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Hyde-Addison: a school to be proud of

During the time that I have been raising my now school-age boys in Georgetown, I have had many conversations with my friends and neighbors about schools and education. I've encountered myriad points of view and learned much more than I ever expected to know about play groups, pre-schools and private schools in the area. I've heard some interesting, funny and surprising opinions coming from various people about virtually every aspect of educating our young. When my first child was born, a neighbor told me somewhat urgently that I had to get him into the local play group and that I would need recommendations to get in. After my initial shock subsided, I applied to the play group and from there entered a world of intrigue called "pre-school applications." Now that my eldest son is in a public elementary school, I've taken a more keen interest in the politics of education in D.C. Between Michelle Rhee, Adrian Fenty and "Waiting for Superman," everyone has a strong opinion, from the parents of privately schooled children who ask me eagerly, "How is it over there?" (as if we are sending our kids into a war zone), to the newly-minted public school evangelist who urged me to rally the whole neighborhood to send their kids to the local elementary. This can be confusing. I believe other parents share some of my misgivings: we want our children to get the best possible education AND we feel it is our civic duty to support excellence in public schools. Can the two goals co-exist and more importantly-do they? No one wants to be the test case in a failing school system. Georgetown's only public elementary school is the highly acclaimed and newly expanded Hyde-Addison School, helmed by the capable and highly impressive Dana Nerenberg, who serves as its principal as well as the principal of the nearby Hardy Middle School. Hyde School recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and last year the adjoining Addison building was completely renovated and added to the "campus" after years of neglect and disrepair. Equipped with a science lab, cafeteria and kitchen as well as additional classrooms and offices it helps serve the rapidly growing school community. The grounds now boast a beautiful garden, complete with gazebo, working vegetable garden used for learning and a cleverly designed in-ground amphitheater which can be used for school gatherings and performances. The faculty and staff of Hyde-Addison are by all accounts, warm, enthusiastic as well as highly educated and accredited (several participated in the Teach for America program including Ms. Nerenberg.) The PTA leads a highly engaged parent community that has organized everything from a fabulous gala and auction at the Swedish Embassy to student participation in the Walk for the Homeless and Girls on the Run, the local chapter of an organization that encourage fitness and healthy body images for girls. A neighborhood progressive dinner in 2009 organized by a Hyde parent and attended by many non-Hyde Georgetown residents generated funds to maintain the garden as well as the surrounding street tree boxes. Hyde has received media attention lately due to its rapidly increasing enrollment as well as its extraordinarily diverse community of students and families from all over the world, and from disparate neighborhoods around the District. "Global Thursdays" have been introduced this year providing an opportunity for friends and family to share about cultures as wide ranging as Mexico and Maine. Aspects of Hyde that neighbors may not be aware of include the fact that last year they embarked on a model program to serve special needs students and this year they began offering Spanish and Chinese instruction to all grades as part of their after school programming. Additionally, first grade teacher Kathleen Sheehy was named DC teacher of the Year in 2008 and last week ten Hyde-Addison teachers were recognized among other "highly effective" teachers at a Kennedy Center benefit. Before the renovation to Addison took place, I attended several meetings with Ms. Nerenberg and the construction Project Manager for the neighbors who would be affected by the year-long construction project. One couple in attendance sent their children to Hyde nearly fifty years ago. They said they wouldn't have missed the meeting as they were so invested in the school and its future. Many Georgetown residents are privileged to have the choice of a dazzling array of schools that offer language immersion programs and state of the art campuses, but what of those who cannot afford them? It's easy to become jaded by news of another failure by the District government or embarrassing school system scandal, but supporting our local public schools in any way we can, whether it is attending a fundraiser, volunteering or assisting in a community clean up, is the duty of all residents, not just the ones who actively use the school system. Even if our own children are long past schooling age (or we don't have children), the mark of a successful community is the schools it offers its residents. No neighborhood is complete without a school we can all be proud of.