Closings Proposal Gets Mixed Reaction

By Theola S. Labbe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006

Parents and educators are taking a cautious approach to a proposal that would close six District schools, four of which are in Southeast.

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said in a statement with his closing recommendations that his plan was needed because "an enrollment decline has created a situation in which [D.C. Public Schools] must continue to maintain over 1.9 million square feet of underutilized space in schools."

Although there was little argument over the need to better use space and resources, there was some concern about the location of the schools that would be closed.

"There's schools around the city that fall into the same underutilized category, and they weren't closed," said D.C. school board member William Lockridge. "That's a concern, but it's something that I see that's a pattern of sorts."

Lockridge represents District 4, which includes schools in Wards 7 and 8. He said he plans to meet next week with parents to discuss the schools to be closed, a majority of which serve his constituency east of the Anacostia River.

Education activists also are reaching out to parents at the schools that Janey has proposed to close. His announcement this week is part of a long-term effort to use space more wisely and redirect funds to improve student performance. The schools recommended for closure are: Fletcher-Johnson Educational Center, Shadd Elementary, M.C. Terrell Elementary and Van Ness Elementary in Southeast; Walker-Jones Elementary in Northwest; and Merritt Educational Center in Northeast.

"I believe the list was well thought-out," said Darlene T. Allen, president of the D.C. Parent Teacher Association.

Janey said the decision on which schools to close was based on underenrollment, low academic achievement and the proximity of other schools in walking distance.

Iris Toyer, co-chairman of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, said her group will encourage parents to testify at upcoming school board hearings. The board is scheduled to vote June 28 on the plan.

"We're going to try to get communities to rally around their schools," Toyer said. "We're not encouraging people to say, 'Don't close our school.' But there has to be a rational and thoughtful way to get to a better school system."

Like Lockridge, Toyer, who lives in the Fairlawn section of Ward 7, said she thinks there also are underused school buildings in other parts of the city. "Not to say that these are poor choices," she added, "but I think the expectation was that it would be spread a little more equitably across the city."

Toyer attended a Monday night forum, sponsored by Parents United and several other education advocacy groups, for parents and residents at the Charles Sumner School in Northwest. She said many people in attendance wanted a more complete list of schools that were under consideration to be closed, rather than an announcement in phases.

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