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DCPS closing 20 schools, including Spingarn

Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced today that DC Public Schools will close 20 of its schools in a long-anticipated move based, she said, primarily on right-sizing DCPS's capacity with its enrollment and educating more kids in modernized campuses.

Spingarn High School, Photo from Wikipedia.

The only high school slated to close is also the high school most in the transportation news: Spingarn High School, on Benning Road. DDOT has been planning a streetcar maintenance facility on the Spingarn grounds, and hoped to provide technical training in streetcar technology for Spingarn students.

Henderson said that this idea isn't gone; DCPS is looking into creating a "transportation career and technical education center" at Spingarn, but this plan is still in the early stages.

Matt Johnson made some maps of the proposed closures for neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools. There are also some schools that serve students with disabilities or other specialized groups which are not on these maps as they do not draw from neighborhood boundaries.

Proposed closures: Elementary   Middle   High
Areas in red show attendance zones whose schools are closing.
Gray zones had schools closed previously.

Henderson said that DCPS hopes to keep all of the school buildings for the future. The Office of Planning estimates that the number of school-age children in DC, which has been declining for many years, will start rising again in 2015. Therefore, DCPS will likely begin needing more of these schools once more, but not for at least some years.

Graphic from DCPS.

DCPS has plans for some of the buildings, such as expanding School Without Walls into the Francis-Stevens Education Campus, which is slated for closure. There are some preliminary ideas for some others, like a suggestion for a community arts center in what's now Garrison Elementary. For many, DCPS plans to work with the local community to identify the best use of the building, possibly including housing charter schools in the buildings.

Earlier this year, a report from IFF, a community development and consulting organization, recommended closing many schools with lower rates of student proficiency and moving kids to schools with higher proficiency. This report came under a lot of criticism for allegely oversimplifying and misreading the statistics.

At today's press conference, Henderson made no reference to the IFF report, and when asked said she had seen the data, but it wasn't the basis for her decisions. Instead, she talked about the Census and about data from the Office of Planning, and claimed that she made decisions to close schools simply to align the supply of space with the student demand.

Many families have been "voting with their feet" and moving to charter schools, and in Wards 1, 5, and 6, the majority of students now attend charter schools. Plus, the population of school-age children has been declining. However, forecasts estimate that there will be many more kids by 2020 in many parts of the District.

Images from DCPS.

The demographic trends and growing charter school demand mean DCPS has much more space than it needs right now, and Henderson said this round of school closings is entirely about addressing that mismatch, not about the theory that closing schools with poorly-performing kids and moving them to a different school will make them perform better. One could as easily argue that such a move would instead make the new schools' test score numbers decline, because while a school can have a lot of impact on a kid's test scores, it's far from the only factor.

DCPS has modernized 47 of its 117 buildings since 2007, but 20,000 students still attend the schools that haven't gotten modernized yet. Kids at Ron Brown Middle School in Ward 7, for instance, will go to the recently-modernized Kelly Miller Middle School.

The changes also mean that DCPS is moving away from the model of having pre-K through 8th grade education campuses, such as Francis-Stevens, whose elementary kids will go to Marie Reed while middle schoolers will go to Hardy, and Winston education campus, which is splitting its elementary and middle school students into Stanton Elementary and Kramer Middle School.

Meanwhile, MacFarland Middle School will now move to Roosevelt High School (preventing the idea some have floated of moving Duke Ellington School of the Arts to the unused space at Roosevelt), and Shaw Middle School will locate with Cardozo High.

DCPS' presentation notes that it has the fewest average kids per school building, 384.12 of any jurisdiction in the region; Fairfax County has 926.2 kids per building.

Graph from DCPS.

This brings costs to DCPS, though fewer, larger schools also means fewer kids can walk to their neighborhood school. In the suburbs, families travel very large distances by car to go to school, often to the detriment of public health and traffic congestion.

Here is a full list of the schools slated for closure:

High schools:
  • Spingarn (to Eastern, Dunbar, Woodson)
Middle schools:
  • Francis-Stevens (to Hardy)
  • MacFarland (to Roosevelt)
  • Shaw at Garnet-Patterson (to Cardozo)
  • Johnson (to Hart and Kramer)
  • Winston (to Kramer)
Elementary schools:
  • Francis-Stevens (to Marie Reed)
  • Garrison (to Seaton)
  • Marshall (to Langton)
  • Davis (to C.W. Harris)
  • Kenilworth (to Houston)
  • Smothers (to Aiton and Plummer)
  • Winston (to Stanton)
  • Ferebee-Hope (to Hendley)
  • Malcolm X (to Turner)
  • MC Terrell-McGogney (to King)
Specialized schools and programs:
  • Sharpe Health (to River Terrace)
  • Mamie D Lee (to River Terrace)
  • CHOICE at Hamilton (to Cardozo)
  • Spingarn STAY (to Ballou STAY and Roosevelt STAY)
  • Prospect LC (to neighborhood schools)
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 
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. 


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Oooo! Cunning move, Mr. Mayor, more clever than I had expected. So now the streetcar will be predicated on the barn, which is predicated on the status of Spingarn. The battle over its closure will stretch on for a nice long time, and then the historical designation question. The streetcar's status as perpetually "coming soon!" is frozen in amber for years to come, mollifying both sides. Well done indeed.

by Dizzy on Nov 13, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

Actually this is just a ploy to move the repair site into the actual spingarn building. The proposed maintenance shed will now be converted into condos and fro-yo places.

by drumz on Nov 13, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

Why does Chancellor Kaya Henderson sound like a robot in the call I just got re: school closings? DCPS is taking the robocall to a whole new level.

by Bobbi shaftoe on Nov 13, 2012 4:14 pm • linkreport

To credit Fairfax county, it has something like 125 elementary schools most of those are eminently walkable since they're located in the actual culs de sac. It's the middle and high schools you have to drive/take a bus to.

by drumz on Nov 13, 2012 4:15 pm • linkreport

Why didn't DCPS include a map of the closures in the PDF? Is there one somewhere else? Referring to locations by ward is maddeningly inexact.

by Tom Veil on Nov 13, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

Minor correction - Marshall will be moving to "Langdon," not "Langton."

by rsn on Nov 13, 2012 4:28 pm • linkreport

Here's an idea, combining with a post from a few days ago: move Ellington HS to the Garnet-Peterson site and reopen Western as a neighborhood HS.

Garnet-Peterson is a great location for an arts school, right on the U St corridor where so many DC performing arts greats got their start (including Ellington himself). It could even be an open campus that uses the Lincoln and Howard Theatres, Reeves Center, and even private spaces like the U St Music Hall or 930 Club which are empty during the school day. Plus, there's a potential for collaboration with the great arts department at Howard U.

by Novanglus on Nov 13, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport


Not sure the Garnet-Peterson site is large enough. If it is, it will need extensive renovation. Otherwise, it seems like it could be a good move.

by Adam on Nov 13, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

They are closing a high school, doesn't that mean they have too many already? Is there any demand whatsoever for an additional high school in Western? While Wilson doesn't directly take out-of-boundary kids there are plenty of out-of-boundary kids at the feeder middle schools who attend Wilson.

by MLD on Nov 13, 2012 4:53 pm • linkreport

We've got the maps up now. Matt Johnson was making them but I wasn't able to get them in because I was on the way to the Long Bridge study meeting. They're in now.

by David Alpert on Nov 13, 2012 4:57 pm • linkreport

So, Garnet-Patterson is closing altogether? If so, that's good, a stupid blank wall facing U-Street and the metro entrance should go.

by Steve S. on Nov 13, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

Steve S. you just read my mind. The gym renovation to Garnet-Patterson a few years back was positively destructive to the U Street streetscape. It would be nice to see that brick wall transformed into an entrance to something.

by Ward 1 Guy on Nov 13, 2012 5:20 pm • linkreport

Seems like Henderson is continuing to evaluate closings and the public does not protest. It's not even news.

Malcolm X looks like a small detention center. No windows. It should close. I saw the superb work those guys performed during the summer in transforming Turner from an abandoned eyesore to a much more impressive facility in line w/the streetscape. Even the small garden is nice.

*Although I'm not sure what's the plan for the new tennis court. It's nice though*

The city keep humming along...

by HogWash on Nov 13, 2012 5:50 pm • linkreport

Seems like Henderson is continuing to evaluate closings and the public does not protest. It's not even news.

This information was released at 4PM today, so I'm not sure how you could say that there's no protest - people likely haven't even read about it...

by MLD on Nov 13, 2012 6:04 pm • linkreport

Brilliant move re: Springarn. I think it will allow the streetcar to be placed there and makes perfect sense.

by H Street LL on Nov 13, 2012 6:38 pm • linkreport

Much of this makes sense to me, but I'm a little confused by the plan to close Prospect Learning Center (for students with disabilities) and return those kids to neighborhood schools. Aren't those kids at Prospect because their neighborhood school isn't equipped to meet their needs?

by Kate on Nov 13, 2012 6:50 pm • linkreport

A bit off topic, but I've always thought Spingarn was Springarn.

by Transport. on Nov 13, 2012 8:07 pm • linkreport

@Kate: According to the DCPS details, they want to equip the neighborhood schools to provide those services, instead of sending the to a facility outside their neighborhood.

@Adam: on Google maps, GP looks like it has the same footprint as the Ellington building. But they can make up for any loss of space by using nearby arts spaces. Yes it would need extensive renovation, but it would anyway.

by Novanglus on Nov 13, 2012 8:30 pm • linkreport

@Novanglus: That sounds like a good plan but I'm a little worried about how it's going to play out in reality.

by Kate on Nov 13, 2012 9:51 pm • linkreport

Other motives in keeping closed schools? :

""Keeping the leases also allows DCPS to keep a charter school from moving into vacated buildings within blocks of remaining DCPS schools, as was the case when Ward 8's MC Terrell and McGogney elementaries were consolidated in 2008. The charter attracted Terrell/McGogney's would-be students, and now the school is on the chopping block.""

And Stevens was an odd location for a school even back when Amy Carter went there.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 14, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport


Well, actually Amy Carter went to Stevens, which is already in the process of getting sold to a developer. This is the old Francis school, that became Francis-Stevens after the elementary school was closed and consolidated into the middle school. Amy Carter did go to a public middle school, but it was Hardy, not Francis.

by TM on Nov 14, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

The planned closure of Francis-Stevens would leave the rapidly growing Foggy Bottom-West End neighborhood without an elementary school. The area has seen population growth with new condo residences at the former Columbia Hospital site, on 25th Street, and on Washington Circle. Soon, ground will be broken for the Eastbanc development with even more residences.

A growing number of young families have moved into the neighborhood, and some have already enrolled their children in pre-K and K programs at FS. These are people who have chosen to live in a walkable neighborhood, and you have to wonder how many of them would stay and send their kids up to Marie Reed. Walkable neighborhoods are vastly improved with neighborhood schools.

Decisions about school closings should always take into account the dynamics of DC demographics, and consider that enrollment can - or should - increase in neighborhoods like Foggy Bottom/West End and NoMa, where population is increasing.

by Mike Silverstein on Nov 14, 2012 3:32 pm • linkreport

An amazing fact in article, and one not well mentioned by WashPost, is that between 2015-2022 the DC school age population will GROW BY 55%. That is huge and just around the corner. So hold your breath and hold onto some school buildings. Of course, where that growth occurs and what schools these parents opt for is key. Not mentioned at all yet: will private schools handle some of that increase? Will they 'skim the cream.'

by Tim on Nov 15, 2012 9:14 am • linkreport

@Tim: the DC school age population will GROW BY 55%

Reflecting on this, it occurs to me that this was merely ASSERTED, citing only the DC office of planning. I have trouble believing it without something to back it up.

On its face this appears to be a play by DCPS to deny charters empty school buildings.

by goldfish on Nov 15, 2012 9:52 am • linkreport

Thinking more about the school-age population issue...

The population chart shows that by 2020, a mere 7 school years from now, the DCPS enrollment will exceed its existing capacity, that is before the proposed closing are carried out. And after that the enrollment grows sharply for the foreseeable future.

Given it how long it takes, DCPS should be well along in the process of making this needed capacity. The chancellor should be appearing before the city council asking for the money for these new buildings (imagine the irony of closing buildings and then asking for money for new ones), there should be meetings with ANCs and other neighborhood groups about citing and planning, etc. That is, if DCPS and its chancellor believes this data.

But there is none of that. So I conclude that the plan to retain the buildings is nothing more than DCPS attempting to deny transferring these empty buildings to its competition, the charter schools.

by goldfish on Nov 15, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

Comparing the school system to other urban systems regarding population, use of space, geographic layout of a neighborhood-based school system makes sense, but why oh why does DCPS continue to compare itself to Fairfax County on these metrics? It's just like comparing DC to other states on metrics like "miles driven per capita" or something like that.

Mostly pointless, in other words.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Nov 18, 2012 2:19 pm • linkreport

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