District school officials, apparently bowing to community pressure, have modified a dramatic school reorganization plan to allow some neighborhood children to attend a new Capitol Hill middle school designed to expand programs that have attracted the middle class.
But the new school would be open to neighborhood children only for the coming year. After that it would admit only children from other parts of Capitol Hill.
Under the plan that has been approved by D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, Stuart Junior High School, which now has grades seven through nine, will close in June and reopen in the fall as the Stuart-Hobson Middle School with grades five through eight.
The original plan called for only children from Peabody and Watkins elementary schools to be admitted. But with the modification, sixth graders from Ludlow-Taylor and Goding elementary schools, the two schools that normally feed into Stuart, would also be admitted in the fall.
Under the plan, which still needs school board approval, pupils currently attending seventh grade at Stuart will be allowed to attend the new middle school. Current eighth graders at Stuart would be transferred to Eliot Junior High or Hine Junior High in the fall for ninth grade.
"We modified our plan to include those students from Goding and Ludlow-Taylor because those kids were already planning to attend the Stuart building," said Ward 6 school board member Bob Boyd.
School officials cautioned that the modification would apply only for the coming school year, after which sixth graders from the two elementary schools would be assigned to other schools outside their community.
"But we don't expect any more changes to the plan this year, and I don't believe there are any children who are damaged by this plan," Boyd added. "Every kid that has been involved in any of the schools are better off than they were in the past because now they have more choices."
However, some parents of children at Goding, Ludlow-Taylor and Stuart have opposed the plan because it would mean that their children would have to leave the neighborhood to attend junior high school.
"The plan is just not acceptable to us," said Stuart PTA Vice President Phillip Johnson. "The parents in this community do not want any conditions placed on their children that would prevent them from attending their school in their own neighborhood."
After listening to parental complaints at a recent meeting at Stuart, Boyd and Deputy Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins III revised the plan to allow neighborhood sixth graders to attend Stuart, but they did not agree to other demands.
"They wanted the fifth graders at Ludlow-Taylor and Goding to go to the new middle school, but we said no," said Boyd, "the rationale being that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the existing K-through-sixth-grade program at Ludlow-Taylor."
But Johnson disagreed. "We want our fifth graders to be able to attend the new school in the sixth grade as well," he said. "If a child lives in the Stuart boundaries then he should be able to go to the new school without special permission, conditions or qualifications," he said.
"The kids in the neighborhood should get first dibs, for the simple fact that it is a public school and these kids live in the neighborhood," said Johnson.
Hobson Middle School, with 151 pupils, the majority of whom are black, is now housed on the fourth floor of the Watkins building at 12th and E streets SE.
The plan, dubbed "Schools on the Hill," was initiated by parents with children in the Hobson-Peabody program and Boyd more than a year ago. The plan's supporters said it would create a permanent home for Hobson, eliminate crowding at Peabody, at Fifth and C streets NE, and provide space for a new science and arts center, which will offer special after-school and summer programs to be housed at Watkins.
The revised plan calls for some school boundary changes.
The new Stuart-Hobson Middle School at Fourth and E streets NE will not have a boundary, and pupils will gain admission through a designated feeder pattern. Pupils from Goding, 10th and F streets NE, and Ludlow-Taylor, Seventh and G streets NE, in the Stuart neighborhood, would attend Eliot Junior High School at 18th Street and Constitution Avenue NE, and Hine Junior High School at Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
Boundaries for Peabody and Watkins elementary schools will not change. Peabody, which currently has prekindergarten to third grade, would add a fourth grade under the plan, and Watkins, now with prekindergarten to sixth, would stop at fourth grade.
The boundary changes are subject to a public hearing before they can take effect, Boyd said.
"With Stuart Junior High now a middle school, the boundary changes were necessary to assign students to other schools," said Boyd. "It's just a short distance, and that never really matters to junior high students," he said.