The Examiner’s Lisa Gartner reported this week on a proposal, being floated with D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh’s support, to create a new middle school in Ward 3.
That notion has generated some pushback. Blogger Richard Layman calls it an “indication that there is little respect for planning,” making the fine point that schools should be built according to robust plans, not a politician’s whims. Layman also makes the point (echoed by Greater Greater Washington) that Ward 3’s existing middle school, Alice Deal, might not be so crowded if there weren’t so many out-of-boundary kids fleeing their underperforming neighborhood schools.
No doubt the city’s public education system would be much strengthened if parents could rely on their in-boundary schools to deliver a quality education. That will someday happen. But it’s not here yet, and in talking to Cheh and one parent leader, the idea for a new middle school is the outgrowth of a peculiar scenario.
As my colleague Bill Turque has written, there are young parents throughout the city who are happy with the DCPS elementary schools their children are attending but are freaking out about the middle schools they might feed into. Newly renovated Deal, the city’s third-largest school, is indeed near capacity, but the issue isn’t so much crowding at Deal, which has a significant out-of-boundary population. It’s that much of Ward 3 doesn’t feed to Deal, but to Hardy Middle School.
While parents at Lafayette and Janney and Hearst have some comfort in knowing their kids are entitled to a spot at Deal, parents at Mann and Key and Stoddert have less certainty that Hardy is the right place for their kids.
That was the subtext of Michelle Rhee’s effort to remake Hardy (which is actually in Ward 2) from an application-only arts-focused school attended mostly by out-of-boundary kids to a more traditional neighborhood middle school. That included replacing popular principal Patrick Pope, which set off a political firestorm that touched on the mayoral race.
At this point, after all the fury, some Ward 3 parents just don’t want to mess with Hardy any more.
“The challenge we have as a community is there’s not a lot of buy-in at Hardy,” said Geoff Kuck, a Key parent who is leading the push for a new Ward 3 middle school. “We don’t want to ‘steal back’ Hardy. We don’t want to displace the kids who are doing well there.”
But they also don’t want to be left to the whims of DCPS or charter lotteries or the costs of private education or moving vans. So Kuck is working with a group that includes KIPP DC’s Susan Schaeffler to figure out a new option for parents in Hardy feeders.
Cheh tells me the current, very preliminary thinking is to perhaps build a combination middle school/rec center on the site of the existing Palisades Recreation Center. Under that scenario, Hardy might well become an arts magnet explicitly serving a citywide population.
The other point this proposal highlights is just how inadequate and meaningless the DCPS boundary system has become. Motivated parents in areas with lousy neighborhood schools opt for out-of-boundary DCPS schools or charters. And Keck says parents in his neighborhood don’t want to shut the door to out-of-boundary students at any level.
“We want our kids to go to Wilson [High School],” the city’s most diverse, Kuck said. “We don’t want to move to Bethesda. We find ourselves very different from those folks.”