parents. An April report by the D.C. Policy Center said that families in that part of the District opted to enroll their children in out-of-boundary public institutions or charter schools during the middle school years.
In his fiscal 2014 budget proposal, Gray (D) included renovations to the former Shaw Junior High School. After his successor, Muriel Bowser, took office, her administration allocated those monies — roughly $54 million — elsewhere.
In a statement about the Banneker proposal last month, Bowser expressed a commitment to opening a middle school that meets the needs of the Shaw community. Shaw residents said she indicated at one point that the site would become a mixed-use development that includes a middle school.
For Reina, it’s become a question of if or how much Bowser will be transparent during the process.
“The mayor has made decisions that go against plans to reopen the middle school in Center City,” she said. “Banneker moving to Shaw had been a secret, so it might not be a bad decision ultimately, but the process around it is so poor. We want transparency around these issues.”
The Washington Informer will provide updates about this situation as it evolves.