Principals Maneuver Over D.C. Closings
Saturday, April 1, 2006
Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Northeast Washington is in survival mode.
Recognizing that the school's large, empty spaces make it a prime candidate for closure, Ludlow-Taylor Principal Donald Presswood pitched the idea of a merger with five counterparts in a similar predicament. After they rejected his offer, he said, he approached a principal of a special education school who endorsed his idea of relocating 100 emotionally disturbed students to his building.
Presswood is trying to control Ludlow-Taylor's destiny and stave off a decision by the school system to close it. "We're fighting for our lives," he said.
Ludlow-Taylor is among about a dozen underenrolled schools that might take advantage of an offer by Superintendent Clifford B. Janey to consolidate to avoid being closed. Janey, grappling with an enrollment that has declined by 10,000 students over the past 10 years, is scheduled by the end of the month to identify how he will eliminate about 1 million square feet of excess space -- the equivalent of 10 schools. The space must be eliminated by August. Next month, he is scheduled to outline how he will pare another 2 million square feet -- an estimated 20 schools -- by summer 2008.
The Board of Education will hold a hearing today to solicit public comment on Janey's draft criteria for closing schools. He has not produced a specific plan for closing schools or estimated the amount of money consolidation would save. Whatever amount is saved, school officials say, would be invested into classrooms at remaining schools.
The schools in preliminary consolidation discussions offer an early glance at the potential benefits -- as well as the angst, chaos and pitfalls -- that are likely to be encountered when the lists roll out.
School activists and parents are wondering: Will money be saved from the consolidations and closing be worth the upheaval? Will the best pairings be made? Will the system have time to reassign displaced students, teachers and principals and prepare buildings for the consolidations by opening day, Aug. 28?
"The school board cut its own throat by saying it will cut 1 million square feet of space in a few months," said Iris Toyer, co-chair of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools. "Like everything else in D.C., it seems to be ill-conceived."
Nancy Huvendick, director of D.C. programs for 21st Century School Fund, an organization that studies school facilities issues, said consolidations and closings "take a lot of time. It's hard to do it quickly. You need time to create a partnership [with the parents and teachers] and to think things through."
One issue erupting in the schools engaged in voluntary consolidation talks is a feeling among parents and teachers that they are left behind as principals drive the process.
Janey and his staff convened a meeting of principals, largely from underenrolled schools, in late February and encouraged them to consider consolidation. The principals were told that the consolidation could not only avert a closure but could benefit underenrolled schools by generating more revenue and more specialized staff such as librarians and music, art and physical education teachers in the one that remained open.
"We were told as a group of principals that we need to think proactively," said Donna M.N. Edwards, principal of Webb Elementary in Northeast, which is considering taking in students from nearby Wheatley Elementary. "When it was presented to me, I agreed to it. I thought it would be a good idea."