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Ellington arts school might be moved out of D.C.'s Ward 2

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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 17, 2010

The District is studying the possibility of moving the Duke Ellington School of the Arts out of Georgetown and converting the building at 35th and R streets NW into a high school to serve Ward 2 families.

Representatives of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and school construction czar Allen Y. Lew said no decision has been made and that there are no immediate plans for a move. But Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) strongly backs the idea, and a source familiar with the discussions, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals from officials in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration for discussing internal deliberations, said Lew's office has developed cost estimates for relocating Ellington to the former Logan Elementary School building on G Street NE near Union Station.

Logan housed the School Without Walls for two years before the high school returned to its newly renovated Foggy Bottom building in the fall.

Tony Robinson, a spokesman for Lew, and Jennifer Calloway, Rhee's spokeswoman, issued identical statements Friday: "The Administration has no current plans for the Logan School, but as it has recently become vacant with the return of SWW to their renovated Foggy Bottom Campus, we are beginning to research an exhaustive list of possibilities for the building."

Pressed about cost and who asked for the study, Robinson said, "That's all they would let me say." Robinson said he was referring to Fenty's office.

Ellington is unique among District public schools: It is operated as a joint partnership between the city, the Kennedy Center and George Washington University. Co-founded in 1974 by former school board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz and the late director-choreographer Mike Malone, it draws its nearly 500 students from across the city for traditional academics and an intensive program of vocal and instrumental music, dance, visual arts and theater. Many faculty members are working artists, and alumni include comedian Dave Chappelle and opera star Denyce Graves. Incoming students must audition as part of the admissions process.

Word of discussions about Ellington's future comes as Rhee has been working to retain a larger proportion of Ward 2 families in the public school system after they leave the elementary grades. In November, she replaced Patrick Pope, principal of nearby Hardy Middle School, which has an art and music program that also draws a primarily African American student body from outside Ward 2. Looking to market the school more effectively to neighborhood families, Rhee announced that Pope would be succeeded at the end of the school year by Dana Nerenberg, principal of Georgetown's Hyde-Addison Elementary, who would run both schools.

Parents at Hardy, which completed a $48 million renovation, have said that Rhee is trying to squeeze African American students out of the middle school, a claim she denies.

Evans has long supported converting Ellington -- the former Western High School -- back into a regular "comprehensive" high school and moving the arts magnet to a new home in a more central location for its citywide student body. He points out that Ward 2 is the city's only ward without a neighborhood high school.

"I would say yes, I'm interested in exploring the opportunity to create a new Ellington at a more centralized location and a new full-service high school for Ward 2," Evans said. He added that he is at "the very beginning stages" of discussing the idea with Rhee and Fenty (D) but then said: "Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee move quickly on things. Things happen fast."

Ellington Principal Rory Pullens did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment.

Some Ellington parents said they had heard rumors of a possible move and found them disturbing.

"Most of the parents I talked to are not happy, not happy at all," said Glennette Clark, a Ward 5 resident whose daughter is a junior literary media major. She has scheduled a "living room meeting" next month for Rhee to speak with some Ellington parents.

"Our feelings are that this is more an economically driven" move, Clark said. "Times being what they are, parents in that community want their kids to be able to go to a school that they don't have to pay for."

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