Commissioner Mike Silverstein (2B06) provides the following update on the Chancellor’s school closures plans and the ANC’s actions:
The Chancellor’s announced planned closing of Francis-Stevens Educational Campus, which came as a shock to the community, brought a unified community response that resulted in the only public elementary school in the West End – Foggy Bottom neighborhood remaining open.
Chancellor Henderson’s tentative plan to close FSEC cited a number of issues that had to be resolved to avert closure, and the school’s PTA – headed by attorney Tom Martin and his wife Erin – who is a school administrator – fashioned four alternative plans to directly address the issues.
FSEC is located in ANC 2B06, but it borders Foggy Bottom ANC 2A, and it serves students from all eight wards. Its location makes it convenient for parents who work in the West End-Foggy Bottom neighborhood to drop off their children before work and pick them up after work. The school has a long established after school program that operates until 630pm, making it possible for parents to finish work and still have time to pick up their children. It also houses the DCPS program for students who are visually impaired.
FSEC has a capacity exceeding 450 students, and the main issue that had to be overcome to keep the elementary school open was under-utlilization. It was operating at 55% of capacity. While pre-K and kindergarten were full last year and some early education children were turned away, enrollment steadily drops through grade eight.
The PTA option accepted by DCPS involved co-locating part of School Without Walls High School at FSEC, along with an aggressive recruitment program to enroll more elementary and middle school students.
Foggy Bottom ANC and Dupont Circle ANC took part in a rally and listening session at the school in late November that received widespread press and television coverage. ANC 2A secured a large grant from George Washington University to help finance student recruitment efforts. ANC representatives met with DCPS officials to underscore the community’s commitment to keeping FSEC open as an elementary school option. Both ANC’s passed resolutions urging DCPS to keep FSEC open. Ward Two Councilmember Jack Evans took up the battle in Council, pointing out that the planned closures of FSEC and Garrison would leave Ward Two with only one DCPS elementary school.
Ward Two Board of Education Representative Jack Jacobson and At-large Representative Mary Lord stressed the importance that we all speak with one voice on FSEC, and the consensus was that the FSEC PTA would speak for all of us.
Perhaps the most telling moments in the battle to keep FSEC open occurred when Chancellor Henderson told parents from other schools facing closure that they should come up with positive, workable plans like the Francis-Stevens parents had done.
When the final decision came down in January, the good news was that the Chancellor was persuaded that demographic trends and new construction in Ward Two will lead to population growth and more children, and that will mean more demand for early education slots in the immediate future. She accepted the co-location option as workable.
Garrison and Francis-Stevens were spared closure, and Francis-Stevens will become School Without Walls at FSEC. It will continue to provide pre-K through grade eight education and will also be a second campus for School Without Walls. A portion of the building will house classrooms for SWOW, which will add to campus utilization. SWOW Principal Richard Trogusch will be in charge of the entire operation.
The FSEC near-death experience led to an unprecedented degree of cooperation among the two affected ANC’s, community groups, and the school PTA. Friendships were made and alliances forged as promises were made to keep the school open.
Now comes the hard part: keeping those promises that were made, and working together with DCPS and SWOW to have a smooth transition from FSEC to the District’s first pre-K through 12 educational campus.
Dupont Circle ANC remains committed to a livable, walkable neighborhood, and that means a vibrant and diverse neighborhood schools. We stand ready to assist the parents and staff at FSEC in our common cause.