by Nora Pehrson
Hearst Elementary may be a small school, but it has big plans for the future. Principal Jennifer Thomas describes it as a “little gem.”
Thomas took the reins at Hearst in August, but is no newcomer to DC public schools, having worked in DCPS for 13 years. Before becoming an administrator, she taught English as a second language, as well as elementary school.
She says that she fell in love with Hearst during her first interview, where she was struck by the “wonderful energy and vibe” of Hearst’s faculty and families.
Located in Ward 3 at 3950 37th Street, Hearst serves almost 300 students from prekindergarten through grade five. In spite of its small size, Hearst is a diverse community whose students come from all eight wards of the city. Nearly 80% of the students come from out of boundary.
Hearst is currently undergoing a major renovation that will modernize existing spaces and add two new buildings, including a gymnasium for use both by the school and the community. Thomas says that as a result of the modernization, “we will be adding more students and our autism classrooms will essentially double in size. We’ll probably have at least 15 to 20 new kids in our building next year.”
Hearst has long had a reputation for academic excellence. Thomas is building on that tradition. Some of her plans include growing the arts integration program, integrating technology more fully into the classroom, and improving achievement across the board.
“We have some achievement gaps in our student groups,” Thomas said. “Closing those gaps is really important.”
She is also adding health and wellness programs and more after-school activities. The school recently started a math club and a basketball team.
One of the biggest challenges this year has been dealing with the active construction on campus. Trucks and heavy equipment have disrupted traffic patterns and blocked the driveway. Classes and activities are currently spread out among three different buildings and temporary modular classrooms. Fortunately, the Hearst community has been flexible in dealing with occasional inconveniences. At the end of the school year, the construction workers will give presentations to the students about the work they’ve done to improve the school.
Thomas hopes that Hearst will soon be LEED certified, and that a green building will catalyze the enrichment of the science programs. In particular, students will learn about water usage, renewable energy, and composting.
“The new building will provide some wonderful new spaces for the whole school community to gather and provide spaces and opportunities for even more interaction among families, teachers, and staff,” said Hearst PTA Co-President Elizabeth Stuart.