- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2011

The D.C. public schools system is implementing a plan to close a Northeast elementary school with the lowest enrollment in the District and move its students to another school about a half-mile away.

River Terrace Elementary School has had persistently low enrollment. Its students will be shifted to the “improved, updated facilities” of Thomas Elementary School, a notice in the D.C. Register said Friday.

School officials proposed closing River Terrace a year ago, but an impassioned community meeting in January led to a decision that the school would have one more year to increase its student body. But River Terrace began the 2011-12 school year “severely under-enrolled, and as the smallest elementary school in the system is unable to sustain a viable” program, the notice states.

River Terrace students are expected to switch to Thomas Elementary at the start of the 2012-2013 school year, said DCPS spokesman Fred Lewis.

The move comes as city education officials analyze the best way to distribute resources and deal with uneven enrollment.

Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson told a D.C. Council committee in September that Prince William County in Virginia places 80,000 students in 90 schools, while the District spreads 47,000 students among 125 schools. She and her staff are examining the issue, since schools with lower enrollment often do not receive enough funding to match the program offerings of larger counterparts.

Ms. Henderson pointed out that her predecessor, Michelle Rhee, closed 23 schools as part of her hard-charging reform efforts, citing underenrollment at the facilities.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown has held hearings on how the program-offerings issue affects the city’s middle schools, in particular.

DCPS will rely on information from its ongoing Illinois Facilities Fund study to analyze how resources are spent in the public schools ahead of the fiscal 2013 budget process.

River Terrace is between the Anacostia River and I-295 in Ward 7 — just south of Benning Road. Thomas Elementary School is on Anacostia Avenue north of Benning Road. DCPS recommends that buses be available to students from River Terrace so they don’t have to cross the busy thoroughfare.

Ms. Henderson wrote a letter to parents Feb. 4 to explain the year-long effort to build enrollment. It referred to the “extraordinary importance” of the school to the community, “especially given the unique geographic isolation of the River Terrace neighborhood.”

But enrollment there has declined by 44 percent in six years, with 137 students now in grades pre-school through the fifth grade.

DCPS says the median enrollment for its elementary schools is 309 students.

Thomas Elementary had an enrollment of 235 students as of October and it has a building capacity of 500. The school was renovated in the summer of 2010.

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