School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens warns of space, staff concerns ahead

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School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens is located at 2425 N St. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

The School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens is facing a major over-enrollment problem in the coming years if it cannot secure more classrooms and more teachers.

Richard Trogisch, the school’s principal, said in an interview that the school is experiencing over-enrollment, likely due to its excellence in academics, and is actively seeking solutions to space and staff concerns.     

According to the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B, the school “has demonstrated one of the strongest year-over-year track records of academic improvement of any public… school in the city and currently has a waiting list of 700 students requesting enrollment.”

The school in the past has accepted students from all eight wards, but those in its service area have an absolute right to attend. The 700 on the waiting list are from out of the school’s mandatory attendance area.   

“Middle school classes are supposed to be 50 per grade,” Trogisch said. “This year we have 63 in the 6th grade due to increased participation from Ross, Thompson, and Oyster Adams elementary schools. The middle school is now a 4 star (quality school) under (the classification of) the Office of the State Superintendent.”     

School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens students range from pre-school three-year-olds through 8th graders, Trogisch said; the school shares a part of its name with the School Without Walls magnet high school, located about a mile away, due to a merger of campuses 2015.

“The high school is number one in the city, and 51st in the country according to Newsweek, and 11th nationally in terms of magnet schools,” he added.      

“We’ve been able to be a little overruled (as to number of students in a class),” he said. “It looks like our middle school may be close to 180 next year.”

This count does not include the possibility that the Chinese Embassy’s apartment building at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Kalorama Road — that will be open by the upcoming school year — may be sending pupils to the school. 

“There is a potential of 50 to 60 [additional] elementary school students” coming to the school next year, Trogisch said.

“I haven’t heard anything from the Chinese, but they are in boundary,” which means they have the right to attend the school. “I don’t have any [knowledge] except that members of the embassy have met with us to see if they like our program. But we haven’t been told anything officially.”     

If the Chinese do decide to send students to the school, there could be an additional 40 students, according to the Dupont commission.  This number is slightly lower than Trogisch is anticipating, yet still of concern for space and class size.  

The commission has proposed that the smaller of the school’s two gymnasiums be turned into six classrooms for the coming year.         

“Preliminary data,” said Trogisch, “shows that turning the gym into six classrooms is not possible this year because of the time frame and resources, but we’re looking at converting some other spaces into 2 classrooms, and converting the computer lab into another classroom.” The gym conversion is possible for a future year, he added.

The Dupont commission called for the school system to increase the school’s budget  “roughly $600,000, in order to increase staffing to a level commensurate with the anticipated expanded enrollment.”      

Each teacher costs a school about $100,000 annually, including benefits, Trogisch said. “I need a social studies teacher, a science teacher, a special education… and probably an English as a second language teacher, especially if the Chinese [students] are coming. We will also need additional art and music teachers, and probably another school counselor. Even if we can’t do anything with the space, we will still need the additional staff to handle the load.”     

“We want to avoid portables,” he added. “The space behind us is all National Park” and cannot be used for portable classrooms. 

“Next year, I can probably handle the increase with the three classrooms, but the next year we’ll need the six” called for by the commission, Trogisch said. “We’re hoping that the commission and the public school system will work together to get the funding, along with Councilman Jack Evans. City Council Chair Phil Mendelson is aware of the problems.”