KIPP DC College Preparatory is eyeing the former Ferebee-Hope school building in Anacostia, as the national network of charter schools continues to expand across the District.
Ferebee-Hope, once home to an elementary school, closed its doors in 2013 after struggling to maintain steady enrollment.
“Ferebee-Hope was a pillar in the community,” said Karlene Armstead, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area surrounding the former school building. “The community wants the school to come back. The nearby schools are busting at the seams.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s announcement to relinquish Ferebee-Hope, which has been under city control since it shuttered, comes as charter schools clamor for resources. While charter schools in D.C. are public, they have to secure their own facilities.
But as KIPP DC prepares to respond to Bowser’s request for proposal, the entire community isn’t on board for another charter school, Armstead said. She admits she’s “not a fan” of KIPP DC’s plans.
“I would like for it to go to D.C. Public Schools so my taxes pay for it,” Armstead said about the building. “[KIPP] is a corporation and so they’re making money off this.”
Jacque Patterson, KIPP DC’s chief community engagement and growth officer, said school leaders are listening to residents’ concerns and want to build a school that can benefit the entire community.
“If you really want the school to be successful, it’s all about community,” Patterson said. “It will be something that serves the entire community. Residents have been asking for programming that speaks to the community and the children.”
KIPP already has a small high school campus in Ward 8 – KIPP DC Somerset College Preparatory with 179 students, according to KIPP’s website. KIPP DC Douglass campus for pre-K through eighth-graders is also in Ward 8.
KIPP’s larger high school, with more than 800 students, is in Northeast Washington. About one-third of the students are Ward 8 residents, Patterson said.
“They’re looking at commutes that are one-and-a-half to two hours. They’re waking up as early as 5 a.m.,” Patterson said. “It cuts into their ability to get enough rest, to get to school to be ready to learn and everything.”
Patterson also described the potential expansion in Ward 8 as a solution to safety concerns. D.C. students have pleaded with city leaders to make their commutes to and from schools safer. Shorter commutes could mean fewer run-ins with crimes for students as they travel to school, Patterson said.
Armstead said Ward 8 has enough charter schools. Achievement Prep, a top-rated charter school, is less than a mile from Ferebee-Hope. The commissioner accused charter schools of “promising kids the world” without delivering.
Armstead said she’s tried to revitalize what’s left of Ferebee-Hope — a recreation center and pool that adjoins the vacant school building. But unreliable funding, transient staff and fearful residents mean these programs don’t always last.
Crime continues to be an issue in Anacostia and surrounding Ward 8, Armstead said.
“If it’s not safe, if there’s not any equipment, they’re not coming.”
Ferebee-Hope’s community center is maintained by D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. Delano Hunter, the agency’s director, said the department doesn’t yet have a clear vision for the space if a school moves in.
“DPR’s goal is to continue providing recreation services in the community and will work collaboratively with all stakeholders on the future use of the Ferebee-Hope site,” Hunter said in an email.
Ferebee-Hope is the first vacant school building Bowser has released since she took office.
The move represents a victory for charter schools in the District.
Scott Pearson, executive director of D.C. Public Charter School Board, told D.C. councilmembers in June charter schools were “facing a housing crisis” and chided the Bowser administration for failing to release any vacant school buildings.
“This is a sharp contrast with policies of Mayors Williams, Fenty and Gray, who each released a dozen or more school buildings,” Pearson said at the time. “Against this backdrop, we were encouraged by the news last week that the mayor has put out a RFO for Ferebee-Hope.”
Still, Armstead doesn’t want the community center to fall by the wayside. She fears the recreation center will continue to decay if KIPP DC pumps an estimated $70 million into the school building.
“What will be the future of the recreation center?” Armstead asked. “People are discouraged.”