Proposed KIPP DC high school stalls

April 26, 2013

KIPP DC’s controversial proposal to build a high school on public land in Southwest Washington stalled this week when officials with Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration announced that they will not consider leasing the site this year.

The charter school operator had hoped to break ground at Randall Park this spring to open to students in summer 2014 — an ambitious timeline that would have required Gray (D) to accelerate efforts to lease the land.

But the proposed school drew a mixed reaction from those with a stake in the neighborhood and, absent a consensus, Gray officials chose to put off a decision. They will not issue a request for proposals for the development of Randall Park until they complete a long-range strategic plan for the neighborhood.

That “small area plan” will not be done until sometime next year.

“The Small Area Plan will allow development decisions to be made with a clear sense of what the community wants,” Steve Glaude, the mayor’s director of community affairs, said in an e-mail to those in the neighborhood.

“If, in the end, the community is open to redevelopment at the Randall site that includes a school, an open and transparent process will be implemented in which all will be welcome to compete.”

KIPP DC runs one of the highest-performing charter networks in the city. Its leaders had promised to finance the project — including a recreation center, athletic fields and swimming pool for community use — with private funds.

Five D.C. Council members and some residents heralded the proposal as an easy way to create a much-needed quality high school for the city.

But there was fierce opposition in some quarters, including from the backers of a $200 million commercial development planned on adjacent property. They said their plan — for a museum, restaurants and apartments — would be incompatible with a school and its teenagers.

“KIPP DC is disappointed that the timeline for the small area plan will prevent us from being able to open a high school at that location in school year 2014,” Susan Schaeffler, KIPP DC’s executive director, said in a statement. “We are hopeful, however, that through a public process we will be able to find a centrally located site that will meet the needs of our hard working KIPP DC students and their families in the near future.”

(The chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Co., Donald E. Graham, serves on KIPP DC’s Board of Trustees.)

KIPP DC may not be entirely out of luck. Gray officials plan to offer surplus D.C. Public Schools buildings to charter schools in coming weeks.

“The mayor remains committed to helping all charter schools identify long-term solutions to their facilities needs,” Glaude said in his e-mail.

A Gray spokesman declined to say whether any of the buildings up for bid will include those closing in June.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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