News & Politics

DC Publishes Proposal for New School Boundaries

For the first time in 40 years, city officials are redrawing the maps that determine where kids go to school.

Tenleytown's popular Woodrow Wilson High School would see its boundaries shrink. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

A long-awaited proposal to redraw the District’s public-school boundary lines, that determine where children attend, was published Thursday night. The plan, though less aggressive than what many parents feared, still makes substantial changes at the middle- and high-school levels.

The most noteworthy change is to the neighborhoods that feed Woodrow Wilson High School, the city’s most popular public high school, by moving the boundaries north and west. The redrawn boundaries cut off some neighborhoods east of Rock Creek Park, in downtown, and much of the Southwest quadrant.

Eastern High School would become the local high school for Southwest families, while Crestwood, a leafy enclave on the eastern edge of Rock Creek Park, would shift to sparsely attended Roosevelt High School in Petworth.

The zones for all 74 elementary schools in the DC Public Schools system were less affected. Under the current boundaries, 22 percent of students may choose from multiple schools, leaving some schools overcrowded and others under-enrolled; the proposal aims to fix this with more precise maps.

The changed boundaries would start beginning in the 2015-16 school year, but would take several years to be fully deployed. Students would continue attending their current schools until completion even if their neighborhood schools are changed. Ten percent of enrollment at all elementary schools and in the first year of middle and high schools would be set aside for out-of-boundary students, with preference given to “at-risk” youths or siblings of current students.

Education officials briefly floated the idea of asking families to swap guaranteed access to their neighborhood school by filling out “choice sets” of elementary schools and determining enrollment by lottery. That idea was widely rejected by parents and removed from the final draft. Instead, the school boundary revision plan aims to create discrete, neighborhood-based paths.

DC’s school boundaries are sorely outdated, education officials say, with the last comprehensive rewrite happening nearly 40 years ago. The growth of charter schools, which now educate 44 percent of the public school population, also fueled the need for a review. A committee led by Abigail Smith, the deputy mayor for education, started working up a new plan last November.

“This preliminary proposal represents our best effort to find solutions based on an enormous amount of data and public input,” the committee writes. “We release these draft recommendations knowing full well they are not perfect. In particular, we seek additional public feedback on the proposed boundary changes and feeder pathways.”

Smith’s committee will hold three public hearings before the plan goes to the DC Council on June 26.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.