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District Proposes Closing 3 Schools

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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2009

D.C. officials proposed yesterday closing three elementary schools, two in Ward 8 and one in Ward 5, moves that they said would improve academic programs and reduce duplication of resources.

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The plan, which has drawn opposition, would close Birney, Draper and Webb elementary schools at the end of this academic year.

Birney, on Martin Luther King Avenue in Southeast Washington, and Webb, on Mt. Olivet Road in Northeast Washington, are "receiving" schools, accommodating students displaced by renovations at Savoy and Wheatley elementaries. The proposal calls for Birney students to move to the newly refurbished Savoy, on Shannon Place in Southeast, this fall. Webb students would attend the redesigned Wheatley, on North Capitol Street in Northeast.

Officials said Savoy and Wheatley are being renovated to U.S. Green Building Council standards, creating healthier environments for children. They also said the consolidation of Savoy and Birney, which share a building but have separate principals and faculty, will reduce duplication and not significantly affect students.

Draper, on Wahler Place SE, has only 84 students in pre-K through sixth grade, and its enrollment is projected to be lower next year. Its second and third floors are occupied by a public charter school, Achievement Preparatory Academy, that offers grades 4 through 8.

The plan calls for Draper students to move to Ferebee-Hope Elementary on Eighth Street SE, where officials said they would have access to a more comprehensive program unavailable at the smaller school. Ferebee-Hope has 271 students, but its capacity is 521.

"Today's proposal will allow us to continue to direct resources into the classroom, where they have the greatest impact on the quality of our students' education," Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said in a statement. "Modernized buildings and comprehensive programs allow our students and teachers to focus on the important work in the classroom."

All three schools were designated for closure in the school system's 2006 master facilities plan.

Last year, Rhee closed 23 under-enrolled schools, triggering a round of sometimes impassioned protests from community members. As recently as November, school officials said there were no plans for further closures. But Rhee has also said she would not hesitate to close other buildings because of academic or enrollment issues.

Some Ward 8 community leaders raised questions about the possible closing of Draper, where 64 percent of students tested at the proficiency level in reading last year, earning the school "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Math scores were somewhat lower but still grew significantly over those in 2007. Fewer than 70 students, however, took the tests.

But State Board of Education member William Lockridge (Ward 8) said Draper and Birney were in neighborhoods that could see a marked increase in residential development over the next few years. An analysis last year by Rhee's staff said that although Draper's low enrollment made it eligible for closure, it should remain open "in order to accommodate future housing planned . . . in the immediate vicinity."

"Those two schools are in areas where economic development is coming," Lockridge said. "It's going to be a problem with me."

Phillip Pannell, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, a consortium of community groups, said the closings make some sense. Draper and Ferebee-Hope "are a stone's throw from each other."

"Given the situation with declining enrollment, difficult decisions have to be made," he said.


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