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PoP-Ed: “Why the Wait to Modernize DC’s Aging Schools?”

by Prince Of Petworth December 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm 34 Comments


Photo by PoPville flickr user Eric Spiegel

The following PoP-Ed. was written by Josh Freed, Jennifer Leonard, Cindy Balmuth, and Dina Dajani, parents of students at of Hearst Elementary School. PoP-Ed. posts may be submitted via email to princeofpetworth(at)gmail please include PoP-Ed. in the subject line.

Why the Wait to Modernize DC’s Aging Schools?

By Josh Freed, Jennifer Leonard, Cindy Balmuth, and Dina Dajani

Last week, the parents of Hearst Elementary, a public school in Ward 3 that serves children from across every ward in the city, invited Mayor Gray to visit our school on Friday, December 21st. We hope to show the Mayor, first-hand, how insufficient funding for our long-overdue renovation and expansion is sentencing our students to facilities that fail to meet basic educational standards. This has been a problem the City has identified in its own internal planning documents dating back to 2008.

Hearst was built in 1930 and essentially remains a Depression-era schoolhouse today. It is the educational home to 280 kids, ages 4 to 10. Half of these students are housed in trailers, most without running water or bathrooms. Hearst has no cafeteria, gym or central meeting space. Students as young as six must carry trays of food up stairs to their classroom and have no choice but sit on the floor to eat their lunch. And despite having an excellent autism program, there is no space to provide therapies for students in need.

According to the DC government, it will require only $22 million to bring Hearst up to minimum 21st century standards. Yet, the city has only allocated $9 million.

Without an additional $13 million, our students will remain spread out across an antiquated main building and several sets of trailers, continue to eat at their desks and on hallway floors, and receive therapies in hallways. They’ll miss out on the critical benefits that common instructional and physical spaces provide and modern educational specifications demand. It also means that children and cars will continue to co-exist in a dangerous driveway; and that access will remain difficult to manage.

This is not about geography – Hearst represents families from every City ward. It is not about an underperforming or under-enrolled school — Hearst is a high achiever and 100% over capacity. This cannot be about priorities – Mayor Gray has championed special needs and early education throughout his career. It should not be about poor planning – the City developed Master Plans in 2008 and 2010 and updated Education Specifications in December 2011, when District officials launched their consultative planning process with the community.

Nevertheless, Hearst students are poised to be victims of City bureaucracy twice. First, due to a defective budget and planning system that failed to accurately account for dramatic increases in student population and classes. Then, and despite administration assurances and a paper trail, due to a funding roadblock that risks more delay.

We hope Mayor Gray comes to see for himself the dichotomy between the quality of students and the compromising circumstances imposed upon them by the District. And we hope that other residents of the District, who want to see their children or their friends and neighbors’ children succeed and the City remain a vibrant place for residents of all ages, will urge the Mayor to fund modernization so that all schools are built for the 21st century.

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