No Stampede for New Tech School
Lag in Applications At McKinley Blamed On Limited Publicity
By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 1, 2004; Page DZ03
The District public school system's new technology high school, scheduled to open this fall, has not generated the kind of widespread interest among students that officials had hoped for.
As of last week, McKinley Technology High School had received a total of 460 applications for the 400 9th- and 10th-grade slots it will have available in its first year, said Principal Daniel Gohl.
About 340 of those applications had been processed by last week, and roughly 40 students were eliminated from consideration because they failed to meet entrance requirements. Some students are being turned away from the Northeast school because of low grade-point averages, poor attendance or poor recommendations, Gohl said.
McKinley was once a flagship Washington high school that came to symbolize the city's decline when it closed in 1997. At the urging of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), the school system agreed to renovate and reopen the school. But the project has run years behind schedule, and the roughly $75 million cost is well beyond what officials anticipated spending.
Former D.C. school superintendent Paul L. Vance had touted McKinley as a crown jewel for the struggling school system, and said students from private schools and the suburbs would be clamoring to attend.
Some local officials said more students would have applied if the school system had done a better job of publicizing McKinley. In April, after the first application deadline was extended, the school system's communications office launched a last-minute effort to sell McKinley to students and parents. Gohl also made presentations to students in D.C. middle and junior high schools, highlighting the school's course offerings in areas such as broadcast technology, biotechnology and information technology.
Some city leaders said more should have been done to get the word out.
"The public relations of it was extremely poor," said D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), whose ward includes the school. "I think it's just a lack of getting the information out there and having a real push. . . . There hasn't been any of the fanfare that we had talked about."
Gohl said that he has done his best to publicize the school but that his efforts have been hampered by the lack of an occupancy permit for McKinley, which he said should be issued soon. He said that without the permit, he has been unable to hold community meetings inside the building.
"I feel that we do not have the number of applications that we could have had . . . because we have not been able to open the facility to the community," Gohl said. "It has been more difficult than I had anticipated to have the opening of McKinley become widely known. I still encounter families who are unaware that the school is opening."
The school system's communications officer, Lucy Young, said that she started working on publicizing the school as soon as she was asked to do so and that the effort was limited by budgetary constraints.
Gohl said he would continue to accept applications on a rolling basis until all of the slots are filled. He said he was confident the school would be at capacity when it opens.
Most of the applications processed last week -- 261 -- were from students in the D.C. public school system, Gohl said.
He said 50 other applicants were from public charter schools, 28 were from private or religious schools and six were moving into the city from other locations. (Several applicants included in those figures applied for 11th grade, which will not be held at the school in the coming year.)
McKinley will add one grade a year in the two years after it opens. It eventually will include 9th through 12th grades and have a total of 800 students.
Cathy Reilly, director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, a District advocacy group, said the school probably would attract more interest after its first year.
"I think that with all the ups and downs, they didn't get the story out there," Reilly said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
McKinley Technology High School is reopening with a new high-tech curriculum in September after the old school was closed in 1997.
(Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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