Some folks are so committed to urban living that they stay put even when their kids approach school age. Dan Putterman and his wife, Wynette Yao, saw themselves as members of this hardy lot. Putterman, a writer with a doctorate in molecular biology, also dabbles in real estate. Yao is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. After the birth of their first child, Anton, they resolved to find a local spot to educate their boy. Moving from their longtime Dupont Circle home to the suburbs was not an option.

When Anton was 3, Putterman and Yao were given a private tour of their local public school, John W. Ross Elementary. Putterman was so impressed that he organized an open house at the school, which is located on the 1700 block of R Street NW. Seventy-five parents and one Washington Post reporter showed up for the February 2004 event; Putterman became the focus of the Post article, raving about the school and its principal, Gloria Smith.

“Just the fact that the principal would take time out of her day to give three families a private tour is very telling of the kind of person she is,” Putterman is quoted as saying. “We didn’t want to follow our friends to the suburbs or Upper Northwest,” he says to close out the hopeful tale. He promptly enrolled Anton in pre-kindergarten at Ross.

Putterman and Yao’s visit was part of a collective action among affluent Dupont parents to invest in their neighborhood school. The parents would create a Listserv, recruit other parents, and become involved in the planning of everything from the school’s curriculum to the equipment on its playground. In other words, just the sort of enterprise that schools activists routinely cite as a prerequisite to education reform.

And Ross was the perfect place to start. The surrounding neighborhood is the furthest along in the city in revitalization, undergoing a boom in births and well-stocked with highly educated parents committed to the District. The school itself is small—entire grades average only about 20 kids—with mostly low-income children. Add 10 kids to each class who, like Anton, had been doing flashcards at Bright Horizons since they were old enough to walk, and a new school evolves from the inside out.

But finding a way to educate every child under one roof was more than folks in this racially and economically diverse community was able to handle. In fact, they’re still fighting over the playground.

Pejoratively Speaking

In the early days of Ross’ reinvention, Putterman had an ally for his crusade. At 2:05 a.m. on a spring night in 2004, Dupont Circle resident Gloria Borland, a top adviser to Ross Perot during his 1992 run, set up a Yahoo! group called Dupont Circle Parents and sent a test message at 2:28. By the time Putterman signed up 10 hours later, a dozen parents had already joined. Within days, the Listserv was popping with more than 50 parents, most of them with children no more than 3 years old, anxious about the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system but with an open mind toward it.

These parents were looking for a way to avoid the cost of private school—an expense that, even for kindergarten, can run as much as tuition at a typical private university. But they were also imbued with the blue-tinted sensibilities of Dupont residents, and their belief in public schooling verges on the ideological.The liberal guilt that already afflicts these gentrifiers is compounded by sending little Fletcher off to private school.

Shortly after Putterman’s open house, the parent group began conferring about Ross. From the outside, it seemed to defy the stereotype of the crumbling, chaotic District school. The improving picture at Ross was partly due to an unintended positive consequence of gentrification: Class sizes were tumbling. Smith says she lost 24 students in one shot a few years ago when a nearby building converted to condos. That’s a powerful hit in a school where each grade has only one class. The school had more to offer, though, than just a low student–teacher ratio. In cooperation with the Washington Post about 100 volunteers came by once a week to read with students—one of several programs that took advantage of the school’s resource-rich surroundings.

But as a small public school in an American colony, Ross had its share of problems. The library and cafeteria were old and cramped. The playground was a metallic danger zone that doubled as a parking lot and resulted in regular cuts and scrapes for the kids. There was no physical-education teacher, foreign-language program, or math or science specialist. There was insufficient afterschool care.

None of those problems, though, seemed like anything a determined group of educated and active parents couldn’t take care of. Smith says she introduced Putterman around and placed him on a number of committees to bring him and his group into the community of parents active within Ross. “He was so proud of the school,” says Smith.

Putterman wanted additional opportunities for the Ross kids. He attempted to team up with the D.C. Jewish Community Center (DCJCC) to establish a deal whereby parents could send their kids to aftercare there for about $300 a month, says Dupont Circle Parents member Xin Chen. The DCJCC required a minimum of 10 parents to sign up, so Putterman asked Smith to give him names and numbers for local parents to recruit into the program. Chen says Smith was uninspired by the idea. “The principal wouldn’t give names of parents because she said [the program] was elitist. [Putterman] couldn’t get enough number of kids, and the deal basically fell through because of that,” Chen says.

On the Listserv, Putterman put the failure of the aftercare program at Smith’s feet and wrote that the group should “discourage her from using divisive pejoratives.”

Smith says she’s simply not allowed to give out parents names and addresses but either way, she says, he didn’t have support from the other wealthy parents in the school who could swing the fee. “The other parents who could afford it tabled it and said, ‘Let’s work on something for all the students,’” says Smith. “I didn’t have to [label the idea elitist]—the other parents did.”

Borland, Putterman, and others took particular offense at being labeled elitist. Reverse class discrimination would eventually become the group’s rallying cry. “Please quit making us feel guilty over economic diversity,” wrote Borland in a typical post. “[Smith] wants Ross to remain a haven for poor children.”

Borland opined that Smith’s politically liberal supporters in the community felt the same way—she considered them retired radicals interested only in helping poor kids. That’s partly true, says Deborah Hanrahan, 67, who fits Borland’s description. “I was your garden-variety radical,” she says of her younger self. “I want to help kids who don’t usually get a lift up. That’s not to exclude other children, but the kids who really need it—they’re the ones you want to help,” says Hanrahan, who leads the group Friends of Ross.

Already disappointed by Dupont Circle Parents’ lack of influence and the high concentration of low-income students at the school, Borland finally lost it when she learned Ross’ Stanford 9 math and reading scores. “I just found out that Ross test scores are in the 50’s….this is out of 100! Oh My! I didn’t know it was this BAD!” she wrote. “I’m in shock. When I went to the open house on January, my gut instinct said the academics were not up to par…but I had no idea it was this low.”

A rumor then spread around the neighborhood that Ross had failing test scores. It was not true. The scores referenced by Borland came out in 2004. The school scored 54.61 in math and 47.94 in reading. The tallies placed Ross in the middle of the bell curve and ahead of its neighborhood counterparts, Adams, H.D. Cooke, and Marie Reed.

Whatever the test-score technicalities, Borland and the group would return to the theme again and again as their relationship with Smith deteriorated. The supposedly low scores are still part of the consciousness of parents considering educational options for their children in Dupont Circle.

“A school with test scores in the 50s is not acceptable for my daughter,” wrote Borland.

The Ambush

With tensions on the rise, Putterman organized a meeting between Smith and his parents group at the end of the school year. “The purpose of this meeting,” Putterman wrote on the Listserv, “is to address the school’s inability to take input from in-boundary parents in decision-making, and to provide the principal a chance to meet face-to-face for the first time with affluent in-boundary parents who might be interested in sending their children to the school and who would like to communicate their needs directly to her. The need for this meeting arose this spring following a series of failures to acco[m]modate the needs of in-boundary parents.”

The aftercare flop hit Putterman hard, but he was also having trouble ingratiating himself with Ross parents who were already active in the school, a difficulty that lessened his influence. A failed PTA presidential bid didn’t help. He also felt that Smith had not given him the amount of time he needed to explain to her the concerns of his group.

Smith says he wanted too much. “He wanted all of my time. He’d call a thousand times a day. I have a school to run,” she says. The failures that Putterman cited regarding in-boundary parents, says Smith, were his own fault. “He had this personality that really turned people off. I put him on committees and introduced him around. People couldn’t stand him—even wealthy ones like him. They hated his guts. He was such an arrogant person,” she says.

Along with the power struggle, the meeting’s agenda included the use of the school’s playground by local parents, aftercare, phys-ed, and various other deficiencies the parents wanted addressed before they would send their well-tutored kids into the building.

Putterman and Borland’s ace in the hole, they thought, was Julie Mikuta, the area’s school-board representative at the time. The group planned to bring Mikuta to the meeting as a surprise guest—but Borland accidentally let the word slip.

Intending to send Putterman an e-mail, she sent a message to the entire Listserv instead. “I would hold off on letting Smith know this….Make sure you have Julie on your side and willing to attend this meeting, before you let Smith know you have been in contact with Julie,” she wrote. A quick follow-up message apologized for hitting the wrong button and explained why there was tension between the principal and parents. Word leaked to Smith of Mikuta’s involvement with the group.

Smith says the aborted ambush didn’t sit well with her. “[Mikuta] never called me to say she was coming. If I had been one of the white principals, would she have come in here unannounced?” she wonders, adding that Mikuta later apologized. (Mikuta did not run for re-election and didn’t return calls for this story.)

The June meeting was a debacle. “Do you know how many showed up to support him?” asks Smith. “Three.”

“Dan started out challenging the principal, and she got defensive,” says Chen, who had gone to Putterman’s open house and had enrolled her daughter, Katherine, at Ross for pre-K. “It didn’t go very well. Gloria Smith was basically telling us she had her plans and was not happy parents were challenging her….Dan’s personality is very strong. If you don’t agree with him, he can get very upset. The principal is also very firm, so that didn’t work out.”

Bill Glew, then-head of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, was at the meeting as well. Putterman would later call his attendance “ever not welcome”—and Glew thinks that there was little common ground between the two sides. “The school exists to serve all of the children, and I frankly didn’t get the sense that Dan in particular appreciated that,” says Glew.

Putterman went silent on the Listserv. When he finally chimed back in, his post was a mix of reflection and stock-taking. “After our meeting with Gloria Smith last Thursday I felt pretty deflated, so I’ve kept my peace over the weekend, thinking about what to say,” he wrote. “I’d characterize the results of this meeting as meager, but at least we managed to get the principal to sit down with affluent in-boundary parents for the first time ever.”

That wasn’t enough. Putterman announced that the time had now come—four months after his love note to Smith in the Washington Post—for the principal to go. He shared his plans to involve Mikuta and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans in the plot. When asked about the conceived putsch in a recent interview, Putterman says no action toward her termination was taken and that he was “just floating a balloon.”

Putterman wrote that it was also time to schedule another meeting—“WITHOUT [Smith] surrounding herself with allies, which is one of the defenses she uses…we need someone other than me to take the lead on this.”

A Haven for Poor Kids

Brandon Rubio, 5, wakes up each morning in a Logan Circle low-income apartment building just outside of Ross Elementary’s boundary. He walks to school early with his mother, Dora Mejia-Rubio, so he can play soccer before the day starts.

Having kids like Brandon on the rolls accomplishes something of a budgetary coup for a school like Ross. He comes from a low-income family, as defined by his free-lunch status, and he’s a native Spanish speaker. For each of those considerations, the school system’s funding formula gives an extra $416 and $2,380, respectively. The school also gets free labor. Mejia-Rubio volunteers as an aid in the kindergarten classroom each morning until about 11:30, when she leaves for work at the nearby Italian Kitchen. Brandon’s father, Luis Garcia, a former pro soccer player with the Guatemalan club El Chaparron, volunteers as the school’s soccer coach. Garcia and Mejia-Rubio have nothing but positive things to say about the education Brandon is getting. “He’s learned to read; he’s learned to write; he’s good at drawing and music,” says Garcia.

Brandon, too, enjoys the school and says that Smith has instilled a sense that the kids better behave. “She’s nice, but she watches on the camera,” he says. “I cannot sit with my friend Jason because we talk too much. And me and Luis. And me and Daniel.”

According to the school’s test scores, Brandon came in reading 10 “nonsense” words—words that must be sounded out because of their unfamiliarity—per minute. He’s now reading 30. “He has very good word-attack skills. He is naturally a very intelligent child,” says kindergarten teacher Jacqueline Lee. “I feel like he’s learned a lot this year. He’s getting good at his coping skills.” She adds that he is banned from sitting next to Jason, Luis, and Daniel only on especially hyper occasions.

Ross is full of Brandon Rubios. Of its 135 students, 55 percent receive free lunch and another 15 percent get reduced lunch prices, according to DCPS spokesperson Roxanne Evans. Eighty-three percent come from out of boundary. As of December 2005, according to numbers proudly displayed on the school’s walls, 39 percent of the school was African-American, 44 percent Latino, and 9 percent Asian/Pacific Islander. The poster claims a white student population of 13 and an American Indian cohort of one.

The diversity poster is part of what the parent group came to rail against. To them, the discovery of a weighted funding system that benefited schools with big minority populations became the clear motive behind the shoddy treatment the group thought Smith gave rich parents.

It all made perfect sense. Of course a principal of an underfunded public school would rather take children that are worth more money than the neighborhood ones. “The out-of-boundary kids bring in twice as much money. She didn’t want too many of us there because it would mean less money,” says Borland. Christopher McKeon, a member of the group who later ran unsuccessfully for the school board in the fall of 2004, says, “At Ross, to add insult to injury, it really catered to the out-of-boundary students, so the in-boundary parents were considered second-class citizens. All the funding came from the out-of-boundary students.”

What’s more, they argued that Smith—and DCPS administration in general—didn’t really want parents to be involved. Wealthy parents make demands.

An extension of the charge that the parents were discriminated against based on class was the assertion that accepting large numbers of low-income, out-of-boundary students forced the school to teach a remedial curriculum. Students at Ross, claimed the group, were well behind grade level in reading and math.

Neighborhood parent Maureen Diner says the anti-Ross campaign did real damage to its reputation. “If you sling mud, some sticks. It was just ugly, crazy stuff, but they never, ever spent time at the school,” she says.

Smith says she realized it had taken a final turn for the worse when she read the Listserv and saw the vitriol directed her way. “It was not pretty. I did contact a lawyer about suing them for slander—and I was told I could win—for the whole thing about me being uncomfortable with white people and the school being remedial.” (Smith did not sue; she says she didn’t want to drag the community through such a lawsuit.)

The campaign to brand Ross as a remedial school had an impact on enrollment. Parents heard test-score horror stories and that Ross was a substandard school with a principal uninterested in working with local parents. Chen estimates at least 10 affluent couples decided not to send their kids to Ross because of the scuttlebutt. DCPS enrollment figures show a 10 percent drop from the 2001-2002 to the 2003-2004 academic year. The decline in enrollment, says Smith, cost the school six staff members.

The Ross-bashing was bad for morale, too, says Stephen Landberg, who teaches English as a second language at Ross. “It was stressful for the teachers, because we’re always trying to [improve the curriculum] anyway. We’re always adjusting. I took it as a personal affront,” he says.

Kathleen Finn, a neighborhood parent with two boys, 5 and 2, says the rumors were enough to keep her away. “I had a plan to visit it, but I never really got around to it. I had heard that there was a sort of history with Ross in the neighborhood, and I saw the students and saw the test scores,” says Finn. “This is just hearsay, but I heard that parents approached the school [to] see if they could work with the school and do fundraising and help out in other ways, and people were disappointed that it didn’t work out.”

Satisfied that Ross was not an option, Finn, Borland, and several others from Dupont Circle Parents—minus Putterman—decided to open their own charter school. They named mayoral candidate Michael Brown to their board and applied for funding for a school with an International Baccalaureate curriculum and a Chinese immersion program.

Smith and other parents suspect that the campaign against Ross was a way to build support for the charter effort. By saying that the local school is dysfunctional beyond repair, the need for a charter school becomes obvious. “They thought they’d get the backing of people for their little school by bringing Ross down,” says Smith. “Those two people—Gloria Borland and Dan Putterman—if it hadn’t been for our established reputation, they could have destroyed us.”

The Battle Broadens

Having failed in his frontal assault on the school itself, Putterman narrowed his aim to the playground. Using the seat Smith had given him on the playground committee, he pushed hard for “toddler elements,” including a sandbox, to be added to a new recreation design.

The effort to rehab the Ross playground had been under way for several months before Putterman became involved, primarily guided by Diner, whose son, Elliot, is a kindergartner at Ross—and, says Diner, a “Perrier addict.” The Diner family is the type that the parent group claims Smith had no interest in working with—wealthy, involved parents whose kids didn’t fall into any categories that could bring in extra cash. Diner and her husband, Geoffrey Diner, own a high-end Dupont gallery. Elliot’s older brother, Ethan, just finished second grade at the $20,000-per-year Sheridan School in Van Ness.

But children of the wealthy can bring cash to public schools in other ways. With a lot of energy and a name in the community, Diner set out to find funds for the playground. She spoke with community activists and parents who had successfully rehabbed Bancroft Elementary’s playground. “I was told, whatever you do, just start planning as if you have the money and the money will follow,” she says. She enlisted other parents and Hanrahan’s Friends of Ross and was eventually able to corral $350,000 in funding from various public and private sources.

Seventy thousand of that came from a grant written by Noreen O’Connor, the project’s treasurer and the mother of Daniel O’Connor Hancuff. The grant asked the District Department of Health for an eco-friendly soccer field that allows stormwater to drain directly through it, simultaneously recharging the neighborhood’s groundwater and minimizing runoff into storm drains.

Hanrahan has been working with the school since her now-32-year-old twins went there. She says that the duo of Diner and O’Connor were unstoppable in the playground push, but that if Smith hadn’t been open to working with parents, it never would have happened. An early experience with the principal, she says, is indicative of how open she is. Hanrahan, whose group founded a Christmas-tree sale that raises thousands each year for the school, says she walked into Smith’s office and said, “I’ve got $20,000 in the bank, and I’d like to fix your library.” Some principals, she says, are nervous about such outside help. “Fine,” Hanrahan recalls Smith telling her. “Without a good principal, we never would have gotten that playground. Most would have objected to no parking or no playground for a year, but Gloria never balked,” says Hanrahan.

The playground is the picture of contemporary concern for children’s safety. Gone are the sharp, rusty edges that once scraped character into Ross kids. Gone is the traffic pattern that sent cars directly through the playground. Gone is the asphalt that didn’t forgive the typical tumble. In their place is a rubbery surface softer than some mattresses and a collection of ergonomically designed equipment.

While injuries have plummeted since its opening, the playground’s impact on the community has not been so gentle. Early on in the process, parents leading the rehab project encountered opposition they hadn’t counted on: Neighbors objected to the noise the children’s play would make and wanted its public-access hours restricted. Tugging at Smith’s other arm, Putterman and his group wanted nearly unlimited public access for non-Ross children.

Jeff Wise is the condo-association president of the Pierre, a building directly across the street. He says that his constituents worried that the playground would disrupt the block’s ambience if it went unrestricted. “Not only would there be the sound of children during the week, but a lot of people had strong feelings about having to hear that during the weekends, the only time of the week we had peace and quiet,” he says. “I invite you to come live in my apartment and subject yourself to this every day.”

Wise says that when he approached the parents and the school, his building’s concerns were dismissed. “They were just so offended that anyone would want to regulate a playground,” he says.

At this stage, another of Dupont’s various cultural divides crept into the deliberations on Ross. “They wanted to polarize it and make it simple: ‘Single, gay people hate kids,’” says Wise, who is gay and estimates that about 60 percent of his building is also gay, down from close to 100 percent a few years ago.

Scott Henrichsen, a Pierre resident, occasionally confronts parents about use of the playground and the children’s noise. “I’ve tried to be very polite, and I’ve been met with some pretty offensive reactions, from ‘You fags don’t have any children; you don’t understand’ to being ignored. I don’t make much of a deal of it. I do recognize there are a limited number of places for children to play,” he says.

To try to end the turf battle, Putterman negotiated with Wise and the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and a deal was struck: No public access on weekends and holidays before noon. If Ross is using it or in session, non-Ross kids can’t join the fun.

ANC Commissioner Bob Meehan says the residents’ objections were to more than just noise. “The underlying argument was: ‘Why should this school still be here? Where are these kids coming from anyway? We want things that are more supporting of our needs,’” he says. Though the building’s demands bordered on farcical, says Meehan, his commission agreed to them anyway. “They wanted earth tones for playground grounds, a historic fence, 4-foot trees—we took all that seriously,” he says.

Putterman and Borland, though, kept insisting on a sandbox. “They almost torpedoed the project because they weren’t getting their way….They became belligerent and starting sending these e-mails,” says Meehan. “The principal—here’s someone who never heard a nasty word from parents being vilified as incompetent, all for a sandbox.”

There would be no sandbox. And that would mark the end of Putterman’s involvement. After two decades in Dupont Circle, he sold his house and moved his family out to Bethesda so that Anton could go to a Montgomery County school.

Putterman won’t talk about his move or the drama that led up to it, other than to say, “We couldn’t make the D.C. public schools work for us.”

Learn. Aspire. Be.

Dupont parent activists sunk about a year into their charter-school project. The curriculum they came up with heavily stressed the idea that the school would teach “at grade level”—emphasizing the Chinese immersion and IB curriculum. Weaved into the application were swipes at Ross and DCPS for providing remedial-style education. In June 2005, the application was shot down.

Thomas Nida, chair of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, says the board was impressed by the innovative proposal but that it was not fully developed. “Charter schools not only have to have their particular curriculum focus, but that focus needs to be integrated into a well-developed general curriculum that meets D.C. education standards, with an acceptable accountability plan that defines what results will be achieved and how those results will be measured,” he says, adding that he had expected they would reapply this year, but they didn’t. “It would be nice to have kids who can speak Mandarin, but they need to develop good reading and math skills as well.”

The dismissal was a blow to Dupont Circle Parents. But Gloria Borland doesn’t give up easily. For the bargain price of $12,000 per year, this coming fall parents can send their kids to the private Dupont Circle School, founded largely by the effort of Borland, who handed the charter-school application to GEMS Education, a company that opens and operates private schools. (Motto: “Learn. Aspire. Be.”)

But the unity with which the original group operated is gone. Putterman says he played no role in the charter-school application. Others on the charter school’s board and in the parent group are sending their kids elsewhere. Chen’s daughter Katherine is enrolled at the well-regarded Murch Elementary. Though Kathleen Finn’s boy Hunter Sodurlund, 5, is on the list for Borland’s private school, he got into West Elementary, and Finn is leaning toward the public school. David Akridge, who quit the Dupont Circle Parents group but was on the charter-school board, is giving serious thought to Ross for his son Max, who is only 2. Other parents, he says, simply moved out to Virginia or Maryland.

Chen, reflecting on her involvement with the Putterman group, thinks that the rookie parents were looking for something that doesn’t exist. “Maybe we just had too high of expectations. After all this—a year and a half—my daughter’s in public school, and you have twenty kids in a class and the teachers don’t have the energy for individual attention. Forget about it. You’re not getting that,” she says.

And if you can’t get that in public school or private school, some parents figure, there’s no reason to bother with the thousands in tuition. Diner is taking Ethan out of Sheridan and bringing him back to Ross for third grade. “I moved him out [of Ross after first grade] because I had the Washington flu that you get where you think the grass is greener on the other side. Your child is excelling, you think, so he should be in private school. The first week I knew it wasn’t worth it for our family and our lifestyle,” she says.

For Whom the Cowbell Tolls

On a Wednesday morning late in May, about two dozen black and Latino kids are playing soccer before school. Most demonstrate some fundamental footwork skills, though the Latino players pick up the ball and run with it slightly less frequently.

At 8:42, Smith taps a cowbell a few times, and the game immediately breaks up, the players forming straight lines by class. Smith’s daily announcements—graduation to be held at the University of California’s D.C. branch campus, Kings Dominion trip coming up—are translated into Spanish as the children listen quietly before filing into school.

Brandon Rubio heads to his seat in the kindergarten classroom, where there are no fewer than seven parents—representing almost as many ethnicities—helping the teacher, Jacqueline Lee. The kindergartners, though, are not the only students in the class. Several of the parents, says Lee, are there to improve their English skills.

Across the way in Sharon Durkin’s first-grade class, the students are teaching themselves today’s lesson. “Julio, I don’t know what you’re doing, but stop,” scolds Durkin from across the room. Julio takes his feet off his desk, plops them on the floor, and looks back up at Rachel, a classmate who has been running the lesson for the last five minutes.

“List 37. Ready, begin,” she says, as the class of 10 students—now including Julio—reads along with her. “Angry, pirate, steals, buried, treasure, full, coins, below, ocean, surface.” Rachel sits down, Sarah takes over, and the lesson continues. Durkin allows the class to lead itself for about 30 minutes each day. The average first grader is reading 87.8 words per minute, just under the second-grade target of 90 to 100. But Durkin is new to DCPS; her junior status makes her vulnerable, despite her children’s success. Durkin has been “excessed” by DCPS, which says the school doesn’t have a high enough enrollment to justify her position. (If enrollment is as high as Smith expects next year, there is a good chance Ross will be able to rehire her. As of now, though, Durkin is looking elsewhere.)

Even without Durkin, though, Ross is set for a good 2006-2007. Starting next fall, the school will have almost every amenity that Putterman and Borland originally demanded. A cooperative effort with the Fillmore Arts Center will give each child two hours per week of art and phys-ed activities. Garcia’s soccer team will join an official league. After school on Mondays, a company called Dakshina will teach the kids traditional Indian dance. The Phillips Collection is partnering with Ross to bring artistic and literary elements directly into the classroom. And then there’s Mark Lewis, the full-time volunteer reading instructor recently profiled by Post columnist Marc Fisher. The library is being fully renovated. And Diner’s next challenge, she says, will be to bring healthy meals to the school.

But all that might not be enough to save Ross from the school district’s “rightsizing” blade. The very size that makes it such an effective school opens it up to elimination—especially considering the value of the real estate it sits on.

That would be just fine with Putterman. “They’re gonna close Ross anyway, and we saw it coming,” he says.

Ross may or may not close, but it avoided the ax this spring; it was not on Superintendent Clifford B. Janey’s list of schools to be cut. But the element that parents outside of Putterman’s group think is most responsible for the school’s performance definitely won’t be coming back. After 31 years in the District’s public-school system, Gloria Smith is hanging it up. But only because she outlasted Putterman.

“I wouldn’t allow somebody like that to win. He doesn’t have that kind of power. If he was still here, I wouldn’t be leaving,” she says.