Congress Heights on the Rise

Education, health care, housing and community leadership were some of the many topics discussed among commissioners, residents and guest speakers but there was also a fiery showdown between Commission Chair Mary Cuthbert and a local resident about ANC funds.

Congress Heights resident Nikki Peele asked Cuthbert about the status of office rent and allegedly missing quarterly financial reports. Cuthbert briefly addressed some of Peele’s questions and then became infuriated as Peele continued. The two argued momentarily at the close of the meeting.

Nearly 30 residents attended the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8C monthly meeting at the UPO Petey Greene Center in Southeast.

Academic Dean Kenneth Wright of Center City Public Charter Schools distributed pamphlets which read, “Small Schools mean big success” in large white letters.

Wright attended the meeting to introduce residents to the school’s Ward 8 campus. The school’s mission is “to empower children for success through a rigorous academic program and strong character education while challenging students to pursue personal excellence in character, conduct and scholarship.”

The Center City Public Charter Schools has seven campuses in Washington, D.C., with grades pre-k through fifth grade. Each grade has a maximum of 25 students. Center City Public Charter Schools are tuition-free..

Local residents drilled Wright about the school’s curriculum and more, but that did not surprise him, he said due to the lack of resources and development in the area.

“Traditionally the communities east of the river have been underserved economically and educationally,” Wright said. “It didn’t surprise me that they had a lot of interest.” Commissioner Dion Jordan asked Wright if the Center City Public Schools would open in other areas of Ward 8 like Anacostia due to the closing of Birney Elementary School and Savoy Elementary School and the population statistics. The answer was no.

A report by the National Association to Restore Pride in America’s Capital reveals that the high school dropout rate is nearly 40 percent in Anacostia. In 2003, the Ward 8 high school dropout rate was 10.3 percent according to the DC Department of Education compared to a 9.4 percent national dropout rate reported by Child Trends Data Bank in 2005.

Ward 8 may not get another Center City Public School, but it has Achievement Prep, a college prep middle school now enrolling students for fourth and fifth grades. It serves students in grades four through eight.

Robert Allen, the Dean of Solutions for Achievement Prep, also discussed the pros of the tuition-free public charter school.

The Achievement Prep DREAM focuses on “Determination, Respect, Enthusiasm, Accountability and Mastery,” Allen said.”Our goal is to have students reading at or above level,” he added.

The District of Columbia Literacy and Education Resource Network shows that 11 percent of the District’s fourth grade students scored at or above writing proficiency, compared to 27 percent for the entire nation. In 2002, 61 percent of D.C. students scored at the basic level of writing proficiency and 27 percent scored below basic. Only 10 percent of students in the eighth grade scored at or above writing proficiency, compared to 30 percent for the entire nation.

Wright spoke on behalf of Achievement Prep, adding that his niece attends the school and her literacy and math skills have improved greatly.

In other business, Kevin Dennis with the National Community Advisory Partnership and the Health to Action Team urged residents to help place health care at the top of everyone’s list.

“I’m asking the commission and the people to put Health to Action at the top of your agenda to save children and the community from diseases they don’t need to have,” Dennis said. “HIV/ AIDS is ravaging our community.”

Three percent of the District’s residents have HIV/AIDS. Ward 8 residents account for 16.1 percent of the new HIV/AIDS cases in the District.

Following the discussions about bringing new schools and health-care initiatives to the area, the commissioners announced housing and construction developments.

St. Elizabeths mental hospital and a portion of its east campus in Southeast will be redeveloped into a neighborhood center with restaurants and shops. The Department of Homeland Security will use the entire west campus and a portion of the east campus for its headquarters which will be located at 2700 Martin Luther King, Jr. Av., in S.E.

As for other new developments in the area Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, in Southeast will fund the construction of a 99-unit, mixed-income housing complex. The immediate area would also include a clinic, a sit-down restaurant and a senior citizen daycare center. Commissioner William Ellis announced that construction is set to begin in October and will take 14 to 18 months.

But another housing complex at 1204 Talbert St. S.E. is described as a “problem building.” Resident Arnehl Lyon complained that drugs plague the building, which is not too far from her home, and that she can see people dealing in broad daylight.

“Any problem you have east this side of the river call me,” said Commissioner Cardell Shelton. “Everything across that bridge is my community.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner Jordan encouraged residents to take back their streets by creating problem solving techniques, establishing a committee to study housing vouchers and by being proactive in the community.

“This is the nucleus of Ward 8,” Jordan said. “We’re gonna take back our community. We are not afraid. We will be proactive. No fear. Congress Heights on the rise.”

The next Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8C meeting will be Wednesday, April 1, at the UPO Petey Greene Center located at 2907 Martin Luther King Av., S.E. at 6:30 p.m.