More than two dozen Shepherd Park area residents met Tuesday evening at the Shepherd Park library to advance a Community Conversation regarding the future of the feeder pattern for the neighborhood elementary school. Ward 4’s State Board of Education representative Frazier O’Leary was present to shed light on the situation, as well as University of the District of Columbia President Ronald Mason.
Background on the Shepherd Feeder Pattern
The status of the DC Public Schools feeder pattern to its two most popular schools, Alice Deal Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School, has been a source of concern for decades. It became a particularly contentious issue during the last round of school attendance zone changes in 2014. Several neighborhoods which had been traditionally assigned to Alice Deal and Wilson, respectively, were rezoned to other schools. At that time, Shepherd Elementary School remained within the Deal/Wilson feeder pattern. This settled the issue for Shepherd ES for the time being.
That changed on February 3rd when the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for a large part of the Shepherd Park neighborhood, Mr. Stacey Lincoln, posted the message, “Feeder Pipeline possible change: SES to Deal Middle School/ SES to New North Middle School,” on the community listserv. This was followed up with additional comments at the February ANC 4A meeting, which we reported on here. This activity led people to believe there was new information and sparked renewed interest in the subject.
Shepherd Park resident Mrs. Naima Jefferson moderated Tuesday’s meeting. The panel also included Shepherd Elementary School PTA president Ms. Liz Bradley and former president Mrs. Gwen Washington.
Note: I was only at the meeting for about half its duration because I had to pick up my wife from the airport; what follows are my lightly edited notes from the meeting.
University of the District of Columbia President Ronald Mason
Under the leadership of President Ronald Mason, the University of the District of Columbia recently launched the #UDCFirstChoice campaign to boost investment in the school by the city government. Forcefully advocating with city leaders prompted the Mayor to commit to “UDC’s ascendance as a first choice 2-year and 4-year institution” at her 2019 inauguration. President Mason came to this meeting to ask for our support in pressuring the city to fulfill its pledge, but also to remind us how to effectively advocate for issues before the city government.
This is real progress to get the money behind the campaign. Here’s how we did it. You know the mayor is a politician and she’s never sure what she wants to put her name on. UDC was a risky bet, right? So I said, “Look, I know you want to claim us, but you don’t have the encouragement you need to do that. We’re going to go out and do a campaign.”
We went out to all the ANCs and all the Civic Associations and we got them all to send emails and resolutions to the mayor, telling her that they wanted her to put more money in our budget. She heard it. And while we were out there doing that, we were also picking up information to finalize the strategic plan.
What does that have to do with Ward 3 and the feeder pattern? I picked it up from Murch! Murch is an elementary school that we loaned half of our athletic fields to, so they could renovate the school. But once they were there, they kept wanting more and more and more. But what I noticed was that every time they wanted more, they really made a lot of noise in the mayor’s office. They put it in their newsletter. They got on the phone and started going to meetings. And it worked. I said, “Well, you know that if worked for them maybe it will work for UDC”. That was the genesis of the campaign for UDC.
And so, the moral of the story is: The squeaky wheel gets the oil. We do live in a squeaky wheel society. It’s all about the politics of it. And I know what you all are concerned about. If you want to do something about it, you really do have to start squeaking. We can help you with that because we have the same sort of interest at heart. But it’s got to be a win-win situation. If you all would get your civic associations and your ANC to let the mayor know that you support our budget request this year, we can send you some sample resolutions, letters, email addresses and everything else. If you help us with that, we can help you with your issue is when it comes to the Ward 3 feeder pattern.
Learn more about UDC’s First Choice Campaign here.
Afterwards, Mrs. Jefferson asked the remaining panelists what each of them knew about any potential change in Shepherd’s secondary educational options.
State Board of Education Ward 4 Representative Frazier O’Leary
What I know is that until 2023, there will be no conversation about changing the boundary. What I also know is that at every meeting I go to, your hearts are beating faster than they should, thinking about whether my children are going to be able to go to Deal or Wilson. There’s nothing going on at all. There’s a timeframe where there will be a boundary conversation. That’s not happening until 2022. So, whatever you heard is not happening any place except in people’s minds.
Now, is there an organization that really wants that to happen? To have Shepherd Elementary no longer be a feeder school to Deal and Wilson? You bet your life there is. And what Dr. Mason said and what I’m saying is you have to not just squeak, you’ve got to yell! And the community must have a lot more input rather than just talking about it (to each other). You’ve got to get to the people in power.
My agenda is for your children to get the best education they can get. I’m not convinced that is necessarily at Deal and Wilson.
You have to push. The mayor is in charge of education. I’ve already been in touch with the chancellor. You have to be proactive. And it’s not just about your children, it’s about your community.
Shepherd Elementary School PTA President Liz Bradley
The reason that we’re here is that we need to organize. That is certainly something that we know other groups of parents are doing and have been doing. (Mrs. Washington) can talk a little bit more about that because she’s been part of the Ward 3 education network group for a while. I just starting to go to those meetings this year as the PTA president. I’m sure most parents are feeling pretty pissed off about this conversation even though it happens every couple of years. What we know and what they told me to my face (The Ward 3 group) is that Shepherd parents don’t show up when it’s important.
I think that that is something that we have to change. You have to get people to come, we have to get people to talk, we have to get people to testify. Otherwise we’re letting this happen. Personally, I want to fight to be remain part of the Deal and Wilson feeder network. That’s why I bought my house. That’s why I’m here supporting Shepherd.
That is really what I’m here to tell you. We need to organize. We already have a group of parents who are meeting on the side to try to start to think about this. To think about what our points are, what are our messages. We have lots of great points to talk about. I think the net-net to Mr O’Leary’s point is showing up and getting involved and being an advocate at this point in time before it becomes a crisis.
Former Shepherd Elementary School PTA Co-President Gwendolyn Washington
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was unable to capture Mrs. Washington’s complete comments. As a former PTA president, she spoke from the perspective of having attended many of the Ward 3 Education Network meetings. In her recollection, maintaining student diversity within the Deal/Wilson feeder pattern was stated as important principle in early meetings of that group when it began in 2016. However, that priority seemed to decline as time when on. As of today, “diversity” no longer seems to be a concern for the group.
A Valid Counterpoint
During the Q & A portion of the discussion, one neighbor spoke up with a countervailing point of view:
My name is Rebecca and I live in Takoma. I’ve lived in NW for over 20 years and I know that there are these institutional issues between east of the park and west of the park. And I would just caution you that there are also folks in Ward 4 that wish that Shepherd and Lafayette would feed into the new middle school because we also want your diversity and your academic rigor as part of our schools. And we don’t have $1 million to buy a home in Shepherd Park. But we also demand to have a strong cohort of students.
It’s not always Ward 3 looking down their nose at you. We know that that happens. They look down their nose at everybody. But some people in this ward also wish you would join us at the new middle school because if you don’t, it’s hard to get Takoma and other residents of Ward 4 to buy into the schools.
As Joseph Heller wrote in classic novel Catch-22, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” The consensus from the meeting participants is that there is currently no official, DCPS-sanctioned effort to rezone Shepherd Elementary into a new feeder pattern. Nevertheless, the 2022 attendance boundary evaluation is just three years away. It is up to the Shepherd Elementary parents and community members to organize themselves and express their desire to the people that need to hear it.