Third- and sixth-grade students at Slater-Langston Elementary School, on P Street NW near North Capitol Street, scored above their grade level and national norms on several standardized tests last year.
Third and sixth graders at J.F. Cook Elementary School, located directly across P Street, scored a year or more below their grade levels on the same tests and had some of the lowest results in the city.
When District public schools open Tuesday the two schools will be merged, a move that has left many parents of Slater-Langston students fearful that the education program that has produced above-average test scores for their children will disappear. But others in the community, and school officials, say they hope the merger will improve the performance of all students.
Prekindergarten through third-grade students at both schools will attend Cook. Fourth through sixth graders at both schools will attend classes in the Langston building, one of two adjacent structures that compose Langston-Slater. The Slater building will be left vacant.
"Parents are up in arms," said Iris Simms, president of the Slater-Langston Parent-Teacher Association. "We've had no say-so whatsoever in the decision. School officials have made up their minds that they want this to happen and so it will happen. But we are not pleased.
"We believe that the program at Cook is not up to par and we don't have faith in the teachers there. At Slater-Langston, the teachers and the former principal developed stimulating and effective programs for the students and the test results speak for themselves," said Simms, who has headed the PTA for six years.
Deputy Superintendent Andrew Jenkins said, "There were some parents who had some concerns about the merger. The regional superintendent has been in touch with them. Our goal is that we'll have a quality program everywhere.
"The schools were underpopulated," he continued. "Consolidation is a better use of the buildings. I do realize there were some differences in the test scores. I can't tell you definitely what contributed to the differences in the test scores. We're looking into that now."
The red-brick schools face each other on opposite sides of P Street NW between North Capitol and First streets. The Slater-Langston buildings, which are separated by a small courtyard, were constructed in 1890 by members of a synagogue and later taken over by the city school system. Cook was built by the city in 1926.
The schools are located a block from Bates Street NW, a once shabby address that has been transformed into a renovated enclave with city dollars. To the south is Hanover Place NW, a street best known for drug sales. Dunbar High School is around the corner.
Cook, with 150 students last year and Slater-Langston, with 200, draw their children from some of the poorest families in Northwest. There are about 20 pupils to each teacher at both schools.
Thomas Kelly, the principal for both schools, also could not explain the differences in test scores. The teachers at Cook and Slater-Langston are about equal, he said. In addition, "We used the same special teachers at the schools, the same assemblies. We have the same science clubs, library clubs and they go on the same field trips," he said.
Kelly, who has been named principal of the new combined school, said the merger will help to increase school security and school maintenance. "Last year, we only had three classrooms in the Slater building and there was no full-time security. We didn't have adequate custodial help either," he said.
Kelly was at a loss to explain the difference in the test scores. "I don't know" why one school outscored the other, he said.
The teachers at Cook and Slater-Langston are about equal, he said. In addition, "we used the same special teachers at the schools, the same assemblies; we have the same science clubs, library clubs and they go on the same field trips," he said.
Kelly said "there is no animosity between the teachers. They are all professionals and dedicated to their jobs."
School board member Bettie Benjamin, who represents Ward 5 where both schools are located, said she cannot explain the disparity in the test scores between the two schools. She said she hoped that "whatever the teachers were doing right" at Slater-Johnson would rub off on Cook teachers. "The interaction among staff from the two schools should produce a better result," she said. "Hopefully they can share ideas and approaches."
Louisa Clark, who lives a block from the schools, is familiar with both schools because her daughter attends Langston and her son goes to Cook. "The teachers are much better at Langston," said Clark. "They actually take time and teach and explain until the child understands the subject. In the process, they do use a lot of repetition, so some advanced students get bored."
Clark, a nursing home medication aide, said she will send her children to private schools this year because of the merger. "They will never go to public school again, even if I have to go without eating to send them."
Naomi Newman, the former Slater-Langston principal, said that to improve student achievement, "We made a studied effort to organize the curriculum, concentrating on basic skills and intense motivation of the students. We stimulated the kids, met their needs, concentrated on the basics. We didn't have a lot of extracurriculars."
Joyce Chestnut, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who represents the Cook and Slater-Langston neighborhood, supported the merger. "My concern for some time has been that there's been two separate schools across the street from each other," she said.
"Why have they not been working together all along?" she added. "If teachers at Slater-Langston are doing something that works well for the students, then all the children in the neighborhood should benefit. What is the fine line between the good scores and the ones that aren't so good?"
A Slater-Langston teacher, who asked not to be identified, added, "Perhaps the fact that we've had the older children in the Langston building and the younger ones in the Slater building created a better teaching environment for them. Maybe they could concentrate better.
"The children come from rough neighborhoods, but they are sweet. They want to learn. They may be a little streetwise, but they're good kids," the teacher said.