Posts about Schools
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
- Francis-Stevens (to Hardy)
- MacFarland (to Roosevelt)
- Shaw at Garnet-Patterson (to Cardozo)
- Johnson (to Hart and Kramer)
- Winston (to Kramer)
- 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)
- 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)
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.
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.
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?
When the DC Council gave control of the schools to the mayor in 2007, the law required DC to create community schools, but there has been little progress since. The Council can rectify this problem by passing a proposed law to create incentives for community schools.
Community schools are schools that provide after-hours services to students and their families and communities. The idea is that schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, should address obstacles to learning such as student health and excessive unstructured time.
A hearing on the DC Community Schools Incentive Act that would finally implement the rest of the 2007 legislation was scheduled for December 14, and it looked like this missing piece of school reform would finally be implemented. However, the hearing was abruptly cancelled with only 3 hours notice.
DC Council Chair Kwame Brown said he had to cancel the hearing because the DC State Superintendent of Education, Hosanna Mahaley, cancelled that morning. When she skipped the hearing, national experts, grandparents, teachers and students who spent days memorizing their testimony showed up for no reason.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is central to the creation of community schools, and Mahaley had confirmed before Thanksgiving that she would attend the hearing.
The Coalition for Community Schools defines a community school as a school that partners with community resources to "[integrate] academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and civic engagement."
Community schools are open 7 days a week during the day and evening to encourage involvement from families and the community.
Community schools are traditional schools that also offer programs and services for their students, their parents and the surrounding community. They may include: before- and after-school programs for their students, family-support centers and adult enrichment classes on topics, such as parenting, employment, and housing, and medical, dental and mental-health services.
Community schools report gains in academic and nonacademic areas, which impact academic achievement. Research also suggests that students in community schools have higher attendance rates and their families "show increased family stability, communication with teachers, school involvement, and a greater sense of responsibility for their children's learning."
One year after the passing of this act, OSSE would administer multi-year award grants to establish "no less than 5 new community schools (at public schools or public charter schools)."
OSSE would also establish and administer the Community Schools Fund "to fund the operation of the initiative, and to ensure the District of Columbia becomes eligible to receive federal and private dollars in support of community schools."
If DCPS and OSSE are committed to increasing educational outcomes for all children in Washington, DC, they need to further demonstrate that they support the passing of the Community Schools Incentive Act.
The DC Council hearing on the DC Community Schools Incentive Act has been rescheduled for January 31st at 4:30pm. Let the DC Council and OSSE know that school reform is not just about teachers and buildings, but is also about students and their obstacles to learning outside of the classroom.
A few years ago Gaithersburg adopted an ordinance to ensure that infrastructure keeps up with growth. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, the law turned out to be counterproductive, as it damaged the city's ability to grow in the right places.
Gaithersburg has a big problem. On one hand, the city is trying very hard to promote smart growth. They've adopted beautiful master plans, and worked with developers to design some very strong projects. On the other hand, they have a crippling adequate public facilities ordinance that slaps a complete moratorium on residential development in large swaths of the city.
The city's two hands are pulling in opposite directions. Mountains of genuinely good planning effort supports smart growth, but this one ordinance requiring excess school capacity throws a wrench into the whole business.
It's especially maddening because of the way school boundaries are drawn. The most overcrowded schools happen to also cover most of Gaithersburg's smart growth receiving areas, including its most walkable and transit-connected downtown and new urbanist districts.
For the most part it isn't the smart growth developments that are overcrowding the schools (they tend to attract smaller families), but because they're within the same school boundary as other neighborhoods that do produce a lot of kids, residential development is outlawed in precisely the areas where it's most appropriate.
And the really bad news is that the moratorium isn't effective at saving schools. Because Gaitheresburg is a geographically small jurisdiction within a larger, growing region, the school capacity test merely pushes growth out to other jurisdictions that have even less capacity, and less ability to plan.
In fact, the moratorium is doubly damaging because of the type of growth it is pushing away. By including these smart growth receiving zones in the moratorium, Gaithersburg is pushing out high-density urban developments that don't produce many students, but are very effective at reducing sprawl and growth in congestion.
The school capacity test makes sense in a vacuum, but not when all the issues of urban development are considered together. It's counterproductive, and should be changed.
The good news is that the Gaithersburg City Council, which does seem to sincerely want to do the right thing, realizes there's a problem and is considering corrective measures. According to a Patch article, the council is looking to add flexibility and leniency to the ordinance. Proposed modifications could allow the council to grant exceptions in certain circumstances, or could allow neighboring schools to share capacity if one is over its limit but another nearby school is not. These are good suggestions.
The city might also consider designating official smart growth receiving zones that are automatically exempted from the ordinance altogether. That would allow the right sort of growth to take place in the right places, while still controlling the sort of growth that is a problem for school capacity.
Gaithersburg deserves credit for acknowledging a difficult problem and moving to solve it. Other jurisdictions with similar ordinances should follow Gaithersburg's example and carefully consider whether or not their growth controls are accomplishing the right goals.
Like many colleges with large football programs, the University of Iowa faces major congestion problems on football game days, when tens of thousands of fans converge on its stadium. But Iowa has come up with an innovative solution to the traffic.
A railroad runs directly behind the football stadium, which got university administrators thinking. Working with Iowa Northern Railway, the University proposed running a train from satellite parking areas to the football stadium on game days.
Iowa Northern thought it was a great idea, and the Hawkeye Express was born.
In the beginning, they leased equipment from Colorado's Ski Train. For the third season, they purchased a former Amtrak locomtove and 6 bi-level former commuter cars from Chicago's Metra, now painted in Hawkeye black and gold. The train, while owned by Iowa Northern, operates over tracks owned by Iowa Interstate Railroad (whose chairman, Henry Posner III, is a prominent passenger train advocate).
The train takes 8 minutes to get from the parking areas in Coralville to the stadium and costs fans $10. It has operated for seven seasons of Iowa football.
No other university uses special trains just for football games. But it's certainly not the only university where fans can ride a train to the game. The University of Pennsylvania's stadium is just steps from the SEPTA Regional Rail station at University City. Georgia Tech's Grant Field is just a few blocks from the MARTA subway. And these aren't the only examples.
In the past, many university stadiums were served by special trains from near and far. For many at the University of Iowa, this service hearkens back to the days when Rock Island trains brought fans from as far away as Chicago.
For most, it's just a way to avoid parking problems and congestion. And, as the film shows, it's also a fun way to go.
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