Jefferson Academy was buzzing with activity the morning of Saturday, June 9. Twenty-five students, faculty and parents were cheerfully devoting their full day at Book-A-Palooza, cataloguing books found in the basement to be used in classroom libraries next school year.
At the Academy’s first awards assembly, sixth-grader Ajani Young, gave a short speech that demonstrating maturity, concepts and vocabulary worthy of a high school valedictorian. The positivity and enthusiasm of Principal Natalie Gordon and the easy comfort of the students in this welcoming environment tell the visitor that this school is a productive and engaged place of learning.
The new Jefferson Academy is one of two currently operating in the Jefferson building, Jefferson Middle School being the second. According to plans, the Academy is adding one grade level each year and the Middle School closing a grade each year.
Jefferson Middle School Principal Patricia Pride proudly graduated her last eighth-grade class at a wonderful ceremony at Eastern High School. In accord with the phase-out plan, Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced that, for 2012-13, the full Jefferson building will be under the leadership of Gordon and two assistant principals, Widelene Desarmes and Patrick Rottman. This experienced leadership team will ensure strong attention to the final cohort of Middle School students next year, as well as the continued success of both schools.
This fall the Academy is expected to grow to meet its target of 195 students, with a long-term goal of more than 450 students in grades six, seven and eight. By 2015, after a three-year accreditation process is complete, Jefferson Academy will be an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, and serve as a feeder to the Eastern High School IB Program.
Specially trained faculty will be involved in curriculum development this fall and, by spring 2013, will be teaching the first IB classes. IB standards will include the addition of electives in art, instrumental music, physical education and Chinese language.
The Academy is the third principal post for Gordon, chosen by a collaboration of parents and D.C. Public School (DCPS) officials to found the new school at Jefferson. Her previous assignments were in charter schools, a particularly good preparation for starting a new school. Gordon has enjoyed the challenge of learning the DCPS system, and has been pleased by the many resources, larger facility, more rooms, books and partnerships available.
“This has been a fun year,” she said. “We have a very strong school culture, as the kids ‘get’ that they are at Jefferson Academy to learn. Our truancy rate and referral rates are very low.”
She attributes the positive school culture in part to the excellent three-day Summer Bridge Program last August that helped students learn about school system routines, the advisory model, and how to form teams. This summer the Bridge Program will be a full week in July, giving the faculty a chance to teach the children valuable lessons in “how to be JA Trojans,” anticipate the skill levels of incoming students and also get an early view of any areas to address with attendance or behavior.
Teachers will visit homes this summer to meet their new students, and be able to offer special supports as needed. Both new and returning teachers will teach Summer Bridge.
Growing the Academy
Although Chancellor Henderson has announced that a number of small DCPS schools are likely to be closed in coming years, Jefferson Academy expects to grow. The word is out about the positive school culture and expected good academic performance. Gordon is confident the full enrollment of 195 will be reached or exceeded. The 30 out-of-boundary slots are already full, with a waiting list from students citywide. Students from feeder schools of Amidon-Bowen, Brent and Thompson — schools whose students can attend by “right” — have not yet enrolled sufficient numbers to fill the allotted spaces. Traditionally, the numbers applying from Brent and Thompson have been low. If this year’s pattern continues there will be strong enrollment from Amidon-Bowen.
The Academy has a high re-enrollment rate, with more than 80 percent of sixth graders continuing on to seventh grade.
Enhancing Faculty with Partnerships
To build upon the talents of the small faculty, Gordon moved rapidly to build a range of partnerships. Partnerships already under way include those with Arena Stage, D.C. Sail, Washington Kastles, U.S. Department of Education, Kid Power, D.C. Scores, Model United Nations, and the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
One of the newest potential partnerships is with the Edgewood/Brookland Family Support Collaborative (EBFSC), a city-funded social service agency that has some staff located in St. Augustine Episcopal Church. The Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC) brought together leaders from EBFSC and the school in response to some priorities identified during the 2011 Southeast-Southwest Summit.
EBFSC has experience in partnering at the Ron Brown Middle School, where they have provided training programs, parenting classes and social work services to students and their families. Gordon hopes for their presence at the Academy to supplement social services now in the school.
Another emerging partnership has been forged with the Flamboyan Foundation, which will help train teachers to increase parent support and build parent relationships.
–By Eve Brooks and Ruth Hamilton
Community Benefits Coordinating Council