After weeks of community meetings, protests and conversations among parents, PTAs and neighborhood leaders, District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson finally announced on Thursday, Jan. 17, her decision on which of the 20 under-enrolled and under-performing schools will be closed.
The closings and consolidations outlined in Henderson's controversial proposal that was introduced this past fall, and that will impact some 2,500 students, also calls for a 10 percent reduction in Central Office personnel and other cuts totaling more than $8 million. However, upon introduction, the plan sought to improve school buildings usage from 72 percent to 84 percent, and to reduce the number of elementary schools from 41 to 26.
"The proposal we put out in early November evoked strong reactions from the community," Henderson, 42, said, in announcing the closings. "We heard from people across the city [who] have never reached out or offered feedback before. People spoke up at meetings, they sent emails, they called, and we made sure to track everything they said."
Henderson's plan, which is slated for initiation this school year, will have consolidated 15 schools by the end of the 2013-14 term. Five other schools listed in the initial plan – including Garrison Elementary School in Ward 1, were spared.
Overall, Mayor Vincent C. Gray, 70, expressed confidence in the chancellor's plan, saying that while school consolidations are difficult, they boost reform efforts.
"I am confident that the decisions the chancellor announced will ultimately help strengthen D.C. public schools, speed education reform and – most importantly – guarantee our children are getting the resources they need for the world-class education they deserve," said Gray. "From Day One, the chancellor said this would be an open and inclusive process and that she would listen with an open mind. [Her] decisions demonstrate that she was true to her word."
Among the schools across the District scheduled for closing are: MacFarland, Ron Brown Middle and Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson; Marshall, Davis, Kenilworth, Ferebee-Hope, and M.C. Terrell-McGogney elementaries; Spingarn Senior High School; Spingarn STAY; CHOICE at Hamilton; and the Prospect and Winston Learning campuses.
In Ward 8, where Henderson was steadfastly taken to task, school board representative Trayon White said it didn't make sense to merge large school populations into smaller buildings.
"I think that what the chancellor is doing is a trend that's happening across the country," said White, 28. "As a result, schools are being unnecessarily closed. If the consolidations happen, the schools will be even more [crowded] and under-resourced."
Chauncey Evers, 41, of Southeast said closings in his community have caused parents like him and his son's mother to consider charter schools.
"We have a child at McGogney, but we are seriously leaning toward a charter school next year because there's no guarantee of stability in the public schools system," Evers said. "With all that's going on – and there's always one issue or another with [DCPS] –that makes it hard to gauge its future."
White, who turned his attention to recent rounds of staff layoffs and previous school closings, agreed. He said Henderson's plan lacks sustainability.
"Last year, Ballou High School had to let go of 23 staff people – so they're decreasing staff, but with the consolidations at certain schools, they're also increasing the student population at others, and that's not an adequate solution," White said. In addition, "there weren't significant gains [either financial or otherwise] in the school closings that occurred in 2008, so closing others now won't necessarily work either."
Ward 5 activist Kathy Henderson, 58, said parents in her community think it's "absolutely reprehensible" that Spingarn High – which was recently designated an historic landmark – has been marked for closure.
She said students who oppose the closing have begun a petition drive to reverse the chancellor's decision.
"We find this whole closure argument to be very disingenuous, and at a time when we are about to celebrate the second term in office of our first African-American president, it seems like a systematic dismantling of our public schools here in the nation's capital," Kathy Henderson said.
"I'm disappointed that our mayor is touting his 'One City' mantra, but at the same time shutting down schools in wards 5, 7 and 8." "This is so unacceptable and shameful," she said.
Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham – whose community was successful in preventing the closure of Garrison, was on the same bandwagon as Kathy Henderson.
He said he'd hoped Spingarn would have been allowed to continue serving its Northeast community, where several neighborhood and business revitalization projects are either ongoing or about to begin.
"Closing Spingarn was a very major decision and I'm sorry to see it come to that," Graham said.
"Although we're spending $100 million to make Cardozo a very nice place to go to school, it wasn't the correct time to put CHOICE there," said Graham. "That leads to my concern about the decision to close Garnet-Patterson, the first African-American junior high school in America," he said. "It's an historic and important building, and the notion that that building becomes empty is of great concern."