Back to School: Coolidge High School & Wells Middle School Celebrate New Beginnings

Saturday, August 24th was a historic day for Ward 4! City officials, residents, educators and hundreds of alumni gathered to celebrate the opening of two new school buildings.

After a two year hiatus, the students and teachers of Calvin Coolidge Senior High School return to a fully modernized school. We also witnessed the birth of the Ward’s second stand-alone middle school, named after pioneering activist Ida B. Wells.

This $158 million investment in the future of our children will make our community an even greater place to live, work and play. Let’s take a look at some of the day’s highlights.

Calvin Coolidge High School Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

It was a bright, sunny day and the atmosphere was festive as hundreds of residents and orange-clad alumni congregated at the front steps of the school.  The energy was joyous and felt closer to an HBCU pep rally than a civic engagement affair.  Alumni from as far back as the Class of 1944(!) were on hand to help launch this new chapter in the school’s enduring legacy.

Link to full presentation.

Semanthe Bright, principal of Calvin Coolidge HIgh School

I am Semanthe Bright and I am the proud principal of Calvin Coolidge HIgh School. This morning, as you know, our wait is over. We are here to celebrate. We are here to mark a different era in the Coolidge family. We are here to change lives.

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Mayor Muriel Bowser

Chancellor Ferebee, I want to present to you: The Coolidge Colts. Their alumni, their students, their faculty, their staff. The proudest people in the District of Columbia. They are the (comprehensive high) school that waited the longest for their modernization, but they were focused . Because they knew that every child in the District of Columbia deserves a state of the art high school. They deserve teachers and staff that come to the school every day wanting to challenge them with creativity and love. And when they get in this school they know that it has been worth the wait.

It is my pleasure to stand here with your councilmember for Ward 4, councilmember Brandon Todd. Please give him a big round of applause. And it is true that there were some years when some money got moved around. But I will tell you that we stood with Councilmember Todd to pull this project across the line and make sure that the final funding was available for Coolidge Senior High School. Thank you Councilmember Todd.

The Coolidge community has definitely waited a long time. And we know that investing in high quality learning environments is one of the best things that we can do for all of our children, all of our families and all of our neighborhoods. You talked, we listened and we learned so much about how the program in this school is going to be laid out. Our principal, Semanthe Bright, is the leader to make sure that the program matches your best expectations for Coolidge.

We know that families told us they wanted a high quality neighborhood school where children in Takoma and Brightwood and Riggs-LaSalle and South Manor Park and all of the surrounding neighborhoods could walk to school. Educators told us that they wanted an on-site middle school right here in this beautiful building. Following this dedication, we’re going to go right around the corner to the brand new Ida B. Wells Middle School.

We made a $158 million investment in making sure that this campus has everything that we need. We made that investment because the Coolidge community includes the families of students who are just entering Pre-k at our feeder schools. Earlier this week, I was just over at Whittier celebrating the achievement of Whittier scholars because they had a double digit gain in math and in reading on our PARCC Assessment. And those gains were achieved with African-American students, with Latino students and with students with disabilities. And those Whittier students have a pathway right to Coolidge through Ida B. Wells.

There are many fantastic things happening in Ward 4 schools. We continue to need your help, to be a part of telling all your neighbors and new families, educating parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles about the great things happening in public education right here in their neighborhood.

Did you know that Coolidge is going to be one of our Early College Sites? Did you know that Coolidge is going to focus on educating our children to get jobs in the health sciences? High paying, good jobs that will make staying in Washington,DC their future.

I couldn’t be prouder of being with you today to help open this incredible new school. And I am going to stand side by side with your Councilmember, with your state board member, with the Chancellor, the principal, and all the teachers and staff here to make sure that our best expectations are met right here at Coolidge.

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Councilmember Brandon Todd

Good afternoon. My name is Brandon Todd and I’m privileged to represent the best 84,000 residents that the District of Columbia has to offer, right here in Ward 4. I am proud to stand with all of you, with Mayor Bowser, with Terry Goings, with State Board Member O’Leary and all of the government who helped to make today possible. I want to thank a few people in the community, particularly the Takoma community, the Brightwood community, the Manor Park and South Manor Park communities and the Riggs-LaSalle communities who have been so focused on making sure that this school got its full modernization. So everybody, let’s give all of our communities a big round of applause, especially those who participated in SIT team meetings and the Coolidge cabinets, and in a number of meetings to make sure that this school reflected our values, right here in Ward 4.

Let’s also give our Calvin Coolidge Senior High scholars a big round of applause. (Who) will start school on Monday morning. Nearly two years ago, we broke ground right here in this very spot, with the promise of a state of the art learning facility that would help Ward 4 students unlock their full potential. We faced many hurdles getting to today. We lost budget funding. The project was delayed, but Ward 4 community members and our government stayed resolute and stayed focused so that we would have the opportunity to unlock a $158 million investment at this fantastic senior high school.Calvin Coolidge

Ida B. Wells Middle School Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

The celebration continued about an hour later as the Mayor and her entourage of city officials moved over to the Sheridan Street NW side of the building to cut the ribbon on the new middle school.  Known during its planning phase as “New North Middle School”, Principal Vroman seems determined to imbue the culture of the school with the courageous activist spirit of its new namesake.

The amazing performance of one of its feeder schools, Whittier Education Campus, on last week’s standardized test score announcement provided a jolt of optimism to the proceedings.  Along with teachers, students and city officials, there were many families with toddlers or young children at this ceremony.  Having a predictable feeder pattern has always been a strong desire for local parents.  I am sure they were there to investigate the potential of this new school to fill that need.

Link to full presentation.

Megan Vroman, principal of Ida B. Wells Middle School

My name is Megan Vroman and I have the privilege of serving as the founding principle of Ida B Wells Middle School. On behalf of the entire Ida B. Wells Middle School community, I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to our city leadership and our community advocates in Ward 4, who’ve been relentless in advocating for and supporting the community’s newest middle school.

I’d also like to thank our wonderful feeder school communities: Whittier Education Campus, Brightwood Education Campus, Takoma Education Campus, LaSalle-Backus Education Campus and Coolidge High School. The support of the leaders and staff at each school have been invaluable as we’ve planned for the opening of our school and we are truly fortunate to be joining such a vibrant community of schools. As a former middle school teacher and leader I’m inspired by the opportunity that lies ahead of us. We have an incredible founding team that collectively seeks to establish a legacy of excellence love, service and growth as we re-imagine the middle school experience as a time of true opportunity for students.

We were elated when Mayor Bowser proposed naming our school after the iconic social justice leader Ida Bell Wells Barnett. It is my honor to share some remarks from her descendants today:

On behalf of my family, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to the District of Columbia Public Schools for honoring my paternal great grandmother, Ida B Wells, for naming a school after her. She made an indelible impact on the United States of America. It is very moving to me that she is now being honored and recognized by having a school named after her in Washington, DC. I hope my great grandmother, Ida B Wells, will inspire students teachers and all people who enter the school. Her life spanned from the Civil War to the Great Depression. Both alone and through organizations, she confronted the challenges that the country faced during her 68 years. She showed by example how much impact one person can make through writing, speaking, organizing and staying true to themselves and their convictions.

Ida B. Wells serves as an inspiration and model for our social action enrichment programming at our school. In addition to a rigorous and loving learning environment, every student who walks through our doors will learn how to use their talents and passion to confront and take action on critical challenges facing our communities. Our students have the answers, ideas, and heart to solve some of our greatest challenges. At Ida B. Wells Middle School. We seek to build their agency and inspire them to take action, now.

We are ready for an incredible inaugural year and we thank you for being a part of our journey as a community. It is now my honor and joy to introduce one of our founding sixth-grade scholars. Please join me in welcoming Chiagoziem Njoku.Ida B Wells

Chiagoziem Njoku, Sixth Grade Student

Good afternoon everyone. My name is Chiagoziem and I’m so excited to welcome you to the brand new Ida B. Wells Middle School! I like to give Mayor Bowser, Councilmember Todd, State Board member O’Leary and Chancellor Ferebee a token of our appreciation for their support.

I am proud to attend a school that is named after an incredible African-American woman in our history. Ida B. Wells was not only an activist and a journalist, she was also an educator. And I think she’d be proud to see her name on such a beautiful school building. I’d like to thank Mayor Bowser for her support of Ida B. Wells and other schools across our city. I can’t wait to enjoy the beautiful atrium, science labs and classrooms. Our next speaker is a fifth-generation Washingtonian who grew up not too far from here in North Michigan Park. Above all her priorities is making sure students like me have a great education. Please help me in welcoming our Mayor Muriel Bowser!

Ida B. Wells

Mayor Muriel Bowser

Chancellor Ferebee, Principal Vroman and all the teachers and staff and parents of incoming students. I want to welcome you to our new Ward 4 middle school. I want to thank you for your support in advance for making sure that these young people have an enriching experience in a beautiful school year. I just cut the ribbon at the brand new Calvin Coolidge Senior High School. And with Ida B. Wells, the people of the District of Columbia have invested $158 million into this beautiful new state of the art campus for our children.

As Chiagoziem said, we are also proud to name this school for an investigative journalist, feminist, civil-rights activist educator and researcher: the Ida B. Wells. We know that Wells was a true pioneer. Born into slavery in 1862, she was a tireless advocate for the underserved and steadfast in her work to bring injustices against African-Americans to light. Today, we celebrate her legacy and make history by cutting the ribbon on the on this middle school, the first stand-alone middle school named for an African-American woman.

I am proud that within these walls our middle schoolers will learn in an environment that reflects our values of courage, equity and educational excellence. It’s also my understanding that Wells exceeded its enrollment projections, and will welcome more students than we even expected this Monday with over one hundred and fifty new students. And that is fantastic work and a reflection of the confidence of our families have in principal Roman and the entire Wells team.

I am looking at another wonderful Ward 4 school in Whittier Elementary School. Just last week I chose Whittier to be the place that I announce the PARCC achievement scores for the entire district. And I chose Whittier because of the fantastic achievement of the scholars there. Whittier saw double-digit improvements in its PARCC scores in math and reading. But more than that, it saw double-digit increases for each population. African-American students, Latino students and students with disabilities. Those students are on their way to Ida B. Wells!

So our challenge to everyone here, because one thing I recognize is more people in our city don’t have kids in D.C. public schools than do have kids in public schools. More people are done educating their children than still have kids in school. So it’s important for us who are in the schools each and every day to let people know what’s happening in our schools. Let them know about the achievements. Let them know about our fantastic new facilities. Let them know that Whittier, Ida B. Wells and Coolidge is a pathway to Early College (and I don’t have to talk to you about the savings that means for a family). It’s a pathway to a Health Sciences focus. But more than that, it is a pathway to being prepared for life and career. These are fantastic schools. So if you live in Riggs, Lamond, Takoma, Brightwood, Manor Park, or South Manor Park, this is your school too. So please join us today. Find volunteer opportunities and support this fantastic school community.

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Councilmember Brandon Todd

I really couldn’t be more thrilled, as the mayor said, to enjoy this $158 million investment in Ward 4 schools. When I was elected as your councilmember four years ago, there was not one standalone Middle School in Ward 4. I committed and promised to Ward 4 families that I would ensure that MacFarland middle school would happen without delay. Last year we made good on that promise, when we opened a fantastic $63 million dollar middle school at MacFarland. But we didn’t stop there Ward 4. We worked with DCPS. We worked with community leaders to further middle school opportunities and expand on our promise. And we are here today, Saturday August 24th at 1:00 in the afternoon, opening Ward 4’s second stand-alone middle school. Let’s hear it for Ida B Wells!

And I want to thank and acknowledge our mayor and her entire public education team for their unwavering support. With the opening of Ida B. Wells middle school, we are enriching education opportunities for our students giving them the tools they need for a successful future. In just a few days on Monday, August 26, the inaugural class of sixth graders will walk through these doors and into the halls of this school for the very first time. Our middle schoolers will be able to learn in a brand new modern building designed with an eye towards meeting the needs of 21st century classrooms. Our teachers and educators will be equipped with the best resources available to help our students learn and discover both inside and outside of the classroom. When our students leave this school for high school, they will leave not only with an understanding on how to succeed in the classroom but how to make an impact in the world.

The teachers and faculty that will lead Ida B. Wells are committed to the idea that educators are responsible for developing minds: the minds of our children, and empowering them with the social skills necessary to become future leaders who would enact change in our community and throughout the world. Ida B Wells, as we heard, was born a slave in Mississippi and at the age of 16 both of her parents succumbed to yellow fever . She dropped out of Shaw University to take a job teaching in a country school in order to provide for her siblings. She would go on to be an investigative journalist, Civil-rights activist, led an anti-lynching campaign and was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Her legacy runs through the very ideals that drive this very middle school: persistence, resilience, and grit. This campus will provide so many opportunities for our students. Our middle schoolers will come here to learn about history and math while also discovering artistic talent, athletic potential and lifelong passion. Our newest Ward 4 school will become a centerpiece in our community. A place where our students become leaders and Ward 4 residents can gather to celebrate the successes of our scholars.

I cannot wait to see the amazing things that will come from our middle schoolers here. Congratulations to all of our incoming sixth graders. Congratulations to the Ward 4 community and congratulations to all 20 neighborhoods. Congratulations everybody.

Bottom Line

With the completion of Roosevelt and Coolidge high schools and MacFarland and Ida B. Wells middle schools, the educational landscape of Ward 4 looks completely different than it did just four short years ago.  It took hundreds of millions of dollars and easily 500+ community meetings to bring us to this point.  Cathy Reilly, the Ward 4 Education Alliance and hundreds of volunteers can be rightfully proud of what has been accomplished.

However, this is not the end of the story; it’s just the bottom of the second inning. We, as a community, have to figure out how we are going to utilize these tremendous resources to help all of our children reach their full potential. There are signs of hope, as the middle school exceeded its enrollment target for this year.

“Alice Deal for All” began as a political slogan and morphed into something of a derisive catcall. But now, the city has done its part.  It is up to us, whether we still have children in the system or not, to figure how to fulfill that promise.

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