Community Organizes to Stabilize Bruce Monroe at Parkview Elementary School

We haven’t had a post about Bruce Monroe for a while, but that doesn’t mean nothing’s been going on there. Here are two reports and a video about recent developments.

Bruce Monroe’s Phase One Modernization Becomes More Robust
by Daniel del Pielago, Empower DC Education Organizer

In 2008, the Bruce Monroe Elementary community was tricked by the city into leaving their school on Georgia Avenue and moving to the Parkview school building. The Bruce Monroe community fought hard to get their school rebuilt as promised, but unfortunately the city did not keep its word. At the same time, the community realized that the Parkview building was not in safe condition and definitely not conducive to academic success.

The Bruce Monroe community then decided to focus on getting much needed repairs at their new school (Bruce Monore at Parkview). The school was slated for a “Phase 1 Modernization” which repairs corridors and classrooms but not electrical, heating, or plumbing systems. For this reason, the community knew that a Phase 1 modernization would not be enough. First, the community documented the problems with the school and how it impacted students, teachers, parents, and others. Once these issues were documented, community members were present at any opportunity to advocate for their school with key government decision makers. They continuously kept their community updated on what was going on and on ways that individuals could support their effort for a more robust modernization of their school. All of this hard work and organizing paid off when the city agreed to do more than a Phase 1 modernization, focusing on the issues that the community had documented and said needed to be addressed. This brief summary does not capture all that went into this victory, but being organized and visible was key.

Renovation Preparations
by Beverly West, Bruce Monroe at Parkview Elementary Parent Leader

The preparations for “Phase I Modernization” at Bruce Monroe at Parkview Elementary School started out in chaotic fashion. It was a stressful matter for everyone involved. It seems that everything was pushed back until the last moment as the teachers and many staff members struggled to finish packing and salvaging valuable resources from their offices and classrooms. Many of the teachers were also unable to complete the students’ year-end reports because the DCPS IT Department had collected their computers and printers days earlier. This was a very uneasy transition for the start of the summer vacation. At least an end-of-year student progress report would have given parents and students a foundation to work towards for next year. Please pray that the reopening of the school will go more smoothly than the closing. The building must be organized people-wise, building-wise, and Lord knows it needs to have a soothing atmosphere to have a successful beginning. In other words, total organization is needed across the school to properly educate the children.

Stand Up for DC’s Neighborhood Schools

Students and Parents Protest the Demolition of Bruce Monroe Elementary

School officials certainly make a show of being willing to ask; they even appear to listen.  At a public hearing about the proposed closing of River Terrace back in November, DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said, “if every community had this level of engagement, DCPS would be the best school district in the country.”  So why should Kaya Henderson, who clearly knows how important parental and community involvement is in the success of a school, be perfectly willing to close down schools with very active school communities such as Bruce Monroe and River Terrace?    How is it possible, that these communities are simply ignored by the government that’s supposed to represent them?   Answering the why would force me into speculations about racism and classism among DC elected and appointed officials, but Empower DC education organizer Daniel del Pielago has some clear ideas about how communities get left out of the decision making process.  According to del Pielago:

  1. Key decision makers do not engage in meaningful dialog with their constituency, do not return emails, calls and requests to meet.
  2. Elected officials cancel meetings and do not deliver on commitments they make when you are finally able to meet with them.
  3. Government officials (and the developers who support them) “wait out” parents and other community members as community interest and action wanes.
  4. Ultimately, decisions are made and presented with no input from the community that will be affected.

Clear examples of this are demonstrated in a brochure that he and a number of River Terrace Elementary school families have been sharing with the rest of the community, which I’ve posted below for your consideration.

 

River Terrace:  This Is Our Moment of Truth
Save River Terrace Elementary School

Closing our school harms our students, disrespects our parents and assaults our community.  If we truly love our school and our neighborhood, now is the time to show it.  Know the facts and let’s stand up for ourselves. 

Throughout the year, we’ve been reaching out to keep everyone informed of this attack on our community.  We’ve contacted our elected officials and decision makers through calls and emails, clearly demonstrating our support for River Terrace Elementary and for keeping it open.  We’ve asked for meetings with the Chancellor and other public officials.  with only two exceptions, we were ignored.

River Terrace Elementary Timeline of Events

December 2010

  • DCPS issues a letter stating their intention to close River Terrace Elementary School at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.
  • River Terrace parents meet with Special Assistant to the Chancellor of DC Public Schools Margery Anne Yeager.

January 2011

  • Over 100 River Terrace community members meet with Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander and Chancellor Kaya Henderson at a public hearing to voice their unanimous support for keeping the school open.
  • The River Terrace Elementary Support Committee visits council members and the community writes letters in supprt of the school.
  • River Terrace community members and allies give testimony at the Ward 7 State of the Schools Public Hearing.

February 2011

  • DCPS issues a letter stating that River Terrace Elementary has been given a year’s reprieve to build enrollment.

March 2011

  • River Terrace Elementary Support Committee meets with the Cluster 1 Educational Superintendent Barbara Adderly.
  • River Terrace Elementary Support Committee gives testimony at Mayor Vincent Gray’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Hearing for DCPS.
  • River Terrace Elementary Support Committee holds an enrollment fair.
  • River Terrace Elementary Support Committee reaches out to council members for support to keep the school open.

June 2011

  • Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander cancels a meeting with the River Terrace Elementary Support Committee.
  • At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelsohn offers support to the school community.
  • River Terrace Elementary Support Committee meets with Varick AME Church and the River Terrace Alumni Committee.

September 2011

  • River Terrace Elementary Support Committee collects signature of support at the River Terrace Reunion Picnic.
  • River Terrace Elementary Support Committee meets with Councilmember Alexander who commits to arranging a meeting between them and Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

October 2011

  • River Terrace Elementary Support Committee continues to follow up with Councilmember Alexander about her committment to set up a meeting with Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
  • River Terrace Elementary Support Committee meets with Councilmember  Alexander and Chancellor Kaya Henderson.  Henderson announces that River Terrace Elementary will close in June 2012 and the decision is final.

We can still save our school but we need to take ACTION NOW!  We have tried to call on the support of elected officials and the chancellor of DCPS.  Now our focus meeds to b on Mayor Vincent Gray.  Our education system is under mayoral control, so he has the power to keep our beloved school open.  Please contact the mayor and let him know:

  1. River Terrace parent and Community members have been left out of the decision making process.  We do not accept the decision to close the school.
  2. The decision to transfer our children to Nevel Thomas Elementary School is unacceptable.  The walk from the River Terrace community to Nevel Thomas is dangerous and the academic performance at Nevel Thomas is no better than River Terrace.
  3. River Terrace Elementary is the heart of our community.  We need it to remain open for our children and the community that has supported this school for generations.
  4. We demand that you, as our mayor and a fellow Ward 7 resident, work with the River Terrace Community to keep our beloved school open.

Mayor’s Phone: (202) 727-6300

Email: Vincent.Gray@dc.gov

River Terrace Support Committee

 

True reform of DCPS will only start when the District government and school officials do something that hasn’t been done in my living memory–heed the wishes of the communities that they represent and support schools in Wards 7 & 8 with the same rigor as they support the traditional public schools in the wealthier wards west of the Anacostia.   For that to happen, Mayor Gray will have to hear from more than the River Terrace Community because let’s face it, if a community is not wealthy and the majority of its residents are black  (as is the case in River Terrace) or brown (as is the case at Bruce Monroe) District government will neither hear their concerns nor heed their demands.  If you care about DCPS call the Mayor.  Tell him, if he really wants to make Washington, DC One City as he so often claims, he can start by keeping River Terrace open.

To help fight the closure of any more DC public schools, Empower DC will be doing outreach to the schools at risk of closure with a priority focus on Wards 7 and 8.   Empower DC is calling for volunteers to help with outreach to these schools in the next couple of weeks.  An outreach planning meeting is scheduled for:

Tuesday February 21, 2012 @ 6:30 PM
Empower DC – 1419 V Street NW

If you are interested and available please follow this link and fill out the brief survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TQMR63W or contact Daniel del Pielago at 202-234-9119 ext. 104 or via email at Daniel@empowerdc.org

 

Who’s In The Frame? A Closer Look at School Closings and the Mainstream Media

Imagine every news story that you read, hear or watch is a painting hanging on an art gallery wall.  Just as the artist determines not only the main subject matter of the painting but everything else that gets included on the canvas, it is the producer of the news story who decides what issue to cover, what “facts” should be included, whose opinion will be voiced and whose opinion will be ignored.  In other words, it is the reporter or journalist who decides what’s inside the frame and what gets left out.  Deciding what issues to cover and what angle or perspective to use is called framing.   How a reporter frames a story is guided by many factors including, but not limited to, the reporter’s experience of the world and the assumptions they’ve made about the issue in question.

Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander & DCPS School’s Chancellor Kaya Henderson listening intently (or not) to the River Terrace Community as they plead for their school.

Let’s take a specific example, local mainstream news reporting on proposed school closings in DCPS.  In this article by Washington Post education reporter Bill Turque School Closings Unlikely to be Widespread, the assumption that school closings will have a positive impact on DCPS is not obvious, but it’s there.   Turque trusts just two sources–School’s Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright.  As city officials who have a budget to balance, they may prioritize the alleged cost-effectiveness of closing schools over providing a world-class education to the city’s children but that possibility is never explored.  The parents who may be forced to uproot their children from one school and bus them to a location outside of their neighborhoods are not included.  And why should they be?  After all, closings are unlikely to be widespread.  The title of the article itself suggests that only a relatively few families will be inconvenienced and that their loss is acceptable in the face of the positive gains that may or may not be achieved throughout the system as a whole.  Also left out of the frame are the teachers and the students themselves, who may not agree with Kaya Henderson’s definition of an under-enrolled school, especially if that definition means an increase in the size of their classes.   Members of the community at large aren’t likely to be considered at all by mainstream news sources covering education issues but that doesn’t meant they are not impacted when a community’s school is torn down in lieu of luxury condos. To his credit, Turque does mention one school community–River Terrace, whose elementary school is scheduled for closure next year, but he says nothing about how the school’s closing might impact the River Terrace community.  Of course, including all of those voices might take too much time.  No doubt he has a deadline to adhere to.  He may also have constraints on the number of words he’s allowed in his column.  On the other hand, if he really wanted to include the voices of the River Terrace school community in his article, he could have simply provided a link to his previous article River Terrace Pleads for its School.   In this article, River Terrace parents, students and community members are quoted but not until the end of the article.  Also, Turque points out the official estimate of $800,000 in savings should the school be closed, adding in his own words, “no small matter given the city’s fiscal straits.”   If Turque were committed to giving equal weight to both sides of this issue, he might have countered with Kaya Henderson’s statement “If every community had this level of engagement, DCPS would be the best school district in the country,” which surely suggests that $800,000 is no savings at all if the result is a lower level of community engagement. So, let’s review.  Turque’s trusted sources are known to believe in the efficacy of school closings, otherwise they wouldn’t have closed schools in the past and they wouldn’t be advocating for more closings now.  Any sources that just might believe that closing schools will not improve DCPS are not in the frame. Fortunately, we have a frame of our own to fill. On January 12, 2011, over 200 members of the River Terrace Community attended a public hearing regarding the proposed closing of their elementary school.  Over 40 parents, teachers, students and members of the community testified. The video below is just a small portion of that hearing in which Henderson pledged to work with the community. Watch it and you’ll understand why she would make such a pledge.  Why she went back on her word, refusing to help community members with their efforts to increase enrollment and deciding to close the school on December 16, 2011, is a question for another day. YouTube Preview Image Unfortunately, our frame does not have the same reach as the Washington Post or other news media outlets, but if it’s reaching you than something can be done.  Right now, when students, parents and community members continue to be negatively affected by punitive school reform efforts, we must find a way to get our knowledge and opinions into the media frame.  It may not be possible to change the life experience of mainstream reporters like Bill Turque or the rest of the staff of the Washington Post, the Washington Times, DCist, The City Paper and every network television station producing local news, but we can and should relentlessly question their assumptions.  Beyond that, we can find ways to make them hear our stories, to better understand our lives and to respect our knowledge and opinions.  To that end, Empower DC is sponsoring the following:

How To Use The Media Before It Uses You

Join us for Empower DC’s next Empowerment Circle on how to effectively use and create media, an interactive training facilitated by Liane Scott, the coordinator of the Grassroots Media Project.

Wednesday, January 25 2012 6:30 – 8:30 PM Watha T Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library 1630 7th Street NW

Accessible by the Shaw/Howard Metro Station (Green and Yellow line) Use the 7th and R Street exit and its just a couple of steps away

Limited childcare is available for this meeting so please RSVP if you will need childcare. To RSVP or if you have any questions or concerns please contact Daniel del Pielago at 202-234-9119 ext. 104 or via email at Daniel@empowerdc.org

You can also contact me at 202-234-9119 ext. 106 or via email at Liane@grassrootsmediaproject.org.   Although I’ve focused on education in the above example, the techniques we cover are good for any issue or concern.  Developing a clear, concise message is the key to effectively advocating for your issue in the mediaSo please join us next Wednesday.   If you can’t make it to the workshop, please forward this information to your progressive friends and acquaintances.  If you’re angry about the treatment of the River Terrace community, then contact any or all of the following public officials:

Mayor Vincent Gray –  call (202) 727-6300  or  email Mayor@dc.gov 

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson – call (202) 442-5885  or  email Kaya.Henderson@dc.gov

City Council Chairman Kwame Brown –  call (202) 724-8174  or  email kbrown@dccouncil.us

Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander – call (202) 724-8068   or  email yalexander@dccouncil.us

Deputy Mayor for Education DeShawn Wright – call  (202) 727-3636  or   email  dme@dc.gov 

What Do Bruce Monroe Elementary School & the Takoma Educational Campus Have In Common?

Both schools have been considered under-enrolled, yet one was demolished and the other completely refurbished.  William Jordan, a member of the list serve Concerned for DCPS has some theories as to why.  I’ve reprinted them below because I think they are worthy of your consideration.

Posted on the Concerned For DCPS List Serve on January 5, 2012:

Takoma Educational Campus after the Rehabilitation

I would suggest anyone who has followed or participated in the “Bruce Monroe School” over the years to pick up the Wednesday, December 28, 2011 addition of Northwest_Current 12.28.11 .  On the front page is an article about the reopening of the Takoma Educational Campus one year after a fire closed the school.  The article is relevant to Bruce Monroe because the city and officials, including Councilmember Graham, etc. found a way to address the needs of Takoma doing the very things they told our community and Bruce Monroe stakeholders they could not do months prior to the Takoma fire.   It reveals the pattern of dishonesty and political disdain by then Chancellor Rhee and Councilmember Graham toward this community and the population of families and students served by Bruce Monroe.

Bruce Monroe Elementary after the Demolition

The article explains how the city initially planned to make $2 million in repairs but later decided to invest $25.5 million in a complete rehab.  Via a bait & switch, Councilmember Graham and Rhee mislead this community into believing that the DCPS capital budget could not be adjusted to do a complete rehab of Bruce Monroe either as part of the redevelopment of the old site or as rehab of Bruce Monroe at Park View as they promised in prior years.

As evidence of what was actually promised, the notes from community meetings in which the future of Bruce Monroe was discussed can be downloaded via the following links.:

Notes_from_Meeting_With_Graham_and_Rhee_4-6-10

Parents_Meet_With_Jim_Graham_March_16_2010

Notes_from_Meeting_With_Graham_and_Rhee_4-6-10

 

Bruce Monroe, Park View & Meyer were closed down as part of the 2008 DCPS Rhee closings supposedly because of low enrollment.  It should be noted that Takoma Enrollment was on par with Meyer.  However, Bruce Monroe was reconstituted and the students shipped to Park View the least hospitable of all 3 buildings. In fact Park View at the time could have easily been considered dangerous.  Despite this Bruce Monroe students were not relocated to the Meyer building which was in much better shape, they went to Park View.   In the meantime, Councilmember Graham placed a boxing program in Meyer Elementary, to which he had been funneling earmarks for years with no community or practical oversight.  Clearly, Ward 1 closings were not so much about education, but politics and real estate development.  Rhee closed schools with minimal responsibility and Councilmember Graham place his political concerns above those of DCPS students or the community at large.

In this case Councilmember Graham and then Chancellor Rhee engaged in operating at one of the lowest political and  ethical standards possible under the guise of school reform.  To politically punish and breakup the Bruce Monroe school family, they place a school primarily serving working class Latino and African American families in building (Park View) which at the time had become unfit when better alternatives were available.  The positive outcome for Takoma when placed in context makes clear the dishonest nature of reform under Rhee, the unethical cesspool that is Ward 1 politics and ultimately the nexus between pay-to-play politics, real estate development and school reform.

William Jordan

Bruce Monroe at Parkview: A Story of Promises Unfulfilled

Bruce Monroe at ParkviewIn 2010, during Michelle Rhee’s tenure as DCPS school chancellor, the District government promised the parents, students and staff of Bruce Monroe Elementary School as well as the surrounding community that if they tore the building down they would rebuild the school on the same spot.  Long story short, the building is down but the new one hasn’t been built.  All those Bruce Monroe stakeholders are still wondering what’s up?  After all, when you say you’re gonna do a thing, integrity demands that you make your best effort.

Despite the ethical challenges facing our elected officials, parents continue to attend and testify at public hearings regarding the school.  The latest hearing in which Bruce Monroe was mentioned was in March of 2011.   Although Grassroots Media Project radio producer Rachel Estabrook put this audio segment together way back then, I’m just now getting around to posting it.  (My apologies. )

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

To join the campaign to rebuild Bruce Monroe contact Daniel del Pielago at (202) 234-9119 ext. 104 or Daniel@empowerdc.org.

In the above audio segment, you will hear a number of parents testify about their continued frustrations over unfulfilled promises and problems with Parkview Elementary, the school their children are now attending.  One of those parents is Sequnely Gray, Empower DC’s childcare organizer.  She is all too familiar with the Bruce Monroe saga seeing as how three of her children attended Bruce Monroe before it was demolished.  I asked her to chronicle a brief history of the organizing efforts of the Parents and Friends of Bruce Monroe.  Her response, which I think is an inspiring example of community leadeship in the face of a city hall that , follows:

 

For the past ten years the friends, teachers, parents and staff of Bruce Monroe have fought continuously to insure that our children receive a quality education as well as a beautiful, safe and healthy environment for them to succeed in. In 2008, we were informed by the Washington Post that Bruce Monroe elementary school would be closed for good.

At that moment parents, staff and teachers rallied together with the help of Teaching for Change to advocate for our children’s school. We advocated for closed classrooms and new windows. The parents, staff and community members got together and reached out to some businesses in our community.   As a result of our efforts, we received a generous donation of $1 million dollars from Target to build a 21st century, state of the art library and the whole east side of the school remodeled, including new walls and new windows.

Several months later we meet with Ward 1 councilmember Jim Graham, Mayor Adrian Fenty, and newly appointed DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. They each stated that we didn’t need to beg and plead for a new facility for our children because this is what they should have and the only way to get it was to relocate to Parkview Elementary School on Warder Street NW.  They promised that a new Bruce Monroe Elementary School would be built by the fall of 2011 under a public/private partnership. The parents were excited to find out that the school would not be closed.  We rallied once again, knocking on doors and passing out flyers to make sure the community knew that [even though the old Bruce Monroe would be demolished a new state-of-the-art Bruce Monroe was still going to be built and opened] was still going to be opened.

For the 2008/2009 school year, we relocated to Parkview Elementary on Warder Street NW.  The conditions of that building were very poor; poorer than they were at Bruce Monroe.  In the summer of 2009, the parents, community members and the staff formed a SIT team to work in partnership with DCPS to develop plans for the rebuild of Bruce Monroe. We meet 2 or 3 times but after that we heard nothing from the city officials.  We tried to contact and schedule meetings with Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee but we got no response.

While trying to figure out who to talk to next about the rebuild of the school, we decided that we needed help advocating for this property that had been stolen from us and to inform the community of what DC Government was doing behind our backs.  With the help of Ms. Dyana Forester, we were connected with Empower DC.

Empower DC held trainings and facilitated meetings with the parents, staff and community members to build leadership and to help us become better advocates for positive change in our community and a safe and healthy environment for our children. Empower DC helped parents prepare testimonies to testify before the city council and helped us schedule a meeting with our councilmember Jim Graham.

At several of those meeting, Mr. Graham was rude and disrespectful to his constituents.  He would make gestures as if he were tired of us asking him to support the rebuild of Bruce Monroe. Councilmember Graham has personally disrespected me–a constituent, A DCPS parent and a DC resident that voted for him. In one meeting, I stated that we were tired of being given the run-around and asked him if there was one person that we could work with on a continuing basis.  Councilmember Graham cut me off in the middle of my question and stated, “you can’t ask me that question.  You haven’t met your meeting quota yet because you work for Empower DC.”  (Incidentally, I was not a staff member of Empower DC at the time.)  Graham continued to be disrespectful.  He could never commit to supporting the rebuild of Bruce Monroe.  He kept interrupting the parents and staff that were trying to voice their opinions.  Graham never gave us a straight answer about who the contact person was, the budget or if we even had money in the budget for the rebuild of Bruce Monroe.

The rest of the parents, community members along with Dyana Forester and Empower DC expressed to Councilmember Graham that I was a long time parent at Bruce Monroe and that had I testified several times before him and the rest of the council members regarding the same issue we were meeting about now.

This was the second time Mr. Graham had disrespected me.  The previous time was at the unveiling of the mural dedicated to the remembrance of Bruce Monroe. The parents, community members and staff were not invited to have input in the creation of the mural nor where our children apart of creating the mural. Councilmember Graham arrived at the ceremony and came over to the group of parents from Bruce Monroe to greet them. As I reached out to shake his hand and ask him a few question, he proceeded to walk away and say, “I’m busy.  I’m already late.  I don’t have time for this,” and walked away. All of this happened in front of my three children.

After the ceremony, we all walked down to veiw the mural. As we looked at the mural, I tried to explain to my boys how the mural was related to our community and the school but I couldn’t. Because we didn’t have an opportunity for input, the mural didn’t’ reflect the community. While explaining this to my boys, Councilmember Graham rudely interrupted me and asked my boys if they wanted to take a picture with him. My 9-year-old (at the time), Keon Houston, held his head up as high as he could, looked him in the eye with no fear and said” No Sir, we want our school back.”  His 2 younger brothers, LaMarr Houston, Jr and Renard Gray, who were five and seven at the time, said “Yeah, Rebuild Bruce Monroe!” At that moment, I was so very proud of my children and I realized how much of a positive influence Empower DC had had on them. Not just the adult advocates but the children as well became leader amongst their peers.

The parents, staff, community members and students of Bruce Monroe at Parkview Elementary have worked very hard and sacrificed many days and weekends to ensure that the community is informed about the things that the city officials are doing to its constituency.  There is supposed to be $20.3 million dollars secured in the Master Facilities Plan for the modernization of Bruce Monroe at Parkview. At the end of the 2011/2012 school year, we will receive $5.5 million dollars for the first phase of modernization starting after the last day of school. The first phase consists of remodeling classrooms and fresh paint but the problems with the Parkview building are not just cosmetic.  The building is almost 100 years old and it functions that way.  There is a great need for a new plumbing system, an electrical upgrade as well as proper ventilation and heating systems. We also have a continued rodent infestation problem that has not yet been resolved. So, you see, even though we are receiving $5.5 million for a phase1 modernization, we are still in a fight to make sure that what we get is quality sustainable.

Since the election of our new mayor Gray, we have been in contact with the proper officials regarding these issues and we are scheduled to meet once again with our Councilmember Jim Graham and the Deputy Mayor for Education Anthony DeGuzman to complete the details and planning of our phase 1 modernization.

It has been a long, hard and continuing struggle but with the support of Empower DC and the community we know this can happen and that we can make a change. To those facing similar problems in theirs communities, take action, raise your voice and become a member of EMPOWER DC.

Sincerely,

 

Sequnely Gray (Parent Leader @ Bruce Monroe @ Parkview)