Students from schools closed during the Rhee era were twice as likely to enroll in public charter schools as students from other DCPS schools, leading to a loss of enrollment that cost the school system about $5 million in 2009, according to a study by three think tanks.
“We’ve suffered a lot of school closures, and it’s not so much that we’re not willing to accept any school closures ever, but we want to start making smart decisions,” said Eboni-Rose Thompson, chair of the Ward 7 Education Council, which has called for a moratorium on closures.
A controversial study commissioned by the city this year recommended closing dozens of schools with low performance on standardized tests, but Henderson said academic achievement was not part of her closure calculus. Instead, schools were identified for possible closure based on low enrollment, the condition of the facility and the availability of space for displaced students in nearby buildings.
Henderson could not say how much money would be saved and redirected because of the closures. She also said the school system has no estimate for the number of employee layoffs expected due to the closures.
The chancellor said in an interview last week, however, that she will push D.C. Council members in early 2013 to grant her authority to approve charter schools, which could then operate in vacant DCPS-owned buildings.
“We don’t have to compete. We can absolutely collaborate,” she said.
Eighteen of the 20 schools would close at the end of this school year. The others — Sharpe Health and Mamie D. Lee, which serve students with disabilities — would move into the former River Terrace Elementary in 2014 after that building is renovated.
Two high schools, Cardozo and Roosevelt, would be converted into secondary schools serving students in grades six through 12. Their feeder middle schools, Shaw at Garnet-Patterson, which serves about 150 students in the U Street corridor, and MacFarland Middle School in Petworth, which is operating at about one-third capacity, would close.
Cathy Reilly, director of the advocacy group SHAPPE (the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators), said it is far from clear that parents want their sixth-graders going to school with much older teenagers.
“I understand that it’s a really a difficult problem to have severely under-enrolled schools, but I really question whether the six-to-12s are the best solution,” Reilly said. “The community will really have to weigh in.”
Students at Spingarn High would be dispersed to Eastern, Dunbar and Woodson. Henderson wants to renovate Spingarn and turn it into a career and technical education center.
A fourth high school, the selective and high-performing School Without Walls, would expand by several hundred students. Francis-Stevens Education Campus, which has pre-K through eighth grade in Foggy Bottom, would close and be converted into additional space for that school.
The city’s education leaders have been pushing for closures since before Rhee’s arrival, arguing that the school system, which has lost about 100,000 students since its peak enrollment in the 1960s, needs to downsize to run efficiently.
DCPS now enrolls about 45,000 students in 117 buildings; Fairfax County, meanwhile, has about four times as many students in 196 schools.
Henderson said Tuesday that the closures would leave the school system with 101 school buildings with an average enrollment of 432 students, up from 376.
The school system has planned four community meetings for late November and early December to hear community feedback, including on how vacant buildings should be used. In addition, the D.C. Council will hold public hearings on the plan Thursday and Monday.
Henderson said she will listen to public input before making final recommendations to Gray in mid-January.