Latest D.C. Mayoral plan to keep closed traditional school buildings away from charters: open early-childhood centers

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed on Friday that next fall the former DCPS Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School will become an early-childhood center teaching approximately 30 kids from age birth to three years old. Bright Beginnings, a nonprofit company described by Ms. Stein as experienced in working with homeless children, will manage the program. From the organization’s website:

“Bright Beginnings was established in 1990 by the Junior League of Washington to provide quality childcare to families experiencing homelessness in Washington, DC. For over 29 years, Bright Beginnings has helped thousands of children experiencing homelessness by providing them and their families with quality care and support during times of hardship and transition. In 2014, Bright Beginnings pioneered the first home-based program in the country with the sole focus of supporting families impacted by the trauma of homelessness. Through programs such as this, Bright Beginnings staff have provided hundreds of Washingtonians living in shelters and transitional housing with important high-quality family and educational support.”

The location, according to Ms. Stein, will also include a preschool program for about 100 three and four-year olds that DCPS will administer.

The Steven School was closed more than a decade ago due to low attendance. This is the third plan for the site, which should have been turned over to charter schools in 2008 as a surplus property. Although the city has a plethora of under-enrolled schools that can be utilized if needed to create early-childhood centers, it appears the strategy now is to convert other vacant buildings for this purpose, slamming the door on charters who desperately need these properties. From the article:

“While the stand-alone early-childhood center will be novel, the city already has three infant and early-toddler centers at existing elementary schools. The idea with those existing centers is that children can attend the same school for the first decade of their lives. United Planning Organization — a community agency founded in 1962 to bring programs to the District’s low-income residents — operates those early-childhood centers.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said stand-alone campuses such as Stevens can offer more slots than co-located programs by having a campus solely dedicated to the city’s youngest learners. The stand-alone campuses can also provide professional development opportunities for preschool teachers.”

Ms. Stein announced the charter school facility blockade campaign as part of her reporting:

“The Bowser administration said it has dedicated $52 million to create similar stand-alone childhood facilities at three other closed schools. Next up: The city is in the early stages of transforming the former Marshall Elementary School in Northeast Washington into an early-childhood center.”

Steven has an fascinating history. According to the National Park Service:

“Named for  Pennsylvania Congressman and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, the four-story brick school was built in 1868 for Black students. The emancipation of slaves in 1863 and the abolition of slavery in 1865 resulted in huge numbers of freed African Americans in need of basic services such as education. The Stevens school was built to accommodate this influx of students in a racially segregated city.”

The Washington Post editorial writer Colbert King attended Stevens when he was growing up. It’s now almost exactly 20 years since he and I sat in his newspaper’s conference room to discuss providing school choice to our city’s children. Mr. King is a brave man. He is just the individual to make a strong argument in his newspaper that the failure of our Mayor to follow the law regarding turning shuttered DCPS buildings over to charters is doing an injustice to our children. It is also not right.

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