Last year, DC’s Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) began its decennial Boundary and Student Assignment Study to assess and redraw DC Public School boundaries across the city. A final report of recommendations from this process is due to the mayor this March; recommendations approved by the mayor will take effect throughout DCPS no earlier than school year 2025-26.
For the first time ever, the latest Boundary Study has explicitly adopted a powerful goal: “affirmatively advancing racial and socioeconomic equity in public schools in Washington, DC.”
One of the most compelling ideas on the table to do so is a proposal that would pair together two neighborhood schools in Northeast DC: Miner Elementary (601 15th St. NE) and Maury Elementary (1250 Constitution Ave. NE). If this idea is implemented, DC would finally address a troubling pattern of racial and socioeconomic segregation that has been allowed to persist between the two schools for years — one rooted in DC’s dark history of redlining and housing discrimination. Beyond taking a step forward to right past wrongs, this pairing idea offers something more: an opportunity to lift all students at the two schools, particularly at-risk kids.
Miner and Maury are only a short, four block walk from one another down tree-lined Tennessee Avenue. The schools draw students from the same neighborhoods, the northeasternmost portion of Capitol Hill, Rosedale, and Kingman Park. The only geographic barriers between them are a few stop signs.
But the degree of segregation between them is embarrassingly stark: 80 percent of Miner students are Black and 64 percent are considered “at risk” by DCPS; by comparison, only 20 percent of Maury students are Black and just 12 percent are considered “at risk”.
The shared border between the two schools’ attendance zones runs along D Street NE. Perversely, the same stretch of D Street also once served as an unofficial border between blocks to the south (today in-bounds for Maury) that excluded Black residents through racially restrictive housing covenants and those to the north (today in-bounds for Miner) that did not, including the historically Black Kingman Park neighborhood.
Pairing the schools amounts to erasing this shameful invisible dividing line by pooling the two schools’ students together into a common attendance zone. One building (Miner) would serve students in early grades, likely grade PK-3 to grade 2, and the other (Maury) would serve students in later grades, likely grade 3 to grade 5. Such an arrangement has precedent: on the other side of Capitol Hill, Peabody and Watkins elementary schools have successfully functioned in a paired model like this for years.
Not only would integrating Miner and Maury’s attendance zones eliminate racial and socioeconomic differences between the two schools, it would create enormous potential to lift all students’ performance, particularly for at-risk children. Numerous studies have demonstrated the clear benefits of racially and economically diverse schools. Attending racially diverse schools has been shown to be “beneficial to all students and is associated with smaller test score gaps between students of different racial backgrounds.” Students in integrated schools have higher average test scores than students who are not. Integrated classrooms “can improve students’ satisfaction, intellectual self-confidence, and leadership skills.”
Furthermore, integrating the schools would broaden access to new facilities at both buildings. A brand new early learning center and preschool facility is currently under construction in Miner’s historic old building. Renovations to Maury were completed five years ago. Pairing the schools would mean more students could access these updated facilities without any negative impact on school facility capacity constraints.
More incremental changes have been suggested as alternatives, such as setting aside lottery seats in Maury for a limited number of at-risk students. This idea and others like it would have a far narrower impact than pairing the schools, leaving many students behind. No child should have to win a lottery to attend a great quality public school.
The idea of pairing Miner and Maury isn’t a new one, either. A decade ago, when Maury was facing overcrowding and embarking on a renovation, combining the schools was floated as a way to address inequality and facility capacity constraints, but the effort fizzled in the face of some vocal opponents.
This time is different. A community petition launched two weeks ago in support of the pairing idea (which you can read and sign at http://tinyurl.com/pairtheschools) has gathered the support of more than 200 Miner and Maury parents and community members. The data clearly shows that pairing the schools could eliminate racial and socioeconomic disparities between them. The city is explicitly prioritizing racial and socioeconomic equity in their boundary redraw; walking away from the opportunity presented by a paired Miner-Maury would be a rejection of their own stated priorities. If we don’t address these staggering disparities now, then when will we? “Not now” is too often used as a synonym for “never.”
We acknowledge the anxieties of skeptical community members, those still forming opinions, and yes, even opponents of change. We understand that pairing the schools presents a number of implementation challenges and considerations that must be sorted out in months to come. DCPS hasn’t exactly earned a reputation as a paragon of trustworthiness, effectiveness, and efficiency, either.
Instead of seeing unanswered questions as a reason to reject change, let’s see them as an opportunity to define the future. Imagine what can be achieved when we turn all the energy now being spent debating whether change should happen toward determining what exactly a school pairing will look like, and how best to hold accountable those implementing it.
With sustained community engagement and pressure, we can ensure that pairing these schools lives up to its incredible promise, which is to create a learning community that better serves students of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Jeff Giertz and Kelly Murphy are the parents of a Miner kindergartener and a future Miner preschooler. Jeff authored the community petition in support of pairing Miner and Maury elementary schools. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harris and Meredith Parnell are parents to a Maury first grader and a Maury fourth grader.
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