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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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By Bill Turque  |  May 5, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
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maybe the BBC will buy a building if Ms Rhee can keep her job and they can pick the staff that will work at the new school. :) j/k

Posted by: truthseeker3 | May 6, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Isn't this putting the cart before the horse? Don't get me wrong but at what point does planning and preparation go hand-in-hand. Let's see we have been planning for Eastern for months, but it was announced months later about a need to have planning year...hence preparation for months have gone for naught.

Now we planned to start an arts magnet school as early as in December 2009 and then prepared the move of the principal in 2010 to a temporary location as the plan to remodel a building for the program is still in the works for 2011.

No wonder there are strings attached to everything that Rhee she's all tied-up in confusion.

All I say Eastern High School and Hardy Middle School parents unite.

Posted by: PowerandPride | May 6, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse


Why not skip the facade and say you are moving the school? At least everyone knows where they stand. the program could have some continuity, etc.

Posted by: oknow1 | May 6, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Abigail Smith, Dr. Wilhoyte (Middle School Instructional Superintendent) and other DCPS central office staff were woefully unprepared for a meeting designed to describe the proposed magnet Arts Middle School.

There is no Executive Summary, no Curriculum, no substantive research into other examples of this school model, or even evidence that parents (DCPS or otherwise) have expressed any significant interest in going to such a school if it were created.

Ms. Smith stated she was confident that this proposed magnet Arts Middle School would attract students to the DCPS system. When pressed for any supporting research or parent requests for such a specialized school that would be directed at 6th through 8th graders, she gave none. And there was apparently little or no consideration of other arts program alternatives that may compete for families who would consider this focused education at such an early developmental stage.

I have had significant exposure of arts programs in many forms, and the difficulty of establishing a successful program that can compete with the myriad of extracurricular opportunities that are available to children at all stages of life. It cannot be done without a serious commitment to a well-conceived program that does not sacrifice any of the critical core instruction that children between the ages of 11 and 14 require.

The arts faculty needs to be top notch and experienced, which is very hard to gather if there is any question about the commitment of the school system to the long-term success of the program. The addition of a core faculty (math, reading, history, science, etc.) requirement necessitates lower student/teacher ratios and a larger threshold school size to accommodate the diversity of arts and music offerings that will appeal to a very small percentage of the overall DCPS population. The consensus opinion of respected arts educators is that such schools cannot begin small and expect to grow into a successful program as Ms. Smith has clearly indicated is the approach in establishing this new school.

One last, but important point, because arts programs are inherently more expensive, the Duke Ellington School for the Arts depends heavily on private contributions to the Ellington Fund that contributes a third of their operating budget.

Posted by: AGAAIA | May 6, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

… and more about the lack of strategic planning for the magnet Arts Middle School.

Ms. Smith seems to expect Principal Pope (an administrator) to pull together the essential elements of this very unique and rare school model that should be the responsibility of a team of expert arts curriculum planners. Apparently, to this point, there have been no educators with direct experience in such a special school, not to mention arts curriculum development, that have provided input into this bold initiative of the Chancellor.

When asked if she could identify an example of such a school, Ms Smith said that there was one in Montgomery County, but could not readily name the school, until Dr. Wilhoyte (who came to DCPS from MCPS) provided her with the name. There was no further discussion of this potential model for a DCPS magnet Arts Middle School or any of the qualities that make it a contributing part of the MCPS system, which has a population of 142,000 students; more than three times that of the DCPS system.

Posted by: AGAAIA | May 6, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

If this group was presenting a proposal to open a charter school, they would be sent back to the drawing board.

In the meantime, successful in demand charter schools, like Washington Latin and Washington Yu Ying, are unable to find adequate buildings.

Astonishing inequities.

Posted by: parentof2redheads | May 6, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse


Maybe Yu Ying can take the space of Youth America Works Charter School which just had its license revoked or better yet the ABC Charter School on Upshur which was built a few years ago but now stands empty.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | May 6, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Either the Hyde Leadership site or the Shaw site would be excellent choices for the permanent home for the Arts Middle School. Each is centrally located, each is around a half-mile from Howard University (the natural secondary education partner for the arts offerings).

I would roll out the program with the non-performance arts--literary and visual arts. Maybe some forensics and choir thrown in, because they require little in the way of infrastructure (a lectern/mic for forensics and maybe some risers for the choir). Spend the first year focussing on the non-arts portion of the curriculum. How to best integrate it with the literary and visual arts (more easily done that with the performing arts, which eat up huge time commitments for rehearsal and performance)?

In 2012-2013--if DCPS can sell the idea of the school to the philanthropic community and performance/rehearsal space can be found--expand the school to offer drama, dance, and music. Start out with 75 students each in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Grow to 175 in each grade. Find a permanent home. And the the Jessye Norman School for Young Artists will be realized.

Or, how about this--the "Jessye" (as I like to call it) programs for grades 7-9 and then feeds into Ellington for 10-12.

I just come up with the ideas. And I would like you all to know that Chancellor Rhee is so grateful for my contributions that she has her driver bring me a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies every Tuesday afternoon.

Posted by: gardyloo | May 7, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse


"I just come up with the ideas. And I would like you all to know that Chancellor Rhee is so grateful for my contributions that she has her driver bring me a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies every Tuesday afternoon."

You should hold out for more than cookies. The Chancellor is paying six-figure salaries to people who came up with less than you described in your post.

Respectfully, I don't agree with your concepts of growth or the assumption that anyone would send their kids to such a tenuous venture; a school model without serious planning or commitment.

Unfortunately, however expressed (often angrily), the Hardy parents are correct when they accuse the Chancellor as promoting this school as a Trojan Horse for removing principal Pope.

Beyond calling it a magnet Arts Middle School, they have not expressed any specific qualities of this school that would indicate the type of effort and passion that would be required to bring it to life. When the parent interest is not there, this proposed DCPS program will die, not even had the prerequisite feasibility studies done by the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization.

I will buy you a hundred bags of Chips Ahoy Cookies if this school is part of the DCPS portfolio in 2014, when it is supposed to be fully operational. And I can assure you that my promise is far more credible than the Chancellor's.

Posted by: AGAAIA | May 7, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

AGAAIA: Thank you for your very sound, thoughtful and right-on comments regarding the seriousness and difficulty of implementing an excellent arts magnet - not just a quickly slapped-together "how cool is this" program by disrupting an already successful school (Hardy)and not having enough experienced arts educators work out the specifics.

My daughter went to an inter-related arts school in Montreal, Canada, on the campus of McGill University. This was some years ago, and I don't know if it still exists in the same format, but it was an outstanding school, extremely challenging, and took a community of very experienced artists and scholars to pull it off.

I am also from a family of visual artists, theatrical professionals and musicians; I have taught in all of these venues, and it is very serious business.

Two comments regarding gardyloo's comments:

Forensics!!?! I am a fan of NCIS, but I am a little horrified that so many of our young people are being fed non-stop crime shows and would hate to see forensics as one of the first sciences associated with the arts (okay, Michaelangelo did dig up corpses to study anatomy)- think that might come a little later....and labs aren't cheap.

I think theater should be one of the first offerings because it encompasses very easily so many of the literacy and social issues our students need: reading, public speaking, memory work, character analysis , improvization,group work- cooperative skills,writing your own skits,physical movement,......history, comedy, tragedy, set design, costume design...infinite formats of short plays, TV shows, documentary, traditional theater, puppets,..etc. "All the world's a stage".

And you don't have to have a large, Kennedy-center type stage to start acting....any room and a few props will do.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | May 7, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

PLMichealArtist etc.--

I was using a quite different definition for forensics: rhetoric, dramatic readings, and all other forms of speechifying included under public speaking--typically excluding debate. I wasn't, of course, advocating that middle schoolers be sent out to process crime scenes.


I have printed out your promise and will hold you to it. I mean the big bags of Chips Ahoy cookies. Not the little 100 calories snack size. Eating a 100-calorie portion of cookies is like getting only to second base on your wedding night.

Also, I will promise to donate the cookies to DCPS schools, as long as Mary Cheh's Snack police don't stop me at the door and force me to substitute Mr. Whiskers' Lean Bran Kefir Disks. Kid's love 'em! Also make excellent shims!

Posted by: gardyloo | May 7, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large & gardyloo:

I have doubled my offer. You both get cookies.

I am on my way to the brand new Safeway across from Hardy MS to place a bulk order for 200 large bags of Chips Ahoy Cookies (full strength) to be delivered to Hardy for distribution.

And I almost transferred to McGill, as my father lived in Montreal when I was in architecture school back in the late 70's. He was friends with Steven Molson (of Molson Breweries), who owned the Montreal Canadians at the time. Those were some amazing days, watching Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur & Yvan Cournoyer in their prime. From the Molson Box at the Forum!

Now, the ghost has beaten my Caps. Woe is me...

Posted by: AGAAIA | May 7, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Talk about motivation to offer up ideas! Hearing about Chocolate chips and Montreal in the same breath......!!

I was definitely envious of my daughter's experience on the McGill's campus.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | May 7, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Sorry about the excess apostrophe above. Should have been "Kids love 'em."

Posted by: gardyloo | May 7, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

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