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Local: Education

D.C. school closings push parents to charter schools

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Photo - Washington, DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee announces her departure with Mayor Fenty and Mayor Elect Gray and her interim replacement Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson, pictured, at a press conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC on Tuesday October 12, 2010.

Andrew Harnik/Examiner
Washington, DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee announces her departure with Mayor Fenty and Mayor Elect Gray and her interim replacement Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson, pictured, at a press conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC on Tuesday October 12, 2010. Andrew Harnik/Examiner
Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye

The announcement that Francis-Stevens Education Campus in D.C.'s West End neighborhood could close caused Sarah Reece to start looking at the city's public charter schools for her two sons.

If her sons remain in a traditional public school next year, they will go to Marie Reed Elementary School, which is not close enough to where the family lives to be feasible, Reece said at the D.C. Public Charter School Expo on Saturday.

Reece is one of many parents looking for alternatives to D.C. Public Schools after Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson proposed closing 20 schools at the end of the academic year. At no cost to District residents, charter schools are many parents' first choice.

Source: D.C. Public Charter School Board

D.C. charter school enrollment
Year Enrollment
2000-2001 9,626
2001-2002 10,651
2002-2003 11,600
2003-2004 13,575
2004-2005 15,163
2005-2006 17,343
2006-2007 19,662
2007-2008 21,743
2008-2009* 25,363
2009-2010 27,508
2010-2011 29,366
2011-2012 31,562
2012-2013 35,018
*In 2008, then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced the closing of 23 D.C. public schools, likely accounting for some of the higher-than-usual increase in charter school enrollment that year. Also that year, Center City, a group of Catholic schools, became public charter schools, adding 1,448 new students to the D.C. Public Charter School system.

D.C. at-large Councilmember David Catania had barely arrived at Saturday's expo when he saw parents of a student whose school is slated to close.

"They're here hoping their school doesn't close, but in the event that it does, they're looking for an alternative," he said.

Henderson said she plans to release the final list of school closings next week. The application deadline for more than 85 charter schools is March 15.

Meanwhile, some charter schools are preparing for an increase in applications.

With five schools slated to close in its ward, Friendship Public Charter School's Woodridge Elementary and Middle Campus is trying to communicate with parents looking for options, said Principal Rictor Craig. Though the school does not have plans to increase enrollment, they are considering shifting students around to accommodate more students within their existing space.

D.C.'s charter schools are expecting a roughly 10 percent increase in enrollment next year, but that jump is a fairly standard increase for a year when the District is not closing schools, said D.C. Public Charter School Board Executive Director Scott Pearson. Much of that increase comes from four new charter schools opening their doors in the fall and numerous schools adding new grade levels.

Still, he said, the application process probably will be more competitive than usual. After then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced plans to close 23 D.C. public schools in 2008, charter school enrollment rose by 16.6 percent, compared with 10.6 percent the previous year and 8.5 percent the year after.

While not all parents of soon-to-be-displaced D.C. public school students are excited about charter schools, some say they don't have many options.

"Honestly, I don't really know what I'm going to do if Garrison [Elementary School] closes," said Ann McLeod, PTA president at the Logan Circle school. Getting a spot in a charter school will be tough, she said, but she doesn't want to send her son to Seaton Elementary School -- the D.C. Public Schools alternative -- "on principle."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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