(Updated at 1:20 p.m.) One charter school for foster children and another with an adult education program will open in Rosedale amid neighbors’ concerns about bringing “vulnerable” groups into the area.
ANC 6A Commissioner Sondra Phillips-Gilbert and locals told Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles that the District ignored their criticism of the plan to create a residential facility for foster children in the former Gibbs Elementary School building at 500 19th St. NE.
“We are already a high-risk community. To bring another high-risk community where there’s crime, gangs is a disservice to [students],” Phillips-Gilbert said about the creation of Monument Academy Public Charter School.
She spoke at an often-emotional community meeting last night, attended by more than 100 people at Pilgrim African Methodist Episcopal Church. Attendees included Ward 6 Councilman Charles Allen, Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander and representatives for Mayor Muriel Bowser and Councilman David Grosso.
Lifelong 19th Street NE resident Lawrence Owens, 53, said he supported the creation of Monument Academy but wanted to guard against additional disorder and crime in the area.
“This neighborhood has gone through so much, and we’re on our way up,” Owens said. “This will help the kids, but we’re worried it won’t help the neighborhood.”
District officials announced in December that they selected Monument Academy and Community College Preparatory Academy to lease space in the Gibbs building, which was declared surplus property after the school was closed in 2008. A community forum on the future of the school was held in October, but ANC 6A commissioners and locals said they felt left out of the process and were surprised when the decision was announced.
“Nobody came back to us. Nobody said anything,” Phillips-Gilbert said.
Niles apologized that her office, prior to her appointment as deputy mayor, did not make clear to locals that the charter schools applying to lease the space would be part of a charter school incubator program. Schools in the incubator program do not need to appear before D.C. Council if their leases are shorter than 25 years, she said.
“There was not an explanation of what happens when a charter school incubator applies,” Niles said.
Monument Academy and Community College Preparatory Academy were selected based on an analysis of how many students are nearby, which schools are nearby, what the city as a whole needs and what the community wanted, as expressed in a questionnaire distributed this fall.
Ward 6 Councilman Charles Allen said he hadn’t “been happy with exactly how the process has gone” and said he’ll work to ensure that locals can easily communicate with contractors and the schools.
Community College Preparatory Academy will operate in a facility separate from Monument Academy and will serve adults age 18 and older. The school will “bridge the gap between high school and college,” operations director Monica Jones said. The facility will provide free education and technology training in fields including hospitality, automotive and computer science.
In its first year, Monument Academy will serve 40 fifth graders who have had contact with the District’s foster care system. The weekday boarding school will aim to meet students’ emotional, as well as educational, needs, founder and CEO Emily Bloomfield said.
“Schools are struggling to serve them because they need the services we’re providing,” she said.
The school will expand by one grade each year, eventually serving grades 5 through 8, with a total of 160 students. School staff are consulting now with the Milton Hershey School, a free boarding school in Hershey, Pennsylvania that serves children from lower income families and is considered a model for schools of its kind.
Marlene Magrino, Monument Academy principal, assured locals that students will be under close watch, with a 9 p.m. bedtime.
Monument Academy board member Shawn Hardnett, who is chief of schools at Center City Public Charter Schools, asked locals to give the charter school a chance. Longtime members of gentrifying communities are defensive about being left out of decision-making, he said.
“We continue, in our community, to see things taken away,” Hardnett said.
Allen warned residents against “demonizing” children who will be enrolled in the school. “There is nothing inherently bad about children in foster care,” he said.
Kathleen Jackson, who’s lived nearby for nine years, said the city and the neighborhood need a school like Monument Academy. She spoke about her own sons, brothers who are 10, 11 and 15, who she adopted after they were in foster care.
“If this school succeeds, then this neighborhood succeeds,” Jackson said.
Allen encouraged locals to work on welcoming the schools to the neighborhood.
“No matter what, we have an empty school building sitting for eight years,” he said. “That’s not good for anybody.”