D.C. Proposal to Close Hine Junior High Is Criticized

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Education activists are criticizing a proposal to close Hine Junior High School on Capitol Hill, saying they fear it could exacerbate an already sizable exodus of middle grade students from the school system into charter schools.

School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey is proposing to close Hine and convert the 40-year-old, 131,300-square-foot building into the school system's central headquarters. The move is aimed at saving $6.2 million a year that the system spends to lease its headquarters at 825 North Capitol St. NE.

Under the proposal, the school system would renovate Hine into offices and construct a library, recreation facility and underground parking on the site, said Thomas M. Brady, the school system's chief business operations officer. "That community needs a public library and . . . athletic facilities," Brady said. "This could be a win-win."

The proposal, which Janey introduced in September as part of his master facilities plan, has yet to be approved by the Board of Education. The proposal calls for consolidating Hine, at 335 Eighth St. SE, with Eliot Junior High, a mile away at 1830 Constitution Ave. NE, next fall. The combined student body later would move temporarily to "swing space" at Hamilton Center, a former special education school in Northeast, during a renovation of Eliot. When the reconstruction is finished, the students would move back into the Eliot building.

Hine's enrollment has declined to 379 from 546 last year and Eliot's to 274 from 307, said Nancy Huvendick, D.C. program director at the 21st Century School Fund, which studies school construction issues.

With some students spending their entire middle grade years in temporary space, Huvendick said she fears the combined enrollment of the two schools could drop further during the consolidation. She said Janey should hold off on the closure of Hine until after the renovation of Eliot.

"Hine is a great place for an administration building, but it's also a great place for students," she said. "There's a strong outcry [from the Hine community] to stay."

Some education activists and school board members said the Hine issue highlights the need for a broad discussion on retaining middle grade students. The largest exodus of students into the public charter schools occurs between grades five and eight, reflecting the lack of high-quality junior high and middle schools, officials said.

"Is Hine a school that the community doesn't need or is it in need of an infusion of support to make it into the strong school it once was," said Margot Berkey, director of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, who is on a task force that is studying middle grade schools. "I don't want to see the regular public schools lose the middle grades to the charter system."

School board member Jeff Smith (District 1) supports moving the central office into a school building that is no longer needed for students, yet he is also concerned about the flight of middle school students to charter schools.

"This is an issue all across the city -- we're losing kids to other systems," he said. "When people buy a home here, it's what they're looking for."

Outgoing school board member Tommy Wells (District 3) said the consolidation of Hine and Eliot would make both schools better, possibly drawing students back into the system.

Wells said students at the consolidated school would have access to ballfields, an amenity that Hine currently lacks. Moreover, he added, school system officials are considering linking the consolidated school with a yet-to-be-established D.C. Latin academy that will be housed at a refurbished Eastern Senior High School on Capitol Hill.

"When modernized, [the new Hine-Eliot school] will equal the assets of schools in the suburbs," Wells said. "We want to incorporate it into the Latin school, which starts in the sixth grade."

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