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Posted at 5:32 PM ET, 01/13/2011

River Terrace pleads for its school

By Bill Turque

River Terrace residents often describe their Northeast D.C. neighborhood as "an island," tucked away inside the barriers created by Benning Road NE, East Capitol Street SE, I-295 and the Anacostia River. The isolation actually helped a robust community of single-family homes and rowhouses take root following World War II, when the area drew young African American couples who came to Washington to work for the federal government.

But geography has also helped to leave the Ward 7 neighborhood with a dwindling school age population. River Terrace Elementary's enrollment has dropped 42 percent over the last five years, according to DCPS, and its current population of 148 makes it one of the city's smallest elementary schools.

It is also a target for closure at the end of the current academic year. Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson proposes to send River Terrace students across Benning Road to nearby Thomas Elementary.

Officials estimate say it will save about $800,000 a year in operating costs and free up $4 million in capital funds for reallocation, no small matter given the city's fiscal straits.

Henderson also wants to shutter Shaed Education Campus, a PS-8 school in Ward 5, and send students to Emery Education Campus for eventual relocation at the former Langley School next to McKinley Technology High.

A group of about 200 River Terrace parents, teachers, students and alumni delivered a passionate case to Henderson Wednesday night at a two-hour hearing in the school gym. This was familiar terrain for her predescessor, Michelle Rhee, who closed more than two-dozen schools in her three-and-half year tenure. But it was Henderson's first time as the face of DCPS in front of an angry and emotional audience trying to save its school. Seated behind a table, she listened intently, arms folded, to nearly 40 adult witnesses and a dozen children.

Senior citizens spoke about their favorite teachers and the skills they learned from them. A couple of mothers wept, one describing the progress her shy daughter had made, the other over the compassion shown by teachers who helped with Christmas gifts when there was no money. One student made the entire room, including Henderson and D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), rise to deliver the school chant.

"The school is the hub of this community," said Lawrence George, who has lived in River Terrace for 60 years.

Some saw another agenda in play, one involving the future development of the school building and the neighborhood. "I am very sorry you are getting pulled into this," Stephanie Culver, who has three grandchildren at the school, told Henderson. "This is prime property."

Others questioned a provision of the proposal that would bus children daily between River Terrace and Thomas so that they wouldn't have to cross Benning Road. What about busing students into River Terrace instead, they asked.

"Can't we do something to bring children here?" asked one mother.

Henderson and Alexander tried to leave the meeting on a positive note, but made no promises about the final recommendation to the mayor.

"What you've said here tonight touches my heart," Henderson said. "We will work together."

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By Bill Turque  | January 13, 2011; 5:32 PM ET
 
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Comments

"Seated behind a table, she listened intently, arms folded, to nearly 40 adult witnesses and a dozen children."
---------------------------------

Her posture and body language indicates her mind is already made up and she is NOT open to listening. Sorry to say that the pleas of the parents, students and teachers fell on deaf ears. They better start advocating for more crossing guards to help get their children across Benning Road.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | January 13, 2011 8:30 PM | Report abuse

@urbandweller i woulndt say that but keep this in mind not matter who is in charge of DCPS no parent want the community school to be closed, if a school no matter the school can be closed and kids can still receive a education at a decide school and the resouces and funds where reallocated for the receiving schools than i say go for it

Posted by: JeroRobson1 | January 14, 2011 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I wish you had reported the savings Rhee had show up on the books in the years after school closings. They were so miniscule, they cut the legs out from anyone who supported her grounds of economic efficiency.
The economic solution solution would for DCPS to offer incentives, if the savings are so great: Diminishing awards to follow relocated students to the new school, starting, say with $4K per student per year and tapering off over 3-4 years.
Another approach would be to have every parent enrolling a student at River Terrace sign a waiver against claims for services which are uneconomic at a small school unless they transfer to a large school. Nothing wrong with a tiny school except claims that such services come from specialists.

Posted by: incredulous | January 14, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I wish you had reported the savings Rhee had show up on the books in the years after school closings. They were so miniscule, they cut the legs out from anyone who supported her grounds of economic efficiency.
The economic solution solution would for DCPS to offer incentives, if the savings are so great: Diminishing awards to follow relocated students to the new school, starting, say with $4K per student per year and tapering off over 3-4 years.
Another approach would be to have every parent enrolling a student at River Terrace sign a waiver against claims for services which are uneconomic at a small school unless they transfer to a large school. Nothing wrong with a tiny school except claims that such services come from specialists.

Posted by: incredulous | January 14, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

148 students come on River Terrace,you know that the school must be closed. It doesn't make sense to keep it afloat.

Posted by: slivin500 | January 14, 2011 12:25 PM | Report abuse

148 students is about the capacity of the 17,000 sq ft egg-crate schools from the late 1920s and 1930s that were built for and served Ward 3 for decades before they were expanded. That is still the main structure of Mann ES and Hearst ES.

Posted by: incredulous | January 14, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

The impression I get from this is that the residents/parents/children/students of River Terrace are thinking--creatively and innovatively in the face of a potentially huge loss to their whole community and kudos to them!
On the other hand, DCPS leadership, in the face of "budget constraints" are knee-jerking into the same formula used in 2007-2008 that closing schools would save money that would then be used to make the open schools better. Only no one has demonstrated that that is the case. None of the so-called "receiving schools" have been held up as an example of the success of that formula. Rhee could not even tell Councilmember Cheh in testimony at a hearing exactly how much money was "saved" and exactly how it was spent!
Keep thinking River Terrace people! I will always regret that Shaw people did not come together to stop the closing of one of our elementary schools but I hope with all my heart that you guys will be the ones to say "Enough! of this toying with our neighborhoods and communities!" and stop this ridiculous notion that DCPS can be "reformed" by closing down school after school.

Posted by: 1citizen | January 16, 2011 12:15 AM | Report abuse

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