In anticipating a recommendation from the D.C. superintendent of schools to close several under-enrolled elementary schools in the Ward 6 West area, a community-originated task force has submitted to the school board and administration its own proposals, which include the closing of Buchanan Elementary School at 13th and E streets SE.
Other task force recommendations, drawn up by School Board Member John Warren and 200 parents, students, teachers and principals, include:
Altering the use of Lenox Elementary School, 5th and G streets SE, and Logan Elementary School, 3rd and G streets NE, from regular school facilities to special purposes - day care, outreach pre-kindergarten, communications lab, adult education, etc.
Exploring the possibility of a middle school (grades 5 through 8) as an alternative to the present junior high school.
Setting up regional resource centers where a number of schools could send their students for subjects such as athletics, foreign languages, art or drama.
Creating local advisory bodies, known as Inner Cluster Councils, to advise on policy and budget allocations.
The Ward 6 West area, extending from the Anacostia River to Capitol Hill and from Florida Avenue NE to the Southwest Freeway, has suffered the greatest loss in student enrollment in the city over the past few years.
According to the report, the number of children under the age of 15 in the Ward 6 West area has declined from 27,500 in 1973 to 15,000 now. The decline is attributed to changing housing patterns - middle-class restoration of row houses on Capitol Hill has driven many families with children from the area - and to the falling birthrate in the city.
Even as the Ward 6 West task force was completing its report, regional task forces from all parts of the city were preparing an administration-generated report on the schools. Superintendent Vincent Reed is expected to make specific recommendations for closures of the board this month. Board Member Warren contends that it was the task force from his ward that stimulated the school administration to create its own last October.
Warren's group got started about 18 months ago on the strength of recurrent rumors of school closings. Bu the spring of 1977, the superintendent had issued a preliminary list of likely candidates for closing. Six elementary schools in the Ward 6 West area were cited.
For the sake of planning, the 18 elementary schools were divided into five clusters of from three to five schools each. Members of the cluster study groups were elected in each community.
The thrust of the planning effort was not to deal merely with physical facilities, but with educational alternatives. "We wanted to save money for the city, of course, but we were also looking for innovative educational plans," said Lorraine Bennett, who, with her daughter, was a member of the Cluster III study group. "We decided that we could take advantage of the closings, not just react to them."
Cluster III, of all the groups, was perhaps the most active, but it contained the greatest disparity of views and schools. the five school buildings in the cluster are old and they average less than 70 percent of capacity.
Through Lovejoy runs at about 40 percent capacity, it is the home of the much-respected Capitol Childrens' Museum, host to children from all over the city and elsewhere.
Maury Elementary School is a community school and serves both adults and children.
Edmonds-Peabody presented a special problem in the community. The two old school buildings have long been administered as a unit since together they seat fewer than 500 students and are only 4 1/2 blocks apart. Five years ago, the community helped select a new principal, Veola Jackson, who made extensive curriculum changes and attracted some of the middle-class white students from Captol Hill. The school is now 35 percent white and 65 percent black.
A list of options were drawn up by Cluster III's task force: Stay with the status quo; close one school (Edmonds) and turn Lovejoy into a resource center; create a new middle schools, and pair an elementary school with the neighboring junior high. The individual schools voted and the result was a compromise.
Edmonds-Peabody didn't want to sacrifice a building. Lovejoy was not enthusiatic about giving up its regular students and its status as a community resource. Kingsman and Maury wanted a resource center but that was at no sacrifice to them. Ultimately Kingsman and Maury voted to find their own resource center, Lovejoy was to continue as is; and Edmonds-Peabody was to start a middle school "somewhere."
The same scenario was played out, to some extent at each of the clusters. Lenox Elementary in Southeast, a school which has long been in difficulties even though it has an outstanding pre-kindergarten program, rejected the ide of closing either of its buildings, though its students would be transferred elswehere. Logan Elementary in Northeast also would send its students elsewhere, but would remain open from noon to 8 p.m. for community use.
Only in Cluster II was there a recommendation to close a school. Buchman School, site of an imaginative playground dedicated by Lady Bird Johnson, was to close entirely.
"I have to say that Cluste II is my favorite," said John Warren. "Those parents are just as fond of their Buchanan as the parents at Edmonds-Peabody. But they saw a need and they acted. It is my belief that people who are given information can make painful decisions."
Warren's belief is echoed by Betty Ann Kane, school board member at-large, who has written a proposal for a national task force on including community participation dealing with school closings. "Without community involvement, school closings are a disaster. But when people are given facts, accurate facts, they are perfectly capable of coming up with good plans, better plans than the administration."
Nonetheless there remains some anger and hostility among the residents of Ward 6 West.
At a school board meeting for the community recently, several residents expressed anger at the encroachment of white speculators in the community who had driven parents from their homes and children from the local schools. "That's the real problem," said one speaker from the Capitol Hill area.
Others were just perplexed. one young woman said plaintively, "I still don't understand why you have to close my child's school."