- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Mayor Anthony A. Williams will be checking out of office in 15 months, leaving behind a city undoubtedly stronger because of his vision and fiscally shrewd manner.

The city has rebounded under his stewardship, with neighborhoods being revitalized in all four quadrants.

Yet the assignment remains incomplete, the divide between the haves and have-nots ever pronounced and perhaps immune to the social tinkering of politicians on some level.

Mr. Williams concedes his attempt to clean up the city’s deplorable public school system has been a failure. And the education system — those with the means to send their children to private schools vs. those consigned to the public schools — is the root of the social divide.

You sometimes wonder about the learning capacity of Hardy Middle School, on the edge of Georgetown.

The building looks like a potential disaster, as if a stiff breeze could bring it down. It is a cold, impersonal structure that qualifies as depressing. The teachers and students sentenced to the building deserve a round of sympathy.

Here is a learning environment that looks like a prison, minus the barbed wire at the top of the fence and guard towers.

Learning centers should be warm, inviting institutions, as opposed to the dour, forbidding aura of Hardy. And this school sits in the most exclusive neighborhood in the city. And it sits there to the everlasting shame of the city.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, head of the education committee, suggests implementing a year-round school calendar to aid the learning/retention process.

Maybe so. Council members also might want to look into remodeling many of the crumbling schools.

You often hear of council members proposing to build new recreation centers or revitalize the public libraries, all good notions until you happen to notice the abhorrent condition of all too many of the public schools in the city.

One of the top priorities of the city should be a much-needed makeover of these public schools, if only to ease the future drain on social services.

The city’s public schools are turning out far too many future car jockeys, the men who endeavor to watch over a parked vehicle in exchange for a fee. Their lack of viability cannot be solely placed at the revolving door of superintendents and a dysfunctional public school system. Their stories, whatever they may be, are no doubt stuffed with head-shaking pathologies.

But as a de facto last line of social defense, the city’s public schools only exacerbate the ills and allow far too many to slip through the system.

The prospect of an uplifting and useful future is the challenge of a system seemingly impervious to good intentions and genuine reform.

The developer-friendly Mr. Williams certainly has reclaimed vast swaths of previously hopeless real estate.

And he certainly has made the city a chic place to live again.

Whether gentrification is a bad word to you or not, you certainly cannot argue against its restorative powers.

Yet amid the vibrancy is a gaping hole, a check on the future, a school system that has fallen and can’t get up. As long as the city’s public schools remain broken, the city’s comeback will be incomplete.

Middle-income families will continue to abandon the city for suburban school systems, and the city will remain a den of the affluent, the young hipsters and the marginalized.

Mr. Williams deserves a round of applause for initiating an overdue recovery. As he notes, however, the job is not done, and the leading priority of his successor should be the schools.

Mr. Williams neglected to cite one other noticeable failing of his tenure.

He long ago declared a war on rats. Not surprisingly, it has been no contest.

The rats have defeated yet another opponent, their numbers eternally strong, which is a lament for another time.

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