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Home​NewsPotential Pairing of Miner and Maury Elementaries Remains On Table

Potential Pairing of Miner and Maury Elementaries Remains On Table

The Deputy Mayor of Education (DME) has reached the point in their Boundary and Student Assignment Study where recommendations are being made that impact specific schools. This is part of a reexamination of feeder patterns and school boundaries required by DC law every ten years. The last boundary study took place in 2013.

On Dec. 20, DME and the Advisory Committee announced that the bulk of recommendations affecting Hill schools were off the table, including boundary changes that could have affected Brent Elementary School, the Cluster Schools and Payne Elementary School.

However, probably the most contentious idea remains under consideration.

That’s a proposal to recommend that Miner and Maury elementaries be paired into a single elementary school located in two different buildings.

The paired school proposal is intended to reduce racial and socio-economic disparities between the two schools. To do that, the two schools would be “paired” into a single school operating in two buildings. The result would be something like the Cluster School —with Miner serving grades from pre-K3 to 2 and Maury serving grades 3 through 5.

The idea has raised strong opinions within the school communities and the surrounding neighborhoods. Hundreds have signed on to each: a community petition in opposition to the pairing and a community petition in support of the idea.

DME says they are working with parent organization leadership to present new information to families in the two school communities and to collect additional feedback via a new survey.

Miner Elementary School (601 15 St. NE). Photo: E. O’Gorek/CCN
Maury Elementary School (1250 Constitution, Ave. NE). Photo: E.O’Gorek/CCN

Side By Side

Although only about a half a mile apart, if one goes by the data the two schools are extremely different. Miner is a Title 1 school, meaning that 40 percent or more of the students qualify for the federal free lunch program. (Maury Elementary was a Title 1 school until the 2013-2014 school year).

For the 2022-23 school year, at-risk enrollment at Maury in 2022-23 is 12 percent and at Miner, 64 percent.

Other gaps have also widened. The population living in-bounds for Maury is 25 percent Black, while those living in Miner boundaries are 73 percent Black. Maury’s student population is 21 percent Black while 80 percent of the students at Miner identify as Black.

Far more students living in boundary for Maury attend their school than is the case for Miner’s eligible population. 64 percent of students living in-boundary for Maury are attending their boundary school; only 26 percent of Miner students living in bounds attend their school.

Speaking at a meeting for the Maury community on Nov. 28, DME Director of Planning and Analysis Jennifer Comey said there are 44 pairs of adjacent elementary schools in the District with a difference of more than 25 percentage points in at-risk student enrollment between them.

For most of those, 37 pairs, the difference is less than 50 percent. But for seven, the difference is 50 percent or more.

Of those seven, Comey said Miner and Maury are the only pair without a geographic barrier (such as a busy highway) preventing a cluster solution. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said that’s why more racially segregated schools in Northwest were not being clustered to increase diversity.

Modelling results for a paired school presented to Miner Elementary by DME Dec. 19, 2023. https://dme.dc.gov/node/1693206

Parent Reaction

In meetings with school communities in November and December of 2023, some parents asked DME why the individual school boundaries could not be more “surgically redrawn” to address the issues.

DME tells the Hill Rag that in the past month, they and their technical team have tested out different school boundary configurations, some of which may help address the challenge. But they note that some of those potential new boundaries “have inequitable impacts regarding travel distances that make them not strong candidates for recommendation.”

DME said they will share this analysis during the parent organization meetings with the two schools, scheduled for Feb. 6 and Feb. 15.

DME has been collecting responses to the idea since it was first presented at a meeting with Maury Elementary Nov. 28. They say many families and residents have recognized the challenge evident by extreme differences at the two schools in the share of at-risk enrollment. Some families find the idea of paring the schools disruptive and logistically challenging, they add, and wonder how this enrollment policy idea addresses supporting strong academic outcomes at both schools. “Others believe that the idea has merit and are supportive of exploring the idea with intentional planning, strong leadership, and dedicated school community engagement,” DME said.

“Many families have questions about how this could be implemented, and we want to stress that any idea such as this would require a long-term, intentional planning process ultimately led by DC Public Schools (DCPS),” said a DME representative.

Frustration

Both school communities have complaints about the way the proposal to pair the schools was presented. In December, parent organization from Miner and Maury authored a joint letter to DME to express “deep frustration with the process, timeline, and rollout of the Deputy Mayor for Education’s (DME) Boundary Study recommendations”.

“The lack of detail and meaningful engagement, in addition to the rushed timeline, hinders the ability of our communities to understand, let alone make an informed decision to support or oppose, such a change,” reads the joint statement.

At meetings, some parents said that the rollout only mirrored and perpetuated the very inequities that DME was trying to address. As noted, Maury Elementary (1250 Constitution Ave. NE) learned about the idea at a DME-led meeting with the Maury school community held Nov. 28. The Maury PTA reached out to members of the Miner PTO.

Secretary of Miner Elementary (601 15th St. NE) PTO Julie Muir attended the virtual Maury community meeting, noting in the chat that to her knowledge that as of that date, school community had not to that point been informed of any of these plans and that she herself only learned through friends and neighbors with links to Miner.

DME met with the Miner Elementary Local School Advisory Team (LSAT), an elected board of parents and teachers that advises the principal on how to run the school, Dec. 19. Another meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6. But the Miner meeting took place three weeks after the meeting with Maury.

At a Dec. 4 meeting he hosted on the proposal, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) said he had heard from several parents about this problem. “I think that it really undermines some of the concerns that you’ve outlined of your goals overall and I definitely want to respect the Miner community’s concerns,” he told Kihn Dec. 4.

In response, Kiihn said that DME “heard the feedback and we take it on board.”

But Kihn deflected some responsibility, saying that had DME reached out to the schools simultaneously, noting the DME usually works through principals as primary point of contact. However, Miner Principal Lawrence Dance stepped down from his role Nov. 27, the day before the Maury meeting. “The Miner leadership change really stalled us.”

Schools near to one another with strikingly different perecent in at-risk student enrollment. From Dec. 19 DME presentation to Miner Elementary. https://dme.dc.gov/node/1688576

At-Risk Set Aside?

Some meeting attendees were also frustrated by the fact that the paired school idea was presented as the principal option. In initial presentations DME did note one possible alternative to the paired school proposal: implementing at-risk seat reservation for schools where at-risk students account for 30 percent or lower enrollment.

But that idea was presented with far less framing in initial meetings than the idea of paired schools. Parents attending a Dec. 14 town hall expressed dismay when DME Director of Planning and Analysis Jennifer Comey gave modeling for multiple Hill schools, but had not yet modeled Maury and Miner.

That analysis has now been completed. In modeling data shared with the Hill Rag, the DME technical team estimates that the applied set aside would increase Maury’s at-risk enrollment from 12% to 25%, “closer to the 30% target without increasing overall enrollment.”

If the at-risk set aside is recommended, the policy would also apply to other schools meeting the below 30% at-risk enrollment across the District. This includes Capitol Hill schools like Brent ES (6% at-risk enrollment in SY22-23), Capitol Hill Montessori (21%), Ludlow Taylor (17%), Peabody (13%), School within a School (13%), and Watkins (28%).

DME said the policy should not increase enrollment at any school because the set aside would be applied to the same number of lottery seats that the school otherwise planned to offer. It would also not interfere with current in-boundary rights for students.

For DCPS neighborhood schools offering PK3 and PK4, the current situation at both Miner and Maury, the policy would apply only to in-boundary students meeting the at-risk designation. It would not apply to out-of-boundary at-risk PK students. DME said that policy is designed to avoid enrollment pressures when by-right kindergarten students later enroll.

Parent Organization Statements

Neither of the two parent organizations has taken a stand in favor or against the paired school concept. The two have regularly communicated since the idea was first presented in November.

In a statement shared with the Hill Rag Jan. 22, Miner Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) leadership said they appreciated subsequent communication from DME but said that many outstanding questions remain.

“Within our school, as well as the broader community in which we sit, there are a diversity of opinions and questions on the proposed DME recommendations and as a representative organization we do not believe that we have the consensus that would be required for the PTO to take a position on any of them in particular, or on the community-led petitions regarding the merger proposal,” the statement reads. If the proposal moves forward, the PTO noted, DME should ensure the merger is shaped in deliberate consultation with both school communities.
The Miner statemnet concludes, “We all share a common goal of creating quality education opportunities for the diverse set of learners at each school and adequately meeting their needs requires genuine listening to their needs as the details of such a proposal were determined.”

In a statement, the Maury Parent Teacher Association (PTA) co-presidents echoed many of these sentiments.

“Our school harbors diverse views, reflecting the varied perspectives of our parents, teachers, and staff, and we respect that diversity of opinions,” they wrote. “The PTA’s focus is not on advocating for or against the paired model specifically as the best way to achieve those shared goals of diversity and inclusion. Our role in this process has been to share information and push for more analysis and consideration by the DME, so that parents can make their own informed decisions.”

Referencing the joint Maury PTA-Miner PTO letter to DME, the Maury statement reiterated a commitment to diversity in District schools and to a high-quality education for all. But Maury’s PTA expressed concern with the way in which the proposals for the two schools have been rolled out. “Unlike other schools, the DME presented Maury and Miner with a single proposal, rather than a suite of options to examine and consider,” they noted. “Since then, the DME has been exploring other options for our schools, including redrawing the boundaries and an At Risk Set Aside.”

The PTA will continue to champion a cooperative approach, the statement concluded, to acheive best outcomes “through open dialogue, mutual understanding, and thoughtful analysis,” adding they are “committed to advocating for a transparent and equitable process that takes our community’s considerations into account.”

What’s Next

Time is short. While DME says the plans are not final and conversation is open, they are trying to determine which recommendations they will put in their final report over the next month.

DME is set to appear before both the Miner PTO and the Maury PTA. They say the goal is to submit final recommendations to the mayor for approval by March 2024. While many changes accepted from the report would go into effect at start of SY2025, DME says pairing the two schools would require several years of planning and engagement with the communities, athough they did not give a timeline.

There is still some time to provide input. You do not have to attend the schools to give your views; statements all members of the community are welcome.

Continue providing feedback to DME at https://www.dcschoolboundaryexplorer.com/ where you can leave comments. There is also a form on the DME website: look under “Community Feedback” at https://dme.dc.gov/node/1644431.

Sign the community petition in opposition to the pairing and a community petition in support of the idea. You can read op-eds from the authors of the petition in favor here and of the petition in opposition here.

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