Shaw - Banneker Discussion at the March Ward 1 Ed Council Meeting
In mid-October 2018, Mayor Bowser announced that Banneker HS would be relocated to a new building at the former Shaw JHS site. Banneker is a highly regarded selective public school that serves predominantly minority students. Banneker is also two years behind schedule for renovations and is the second to last high school in the city to undergo modernization (after Metropolitan High School, also in ward 1). Clearly Banneker’s time has come for a revamp and a newly proposed expansion to serve more students. However, the Mayor made her announcement without engaging all stakeholders impacted by this seemingly unilateral decision.
For nearly a decade, the city and DCPS had been planning to re-open Shaw JHS as a feeder for students enrolled at five elementary schools: Cleveland, Garrison, Ross, Seaton, and Thomson – all located within a mile of the old Shaw site. Families with children at those schools were blindsided by the Mayor’s announcement which essentially erases years of planning for a pathway to a neighborhood middle school for hundreds of families. Some of these families formed the Save Shaw Middle School group to advocate for a reversal of the Mayor’s plan to move Banneker to the Shaw site. Members of the Banneker HS community have expressed deep opposition the Save Shaw group, noting that Banneker has been promised a much-needed modernization for years and they are not willing to risk delaying that process any longer.
The Deputy Mayor for Education and DCPS representatives have held numerous meetings with families in the Shaw/Cardozo feeder pattern to manage the fallout over the Mayor’s decision and to discuss possible solutions. What is remarkable, however, is that the Banneker and Shaw feeder communities have not been brought together to discuss possible solutions together. In short, the lack of community engagement or evident planning has positioned these two communities against one another in what feels to each like a zero-sum game.
At the March Ward 1 Education Council meeting held at HD Cooke ES, we decided to take a step toward addressing this divide by bringing all impacted parties into conversation. In addition to inviting members of both communities, we also invited Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn and DCPS Chief of School Design and Continuous Improvement Gene Pinkard to respond to questions. Former Ward 1 ANC commissioner and Community Outreach Coordinator for the Office of the Attorney General John Carlos Green moderated the discussion.
To start the meeting, we shared a short history of the situation:
● In 2008 Shaw Jr. High School was closed and consolidated with Garnet-Patterson MS with the promise that the new location would provide swing space during the construction of a new middle school at the Shaw site.
● In 2011 mayor Gray’s capital budget provided $54 million for a new middle school at the Shaw site.
● In the spring of 2013, the middle school at Garnet-Patterson was hurriedly subsumed into the new Cardozo modernization which opened in August of that year.
● In 2014 the DME’s “Final Recommendations on Student Assignment Policies and DCPS School Boundaries” Recommendation 16 (p. 9) called for a stand-alone middle school at the Shaw site to replace 6th, 7th and 8th grades at Cardozo High School.
● In October of 2017, Mayor Bowser told ANC 6E that she was seeking a public/private partnership to include a new middle school and mixed use at the Shaw site paid for by the developer.
● In 1981 Banneker was established as a DCPS application high school on the site of the historic Banneker Jr. High School adjacent to the athletic fields at Banneker Recreation Center and Howard University.
● Banneker quickly established its reputation as the premier academic high school in the city.
● Banneker is the 2nd to last DCPS high school to be completely modernized and that modernization has already been pushed back at least two years.
● In October of 2018 Banneker was planned for 560 students; a Feasibility Study finalized in August for 700 students; the RFP in December of 2018 planned for a total of 800 students.
● In mid-October 2018, Mayor Bowser announced that Banneker would be relocated to a new building at the Shaw Middle School site.
● The planned opening of the new Banneker is currently August 2021; an RFP has been issues for design/build services.
We then framed the Discussion by:
Stating each community’s priorities:
Banneker: That renovation not be delayed and that the school be able to expand to serve more students from around the city
Shaw/Cardozo feeder schools: To have a by-right neighborhood school option from Pre-k-12 and to be part of the planning conversation
Acknowledging that members in both communities have felt at one point or another undermined attacked, disrespected, misunderstood, and destabilized and that we not expecting to change any minds or the situation in an hour
Stating the overarching purpose of the meeting:
to give these communities the opportunity to engage in productive discussion about the situation
to provide DCPS and DME an opportunity to begin to re-build trust
Requesting that our city and DCPS reps take to heart the fact that this is what happens when there’s a lack of engagement, when stakeholder wisdom is not authentically valued, when there’s a lack of transparency, or discernible systemwide planning for PreK-12 pathways for families.
Before opening it up to free form questions and discussion, we posed the following questions which we had gathered ahead of time from each community to DME Kihn and Mr. Pinkard:
1. Is there any likelihood that the Banneker modernization project will not go through as currently planned?
2. What can we do to steer the focus away from the location dispute and toward meeting the needs of the Shaw community and the Banneker community?
3. The Banneker community understands the disappointment felt by the Shaw community, but we don’t want to lose our chance to expand and improve our program, which serves a great diversity of students from throughout the city. We hope the Shaw residents can come to appreciate our presence in the neighborhood and direct their energy toward establishing a middle school that meets their needs. (Sometimes their statements have felt like a surprise attack on our community, which has been waiting many years for a much-deserved renovation.)
4. What have you (DME and DCPS) learned and what have you reported to the Mayor about the response from parents at all the community meetings you’ve held about this issue?
As forecasted, no minds were changed during the course of the hour-long conversation. And the exchange was at times tense. But by the end there seemed to be a general sense that this had indeed been a positive, if small, step in the right direction. We will hold our April meeting at Banneker HS and hopefully have the opportunity to continue this much needed conversation.