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Some Worry Latest Shuffle Might Put Programs at Risk

By Theola Labb¿
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2008

The decision by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to revise the list of schools they plan to close leaves Park View Elementary School parent Patricia Crisman puzzled.

"There's such a flip-flop of close, don't close, that our kids don't know which way is up, which way is down," Crisman said after she dropped her son Dakota, 9, off at school Friday morning.

Under the revised proposal announced Feb. 1, Park View would close by 2011, sending Dakota and his schoolmates to nearby Bruce-Monroe.

But Crisman and other parents have many questions that stretch well beyond the basics of where students will attend. She wonders whether Park View's tutoring program will remain. And with a larger consolidated student enrollment at Bruce-Monroe, Crisman questions how teachers will work with students such as Dakota, who has difficulty staying focused in class because of attention deficit disorder, she said.

Last November, when Fenty (D) and Rhee announced their original proposal to close 23 schools because of declining enrollment, they proposed to keep Park View open. But after weeks of community meetings, public testimony, protests and rallies, Park View and Bruce-Monroe switched places.

Additionally, Fenty and Rhee announced at a Feb. 1 news conference that these schools are on the closure list: Taft Center, Benning Elementary, Merritt Middle and Garnet-Patterson Middle. And along with Bruce-Monroe, four others were taken off: Burroughs Elementary, Smothers Elementary, Ronald H. Brown Middle and Shaw Middle.

Officials said Browne Middle, which also had faced closure, will stay open and absorb students from Young Elementary next door.

Rhee did not respond last week to repeated requests for information on the specific factors that led her to add and take schools off the list.

In a Feb. 1 letter sent to parents at schools slated for closure, Rhee said she "considered all comments shared with us before making final decisions." Rhee pledged that parents would get additional information in the coming months.

"School leaders will be working with central office staff to make sure you are informed and prepared at various stages of the transition process," Rhee said in the letter.

But Tyree Wall, president of the PTO at Young Elementary in Northeast, said she was concerned about how the school system will handle bringing in smaller desks and building bathrooms at Browne Middle that fit the younger students.

"They're saying they are going to do it over the summer," Wall said. "But I think they should have given it a year, taken the time to fix it up properly, and then have us move in there in 2009, 2010."

Fenty, who issued a mayoral order Jan. 31 with the final closing list, said he could not elaborate on the specific reasons for school-by-school changes in the plan. Overall, Fenty said, "we made a decision on what's best for the academic concerns for the kids in the system."

Fenty and Rhee will hold a public hearing on the new closing proposal at McKinley Technology High School on Feb. 27 at 6 p.m.

Below are sketches of schools slated to close.

Taft Center

In Northeast, Taft Center has programs for special education students with the most pressing needs. The building, built in 1933, also houses the school system's alternative suspension program, known as Choice. Under the original proposal, Taft was slated to convert to a pre-K-8 school of students from Burroughs Elementary and Backus Middle, both of which would have closed. Backus will still close, but Burroughs will not. Backus students will attend LaSalle Elementary at 501 Riggs Rd. NE, which would become a pre-K-8 school. Officials said Taft students would move to a site to be named.

Parents at Burroughs fought the closure, saying it was important to keep the site to maintain the school's academic progress. When the changes were announced, Rhee said "other schools tried to make the same arguments, but they did not have the same case."

Park View

Tucked away on Warder Street Northwest in the neighborhood of the same name, Park View Elementary opened in 1916 as a junior high school. The building has 26 classrooms and is designed to hold 425 students. Enrollment, which depends heavily on the nearby Park Morton apartments, has declined to about 160.

The school did not meet adequate yearly progress on standardized tests last year but its math scores improved by eight percentage points, said Principal Charles H. Harden Jr. In 2006, second-grade teacher Monica Chase won a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation award for outstanding contributions to education.

Under the latest proposal, Park View would stay open and take students from Bruce-Monroe until officials build a new Bruce-Monroe at 3012 Georgia Ave. NW. Then Park View would close, probably by 2011, and its students would attend the new Bruce-Monroe. Bruce-Monroe has met math and reading targets and was recently recognized by State Superintendent Deborah A. Gist for its academic achievement.

Garnet-Patterson

The Northwest middle school in Ward 1 can hold 465 students, but enrolled 265 last year. Fenty and Rhee originally praised the school's features such as traditional classrooms and an auditorium, compared with the open space layout at nearby Shaw Middle, as reasons it should become the receiving school for Shaw, which would close. But now they are proposing to close Garnet-Patterson by 2011, after it takes in Shaw students while a new Shaw school is built at 925 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Garnet-Patterson students would then attend the new Shaw school. At the time the proposal was announced, Rhee said that Shaw's large athletic field could attract students looking for activities and cut down on truancy.

Merritt

Merritt, in far Northeast, was built in 1976 to hold 352 students. Unlike other schools that are underenrolled, the building is about 70 percent full. The middle school has repeatedly posted low test scores, making it a school in need of improvement under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines. Merritt students would attend Ronald H. Brown Middle at 4800 Meade St. NE.

Benning

Rhee and Fenty visited this Northeast elementary school on the first official day of the mayoral takeover last year. Built in 1976, the open space school has low test scores and was deemed a school in need of improvement under No Child Left Behind. The school can hold 289 students but had 178 last year. Students would attend Smothers Elementary at 4400 Brooks St. NE.

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