Residents of Washington's Ward Six are trying to get the jump on school administrators in deciding which of their under-populated elementary schools may have to be closed.
Since December, representatives from 20 schools, located between Capitol Hill and the Anacostia River, have been meeting regularly to come up with a proposal on how their schools might be consolidate.
"If we want something good for this area, we have to propose it ourselves," said Genevieve Johnson, a community organizer at Friendship House, 619 D Street SE, where many of the meetings have been held.
"We just can't go to the school system when they propose something, and scream and cry, 'Don't close this building.' We have to show what programs we want."
John Warren, the school board member who helped set up the planning group, said that more than 300 people have come to its meetings. Most of them are parents, Warren said, but the group also includes members of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and some teachers and principals.
Warren said he decided to form the group last fall after school superintendent Vincent Reed issued a list of 24 schools that were "under consideration" for closing. The list included six elementary schools in Ward Six, which has many old schools that are close to each other.
Last month Reed gave the school board an elaborate report on the structural condition and operating costs of the 24 buildings, but he has not yet made any recommendation about which ones he wants to have closed. Last week Reed said that some schools not on the list may be tagged for closing while many that are on it won't be closed.
"I'm not sure exactly how we came up with that list," Reed said. "But we had to start somewhere. Now we have to look at all the elementary schools, especially at their educational programs, to make sure we are on sound ground before we decide which ones to recommend (closing).
"We're going to have to close some schools next fall," Reed continued. "But I want to have the least amount of disruption for the students."
Once Reed does make his recommendations, the school board is required to hold public hearings before any school is closed.
Warren said the planning committee hopes to give its proposals to Reed before the superintendent makes any formal recommendations to the board.
To do the detailed planning, Warren said the ward has been divided into five clusters of elementary schools. He said parents from each cluster have been getting together to decide which school might be the best one to close in their own neighborhood and how existing programs might be merged. The overall planning committee, he said, has been trying to put the various proposals together.
As a school board meeting last week, parents from one of the schools affected, Edmonds-Peabody on Capitol Hill, urged the board to consider educational programs, not just the physical condition of buildings, in deciding which schools to close.
"We know there is a finanical problem and some schools may have to be closed," said parent Robert Jablon. "We can't be blind to economic reality. But we hope you take educational values into consideration and retain the programs that are working."
The Edmonds and Peabody buildings, both more than 70 years old, are four blocks away from each, but have one principal and a joint program. As old homes have been rennovated on Capitol Hill, the school has lost black students and gained whites. The whites now make up about 30 per cent of its enrollment, which has been stable for the past four years. In most of the other schools in the ward, which are almost all-brick, enrollment has dropped sharply.
Besides Edmonds and Peabody, the other buildings in Ward Six on Reed's original tentative closing list were Buchanan, Lenox, Logan and Lovejoy.
Throughout the city the number of children in elementary schools has dropped from about 84,000 in 1972 to 68,500 last fall. During the same five years the District has built 10 new elementary schools and replaced seven others with large new buildings.
In February the school board voted to close six old school buildings, but none of them still held regular classes.