Sadly, the neighborhoods of our nation’s capital too often resemble a tale of two cities rather than one. The Anacostia River divides a prosperous downtown from some of the District’s most underserved communities.

Each would benefit from being more connected to the other.  This, among other reasons, is why it gave me so much pleasure to welcome First Lady Michelle Obama to the graduation ceremony of the Academies at Anacostia, formerly Anacostia Senior High School, last month.

The old Anacostia High School is a byword for academic failure, with only 17 percent of its students proficient in math and 18 percent proficient in reading on citywide tests.  The school was notorious for being unable to provide a safe environment for its students and had chronic absenteeism among students and staff.

But this year, there are new hopes and expectations at the school.  Our prestigious visitor from Pennsylvania Avenue is an important sign that this change has not gone unnoticed.

A new partnership between Friendship Public Charter School and D.C. Public Schools, which began last school year, has started an overdue turnaround process at this school, which has chronically underperformed for decades.

At the ceremony at which the First Lady spoke 158 students graduated, a 79 percent graduation rate that is vastly up from previous years.  Before the new partnership, attendance figures were hard to come by.

Half of the teaching staff did not take attendance.  Today, attendance is up to 70 percent from an “official” estimate of about 50 percent—and 79 percent for incoming 9th graders.

Students are doing more than getting to school on time.  This year, 16 students earned Achievers Scholarships, a program funded by the Gates Foundation that provides mentoring and financial support through college.  And this school year, 95 percent of graduates have college acceptance letters compared to only 20 percent one year ago.

Preparing students to complete a college degree, the passport to a professional job and career, is the focus of my organization.  At Friendship Collegiate Academy, our public charter high school, the graduation rate is 94 percent and 100 percent of the graduating class was accepted to college last year.

The demographics of our students at Collegiate are no different to the students at Anacostia who were allowed to languish at a school that failed to provide a quality education and a safe environment for so long.

Obviously, change is hard work.  In a school in which student and teacher attendance was an issue, getting everyone to class on time is essential but also initially controversial.  Creating order and instilling a new culture, including requiring students to wear uniform, in a school formerly known citywide for violence and disorder also is necessary.

Friendship was able to hire a large number of outstanding, passionate and dedicated teachers but only after having to ask the former staff to re-apply for their jobs.  Some 85 percent of the teachers are new to the school.  Four new academies were created to better serve students, each with its own principal.

Gaining the trust and support of the community also is an important goal of the partnership.  Prior to Friendship’s arrival, this troubled school had seen four principals in four years.  Many promises were made—and broken.

There are many reasons to celebrate the First Lady’s decision to address the graduation class of 2010 but perhaps the most important is that it underscores our commitment to turning around this school for our children.

Much progress has been made at Anacostia, and much more needs to be made.  The First Lady’s visit reminds us that people are starting to notice. 

Donald L. Hense is chairman of Friendship Public Charter School which operates six charter school campuses in the District and manages Anacostia High School in partnership with D.C. Public Schools.