- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

Ask D.C. parents to name the best Washington has to offer in public high schools, and the majority will likely say Woodrow Wilson High. They would be right. Perched on a hillside near Tenley Circle in Northwest, Wilson maintains an excellent educational environment. It has a focused and challenging curriculum and high-achieving students, it is near a rail station, it has a so-called feeder junior high school, and its nearby businesses are as educationally conscientious as its faculty and staff. Also, its parents are, shall we say, hands-on. None of the city's other traditional high schools can boast as much.

That is expected to change and it is about time. If D.C. officials, educators, parents and business leaders can pull it off, the old McKinley Technical High School will be resurrected into a truly unique and world-class institution. There are a few problems with the proposal, however.

Rebuilding the bricks and mortar is the easy part. The city already has a design-and-curriculum plan for McKinley, have there eyes on a principal who is ready, willing and, more importantly, able, and it has already pledged $46 million for the project. Overall costs are estimated at $100 million, but I suspect that figure is low-balled.

Indeed, while most of the necessary educational, recreational and sports facilities are already in place, the business community has yet to pony up. Telecom firms such as BET, Microsoft, AOL, 3Com, Sprint and Verizon should be standing in the front of the line, and there are plenty of deep pockets sports and entertainment moguls Bob Johnson, Ted Leonsis, Abe Pollin and Dan Snyder, and the real estate giants, the Jemal brothers, to name a few that have yet to be mined. The Consortium of Colleges and Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area should commit itself as well. After all, they will eventually be rewarded with an educated and well-trained pool of graduates.

Of course, plans to build a 21st-century high school a magnet school is welcome news. After all, before there were charters there were magnets. And while some of us are disappointed that this campus is not being built where it is most needed and that is in economically starving Southeast Washington, I cannot help but be ecstatic.

See, D.C. Public Schools long ago abandoned Langley and McKinley, and for similar reasons. There was a sharp decline in the school-age population and, at the same time, a rise in operational expenses. Moreover, there was a significant increase in and around Langley and McKinley. It was so bad that McKinley Tech was nicknamed "Terrible Tech." That dissipated after the two schools were closed.

Today, the neighborhood is ripe for school-related redevelopment. The city's thriving high-tech corridor is within walking distance, a police substation is nearby, and a Metro station is forthcoming.

Now, back to those problems, which essentially stem from competing agendas. The supporters of the charter school welcome a new McKinley and that is as it should be. However, the McKinley supporters don't want a charter school at Langley. In fact, that charter school Hyde Leadership Public Charter School, which has a college-prep curriculum just like Wilson has been at Langley for three years and has a five-year lease. So, in essence, the McKinley folks want to kick them out. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

The McKinley folks want to establish a community college on Hyde site a type of institution the District doesn't even have and something that doesn't make sense unless the point is to squelch school choice. Besides, there is absolutely no reason why a community college can't be built in Southeast. Moreover, McKinley's supporters also want to displace a homeless shelter currently situated in the southwest corner of the proposed joint campus. Like the charter school, the homeless shelter should be left alone.

So, therein lies the real rub with those of us who support both schools, and smack in the middle as chief decision-maker is Mayor Tony Williams. The same Tony Williams who promised in his 1998 mayoral campaign to build a high-tech high in Southeast and reneged. That's right. The mayor has really put himself in a spot. If he wholeheartedly endorses the McKinley plan, including the community college component, then he not only turns his back on voters who support school choice and social-service programs, but voters who know he has yet to deliver anything of consequence to Southeast Washington.

Of course, the mayor's friends and advisers would never tell him that. They (including The Washington Post, my liberal columnist buddies, and the anti-choicers) will persuade him to go with the McKinley plan and tell the charter school folks and the homeless and downtrodden to take a hike. Instead, his friends and advisers should be blunt and bold enough to say, "Mr. Mayor, you've had Southeast on hold for three years. The charter school belongs at Langley, and the homeless shelter is sacred. It's a win-win for both camps."

That is precisely what he and School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, both of whom are up for re-election next year, need to hear. They need to be told that rebuilding McKinley into a model high-tech high is a pregnant idea. They also need to be told, however, that agreeing to displace either is the kind of bad policy that helped dismantle the school board and run former Superintendents Franklin Smith and Arlene Ackerman out of town literally.


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