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Community Remains Confused, Upset at Garrison School Closing

"Garrison"

Garrison Elementary School is on the list of  Ward 2 public schools to be closed. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com. 

Even though DC Public Schools (DCPS) announced the closing of 20 schools nearly two weeks ago, Borderstan residents, parents, fauclty and community members still remain shocked by one on the list: Garrison Elementary.

The school at 1200 S Street NW, is home to 237 students in the Logan Circle/U Street neighborhood in Ward 2.

The plan, which also proposes closing two additional schools in Ward 2, including Shaw at Garnet-Patterson Middle School (2001 10th Street NW) and Francis-Stevens Educational Campus (2425 N Street NW), aims to consolidate schools to better utilize the city’s facilities and to work more efficiently.

“We have too many schools that are too small to support our students’ needs,” said DC Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson in video promoting the plan.

However, parents, community members and faculty at Garrison do not feel the same way.

Reaction from Parents, Public Officials

“I am just extremely disappointed and confused by the whole thing,” said Jeff Shank, a parent to a preschool student at Garrison. “I feel like [closing Garrison] was not well thought out.”

Since Henderson’s announcement, a petition opposing the closing of Garrison has received more than 375 signatures, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans made a public statement of disapproval and letters of opposition from ANC 1B and ANC 2F have been sent to Mayor Vincent Gray and Henderson.

“What doesn’t make sense is why they would close an elementary school in an area that is experiencing such a big growth in population,” said Sara Williams, another parent at Garrison and a seven-year Logan Circle resident.

Garrison is currently close to full capacity, and DCPS projects the neighborhood will see an increase of at least 125 children by 2015.

“We’ve seen the change in the neighborhood and the growing number of families, and [closing Garrison] seems very short-sighted of them, based on what’s coming in to the area,” said Williams.

A Vacant Building?

Other members of the community are concerned with the future plans for Garrison if the school does close and the building goes vacant.

“Many of us are all too familiar with crime, theft and neighborhood violence,” wrote ANC IB members in a letter to Gray and Henderson. “Another empty, dark area is asking for trouble and will likely deter people from either moving to the neighborhood, increase people’s unease about the adjacent streets and cause increased stress on the already strained police presence.”

Shank thinks that even if a vacant Garrison is eventually turned into a useful space, it will still cost DCPS lots of money to change it into something else.

“Closing Garrison leaves us with three abandoned schools in the neighborhood,” said Shank, who is also apprehensive about rebuilding a new community at Seaton, the school to which Garrison students will be redirected.

“Over the past three years, the parents and community really put a lot of work into building Garrison,” said Shank. “And now many of us feel like we have to start over.”

Garrison PTA member, Ann McLeod seconded Shank’s opinion. “Time and again, the ANC and local neighborhood associations have worked with – and have become increasingly excited about – the potential for Garrison to become a great school,” said McLeod.

“After three years of hard work led by parents and community members, and with new school leadership appointed less than three months ago, many essential elements are now in place to steepen Garrison’s trajectory to becoming one of the top schools in the District,” read the letter from the local ANCs to the city officials.

Melissa McClam, a former graduate and current parent at Garrison also opposes its closing, based on the school’s ability to foster a variety of races, ethnicities, cultures and needs.

The student body at Garrison is 66 percent black, 26 percent Latino and 6 percent white. Additionally, 23 percent of students at Garrison have special needs, and Garrison has an autism-specific classroom.

“Garrison is also special because it creates opportunities for families of different backgrounds to meet other parents and build relationships,” said McClam.

“Over the past few years, I’ve talked to several local parents of young kids who have just started considering sending their children to Garrison, “ said Williams. “And now they are closing – it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Public Hearings

Since the announcement, Henderson has been adamant on obtaining community feedback to the closings, and is working with residents to remedy concerns. DCPS has held two DC Council hearings and will hold four additional community meetings for all eight wards over the next week.

If Garrison does close (the closure is not yet eminent), officials have started talking about the school reopening in the future.

“They keep talking about a reopening, and it takes a lot to reopen a school once it closes,” said Williams. “And why would I send my kid there if DCPS has already turned its back on the school once before?”

As for now, many parents are reconsidering their allegiance to DCPS if Garrison does close. When asked if she would still send her child to Seaton if Garrison closes, Williams responded, “You know, I am really hesitant.”

Colin Hill, principal of Garrison Elementary, declined a comment on the closing of the school, but acknowledged “the emotional nature of this process and [his] place in it.” Hill referred us to Melissa Salmanowitz, director of press for DCPS, for comment.

Salmanowitz referred us to the DCPS link for frequently asked questions.

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  • One Photo A Day - Luis Gomez


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