Parents and teachers at School Without Walls Senior High School are upset that they were not included in the D.C. school system's decision to merge the District's top-performing high school with the underenrolled Francis-Stevens Education Campus.
Francis-Stevens, which serves students in preschool through eighth grade, was on the original list of 20 schools that DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson proposed to close in June. In response, parents developed a plan to improve academic programs and bolster enrollment from 218 students this year to 294 next year and eventually 464 -- 54 above the school's intended capacity -- in the 2016-2017 school year.
Two weeks ago, Henderson announced that Francis-Stevens will stay open and become School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens, the name given on DCPS's out-of-boundary lottery that opened this week.
Francis-Stevens will continue to guarantee seats to neighborhood students, while Walls will continue accepting students from across the District through an application process. The high school will increase its ninth-grade enrollment, and Walls Principal Richard Trogisch will oversee both schools.
The news came as a shock to Walls parents and teachers, who have complained that not only were they not given any warning or choice in the matter, but unlike parents at schools slated to close, they were not given a chance to discuss the change with DCPS.
"This is the biggest change in School Without Walls since its inception," said Carlton Ackerman, a social studies teacher and head of Walls' Local School Advisory Team.
Details regarding how the new joint school will work have not been announced, and most are still being sorted out, said Melissa Salmanowitz, Henderson's spokeswoman.
For many parents, the first details of the merger -- like the possibility that juniors will take classes at Francis-Stevens' campus about a mile away two days a week -- came out at a meeting Monday with the 10th-grade class. The students "booed" the idea, said Home and School Association Vice President Diana Rojas, whose son is a 10th-grader.
On the Francis-Stevens side of things, many parents are happy about the new affiliation with Walls.
"We're happy that it's staying open in whatever capacity, but I think everybody is pretty optimistic that it's going to sort of raise the bar for where our elementary education is going," said Sarah Reece, whose two sons attend Francis-Stevens. "By having the association with the School Without Walls name ... it's going to make it look like we're also an academically excellent school."
But many Walls parents feel that the benefits are one-sided.
As the association with the "Walls brand" helps increase enrollment at Francis-Stevens, any extra space for Walls students at the lower school's campus will shrink, Rojas said. "I kind of resent the fact that we're going to be negatively impacted by their plan while their school is saved."