Many school districts across the nation have one grade configuration for students before high school: They keep them in elementary schools that enroll students from kindergarten to eighth grade; assign them to middle schools that enroll students from sixth through eighth grades; or shift them to junior highs that enroll students from seventh to ninth grades.
In the District, though, all three configurations are in play, creating a hodgepodge of schools.
That issue -- along with numerous others -- is expected to be addressed in late January when Superintendent Clifford B. Janey unveils his master education plan, a blueprint that is to outline educational priorities and guide how the 62,000-student system will be revamped.
But to arrive at their decisions, Janey and other school leaders are seeking input from parents and others on a range of topics that are to be included in the plan, including grade configuration, specialty schools and charter schools. School leaders will hold a series of meetings this month, beginning Wednesday, to gauge public sentiment on what the school system should look like.
The plan will be devised "based on what the community thinks are the main educational priorities," said Michelle J. Walker, the system's chief of strategic planning and policy, who is leading the effort.
"A lot of the pressure the school system is feeling is around facilities," she added. "We want to get solid feedback from the community on what educational programs [community members] want. The facilities decisions will be based on the educational programs."
Wednesday's meeting will be held at Patterson Elementary School, 4399 South Capitol Terrace SW. The others are: Nov. 14 at McKinley Technology Senior High, 151 T St. NE; Nov. 15 at Cleveland Elementary, 1825 Eighth St. NW.; Nov. 17 at Janney Elementary, 4130 Albemarle St. NW; and Nov. 21 at Kelly Miller Middle, 301 49th St. NE.
School officials said Janey will attempt to use the same broad-based coalition of business leaders, foundations, higher education institutions, parents and community activists that helped him devise the five-year plan introduced in May.
The earlier plan called for establishing a team of "distinguished educators" to help improve failing schools. It also recommended modifying the traditional four-year calendar beginning next fall to allow some students to complete their studies in three years and others who need the extra time to finish in five years; and increasing the number of high school credits needed for graduation from 23.5 hours to 27.5 hours.
But Janey's master education plan is to provide greater detail than the five-year plan, said Juanita Brooks Wade, director of the D.C. Education Compact, the coalition of business leaders, foundations and parents that helped Janey draft the earlier plan.
The five-year plan gave "Dr. Janey's vision from a view of 30,000 feet. The master education plan is the picture of the school system at 15,000 feet," Wade said.
She added that Janey's final plan in the series, a master facilities overview to be introduced in April, will offer much more specific information, detailing which schools will be consolidated and which will be closed.
The meetings will offer orientation sessions to help participants become familiar with the issues and "community engagement stations" where they can comment on specific issues.
Wade said she hopes participants can help address such issues as whether the school system should concentrate on academic schools and allow charter schools to become the sole providers of specialty and magnet programs; whether the school system should allow individual schools to devise their own curricula; and whether the system should offer a comprehensive pre-kindergarten program at all elementary schools.
But the burning issue will be grade configuration, Wade said.
Student achievement levels have dropped at several of the schools offering kindergarten through eighth grade, Wade and Walker said. One possibility, Walker said, is that the schools become unstable around sixth grade, when students transfer in and out.
"If someone were to say, 'Does the K-8 model work in D.C.?' the overwhelming response would be, 'No, it's a disaster,' " Wade said. "But it's a success elsewhere. . . . The question we need to ask is, 'Do we throw the baby out with the bath water?' "