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There is a feeling among Washington Metropolitan High School students that no one comes to visit—not Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Council, or the media. But on Thursday, up-and-coming rapper No Savage visited his alma mater in a show of solidarity with students who risk having their school closed by the Bowser administration.
No Savage, who goes by his stage name, went to Washington Met in 2018. He didn’t graduate from the school located on Bryant Street NW because he dropped out to pursue his music. He’s career has proven successful, with over 5,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and tens of thousands of fans on Instagram. He credits some of his success to Washington Met.
“I was going through a lot, like in the streets. For me, I came here because I wanted to get away from that. I couldn’t go to school without beefing,” says No Savage, a Southeast D.C. native. “I feel like this school is different because people were actually giving me a chance. People were interacting with me—there were a hundred people in this school trying with me.”
Washington Met staff reached out to No Savage to motivate the kids during a turbulent time. He agreed and even promised to return next month when students find out whether the school will close or not at the end of the academic year. No Savage briefly spoke to dozens of students about his positive experience at Washington Met in the cafeteria through a sound system purchased by a security guard, and at one point another student jumped on the mic to rap. While not everyone listens to his music, a few students tell City Desk they were just pleased he showed up to support them. They’ve had a few visitors in recent days, after DC Public Schools announced it wants to shutter the school. But this wasn’t always the case.
“I even called DCPS out on it—that they only put stuff in the schools that looks good for them,” says 16-year-old Lyric Johnson, who is a part of the Chancellor’s Student Cabinet, a group that provides DCPS with feedback. “No one comes to see us. Chancellor [Lewis] Ferebee only came to see us once and he’s been chancellor under a year—almost a year. I can say something to him about that, and he brushed it off. No one comes to see us, [we have] no visitors,” she told City Desk earlier this month.
Washington Met is school to 136 students grades 8 through 12, and over 95 percent are black and there is a growing Latinx population. It is one of four “Opportunity Academies,” which are alternative schools for students who struggle in more traditional settings. It’s also the only alternative school serving middle schoolers.
In a letter to parents dated Nov. 26, DC Public Schools says it wants to shutter Washington Met for low attendance, enrollment, and graduation rates. Ferebee said that Washington Met “consistently underperformed” as compared to other alternative high schools. But staff and students say DCPS’ underinvestment is, in part, to blame for the school’s shortcomings. For example, they say the physical building itself is intended for elementary students but houses high and middle schoolers, and there’s no librarian or other extracurricular activities that make a student want to go to school.
Moreover, students tell City Desk, poor performance isn’t a reason to close a school where staff has consistently supported them and the community is close-knit.
The decision isn’t final. DCPS administrators held two public meetings over the last month, as well as private gatherings with Washington Met students to solicit feedback on the initial decision. A DCPS spokesperson says the feedback gathered at these sessions will contribute to its final proposal to the mayor. Bowser has the last say and is expected to make the decision in mid-January 2020.
“Before you all just think about closing the school down, you got to reach out to find out—you got to come in the inside, get the inside scoop,” No Savage tells City Desk. “I know for sure no one come inside to get the inside scoop because if they did, it wouldn’t be like that. Everybody who come to this school, they love this school.”
At the last public meeting on Dec. 12 at Martha’s Table in Southeast D.C., everyone who spoke opposed the closure of Washington Met; roughly 40 people attended the meeting. Ferebee, notably, only stayed for the first 10 minutes of the two-hour long meeting, missing the discussion portion of the forum. Many expressed dismay that a school with so much potential—the subject of a PBS documentary and partner of Howard University—could close.
At the meeting, DCPS administrators showed various slideshows, explaining its desire to shutter the school, including one that says satisfaction among Washington Met students is low as compared to other alternative schools. Overall student satisfaction hovered around 60 percent while the other three schools were at or over 80 percent. Later, in an email to City Desk, DCPS explained that 138 students were surveyed during the 2018-2019 academic school. The “panorama survey” asks students to rate statements like “My school offers good after-school options” on a scale that includes options such as “I like my school,” “strongly disagree,” and “strongly agree.” City Desk asked DCPS for more granular data, but did not receive it in time for publication.
If D.C. ultimately decides to close Washington Met, it’d be the first public school closure since 2013. There are grassroots efforts to prevent this from happening. Some Washington Met students have taken every opportunity to express their opposition to DCPS’ proposal to close down their school, including in a radio interview with Empower DC on Tuesday. Separately, Washington Teachers’ Union is circulating a petition online to keep the school open.