The Washington Post

D.C. officials celebrate groundbreaking of new Ballou Senior High in Southeast

Ballou High School -- view of the main entrance. (Department of General Services)

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other city officials gathered Tuesday in Southeast Washington to break ground for Ballou Senior High School’s new facility, the latest D.C. public school to be rebuilt from the ground up.

The $120 million building is expected to open its doors to students in fall 2014. The design boasts three floors of new classrooms behind a striking glass facade; spaces dedicated to arts and career courses, including a new auto-tech lab, computer lab and exhibition kitchen; and an athletic wing with a gymnasium and eight-lane swimming pool.

Plans also include a raft of environmentally friendly features, including rainwater harvesting and solar panels.

“We think this will be one of the finest high schools in America,” Gray (D) said, speaking against the backdrop of a construction site already teeming with bulldozers.

Chancellor Kaya Henderson said the building is as much a message as it is a brick-and-mortar structure. “We’re letting our young people know that we believe in them, that we’re investing in them,” she said.

Ballou High School — an aerial view from the northeast. (Department of General Services)

The new facility will be next door to the current Ballou, a crumbling brick building that houses about 800 students in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Fewer than one-quarter of Ballou’s students are proficient in reading and math, according to the city’s standardized tests, and half graduate within four years. Chronic truancy is also a problem: 46 percent of Ballou students missed at least a month of class in the past school year.

Officials at Tuesday’s groundbreaking, including D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Trayon White, the D.C. State Board of Education’s Ward 8 representative, acknowledged that the school will need more than a new building to improve upon that record.

Still, the crowd was in a celebratory mood as the Ballou Majestic Knights marching band launched into song. “This is a fantabulous day — between fantastic and fabulous,” said D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who pushed for the money to make the project possible.

“Ward 7 and Ward 8 have been at the back of the bus too long,” Barry said. “We’re now moving up to the front.”

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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