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The Cluster Origin Story

By Tom Guglielmo




In 1986, the Capitol Hill Cluster School was born. It brought together four separate schools – Peabody, Watkins, Stuart Junior High, and Hobson Middle School, named after iconic DC civil rights activist Julius Hobson and located on the fourth floor in the Watkins building.1 Lots of people had a hand in creating the Cluster, but we are indebted to its first principal, Veola M. Jackson, for its founding vision. 


A graduate of the historically-Black Virginia State University and widely regarded as “captivating,” “exceptional," and “a real tour de force,” Ms. Jackson became the principal of Peabody in the early 1970s, of Hobson in the late 1970s, and of Watkins in 1984.2 All that time she operated according to a core principle: Don’t hoard resources. Share them.


Early in her career, once she had helped create a thriving school at Peabody, she wasn’t satisfied, because she saw other nearby schools struggling. Her solution was to combine schools, to mix kids across lines of race and socioeconomics, and to spread PTA wealth. She first did this with Peabody and a nearby elementary school named Edmonds and eventually with the Capitol Hill Cluster. “My job,” Jackson asserted in the Cluster’s first year, “is to make a good school for everybody.”3


Not all parents supported the Cluster early on. “There were issues of race and class,” Ms. Jackson admitted. “There were a lot of meetings and a lot of pain.”4 But the Cluster was formed nonetheless – and integration and equity and resource-sharing were core principles from the start. As one early Cluster supporter put it in 1986, we wanted to create a school that had “a wide range of students from all types of backgrounds, poor, rich, white, black and the whole bit.”5 Why? In part because as one Peabody parent remarked, “Kids come through school together in a public system. They learn that, despite their differences, they have to get along. If you keep people segregated, they end up with a very warped view of the world….”6


We have Veola M. Jackson to thank for the Cluster’s foundational values. She retired as the Cluster principal in the spring of 1991 and tragically passed away a few short months later. She was fifty-nine.7 By advancing equity and inclusion and integration at the Capitol Hill Cluster School, and by sharing opportunities not hoarding them, we keep her inspiring vision alive. 

1. Fourteenth (Special) Meeting of the Washington, D.C., Board of Education, “Schools-on-the-Hill Project,” approval by voice vote, June 26, 1986, folder “Capitol Hill Cluster School,” Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives (CSSMA), Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C., Committee on Educational Programs, “School-on-the-Hill Proposal,” approval, June 26, 1986, folder “Capitol Hill Cluster School,” CSSMA. On the Julius Hobson Middle School’s name, see Judith Valente, “Children Join in Dedicating School to Julius Hobson Sr.,” Washington Post, May 28, 1982, B3.

2. On Jackson, see Edward D. Sargent, “Principal-Sharing in Schools Produces Challenges, Controversy,” Washington Post, September 28, 1984, B5; David Gow, “The Cluster with Lustre,” The Guardian, September 30, 1987, 25. On Jackson becoming the principals of Peabody, Watkins, and Hobson, see Sargent, “Principal-Sharing.”

3. Gow, “The Cluster with Lustre.” For more on Jackson’s philosophy, see Jan MacKinnon, interview by Tom Guglielmo, November 9, 2017, notes in Guglielmo’s possession; and Sharon Raimo, interview by Tom Guglielmo, June 15, 2023, notes in Guglielmo’s possession; and Sharon Raimo, interview with Randy Norton, May 27, 2022, Capitol Hill History Project,

4.  Gow, “The Cluster with Lustre.”

5.  Bernhart Mingia, “The ‘Schools on the Hill’ Plan,” Washington Post, February 13, 1986, DC1.

6.  William Snider, "‘Gentrification’ Poses Dilemmas, Opportunities for Planners," Education Week, May 6, 1987,

7.  Veola M. Jackson, obituary, Washington Post, September 5, 1991, D5.

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