Feb 20, 2014

Uncertain Future for DC's Mamie D. Lee and Sharpe Health School due to Delays

River Terrace Elementary School 
By Candi Peterson

2/23/14 Update: A letter from Dr. Beers, DCPS Chief of Specialized Instruction sent to parents on February 20 confirmed the delay in River Terrace's opening. Beers letter failed to mention that DCPS teachers and school staff would be displaced.
Link to parent letter

DC Public Schools plans to renovate River Terrace Elementary School have been delayed due to an unusual find of native American Indian artifacts discovered during an excavation. Officials from the Office of Specialized Instruction along with Cluster XI Instructional Superintendent, Terry DeCarbo announced at an impromptu meeting Tuesday that plans to merge disabled students from Mamie D. Lee and Sharpe Health schools won't happen until august 2015 while construction crews continue to excavate the site.

Both schools educate severely disabled students. Last school year in 2013, the consolidation of these schools was announced and expected to be completed by August 2014. An outcry from parents was the backdrop at school meetings held to discuss the impact of school closures and consolidations in different wards throughout the city. Among the most vocal were Sharpe Health School parents who expressed concerns that River Terrace was not accessible to disabled students, placed students at great risk due to polluted soil and water at a nearby power plant, and is located at one of the most dangerous metro stations (Minnesota Avenue metro). Lost to students from both schools would be long time established partnerships, a therapeutic pool and experienced veteran teachers and staff who have helped students achieve despite incredible physical and mental challenges.

Teachers and school staff of both schools were notified of the meeting called by DC Central office officials with only 24 hours advance notice. The meeting at Mamie D. Lee was held at 2:30 pm since staff end their day earlier than normal traditional school hours due to an earlier start time. Sharpe Health school meeting was held immediately following at 3:30 pm. Notice of the meeting by the school district failed to contact representatives of Washington Teachers' Union (WTU), Council of School Officers (CSO) AFSCME, or Teamsters. A teacher at Mamie D. Lee on watch patrol notified my office  so I was able to attend.

A power point was shown but not provided to attendees outlining the strategic plan to proceed with interviewing staff for the consolidated school. Members of the Central office hiring team explained that although students would stay put for another year at their respective schools, plans were underway to locate River Terrace's administrative team and school staff by August 2014. Mr. Brooks, hiring manager said in one of the sessions; "We know this is incredibly difficult and with the utmost respect we come to you... It is a very good chance we can help you find something else."

Teachers and staff were handed out Frequently Asked Questions  fact sheets. One in green for WTU members and a yellow fact sheet for administrative and support staff. DC teachers can expect pink slips effective the last day of school June 19, 2014 which gives Highly Effective and Effective teachers 60 days from that date to find a new position (August 18, 2014) or face possible separation. Administrative and support staff will face a Reduction in Force (known as RIF) on August 19, 2014. If these staff members don't secure a position by that date they will face being separated from service.

Staff in both locations including the schools principals were solemn faced and perplexed about what they heard. One of the most vocal critics was Cheryl Gillette, Mamie D. Lee's building representative who has been an advocate for students challenging that the management decision to consolidate both schools will harm the districts most vulnerable students and displaces teachers with specialized training who go above and beyond in working with students intellectual and physical health challenges.

A DCPS former Sharpe parent who was in attendance at that meeting requested anonymity. She said "Ive seen staff come and go. What looks good on paper is not good in person. Y'all making decisions but you don't know these kids, these teachers know these kids." Maurice Asuquo, a blind teacher at Sharpe captured parent sentiment when he made a passionate appeal on behalf of DC's disabled students. Asuquo said; "I would be very disappointed if I find out someone wants to take this building (Sharpe Health school) from disabled students..... don't dump them behind a highway. I think it's dirty. Don't hide me behind a highway, don't expose me to chemicals. I appeal to the consciousness of those who care whether its the Mayor, Council member Muriel Bowser or Council member Vincent Orange. It's so unfair. People aren't listening to what we are saying. I'm going to speak up for the children."

Last year I had hoped district officials would come to their senses and remove Mamie D. Lee and Sharpe Health school from the school closure/consolidation list. Certainly there were a host of other options the district could have considered such as renovating Sharpe and housing both schools there in a long time established upper NW much safer neighborhood. No credible school system treats its most vulnerable population in this manner. Loosing your school is bad enough but robbing students of their long term teachers/principals/school staff who have been vital to their achievement is not in our students' best interest. I'm with Asuquo, somebody has to speak up for the children.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping us informed about what's happening in DCPS.

Glad to see you blogging regularly.

BCC said...

Most of the students at Sharpe are coming from Wards 7 and 8. Moving to River Terrace and shortening their commute should be a good thing.