After Fire, Digital Pioneers PCS will Open Sept. 3

'Resilience in Wake of Fire Speaks Volumes About What Kind of School this Is' Says SBOE Rep

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A man works on the rooftop of Digital Pioneers Academy PCS (709 12th St. SE). An August 13th fire is believed to have started on the roof of the building, delay the start of classes for the school's 243 students.

Digital Pioneers Academy Public Charter School will open Tuesday, September 3. A total of 242 grades 6 and 7 students will report to school for 8 a.m., finally attending classes in their much-anticipated new building.

Over the summer, the school had relocated to 709 12th Street SE, the former site of Cesar Chavez PCS. Teachers moved in August 8, excited to begin classes Monday, August 26.

Then, there was a fire.

The fire seems to have started on the roof of the two-story section of the building August 13th. Within hours, firefighters had the blaze under control, but the damage was extensive. Water and smoke damage impacted the classrooms, requiring a rebuild of one classroom and sections of the roof in addition to cleaning throughout the building.

Digital Pioneers Academy (DPA) Manager of Finance and Operations Greg Foster stands in a classroom at Digital Pioneers Academy (DPA) on Monday, August 26 as volunteers helped construction crews ready the building for students. Signs in the background read: Results, Optimism and Empathy –traits that seem to have helped the school community power through this challenge. Photo: E. O’Gorek

Rebuild Complete

Digital Pioneers Academy (DPA) Manager of Finance and Operations Greg Foster said that the rebuilding is complete. With the help of their community, DPA will open its doors to students only a week later than planned, an astoundingly quick recovery.

The recovery was facilitated by the help of volunteers responding to a call issued by the school, many coming from the DC Public School Charter Board (DCPSCB) as well as Digital Pioneer families and staff.

Foster said that about 14 volunteers came to the school Monday, August 26 to help prepare the school for students, building desks, cleaning furniture impacted by the rebuilding process, assembling teacher supply kits and hanging motivational signs throughout the building. “That’s been a really positive piece for us.”

One of those volunteers was Ward 6 State Board of Education (SBOE) Representative Jessica Sutter, who took a Monday afternoon shift, helping to hang signs and beautify classrooms.

“I’m delighted to have Digital Pioneers join the community of Ward 6 schools,” she said. “It’s great to have a school continue to occupy this space and the positivity and resilience [DPA Founder] Mashea [Ashton], her team and her students and families have shown in the wake of the fire speaks volumes about the kind of school DPA is.”

Ward 6 State Board of Education (SBOE) Representative Jessica Sutter poses with CEO and Principal of Digital Pioneers Academy Mashea Ashton as volunteers assisted in preparing the building for the first day of school, delayed by a August 13th fire. Photo: Courtesy J. Sutter

School Year on Track

DPA CEO and Principal Mashea Ashton was on location, working with teachers to prepare for the school year. She said teachers were excited and eager to get into the space.

Foster said that while the fire has impacted the school start date, it will have minimal impact on the school year as the school had flexibility built in to the schedule. Initially thinking they would hold the first week of classes at their former location, the school instead decided to delay coursework until the building was complete.

“We are well above the minimum threshold of required hours of instruction in the year, so they’ll be finishing on time,” he said.

Foster said that a great deal of work has been done in the last two weeks. A roofing contractor came in to complete the roof above the damaged classroom. Fire and water mediation teams also worked in the school, and construction crews installed new ceilings, electrical and drywall.

On Monday, crews were painting the most impacted classroom, and it was expected to be completely prepared for students by Tuesday morning.

Insurance covered the costs to repair the damage, he added. “Right now we’re kind of in the mode of getting the school beautified, so when kids come in next Tuesday, it’ll be a warm and inviting place for kids to learn and get back in contact with their friends too –so we’re excited about it.”

School Needs

The school is in a good place in terms of fire recovery, although they have some ongoing small organization projects, Foster said. He invites the community to drop by the school.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Kelly Waud (6B07) and Kirsten Oldenburg (6B04) are organizing a welcome for the students as they arrive at the new school. Join them to cheer on the new students by coming to the building between 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. September 3.

The school is seeking parking in the area, as many of the staff are not residents of Ward 6. Local residents, businesses or churches with parking available during weekday school hours should reach out to Digital Pioneers Academy at 202-677-3522 or email mainoffice@digitalpioneersacademy.org.

Learn more about the school, the curriculum and how to enroll by visiting digitalpioneersacademy.org