The opening of the new Brookland Middle School in Northeast Washington will be delayed one year, until fall 2015, because of construction issues and concerns about recruiting enough students, according to D.C. officials.
D.C. Council Member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced the change of plans at a community meeting Saturday.
“I think that this is the right decision,” McDuffie said in an interview Monday. “We ought not rush the opening of the school for the sake of having a new school building opening. We need to get it right.”
The school was initially slated to open in fall 2014, but construction crews have been slowed by the unexpected discovery of a gas line on the site, next to Turkey Thicket Recreation Center.
The line needs to be moved, and accomplishing that while maintaining the target opening date would have required extended work hours, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week and a shorter period on Sunday, which drew opposition from residents living nearby.
In addition, D.C. Public Schools officials were not certain that they were prepared to fill the 540-student school, which will emphasize arts and world languages. Another new Ward 5 middle school — McKinley Tech, a science- and math-focused school that opened this fall — has only filled about 60 percent of its seats.
Pushing back Brookland’s opening date will give the school system time to ramp up outreach and marketing efforts, said spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz. “The chancellor made a commitment for an aggressive marketing and outreach campaign,” she said.
Faith Hubbard, president of the Ward Five Council on Education, said she is disappointed by the delay but agrees that — with enrollment lottery season fast approaching — the school system didn’t appear to have marketed the new school broadly enough to ensure a strong start.
“You can’t expect the Field of Dreams — build it and they will come,” Hubbard said.
The delay comes amid questions about how the city school system plans to strengthen weak middle-school options, which have driven many children in grades six through eight into charter schools, private schools or the suburbs.
City officials agreed to build McKinley Tech and Brookland Middle in response to lobbying by Hubbard and others for a stand-alone middle school. The ward is home to several K-8 education campuses that advocates argue don’t have enough middle-school classes to offer the full complement of academic and extracurricular offerings that students need to compete for admission to the city’s selective high schools.
“A lot of those schools are lacking the resources they need to educate our middle-grade students,” said Hubbard.
Hubbard said the Ward 5 council had proposed that McKinley Tech be an application-only middle school. Instead, it is a neighborhood school with only one elementary school — Langley — feeding into it. That is one reason for the low enrollment, she said.