“a line in the sandbox” (6/16) seemedout of the National Enquirer, full of sensational negative stereotypes. Ryan Grim lied when he labeled the parents who tried to reform Ross Elementary as “wealthy,” because that fed your paper’s stereotype of selfish rich people preying on the poor. But rich families would not even give public education a second thought.
Grim also lied when he said we were gentrifiers. I have lived near 17th Street for 25 years. The other in-boundary parents whom Grim wrote about are all 20-year residents of Dupont Circle. When our families began to include young children who needed to start school, we naturally turned to Ross for our children’s education.
Ninety percent of Ross’ students come from out-of-boundary. This happened because Dupont Circle was a predominantly gay neighborhood and singles Mecca for 30 years, and in order for Ross to remain open, it had to recruit heavily from out-of-boundary, bringing in mostly Latino immigrant children. About 10 years ago, the demographics shifted: More straight women moved into the neighborhood, and about five years later, Dupont Circle began to experience a baby boom.
In 2004, I first stepped foot inside Ross. What I saw disturbed me: 4- and 5-year-olds learning colors and numbers for the first time—the same things my 20-month-old was learning at her day-care center down the street. It appeared Ross’ pre-K students were two years behind nationally accredited standards. Five months later, fellow parent Dan Putterman arranged a meeting between in-boundary parents and Ross principal Gloria Smith. I asked Smith if Ross could use the same curriculum currently used at top-ranking Mann Elementary (Mann’s reading test score was 78 percent compared to Ross’ 47 percent). Smith said no, because the curriculum at Mann was expensive. We offered to raise funds to pay for it, but Smith said that even if we did, students and teachers at Ross were not prepared academically and culturally to use it—over the years, Ross has cultivated a faculty that is experienced at teaching unprepared Hispanic immigrant children. There was simply no room at the inn for the more prepared children of in-boundary parents.
Grim also casually dismissed our efforts to found a charter school. We laboriously built from the ground up the excellent “at-grade-level” school our neighborhood and its children need. We designed Dupont Circle International Academy (DCIA) by modeling the best practices from the highest-performing elementary schools in the country. We chose the world-renowned International Baccalaureate curriculum. The foreign language would be Chinese immersion to better prepare our children for the global realities of the 21st century. Cynthia Messinger, the curriculum expert and charter-school-applications editor at charter-school consultant FOCUS, said, “DCIA’s education plan is the best I have read in years!”
If the decision to award a charter had been based strictly on merit, then DCIA would have won hands down. Unfortunately, we learned that granting charters in D.C. is a very political process. Charter-school-board staffers and consultants wanted us to modify our International Baccalaureate curriculum. We were aghast that we would have to dumb down our IB program to mollify agenda-driven politicians. DCIA didn’t apply for a charter again because the parents in our group unanimously decided not to change the curriculum, which would jeopardize the school’s ability to get IB accreditation. Our new DCIA will be a private co-op school. We won’t have to change a thing, except to find a way to pay for it out of our own pockets.
When he was reporting the article, Grim asked me to respond to Principal Smith’s quote that Putterman and I “could have destroyed” Ross Elementary. I said I wasn’t interested in a personality fight, but that, for the record, if Ross used the same curriculum as Mann or Lafayette Elementary, then I would have my daughter attending Ross in a heartbeat, and so would my in-boundary neighbors. I was disappointed Grim and his editor failed to include my point, but I guess if the Washington City Paper had printed my quote, it would have ruined your tabloid’s scheme of trying to turn this into a nasty personality fight.
The headline used on your cover was a lie. There was no attempt by me or anyone to “take over” Ross Elementary. Looking back, I think we took the high ground. We’re in-boundary parents. By legal rights, Ross is supposed to first meet the academic needs of our children, the residents who live within Ross’ geographic boundary. But we weren’t interested in confrontation. We investigated and asked for change, the principal closed the door in our face, so we moved on in another direction and never looked back.
For people like Principal Smith, if you don’t like the message that Ross has low test scores and a below-grade-level curriculum, you shoot the messenger—and thanks to Ryan Grim, that’s what happened to me.