Scoping out space for a middle school arts magnet
School officials are looking at several buildings, including Eastern High School, as a prospective home for a middle school fine arts magnet they say the District will open in fall 2011.
The new DCPS capital budget has about $20 million set aside to retrofit or renovate an existing building for the venture, part of an effort by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to expand middle school options for District families who frequently leave the system after the elementary grades.
Eastern, undergoing a $76 million renovation due to be completed in August, would be a short-term solution. It is scheduled to begin admitting ninth-graders in 2011 (after a planning year), then adding another grade each year. That means a middle school could be co-located there, at least for a while. Another possibility is the Hyde Leadership public charter school on T St. N.E. next to McKinley Technology High School. Hyde is moving to the former Taft Junior High building on Perry St. NE.
Abigail Smith, Rhee's "transformation management" chief, says the District will also look at two surplus elementary school buildings in Northeast, Gibbs and Logan. A longer term possibility is Shaw@Garnet-Patterson middle school near 10th and U St. N.W. Shaw is due to get a new building in 2014.
Plans for the arts magnet have been tied up in the continuing dispute over the future of Hardy Middle School principal Patrick Pope, Rhee's choice to plan and run the new school. A group of well-organized Hardy parents want to Pope to stay at the Georgetown school, where he has run a highly regarded arts and music program that has drawn students from across the city. Smith said the magnet will have no impact on Hardy's arts program, which will remain intact.
Smith encountered a torrent of skepticism and hostility at a Wednesday morning meeting with the Hardy LSRT, whose parents and teachers regard the magnet project as a sham designed to sideline Pope. He will be replaced at Hardy this summer by Dana Nerenberg, principal of nearby Hyde-Addison elementary, who will run both campuses. Rhee has said she wants to reinforce Hardy's identity as a neighborhood school, and that Pope is best suited to running a magnet school.
LSRT chairman Keenan Keller expressed doubts that the money for the new magnet even exists, given all the pressures on the school system's capital budget. He also noted that other construction projects have slid on the timetable.
"There hasn't been a lot of fidelity to these plans," Keller said.
Others pressed school officials for proof of sufficient interest in opening up an arts middle school, at a time when overall middle school enrollment is in decline.
"How are we supposed to plan a school when we don't have any concrete data?" asked Hardy parent Candy Miles-Crocker "We're not going to settle for this facade."
Smith said the project is no facade, and that DCPS intends open it in 2011.
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