Jefferson Academy, now beginning its second year, is poised to be an outstanding middle school. Housed in the once magnificent old building, the new school  has begun the process of certification as an academically rigorous International Baccalaureate school. Teachers are now preparing the courses they will introduce this spring to meet the high standards. In the next years all signs are that Jefferson will regain its reputation as a pride of the Southwest, and a first choice for students of all backgrounds and abilities. By 2014, the year DCPS has reserved for its renovation, the building as well as the education it supports should return to its old glory.

In its first year in 2011-2012, often a shaky time for new schools, Jefferson Academy’s entering 6th grade was capped by positive gains in both reading and math on the DC CAS. Principal Natalie Gordon rapidly developed a bevy of community partnerships. Enticing offerings of extra-curricular options typical of schools long underway now encourage students to make the school their second home, staying for developmental activities long after the school day ends.

Underlying it all is a rigorous but supportive learning environment – one that de-emphasizes the drill and kill so typical of today’s schools. A  respectful and affectionate school culture, with a joyous approach to learning, is undergirded by expectations for academic and behavioral excellence. Students have gotten the message – even studying during recess.

This year there are  still two schools occupying the building. However, DCPS has merged the school management under the capable leadership of Ms. Natalie Gordon and her two assistant principals. The three leaders now oversee 6th and 7th grade classes of Jefferson Academy and the 8th grade class from its processor school, Jefferson Middle School. The combined but separate schools are affectionately dubbed the joint educational enterprise “The Jeffersons.”

Principal Gordon’s appreciation  for parent and community involvement were in evidence during the September 13th  “Back to School Night.” Visitors were greeted as they entered the building by smiling students, and then were warmly greeted by Principal Gordon and her two Vice Principals, Widelene Desarmes and Patrick Rottman. Parent volunteeers encouraged their peers to sign up for  the PTA and many did. Over 200 parents, siblings and grandparents gathered at the opening assembly, meeting each other and their children’s teachers. Later, teacher Maria Angela reached out to parents, inviting them to participate in Mornings with Moms and Donuts for Dads, early morning gatherings to encourage participation and engagement with the school the education of their children.

Course offerings at the schools are designed to meet the needs of students of all abilities and interest levels. Bucking the trend, arts and music are once again part of the school day, with teachers of both subjects on the faculty. In addition to the expected, some innovative courses are found, with a course in Engineering and another in Entrepreneurship being tested this semester. After school offerings are numerous, and include Chess Challenge; Lacrosse; DC Scores Soccer; poetry jams; drama through Voices of Now, Arena Stage’s innovative youth program; Kid Power, an enrichment and leadership program; and the Grassroots Project, a health education and AIDS prevention program provided by college athletes.

A social worker, “Wrap-Coordinator” and school psychologist are on faculty. They will soon be complemented by supportive family programs from the Edgewood Brookland Family Strengthening Collaborative. The child welfare-focused agency will be housed  in the school’s underused lower level with a separate entrance. If all goes as planned the Collaborative will move some of its staff into the building in October. The proximity will enhance their support for both Jefferson and Amidon-Bowen families. If the Collaborative and school leadership are successful, over time Jefferson will become both an International Baccalaureate school and a Community Learning Center a place where the SW Community can learn and grow.

By Eve Brooks

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