Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee announced his proposal in a letter to Washington Metropolitan families this week. The city plans to hold community meetings on the potential closure in December, and Bowser is expected to make a decision in January. The school, which has more than 150 students, would close at the end of the academic year.
The proposal to close the school — widely known as Washington Met — comes amid declining enrollment, poor attendance and lackluster academic results.
“This closure is being proposed in service of improving educational opportunities for Washington Metropolitan students, and we recognize the importance of partnering with families in making this decision,” Ferebee wrote in the letter.
Washington Met opened in 2008 as one of the city’s four alternative high schools, which the school system refers to as Opportunity Academies. It moved in 2016 to its current location near Howard University in the District’s LeDroit Park neighborhood.
Washington Met is the only Opportunity Academy that serves middle school students. And its high school population tends to skew younger than the other alternative campuses, which also serve adult students.
The city aims to settle the fate of Washington Met before the February application deadline for the school lottery, which assigns students who want to attend a school other than their neighborhood campus.
Because D.C. Public Schools does not have another alternative middle school, the roughly 25 Washington Met students in those grades will probably transition back to a mainstream campus if they remain in the school system. Two alternative charter schools serve middle school students.
Alternative schools exist to help students who are struggling or disengaged from learning get back on track. But school system leaders say Washington Met fell short of that goal.
Graduation and attendance rates were lower than at the city’s other alternative high schools. Most days, only about 28 percent of students attend class, according to city data.
Internal surveys found that students disliked the campus, school leaders said. More than 40 percent of Washington Met students live in Southeast Washington in Ward 8, making for a long commute to the campus in Northwest.
“Compared to other Opportunity Academies in DCPS’ portfolio, Washington Metropolitan has consistently underperformed,” Ferebee wrote. “We believe Washington Metropolitan students can be better served at other Opportunity Academies or programs and are confident this proposal is in the best interest of students.”
The school is centrally located in the city and nestled between a sprawling park, public housing and expensive homes. The school system said it plans to keep the property in its inventory and find another academic use for it.
Candi Peterson — a social worker at Washington Met and the school’s union representative — said teachers were “shocked” to learn about the school’s potential closure this week.
But she said she does not believe the school was set up to succeed. Many students landed at Washington Met because they had attendance problems at their previous schools and then had to travel long distances to get to the alternative school.
The middle school was not adequately staffed, she said, and largely shared services with the high school. Peterson and other teachers hoped the city would invest in more job training programs like the other Opportunity Academies have, but that never happened.
The school system is telling staff at Washington Met to apply for positions at other schools, but Peterson said that with a competitive job market, she and her colleagues are unsure where they will land.
“It was kind of like a setup,” Peterson said. “We were thinking that more programs would help to attract more students because we just didn’t have the programs that the other schools have.”