An article in today's District Extra, which was printed in advance, incorrectly said that McKinley Technology High School would hold an open house this evening for parents to tour the restored building. The open house was held Aug. 16. (Published 8/26/04)
McKinley Technology High School officially opened its doors last week, welcoming residents and students for a preview of a majestic structure that has long embodied the ideals of practical education in the District public school system.
The opening of McKinley is a major achievement for the city, fulfilling a campaign promise of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and, more significantly, lending hope to a school system in which academic performance among high schoolers has been one of the system's most critical problems.
The school's principal, Daniel F. Gohl, said his vision for the school is to provide "a traditional liberal-arts education enhanced through the use of 21st century technology." The school opens Wednesday with a 28-member instructional staff and nearly 400 students in the ninth and 10th grades. The 11th and 12th grades will be filled over the next two years. As students advance and new students are admitted behind them, total enrollment is expected to rise to 800 students.
The school will be the most technologically sophisticated in the city, with wireless Internet access throughout the structure and an older technology -- fiber-optic Ethernet connections -- linking classroom computer terminals across a high-speed network. The school's Internet-based phone system, centered on a hub on the school's third floor, links offices and classrooms with the outside world. Students will be able to use the school's broadcasting studio, once it is completed, to beam live images directly to the television station run by the school system.
With its $75 million restoration nearly complete, McKinley, 151 T St. NE, is probably the loveliest school in the city, with warm terrazzo floors, a soaring light-filled atrium and five circular "common areas" where students will mingle and check their e-mail accounts on their laptop computers. The building has separate band and chorus rooms, an art studio and a greenhouse. Outside, a brick-and-marble plaza has been touched up, although it seems slightly incongruous against the new asphalt parking lot in front of the school.
The school's curriculum will be arranged around three fields -- biomedicine, information technology and broadcast communications -- that are intended to enliven such traditional subjects as English composition, mathematics and foreign languages. Each field is expected to be the social and academic nucleus for a cluster of students from different grades.
Unlike the old McKinley, which gave students vocational training to enter the workplace upon graduation, the new school will try to inculcate a desire for higher education in its students.
"Students will be able to leave and get entry-level jobs, but they will not be able to advance themselves in these fields without a college degree," Gohl said last week. The school's goal is to have students pursue advanced study or professional internships in their fields while in high school. Even if students do not pursue college study or professional careers in technology, Gohl said, they should be able to intelligently discuss such issues as the benefits and risks of genetic cloning, propaganda in the broadcast media and society's concerns about electronic privacy.
Even with 800 students and 210,000 square feet of usable space, the new school will be considerably smaller than its predecessor. The original McKinley was a sprawling complex of 282,000 square feet, with a capacity for 1,491 students.
McKinley has a rich history, with its roots in "manual training" programs that were set up for working-class youths in the 1880s. Named for the country's 25th president, the school was established in 1902 as a technical school for white students, emphasizing trades such as building, printing and engineering. In 1928, it moved to a new building on a hilltop at Second and T streets NE with a view of the Capitol. An addition was built in 1957. The school was closed in 1997, graduating a class of 180 teenagers that June.
Williams and other city officials, including D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who represents the area, proposed a comprehensive restoration of the building. Demolition of the interior began in 2001, and construction and window installation began the following year.
"We've tried to keep the sense of history in this place," said Gohl, who was hired in 2002 and was previously principal at what is now the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, part of Lyndon Baines Johnson High School in Austin, Texas.
The school's central wing houses a soaring auditorium whose wooden seats and brass railings have been lovingly restored. Classical and Biblical characters -- including Tubal-cain, an obscure Old Testament character sometimes credited with inventing the tools of brass and iron work -- adorn the plaster reliefs along the ceiling and ornamental grilles that cover the old school's radiator ducts. Above the auditorium is Memorial Hall, a solemn space that houses three marble plaques: one erected in 1933 in memory of 39 McKinley graduates who died in World War I, the other two placed in 1948 to honor 185 alumni of the school who lost their lives in World War II.
"Our curriculum and our instruction must surpass the quality of the facility," Gohl said. "What made McKinley so successful historically is that it gave students skill sets to be competitive and proficient."
The school has formed partnerships with organizations such as the Carnegie Institution of Washington, which will offer training and internship opportunities to McKinley's students. It has devised its curriculum with help from groups such as Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based research and advocacy group that supports programs to help young people become successful workers, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has championed small, technology-based schools.
McKinley's opening was originally scheduled for fall 2002. Funding delays and cost overruns have hampered the project. "It's unbelievable what they've done," interim Superintendent Robert C. Rice said last week, marveling at the work of school administrators and construction crews. Rice added, irreverently: "Of course, it's unbelievable what they spent. Then again, it's not a baseball stadium, it's an educational institution."
Notwithstanding the grandeur of the restoration, there has not been a stampede by parents to enroll their offspring. By mid-August, about 350 of the 400 slots had been filled, and school administrators have conceded that they did a lackluster job of publicizing the school. Another problem was that parents could not tour the school until a certificate of occupancy was granted, which occurred only this month. "One of the difficulties when you open a new school is to have it understood," Gohl said.
The school is intended to be only one part of a larger "technology campus" on the 24 acres that is to eventually include a community college program, a recreation center and a performing arts space. The building includes 66,000 square feet of empty "shell space" that can be used for such programs. Right now, the additional projects exist only on paper.
The school does not have an attendance zone. Admission is by application, although roughly 70 percent of applicants have been accepted so far. Students must submit a short essay and are interviewed by a panel that includes teachers and community representatives. Applications for admission can be found on the school's Web site: mths.k12.dc.us.
Parents have been invited to an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. today to tour the restored complex.