Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More on "a new middle school" for Ward 3 DC

Francis-Stevens Educational Campus, DC. According to the Master Facilities plan, as a junior high school the school had a capacity of 520, as a Pre-K to 8th grade school it's 450, and the enrollment is about 230 students.

Shockingly, the Chancellor of the DC Public Schools system has sent a letter to Councilmember Cheh stating that any consideration of building a new middle school in Ward 3 has to be considered systematically, and that DCPS has hired a consultancy to do a capacity analysis. See "DCPS: Ward 3 request for new middle school to be considered ‘systematically’" from the Post. The entry includes a copy of the letter.

On the other hand, DCPS did do a capacity analysis of all the schools in the context of the school modernization and construction program, and unlike many documents, it's still online despite the "upgrade" to the DC Government website.

-- DC Public Schools Master Facilities Plan, 2010

(And while there are odes to the new high schools that have opened in the city, the new Woodson, plans for a new Anacostia High School, and a new Dunbar, I'd argue that at least one of these schools should have been closed, because there is a great deal of underutilization/under-enrollment in the high schools and the city has more high schools than it needs. So rather than spend $102 million on a new school, don't build one at all. Instead, consolidate. See "A hopeful moment as new H.D. Woodson High School opens its doors" from the Post.)

My "complaint" is that DCPS has no real strategy for systematically improving schools so that they can capture more enrollment.

With elementary and junior high schools, I've argued that the way to do it is to focus on the centers of excellence that already exist (e.g., bilingual education at Oyster, Montessori programs at various locations, Capitol Hill Cluster schools) and expand outward. And create new such programs, e.g., such as International Baccalaureate programs, which DCPS has done. Or an arts cluster, something I recommended in 2003/2004 in the H Street neighborhood, to leverage the developing arts district there, etc.

The same goes for the "excellence" in Ward 3 schools, which is a geographical phenomenon based on the Ward's in-boundary students, who have familial demographics more comparable to high-performing schools in the suburbs. Expand this pocket of excellence outwards, to schools in areas abutting Ward 3.

Of course, where it all breaks down is the failure to support teachers, students, classrooms, schools, principals, and parents and families through robust professional development, support, and capacity building programs, combined with horribly arbitrary and capricious evaluation and personnel decision-making practices.

Still, Francis School, which is located in Ward 2, pretty close to Georgetown and Ward 3, could be converted back to a junior high school, given a quality staff and educational program, and it could handle the overcapacity that is being generated by the success of the education program in Ward 3, without having to spend very much money at all.

Francis has a pool next door, and nice athletic fields, small admittedly, used more like a public park.



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