By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow
Earlier this month, SBOE representatives Ashley Carter and Ruth Wattenberg joined SBOE staff in a visit to Jefferson Academy (JA), a DCPS community middle school located in Ward 6. The environment at Jefferson Academy during the SBOE visit was warm and welcoming from the moment we entered the building. Everyone from security guards to front office staff to leadership to teachers to students were incredibly helpful and demonstrated a love for their school.
The morning started with a conversation with Principal Greg Dohmann about the school’s history. Jefferson Middle School was rebranded as Jefferson Academy in 2011, giving rise to a new generation of Jefferson achievement. Jefferson’s feeder schools are primarily Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, Brent Elementary School, Tyler Elementary School, Van Ness Elementary School, and Thomson Elementary School although Jefferson received students from 29 different schools this year. Its destination school is Eastern High School. School enrollment reached 305 students in the 2016-2017 school year, with current numbers for this year at 316. The school expects this trend of enrollment growth to continue, especially considering their upcoming school modernization. 2/3 of the students who attend Jefferson are out of boundary, mainly coming from Wards 7 and 8. Jefferson has a vision called “Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)”: they are working to make 1) Jefferson the highest achieving middle school in D.C. for all students and for 2) all members of the JA community to love school.
Perhaps the most telling thing about Jefferson was its culture of community. The SBOE group had the chance to sit down with two of JA’s most beloved teachers: Ashley Cobb, a 7th grade Math and Algebra 1 teacher, and Langston Clemens, an 8th grade history teacher. Both have found a faculty community at Jefferson that pushes and loves them while feeling like a family. This familial environment carries into teacher interactions with parents as well by having intentional time set aside through home visits; programs like Real Men Read, Doughnuts with Dads, and Muffins with Moms; student led conferences (SLCs); a growing PTO; community facilities like laundry machines and job trainings to provide for low income families in the area; and more. The school even recently won a Standing Ovation award from DCPS recognizing their parent engagement capabilities.
Advisory periods in the morning help to cultivate a sense of ownership and accountability in the students as well. Furthermore, Jefferson has lots of unique offerings like a new 1:1 laptop program, great sports programs, and even a video game design elective called Globaloria. By making parents, teachers, and students invested in the student’s achievement, Jefferson successfully keeps students not only interested, but excited to learn.
This excitement was evident as the SBOE Board members and staff walked through several classrooms during the second part of our visit. PARCC testing prep was in full swing, but teachers were still fully engaged in the learning process and taking the time to work one on one with students. Meanwhile, students were excited to show members of our group what they were working on, especially in the Globaloria class where they were designing outer space and robot themed graphics.
The State Board is so grateful for the hospitality we were shown at Jefferson, and we look forward to seeing the great things ahead!