Taking heat from D.C. Council members and dozens of parents, the city’s chief of schools defended the closing of 20 public schools, including two near Foggy Bottom.
Guirlhene Giurdani-Embden, whose daughter attends preschool at the soon-to-be-shuttered Francis-Stevens, about two blocks off campus, said parents have been working to revive the school since it merged into an elementary and middle school in 2008.
“What we parents, teachers and faculty have started building at Francis-Stevens is great and it is working,” Guirdani-Embden said during the hearing Monday. “D.C. residents are desperate for quality schools. Do not shut this one down because the building is not yet at capacity.”
The PTA member lives in Ward 5, but works in Foggy Bottom. Seventy-five percent of students attending the school live in another neighborhood.
Another parent, Vincent Kargatis, said his children are part of the Francis-Stevens “low visibility program,” and need stable environments to develop social relationships. He said familiarity with a school is key.
“All these issues have been thrown out the window by the DCPS proposal,” Kargatis said. “It rips these at-risk, low-vision students from their hard-won friends and teachers and displaces them in the current plan to a significantly lower-performing school.”
Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans also question the closing of Francis-Stevens, one of several D.C. Council members to grill Kaya Henderson, chancellor of D.C. public schools, for hours over the proposals. Evans said he felt hesitant to force parents to make another transition only a few years after the consolidation.
“If you want to keep Francis open with 225 kids, I’ll give you a budget for 225 kids. That’s not what you have right now,” Henderson said to Evans. “If we want to keep all of these schools open, I’m good with that. But it means that we have to start funding honestly and not robbing from the schools that are actually at capacity and doing what they’re supposed to do.”
The population of school-aged children has declined in the District, but Henderson said she will reopen a number of closed schools if that population surges as her report predicts after 2015.
“Let me be clear, I would rather not close any schools,” Henderson fired back at the Council chamber crowded with parents and teachers. “But if I’m going to create the outcomes that this city expects then, unless there is a boatload of more money that’s coming in from somewhere, I have to use the resources that I currently have differently.”
Henderson pledged to work with Council members and the public to revise her proposal. She and Mayor Vincent Gray will set forth the finalized plan in January 2013.
When Francis-Stevens closes, the city proposed that the School Without Walls, at 2130 G Street, expands into the vacated buildings.
Principal of the school, Richard Trogisch, said he was not notified of the plan until after Henderson made the public announcement.
He added that the school is in “preliminary planning” to figure out space and funds for the new students if Francis-Stevens students are funneled into his school. But he said the school would need a bigger budget to take on more students.
“Sure I’ll take it, but you better fund it to maintain integrity of the program,” Trogisch said.
He said the school would remain in the GW community to maintain the “strong connection” between student teachers and interns that teach at the school and the University programs School Without Walls students are allowed to take.
Francis-Stevens houses 225 students across 11 grade levels and utilizes 55 percent of its building, according to Henderson’s presentation.
Thousands of students left the D.C. public school system in 2008 after 23 schools closed. The consolidation, under Chancellor Michelle Rhee, cost the city millions of dollars more than expected.