The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Wilson High drawbridge to students east of park is going up

An increasingly popular Wilson High School accepted no middle school students from outside of its boundary this year, according to parents. As the drawbridge to the rest of the city goes up on the only public high school serving most of northwest DC, the Wilson boundary could become the new line between educational haves and have nots.

Wilson High School. Photo from DCPS.

Some advocates are floating a potential solution: return the building that now houses Duke Ellington High to its historic use as Western High School. Ellington, an application-only arts high school, is located in Burleith, just northwest of Georgetown.

The District would then need to find or build a new home for Ellington in a more central location. Some have suggested the under-enrolled Roosevelt High in Ward 4. Its location, on the west side of Petworth, is only ½ mile from the Petworth Metro, which could make it much easier for kids from across the city to reach the school.

The Wilson High School boundary is vast. Located in Tenleytown, Wilson is the public high school for most students west of 16th Street and many in Southwest DC. It's three feeder middle schools are Hardy, Deal, and Oyster-Adams.

Current high school boundaries. Image by David Alpert using Google Maps and data from OCTO.

Historically, Wilson has accepted many out-of-boundary students from across the city, creating a diverse environment. That was until recent modernization of the building, as well as greater interest in public schools by in-boundary parents, boosted the number of in-boundary kids going there.

Wilson now faces imminent overcrowding. Built for 1550 students, Wilson housed 1633 students last year and houses about 1700 this year according to Wilson parents. As Wilson becomes unable to accept out-of-boundary students, DC could see a new educational dividing line.

Wilson wasn't always the only public high school for such a large swath of the city. From its construction in 1897 until 1977, Western High School in Burleith served much of northwest DC. During the 1970s, the premier Duke Ellington School for the Arts was developed. It has resided in the former Western High building since then.

Most Ellington students are driven or bused to the school on the western edge of Ward 2 from east of Rock Creek Park, many from northeast or southeast DC. Ward 2 councilmember Jack Evans has long favored moving Ellington to a more central location, and returning Western to its historic use. Councilmember-elect David Grosso also supports the move.

When a draft proposal from the office of former Chancellor Michelle Rhee was leaked in 2010, Ellington's board reacted swiftly that it was rightly "appalled" by the proposal to move Ellington to the former Logan Elementary School building on G Street NE near Union Station.

However, the Ellington board was clear that they weren't opposed to moving, but rather opposed to moving to Logan, a building "whose sole qualification is its vacancy." In their letter, they write, "If Ellington were to relocate, it should only be to a building that truly addresses the requirements of a school with Ellington's unique mission."

Any new space for Ellington would have to meet the unique needs of one of the top arts high schools in the US, such as dance and recording studios, gallery space, and so on.

The letter goes on to say, "An example of such a facility is the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a performing arts high school in New York City recently built at a cost of approximately $78 million."

Ellington is about to undergo an $82 million renovation that will require moving the student body to another location for 2 years.

Some might object that moving Ellington out of Burleith is just a ploy to provide wealthy Georgetown residents their own high school. In fact, a new Western High School would draw from Hardy and Francis-Stevens middle schools, both of which currently draw almost entirely out-of-boundary students.

A new Western High School could thus lower the drawbridge of upper Northwest high schools to the rest of the city. Both Western and Wilson would have capacity for out-of-boundary students, thus maintaining diverse, high-quality public high schools in DC.

The move would be a boon for Roosevelt-area families if Ellington co-located with Roosevelt, as some advocates are suggesting. By sharing non-arts courses and pooling their enrollment for budgeting purposes, Ellington could expand in size and both schools could offer more specialized programming.

Preserving diversity in high quality schools should be a top goal as DCPS examines whether to close schools and redraw boundaries. Are there other solutions to maintaining diversity at high-quality public high schools in DC?

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 


Add a comment »

Excellent proposal. It's time for another high school in Northwest. This is such an obvious proposal that it will likely take years to get off the ground.

by Adam on Nov 9, 2012 10:32 am • linkreport

Wow, I had no idea that the Wilson "boundary" was all of the western side of the city. That really seems pretty awful to me.

by oboe on Nov 9, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

Sounds like induced demand to me. Make a "free" resource more attractive to in-boundary parents (presumably those who had the means to send their kids to private schools) by raising the quality and they will use it. As in the other case, not shocking.

by Induced demand on Nov 9, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport


Out of boundary students were accepted to Wilson from the 3 feeder middle schools, since any student in those schools is automatically admitted to Wilson, even if they live out of bounds. The number of out of bounds kids in the three feeder schools is falling, as DCPS middle schools and elementary schools get more crowded with neighborhood kids, but there will be 9th grade students next year at Wilson from East of the Park.

by Turtleshell on Nov 9, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

I agree, this is a good proposal. I would be interested in seeing what a proposed boundary line for Wilson, "Western" and Roosevelt/Ellington would look like.

One idea I saw floated was to have a number of East-West lines, rather than North/South lines. To me, that would be the most prudent, but I would be curious as to what others thought.

by William on Nov 9, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

Co-locating with Roosevelt is a great idea. Though we live in Petworth and selfishly would love to have Ellington in our neighborhood as an option for our kids, the entire Roosevelt/Powell/Middle School educational campus is ginormous, and even if there's not a building there now to satisfy Ellington's needs, there's plenty of room to build or renovate one of the gorgeous old buildings on Roosevelt's very under-utilized campus. Close to metro and Georgia Avenue buses (and one day that streetcar.)

Just don't mess with Roosevelt football. Best in the city. :)

by Steve D on Nov 9, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport

I highly support this - thanks for sharing some of the reasoning and practicalities of what it will take to make it happen. Is there anything we can do to push this along (you mention Evans and Grosso support this, what about Cheh?)

by grumpy on Nov 9, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

Just throwing out a little-known school here, but perhaps Franklin would do for Ellington?

In seriousness, I don't know its condition inside, but as a location it would work marvelously. It's a beautiful location; it's extremely transit-accessible; it's near where (I assume) a lot of parents work; and it's near where a huge of people would be exposed to a DC school for the first time.

by David Edmondson on Nov 9, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

David +1
As a parent of a DESA freshman I like your idea David better, although Roosevelt is pretty good location too. But, I'd hate for them to go through this renovation now only to have the building taken away from them. They're already moving out for two years (and I'm not sure where since wherever they are moving needs to be adequate for their needs) and then to have to move to still another campus ?? It's very disruptive and sounds expensive...and this is a school where the kids actually WANT to be at the school. They work very hard and go to school from 8:30 - 5 and longer. My daughter leaves earlier than I do and gets back at the same time or later. But maybe this takeover would occur after she graduates.
Does it make more sense to put off the renovation and (if it's decided on) to renovate wherever they are moving first, and then just make one big move in several years?

by dc denizen on Nov 9, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

Jefferson is a feeder school for Wilson, too. As a new homeowner in SW, I'd like to keep the area within Wilson's boundaries, but if there were a new high school closer by it could be interesting. One point to note is that Deal's student body is becoming more and more in-boundary, while Hardy and Jefferson still have many out of boundary students.

by sbc on Nov 9, 2012 11:41 am • linkreport

The problem I see with turning Ellington back into Western High is where would the sports teams practice/play? I imagine that there were some fields once, but were sold off after the school closed (apparently in 1977) because of the high property values in that area. It's not a problem for Ellington because obviously their students aren't interested in sports, but for a general population high school, a full sports program is a necessity.

by kinverson on Nov 9, 2012 11:44 am • linkreport

Where is McKinley?

by Brian on Nov 9, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport

McKinley doesn't have boundaries, it's a citywide magnet like Ellington, Banneker, School Without Walls, etc.

by alexandrian on Nov 9, 2012 12:30 pm • linkreport

Wilson's border is indeed enormous, apparently the result of most WOTP parents for the past 30 years or so sending their kids to private school. With that changing, the boundary appears to be untenable going forward.

Plus, it makes all kinds of sense for a school that draws from the entire city to (i) be more centrally located, and (ii) more accessible by transit.

I agree with dc denizen - any decisions on this should be made soon, because Ellington requires specialized facilities for the programs it offers. If the renovation goes forward as planned, there will be tremendous financial pressure to leave Ellington where it is, because the alternative will be (i) spending a significant amount to renovate/construct a new facility, and (ii) re-renovating the Ellington building, which will be ill-suited for a general-purpose local high school. For this reason, I'm not optimistic that anything will come of this suggestion.

I'm also not certain that it's good policy to build another high school WOTP for the express purpose of admitting OOB students. It's both implicitly giving up on improving EOTP schools, and concentrating a significant (and inappropriate) number of HS slots WOTP. But that aside, this needs to happen anyway - many of the elementary schools in Wilson's boundary had record class sizes without accepting any OOB students, even siblings. In addition, Deal MS is bursting at the seams. Wilson is going to get more and more overcrowded in the coming years even if it doesn't admit a single OOB student.

by dcd on Nov 9, 2012 12:42 pm • linkreport

If there are any plans to move DESA that should be resolved BEFORE the rennovation starts.
Also - with the prospect of a new Western High School - DCPS please work with DDOT and ensure that the K-street streetcar line turns and travels up Wisconsin to serve this new school.

by andy2 on Nov 9, 2012 1:15 pm • linkreport

Sounds like Re-segregation to me...

by DCer on Nov 9, 2012 4:46 pm • linkreport

Im not a fan of moving Ellington in the least. As a former grad I can say that the area is PART of what we call "the Ellington Experience". They tried to do this in the past while I was there. They need to find another solution. I promise the entire Ellington community will be in an uproar. Those facilities are invaluable and this includes the area.

by Leo Sheridan on Nov 9, 2012 4:50 pm • linkreport

There is something special about the proximity of arts focused programs - The Corcoran, Fillmore Center for the Arts, and Duke Ellington. Together they pretty effectively change the feel of their immediate collective neighborhood. Maybe can even throw in the Jackson Art Center to this pleasing to many upper Gtown arts concentration.

by artsy on Nov 9, 2012 7:41 pm • linkreport

Im not a fan of moving Ellington in the least. As a former grad I can say that the area is PART of what we call "the Ellington Experience"....They need to find another solution. I promise the entire Ellington community will be in an uproar. Those facilities are invaluable and this includes the area.

The Ellington Board has already said that they are not opposed to relocating. Here's the relevant excerpt from their 2010 letter to the Mayor and Council:

If Ellington were to relocate, it should only be to a building that truly addresses the requirements of a school with Ellington's unique mission. These requirements would include:

-A safe location in which the school can safely operate a program that starts early and regularly involves student practice and rehearsals into the late night hours and weekends;
-A fully equipped performing arts theatre (not simply a school auditorium) with space for both rehearsal and technical design and production of major theatrical events, along with a black box theatre space and music recital hall;
-Several high quality dance studios;
-Several visual arts studios for both 2D and 3D art, graphic design and animation capabilities;
-A variety of large and small settings for vocal and instrumental music classes and practice rooms, insulated to keep sound from traveling;
-A full service audio recording studio and television production studio;
-A gallery for the exhibition of fine arts.

An example of such a facility is the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a performing arts high school in New York City recently built at a cost of approximately $78 million.

In addition, basic non-instructional operations costs including those for security, maintenance, cleaning and transportation to our partner institutions (George Washington University and the Kennedy Center) would increase with any move. As you know, our budget has not kept pace with our costs, to the point that we had to furlough teachers and staff this year. We are very concerned about the potential threat to our core curriculum that such additional costs would pose.

If the District cannot afford to build a new facility, then Ellington should remain in its present location and the District should proceed with the major renovation scheduled for 2012 to make this building an even better performing arts high school.

by Ken Archer on Nov 9, 2012 7:52 pm • linkreport

I wondered what was up. My am commute overlaps with EOTP Wilson students and things really changed this year--fewer kids and more middle class looking kids.

What is Ellington's capacity and would it be adequate for accomodating growth. What are their athletic facilities---team sports etc. can happen at other schools, but a decent gym and access to a track or pool would be an asset.

No mention of an obvious alternative: redrawing the boundaries of other schools and doing it ins uch a way to boots one on of the E of the Park schools.

by Rich on Nov 9, 2012 9:28 pm • linkreport

In my opinion, an option worth considering is to open Western High School as a charter school. It's my fear that expansion of the DCPS will lead to needless bureaucracy and a struggle to maintain standards. The rush for students east of the crek to attend Wilson signifies that high schools east of the creek need attention. The smart superintendent of DCPS would want to use the "Wilson model" at schools east of the creek before it becomes a crisis between the "haves" and "have nots". And I know where the conversation might be headed: as a resident of the West End, I desire that my home remain in a district that feeds to a high school west of the creek.

by Adam on Nov 10, 2012 8:38 am • linkreport

Jefferson, I thoughtless a feeder for Eastern.

by Avy on Nov 10, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

You're right; I was wrong before. Jefferson's destination school is listed as Eastern at,

However, the Wilson boundary includes the west-of-the-river parts of SW and a little bit of Near SE. I think this means for folks like me who live near Jefferson and whose in-boundary schools are Amidon-Bowen for elementary and Jefferson for middle school, if the kid goes to Jefferson they'd have the choice of Wilson or Eastern for high school. An out-of-boundary kid going to Jefferson could either go to Eastern (by virtue of attending Jefferson) or whatever high school their address makes them in-bounds for.

Of course, there could be lots more changes over the next few years. Schools will close, charters will open, and if Mary Cheh's bill passes, a committee will be set up to redraw school boundaries every 10 years.

by sbc on Nov 10, 2012 12:20 pm • linkreport

In my opinion, an option worth considering is to open Western High School as a charter school.

It could be a charter with some percentage set-aside for in-boundary students. Some councilmembers, such as Wells, I think favor such a change in our charter law in order to keep charters from eviscerating neighborhood schools, and several other charter systems around the country have such policies.

by Ken Archer on Nov 11, 2012 8:29 am • linkreport

I think Ellington's athletic field is a couple blocks away at 38th & R. Franklin might be an excellent location if the interior is flexible enough to accommodate the needed facilities.

by Chris on Nov 11, 2012 8:50 am • linkreport

Um, Ken, it seems that the letter you quote as saying that implies Ellington is open to relocating is pretty clearly stating the opposite. "Sure, we'll move ... if you build us an $80m building."

by PM on Nov 12, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

Um, Ken, it seems that the letter you quote as saying that implies Ellington is open to relocating is pretty clearly stating the opposite. "Sure, we'll move ... if you build us an $80m building."

That's right. And Ellington has $82 million allocated to it in the capital budget for modernization.

by Ken Archer on Nov 12, 2012 2:07 pm • linkreport

Too much focus on Ellington, If you ask me.
How about imminent-domaining a plot from the old Naval Security/Communications/DHS HQ or the former Walter Reed Campus for a quality option, with room for all of the necessities of a modern, functional, and diverse school? That way, the in-bound folks are close at hand and OOB kids can have easy access. Also, the plans are still in motion for the old NIMA site.
Just a few options,

by EnserNG on Nov 12, 2012 7:40 pm • linkreport

Sorry - thought old NIMA/NGA site was in-town. Just cross that off the list. =)

by EnserNG on Nov 12, 2012 7:47 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us