D.C. residents for and against the proposed September opening of a model academic high school in the present Hine Junior High at 8th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE clashed in a meeting Monday night.
Cecile Middleton, a member of school superintendent Vincent Reed's staff, presented the proposal to some 200 people at a forum in the Capitol East Natatorium.
The audience included white residents of Capitol Hill, who seemed to favor the plan; some undecided parents, and parents and teachers from the predominantly black Hine Junior High, who vehemently opposed it.
Middleton said the need for the school is demonstrated in that only 2 percent of this 17,757 D.C. high school students are taking the minimum course of study required for college entrance.
The proposed school would require students to study classical and modern languages, sciences, literature, history and other college prep courses -- with few electives permitted.
Hine was chosen for the proposed academic school because it is accessible by public transportation from all areas of the city, Middleton said, and there are underenrolled junior high schools nearby -- Stuart at 4th and E streets NE and Eliot at 18th Street and Constitution Avenue NE -- that the present Hine students could attend.
Ginny Johnson, a community organizer for Friendship House, a social service organization nearby, said the community is concerned about the cost of the new school and the danger that it might drain the best teachers and resources away from other high schools. It would be better, she said to have "rigorous academic standards across the board.
Middleton said, the academic school, with a projected total enrollment of about 700, would use only about 25 teachers, "and if we don't have more than 25 good teachers in the school system, we may as well shut our doors right now."
Students who apply for admission to the school would have to be in the upper 15 percent of their class and be reading at grade level or above.
Al Francis, whose child attends the newly established Region IV Middle School on Capitol Hill, spoke in favor of the academic high school, saying that since the academic programs in the city high schools now appeared to be fragmented, "It would be cost-effective to bring them under one roof."
Dan Fivel, a trustee and professor at the University of the District of Columbia, also favored the proposal, saying much time is spent at UDC on remedial programs.
"I'd like to see a situation like the one that has existed in New York City, where academic high schools such as Bronx High School of Science feed into the city college and create great leaders," he said.
Hine school parents and several teachers complained that they learned about the proposed school "from The Washington Post and the 11 o'clock news." The parents said their children's education would be disrupted by an abrupt transfer to other schools.
"My son is doing so well at Hine," Noreen Middleton said. "He's getting all As and Bs. As far as I'm concerned, they're putting his life in jeopardy, sending him to a school where he doesn't know the teachers, doesn't know the kids."
Dick Brown, head of a parent advisory group at Brent Elementary, a feeder school for Hine, also objected, characterizing the plan as a way of "moving black folks out of the community."
School officials say, however, that Hine may be closed whether the academic high school proposal is approved or not because the building is also being considered as a site for school board offices.
John Warren, school board member for Ward 6 where Hine is located, assured Hine parents that the school would not be closed without the required hearing process. Warren, who chairs the board's finance committee, noted that the school system has a $35 million deficit and "the merits of the academic high school must be considered in that whole situation."
It an interview after the forum, Warren said while he was "not opposed to a version of this proposal . . . "I'm concerned that it isn't done in a way that alienates a large segment of the community."
No date had been set for a board vote on the proposal.
Eugene Kinlow, an at-large member of the board who also attended the meeting, said he planned to vote against the proposal. Frank Schaeffer-Corona, another at-large member, said he was inclined to favor it. Meanwhile, Allaire Rieffel, board member from Ward 2, called the academic high school "a terrific idea."
"It has many hurdles to clear, but it will challenge other high schools to superiority," she said. "This is the carrot that we need. Sticks don't work with kids."
Rieffel will hold a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Presidential Building, 415 12th St. NW. Anyone widhing to testify should call Ms. Price at 724-4283.