Founders of the Cesar Chavez charter schools yesterday formally opened their second high school in the District with the expectation of continuing the perfect record of every graduate being accepted into college.
“Every child in America should have access to a facility like this,” founder Irasema Salcido said to a gymnasium packed with parents and students at the new Chavez Parkside campus.
Principal Susan Flora has been with the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy since the first one opened in 1998 with 60 students in the basement of a Safeway grocery store.
“Thank you for making education a priority in [students’] lives,” she said. “We are excited to finally be settled in our final home.”
Kemi Watson, a 14-year-old sophomore and student body vice president, enrolled in the school last year at the insistence of her mother, but said yesterday that it was the right move.
“It was a killer, [but] I’m glad it was hard,” Kemi said. “It’s really great.”
She also publicly urged her classmates to pursue their academic dreams.
“All of you are leaders,” Kemi said. “Never give up because I never gave up.”
About 520 students began classes at the Chavez Parkside Campus on Sept. 12, just days after construction was completed on the school, in the 3700 block of Hayes Street Northeast.
Crews needed only six months to finish the 79,000-square-foot building. It cost $14.5 million and is expected to be at capacity with 700 students next year.
“This has been my most challenging job,” said S. Joseph Bruno, president of Building Hope, which organized financing for the construction. “This city has such a great need for great education.”
Sallie Mae Inc. Chairman Albert Lord, who helped Chavez officials get $13 million in annual grants for the charter schools, was also among those who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday.
“I’ve never seen this level of attention,” he said. “A first-class education is your choice for a first-class future. This is a vision of what is possible in the District.”
Council member Vincent C. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, said he was pleased that the school was built in his community.
“It got done in six months and got done on budget,” he said.
The first Chavez high school to open in the District was the Chavez Capitol Hill Campus, a renovated warehouse with about 400 students on 12th Street Southeast.
Josephine Baker, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said the Chavez schools began in “less-than-adequate” facilities, but said officials never lost sight of creating schools to prepare students for “the real world.”
The two Chavez schools are expected next year to be at capacity with 1,100 students in grades six through 12.
There are 52 charter schools in the District, more than in any state.
Mrs. Salcido was born in Mexico and spoke only Spanish when she came to the United States at 14 with her parents. She graduated from California State University at Fullerton’s College of Business and Economics in 1987 before receiving a master’s degree in education from Harvard.
She worked nine years in D.C. public schools before helping start the Chavez schools. In 1999, Caring Institute listed her as one of the “Six Most Caring Citizens in the U.S.” Television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey presented her in 2001 with the “Use Your Life Award.”