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A Landmark's Looming Demise
Aona Jefferson was one of the original teachers hired by Lewis. When she interviewed for the job, she said he asked her: " 'I heard you're good. Are you any good?' I said, 'I'm better than good.' "
Lewis strove to hold "all students to high expectations and for [teachers] to be the best in our field," added Jefferson, who started as a PE and health teacher and rose through the ranks to become principal.
William Countee, who graduated in 1977, recalled Curry as a strong disciplinarian who prohibited students from wearing T-shirts and jeans. Countee said Curry once suspended him for passing a piece of paper on the floor -- that he didn't drop -- without picking it up.
Curry, who took over two years after the school opened, "said, 'Come here, sir. Did you see that piece of paper? Why didn't you pick it up?' "
" 'I didn't drop it,' " Countee said he replied.
" 'This is your school,' " he said Curry told him. " 'That's not the Woodson way.' "
Sherri Jennings, who graduated in 1980, said school spirit was strong. Jennings, who played clarinet, said the marching band competed with the ROTC, Spanish club and other student organizations in decorating classroom doors during holidays.
Every year, she said, the entire school participated in a homecoming march through the neighborhood that ended in the school parking lot with a performance by the marching band.
"That was so much fun," she said. "I think that stopped in the '90s."
The crime wave fueled by the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1990s took a toll on Woodson, as it did on much of the city.
"My first year teaching, I remember going to 10 funerals" of students, said Susie Kay, who taught American government from 1990 to 2003. "It was devastating." Kay said she was so moved by the students' personal traumas that she founded the Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund, which over the years has provided internships and college scholarships to hundreds of students.
Maintenance fell victim to the central office's budget cuts, said Jefferson, who was principal from 2003 to 2007. Pipes burst, the heating and cooling faltered, and the escalators and system for filling the swimming pool died. The number of custodians dropped from 15 to six, she said.
The school system, Jefferson said, invested even less money in the building once the Board of Education decided several years ago to build a new Woodson. But the school system ran out of money and put the plan on hold. "Funds were taken from our school to finish McKinley Technology High School," which went over budget, she said.
Designs for the new Woodson are being finalized. Allen Y. Lew, executive director of the D.C. Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, said he would like to construct a green school with solar power and geothermal heating and air conditioning in a lower-profile building of only three stories.
During construction, the student body will be split up: Ninth-graders will go to Ronald H. Brown Middle School in Northeast and the rest to the shuttered Fletcher-Johnson school in Southeast.
Yesterday, Woodson students complained about stifling heat in the building, evidence of the faulty cooling system.
"I was in the gym. It was hot," said junior Joelil Thrash, 18. "All we have is fans doing nothing but blowing hot air."
Rodney Williams, a 14-year-old freshman, said he looks forward to being in a new school with far fewer stairs and problems. "I'll be excited," he said. "I'm hoping everything works."