When I first moved to the Hill I never dreamed of baby boom the neighborhood has experienced in recent years. I specifically remember thinking, “Well, I hear there’s a kinda crunchy Montessori program right around the block at Watkins but I better start saving now for private school if I want to have kids and stay in the city.” Parenthood was a long way off, and an abstract. And then, gradually, backyard bbq talk turned from shows at the Black Cat to day care providers – and I knew the moving trucks were on the way and the parade of friends moving to the suburbs began. Now, more and more young families are staying put and dinner party conversations have evolved from where to find shin guards for 3 year olds to playing the roulette wheel of school lotteries. These parents have traded in the cul de sac for City Select joggers and for many, the time they’d otherwise have spent in suburban traffic, they’ve dedicated to trying to transform local schools. I’ll soon join the constituency looking for changing tables in local restaurants, but the issue has been of interest for a long time. The implications of families staying and investing in all aspects of the neighborhood are multi-fold and go far beyond the parks, libraries and schools where the rugrats hang out.
Sadly, it’s not often I feel optimistic about education; I’m married to a teacher who amazes me with his ability to get excited to teach day after day in the midst of discipline issues and what seems to be a void of parental and administrative leadership. But what I’m hearing here on the Hill does give me a glimmer of optimism. Since the presentation “Building on Momentum” hosted by DCPS to the community on July 29, it seems people — ok, probably mostly parents — are excited.
Plans to expand Watkins’ Montessori program through 5th grade and relocate it to the Logan School at 215 G Street, NE means the infamous waiting lists might be a little less dire in coming years. A strategy to implement an International Baccalaureate Middle Years program at Jefferson and Eliot-Hine middle schools makes parents with mathletes on their hands more optimistic that their kids will be challenged. The promise of language classes for all middle schoolers with the chance for kids to earn high school credits has moms and dads thinking our local schools just might be the place to start building out the school transcript for the college admissions counselors.
These and the other issues of boundaries, feeder schools and grade configurations have been all the chatter for the last few weeks, and Hill residents, with and without kids owe the Capitol Hill Public School Parent Organization a debt. This group has been working tirelessly to get the concerns of Hill parents on the radar of schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, and while they celebrate the recent announcements, the parent activists seem poised to push the city to deliver more than lip service for the plan that promises a “rigorous” academic program. Is it me, or does that expression make you wince? The presentation is quite a read, chock full of talk of talk of blitzes, modernization, interventions, educators for social responsibility and full service schools.
I’m left with a lot of questions, and am more than a little curious (and invested) about how this is all going to play out in the next few years. Is it reasonable for parents to get excited, or, should they continue to hold their breath? Doesn’t the success or failure of such a grand academic plan have implications for neighbors without children? Would the robust and economic health of the neighborhood be what it is today were it not for the gradual improvement of the local public schools? How many of the new businesses we’ve all come to take for granted could stay afloat without the parental set flocking to them, navigating cumbersome strollers while they’re at it?
The vast majority of Gray and Fenty signs on my street are in front of houses with strollers on the porch. For how many of these families will the mayoral elections serve as a litmus test of support for or displeasure with Chancellor Rhee and her style and policies that have brought her to national attention? The question is, what’s it going to take for middle schools to win and keep parent’s enthusiasm as the programs at the elementary level have?