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New lines drawn for D.C.'s school system

Friday - 8/22/2014, 10:28am  ET

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The proposed new boundary changes for both middle and high schools in the District. (Courtesy D.C. Advisory Committee on Student Assignment)

WASHINGTON -- After almost a year of D.C. Public Schools' boundary negotiations, final plans have been adopted, which could change which schools many students attend.

On Thursday, Mayor Vincent Gray adopted the final recommendations from an Advisory Committee led by Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith. It brings to a close 10 months of back-and-forth over proposals dealing with school boundary problems in D.C.

The plan will take effect for the 2015-2016 school year, and it realigns school boundaries so that each home will be assigned an elementary, middle and high school. You can see the changes to boundaries on the D.C. Public Schools website.

The plan is the biggest set of changes to come to the D.C.'s public school system in 40 years.

"My sole motive is simply to create a rational way of school assignment, school selection for our children," says Mayor Gray.

D.C. officials say the current system allows many families to choose between multiple schools, leading to overcrowding at one school while others remain under-enrolled.

It would include big changes for some students, such as kids in Crestwood and 16th Street Heights. They currently have rights to popular schools Alice Deal Middle and Woodrow Wilson High, but the new plan will move them into the MacFarland Middle and Roosevelt High School boundary.

Kaya Henderson, the chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, says changes are needed, and that "parents, first of all, will get a better deal out of this because of the guaranteed predictability around the feeder patterns."

The process of changing to the new plan is expected to take several years and many students will be grandfathered into their current feeder-school system. Students in third through eighth grades will be able to choose to go to their new feeder school or remain in their current one. And if those students have younger siblings, they will be able to follow their brother or sister's path.

The only exception is for students who are attending a school while their feeder school is under construction. When the new are schools are completed, those children will be required to attend the assigned schools -- for example, MacFarland Middle School, in Ward 4, when it reopens.

New students as of the 2015-2016 school year will be required to go to the schools assigned to them. Any parents who would like for them to attend another school can log in to a district website and sign their children up for a lottery system.

Each school will have a certain number of out-of-boundary seats available, with 25 percent of those seats going to students considered "at-risk" by attending under- performing schools.

"When you have concentrated poverty, it's very difficult to shake it, but one of the quickest ways to move some of your most struggling students is by incorporating them in mixed-income environments, " Henderson says.

The plan was released Thursday to meet rules recently passed by the City Council that require the District to give parents one year of notice before making changes to the school boundaries.

Gray says the final recommendations were not rushed to meet the one-year deadline. He adds that the changes will "support development of a neighborhood system of public education, of schools, that creates a right for the people who live in those areas to attend those schools."

But with the mayor leaving office, there is a chance the next mayor could halt the plans, even though the lottery for the 2015-2016 school year will have already been held when Gray's successor takes office.

Gray says that while the next mayor may trim around the edges, he doesn't believe his or her approach to solving the problems with school boundaries will be fundamentally different.

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