Throughout the area, educators grappling with limited financial resources are nonetheless working to provide an engaging learning environment for 21st-century students.
In the District, new classrooms are, for those who have followed the issue over the years, a sight for sore eyes after decades of dealing with aging structures. Mary Filardo, executive director of the District-based 21st Century Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on school construction, said the group has pushed D.C. officials to fully fund the school system’s modernization plan.
That has taken different forms throughout the city. Growing Ward 3 has had new school construction, while the expansion of charter schools in other areas has led school officials to partner with charter leaders to find ways to reuse old D.C. school sites, Filardo said.
Some schools are deemed too antiquated to renovate. Historic Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington will be knocked down to make way for a new high school. H.D. Woodson in Northeast Washington was rebuilt and opened last year.
During former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee’s administration, the city prioritized improving classrooms to attract and retain teachers. Now, entire structures are getting makeovers.
“It’s been so important for the teachers, the students and the families,” Filardo said.
Schools in the Maryland suburbs, such as Prince George’s County, are also facing major renovations, and new campuses can’t get built fast enough in rapidly growing Northern Virginia.
Since 2000, Loudoun County’s school enrollment has more than doubled, to about 68,000 students. The number of students in Prince William County public schools has also increased and is projected to reach nearly 84,000 this fall. Those numbers still fall far short of Fairfax County, the state’s largest school system, with more than 177,000 students.
The escalating influx of new students over a comparably short time has posed a significant logistical and financial challenge. To keep up, Loudoun has opened 38 schools since the 2000-01 academic year: 22 elementary schools, eight middle schools and eight high schools. This fall, two more will open — Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Leesburg and John Champe High School in Aldie — and three others are under construction, officials said.
“There’s certainly the pressure that growth will continue,” said Kevin Lewis, director of construction for Loudoun public schools.
Finding appropriate school sites has been increasingly difficult. Elementary and middle schools in Loudoun have historically been one-story buildings, but new schools are two stories with a more compact structure, Lewis said.