Public schools failure to plan #2: selling off public schools to charters means that in some areas DCPS lacks room to grow--will the park behind Coolidge High School be destroyed for a new middle school?
Disclosure: this is an example that affects me personally, although I can still be analytical and reasonably objective. The proposed loss of park space is three blocks from my house.
Ward 4's high schools have an underenrollment crisis. The Ward 4 Education Alliance believes, rightly, that not having middle schools in the ward "breaks the chain" between elementary and high school, and is the cause mostly of the incedibly abysmal enrollments in the wards two high schools, Coolidge and Roosevelt, which between them, have fewer than 900 students but a capacity of about 2,200.
Ward 4 sends the most high school students to out-of-ward schools, which accounts for the low enrollments at Coolidge and Roosevelt.
-- Urban Institute website, Washington, DC: Our Changing City | Schools
-- Draft proposal, DCPS School Boundary Changes, Deputy Mayor for Education
No middle school feeders are present in Ward 4. The high schools are scheduled for renovation (MORE THAN $200 MILLION!!!!) and the Alliance argues that to improve their enrollment, they need a proper feeder system, that not having middle schools provides an entree for charter schools, and students don't leave the charter system to attend the ward's high schools, so they are lost to the DCPS system forever.
Basically there is recognition that Michelle Rhee's closure of middle schools in favor of making elementary schools K-8 isn't working, or at least, comes at the expense of the quality of education for students in the middle school grades. (Although I don't see why those flaws weren't pointed out or expected when that "innovation" was introduced.)
The "crisis" was produced by DCPS which closed or lost the junior high schools previously located in the ward.
Proposal: two "new" middle schools. So the Alliance proposes two middle schools, "north" and "south," starting with reopening the just closed last year McFarland Junior High, which is adjacent to Roosevelt High School.
Building the "northern" school on park space. The problem is coming up with space for a "northern" middle school, since two junior highs each located less than one-half mile from Coolidge High School--Paul and Rabaut--were given over to the charter schools many years ago (Paul was actually the first charter, a conversion of an existing DCPS school). And another elementary school (I don't remember the legacy name, it's used by Washington Latin now, it's on the 5200 block of 2nd Street NW) is gone too.
So people are proposing to take away part of the existing recreation center park and recreation space on the backside of Coolidge, in favor of building a new school.
Using Whittier isn't an option because of the projected enrollment increases as school aged children move into/are born in the enrollment zone.
I can't believe what a bad choice that is.
1. Frankly, I'd rather execute eminent domain authority and reclaim either Paul or Rabaut first. I don't think this is an acceptable tradeoff, losing scarce community oriented park and recreation space--which as it is improved, is widely used--because the city gave up schools.
2. Rather than use park space, other underutilized spaces should be explored as options first, specifically the Walter Reed campus (maybe the State Department would be willing to give up a small portion for a school, or other space can be reallocated) or even the WMATA parking lot at Fort Totten--not a great option, but at least it is a low value use currently, and developers don't seem very interested in using it.
3. Other options are out there also.
I am not a nimby.
I am against poorly thought out ideas that have multi-decade consequences that are negative.
Taking away limited park space when there are other options is a very bad choice.
And I won't get into the fact that DC lacks an integrated and comprehensive capital improvements planning and budgeting system, which is why we are in this mess to begin with.
-- past blog entry, "DC wastes $122 million on new high school: evidence of failures in capital improvements planning and budgeting"