Henderson announces plan to close 20 D.C. schools

Chancellor says resources are ‘stretched too thin’

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson on Tuesday announced 20 schools that could be closed next year, among them the alma mater of four former NBA players, the District’s first junior high school and an educational center built in 1927.

Citing resources that are “stretched too thin,” Ms. Henderson released the list as a plan to redistribute students in near-empty classrooms and clear out buildings that need an update to be brought into the 21st century.

“To achieve our goals of a great school for every single student, we have to use all of our resources well — every dollar, every building, and every minute of instructional time,” Ms. Henderson said. “As our schools are currently organized, we can’t achieve our goals.”

The list includes four schools in Ward 8, five schools in Ward 7 and five in Ward 5, which was hard hit during the last major school consolidation in 2008. No closures are planned for Wards 1 or 3.

Average enrollment in a D.C. public school building is 376 students. With the proposed consolidation, that number would increase to 432 students, according to Ms. Henderson’s announcement. Her hope, she said, is to get as many students as possible into modernized buildings. With the consolidation, an additional 1,700 students would be learning in up-to-date classrooms.

The school system has scheduled six opportunities for public input, the first of which is scheduled for Thursday during a D.C. Council hearing.

The last time the school system significantly downsized was in 2008. Under Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, 23 schools were closed after much public outcry and criticism, reactions that council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, is prepared to hear from his constituents.

“Ward 5 was hit pretty hard in 2008 with closures,” Mr. McDuffie said. “A lot of folks were concerned for the lack of community engagement.”

Spingarn High School in Northeast is the only high school on the chopping block. The Ward 5 school graduated future NBA Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing (now the mayor of Detroit), as well as Sherman Douglas and Ollie Johnson, but most recently made headlines when D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray proposed to put a trolley car barn on the school’s property.

Mr. McDuffie, an outspoken critic of the barn plan, said that he didn’t see the high school’s closing as the end of the road but rather the start to modernizing the buildings “that I think is long overdue.”

Mr. McDuffie said a trend in Ward 5 is moving toward more homes in the Fort Lincoln area, which means “more families, more children.”

But just how the list of closings would actually impact the city’s schools is too soon to tell, the council member said.

“We all want answers about what happens to these kids,” Mr. McDuffie said. “Until we know the answer to some of these questions, I’ll make sure to fully engage the community.”

Also on the list are MacFarland Middle School in Ward 4, the first junior high school in the city, and Francis-Stevens Educational Center in Ward 2, which opened when Calvin Coolidge was in the White House.

Mr. McDuffie isn’t the only D.C. leader taking early steps to address the potential closings.

Council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, said Tuesday that she stood by the Ward 7 Education Council’s Nov. 2 request for a moratorium on closing schools in her ward “until a school reform plan based on a genuine analysis of student achievement by class” is compiled and analyzed.

“I want to work with DCPS to make our neighborhood schools more attractive to families so that we can fight the low-enrollment and low-performance issues in Ward 7,” Ms. Alexander said, adding that she was “adamant about using the money to reinvest in our remaining schools to make them better so that we can retain our Ward 7 neighborhood schools.”

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