The 23 D.C. Schools at Risk in Rhee's Plan
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Six months after Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee took control of D.C. schools, they face their biggest test as dozens of parents, teachers and students organize to speak out on the controversial proposal to close 23 schools because of declining enrollment. All but three would close this summer.
The D.C. Council will hold a hearing tomorrow, and nearly 50 people are signed up to testify. On Thursday, Fenty (D) and Rhee have organized 23 simultaneous public hearings. The hearings will be run by two dozen senior education staffers.
Some people have denounced the simultaneous hearings as a "divide and conquer" approach to minimize opposition. They formed the Coalition to Save Our Neighborhood Schools to urge parents to boycott and instead attend a "People's Meeting" that night at the John A. Wilson Building.
The array of meetings also involves a political tug-of-war between Fenty and council members who have felt blindsided by his decision-making process. The council is considering legislation that would give it -- not Fenty -- final authority over school closings and would require more public input.
Fenty and Rhee say money spent on unneeded space could be used to improve academics and faculty. In determining which schools should close, officials used formulas that included whether a school had a greater enrollment decline in recent years than most schools. Some schools on the list have an open-classroom design no longer favored by educators because it is too noisy.
Parents and teachers worry that merged schools might increase neighborhood rivalry tensions, and some worry that strong academic programs are being dismantled. Ward 2 council member Jack Evans (D) opposes closure of Shaw Middle, saying its expansive campus should continue to be used as a school and also be used as a community center.