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Wilson H.S. settles into 'Building 52'

Principal Pete Cahall didn't sound like a man who minded having to uproot a 1,500-student high school and set up in temporary space for a year. He seemed downright enthusiastic about Woodrow Wilson's freshly-renovated digs on the University of District Columbia campus, where classes will begin Monday morning.

"The bathrooms are like being in the Hilton. And the toilets are automatic flush," he said just before a late afternoon walk-through Friday with Mayor Adrian M, Fenty and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

While Wilson's Tenleytown home undergoes a $100 million reconstruction, the school has relocated to a five-story building at the southwest corner of Connecticut Avenue and Yuma Street known on the UDC campus by the X-Filey name of Building 52. It was slated to be the new quarters for the UDC business school before the District and the school struck a deal to postpone for a year.

The building itself looks sound enough on the inside. The District and UDC split the $15 million cost for 65 classrooms, computer labs and band and art rooms, and 30 new security cameras. And, unlike some classrooms in the old Wilson, Cahall cracked, "When the air conditioning is on, you can actually hear what people are saying."

But students will have to use the UDC gym and library. And because they will be without lockers, Cahall is developing a plan so that students will have one set of textbooks for school and another for home. One upside, Cahall said, is that it eliminates the evergreen excuse high school kids have for being late to class: that they had to get something from their lockers.

What concerns merchants and residents is what will be happening outside the building mornings and afternoons, with 1,500 not-always-well-behaved high school kids surging up and down the sidewalks, on and off buses and in and out of the Van Ness Metro station. There was also concern about how the Wilson kids would interact with emotionally disturbed and learning disabled students at Rock Creek Academy, a block away.

Cahall and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), said merchants were given the option of having their businesses placed off limits to Wilson students, but that no one accepted the offer. Instead, they all have Cahall's cell phone number in the event there are problems. There will be extra MPD and Metro police around as well, officials said.

"I'm going to have adults peppered all the way down the sidewalks," said Cahall.

"When school opens Monday, it's going to be perfect," Cheh said.

Cahall chuckled.

By Bill Turque  |  August 20, 2010; 6:52 PM ET
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Next: DCPS ramps up for day one


I'm excited about this arrangement and appreciate your report on it. For everyone who wants to stimulate a "college going culture" in DCPS, there surely could not be a better opportunity than this! I wish all students who have to move to temporary quarters could go to the UDC or another college campus.
Sure, there may be some ripples as everyone adjusts but I think it's going to be a really great experience for everyone. Keep us posted!

Posted by: 1citizen | August 20, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

How INTERESTING...Wilson gets a college campus while they are under renovtion and Eastern SHS got log cabin trailers!?!?!?!?! Anyone else see a probem with this or am I NOT suppose to see the difference in the treatment of a certain CLASS of students over a certain neighborhood of other students.

Posted by: lacairaine | August 20, 2010 11:24 PM | Report abuse

How did the Wilson HS renovation grow to $100 million? Alan Lew rejected that expense as extravagant when it was the estimated cost -- pre-recession, when contractors had plenty of work -- from architectural work solicited and paid for by DCPS itself. Why has $70 million grown to $100 million when construction firms are eager for clients who have the financing to complete jobs?
If the reporter were doing his job more assiduously,he would also dig out cost figures for the two years of air-conditioning being ripped out of Wilson HS. Typically tasteless of principal Peter Cahall to talk about superior plumbing in his new digs and complain about the Fenty-rush-rush-'cause-I-do-things-now air-conditioning. It was done for the boss who hired you, Pete.
How about it, Bill Turque, the cost of the air-conditioning being ripped out of Wilson HS, including temporary on-site diesel electric generator rental. $2 million, $4 million?

Posted by: incredulous | August 20, 2010 11:26 PM | Report abuse

Wilson High School has a library? Textbooks for every student? Air conditioning? So it's true what they say about west-of-the-Park schools!

Posted by: berniehorn | August 20, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

If this reporter were doing his job he would do a comparison between the treatment of Eastern SHS students during their renovation and the reasons surrounding their NON-relocation and the cost of both renovations and why thie school wss treated so shabiliy and Wilson SHS.

Posted by: lacairaine | August 21, 2010 6:10 AM | Report abuse

Are you kidding people? - SHOW SOME APPRECIATION! Eastern HS had what, 250 or 300 students and lots of land to dig up, and those were NICE trailers too...AND NOW Eastern is NEW!

If you live in DC, you know that Wilson is the biggest high school. I'm sure they had some difficulty finding a temporary space for 1,500 students! I also heard Building-52 was a total dump before they renovated it. Hats off to Allen Lew - again! ALLEN LEW FOR MAYOR!

Posted by: absolutjohn | August 21, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Some points in this article are disturbing and at the same time VERY telling.

1. They are concerned about how Wilson students will "interact" with the ED and LD students from an nearby school? I think they mean they are concerned about how the Wilson students will harass and ridicule those students.

2. They are concerned for the merchants in the area and offered the option for those businesses to be "off limits" to the students?

3. There will be extra police presence in the area because of the Wilson students.

4. Wilson students are not always "well behaved."

This brief article sheds light on what the REAL problems in DCPS are.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | August 21, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

And I forgot to mention: This is one of the BETTER high schools in DCPS! So imagine what it's like to try to teach students at Ballou, Anacostia, HD Woodson, Cardozo, Dunbar and many middle and elementary schools. Anybody beginning to see the true picture in DCPS? The teachers aren't the problem as Michelle Rhee would have you believe.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | August 21, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I live in this neighborhood. The students at the Rock Creek Academy have been a horrible problem ever since it opened. They hang out on the plaza outside the Van Ness Metro and harass customers entering and leaving the CVS, especially the elderly. The store got so many complaints that it had to hire a security guard to keep them away. Giant has to continually kick the kids out of its store, and one of the store's employees told me that the Rock Creek students are responsible for most of the shoplifting at the store. Back when I was taking Metro last year, I would see Academy personnel come down to the plaza to gather the kids up, and you wouldn't believe how nasty and aggressive the kids are. They start fights on the Metro platform when they get off the train. The people in my building, especially the elderly, are very upset that they will have to put up with even more kids now.

By contrast, UDC students have always been very well-behaved and rarely if ever created problems for residents. But school-aged kids are another matter. In fact, Wilson's move to UDC was made very quietly, and I know that many area residents have complained to Mary Cheh that they were not properly informed about the move and allowed to express their views, especially regarding street harassment and security. Kids from Rock Creek already got into our garage and vandalized some cars and broke into a ground-level apartment, stealing cash and a PC. The last thing we need is the same behavior from Wilson's students.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | August 21, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Added Value: Tenleytown area is going to be significantly more pleasant in the next year without all those brats and thugs roaming the streets and the metro station!

Posted by: mccxxiii | August 21, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I live near Van Ness and I now we have to deal with all the punk kids around the metro?

We already deal with all the losers and thugs that go to Rock Creek Academy.

Thats so wrong.

Posted by: kenk3 | August 21, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Van Ness has turned into a dumping ground for all the dysfunctional, single-parent, teenage crack babies in DC.

What did we do to deserve this?

Posted by: kenk3 | August 21, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

To those who've posted about the students at Wilson and Rock Creek and who live in Tenlytown and Van Ness: Please remember that when you think about those of us who teach in DCPS. We put up with it on a daily basis. Many of us frequently ask ourselves, "Why?" I guess it's because somewhere deep down inside we really do care about the few who actually care about learning. It may also be that we're gluttons for punishment. I guess a little of both.

Do you see now why we all hate Michelle Rhee aside from the fact she's doing a lousy job? It's not the teachers. It's the parents and the home environment. That doesn't mean we throw our hands up and just don't care but it is a factor in why these students don't learn, won't learn and could care less about learning and bettering their lives.

Maybe exposure to these students will garner a bit of sympathy from the public and turn the tide and demand that parents be held accountable for their child's learning outside of school rather than it being totally laid on the teachers' backs.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | August 21, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

UrbanDweller: You absolutely have my sympathies. You end doing both the job you're paid for (teaching) and the job you're not paid for (parenting).

Posted by: WashingtonDame | August 21, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Thank you WashingtonDame. At last someone has spoken a kind word regarding teachers.

Also, remember Anacostia is undergoing renovations and the STUDENTS ARE STILL IN THE BUILDING.

What no relocation for Anacostia students. Maybe the will receive a hard hat with a Fenty logo when they enter the building on Monday.

Posted by: bnew100 | August 21, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Yes, washdame, as bnew100 said, "Thank you!" We teachers seem to be the scapegoats these days and the cause for America's decline in education. We do the best with what is sent to us!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | August 21, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

To kenk3
I am a special ed teacher in DCPS..How dare you call the kids at Rock Creek Thugs. These are kids with severe emotional issues. They may not always make right choices but they are students and most of all humans. How dare you even make a stupid statement. Losers and thugs! If you had child with an emotional disability, u wouldnt dare say that.

Posted by: teacherjohn94 | August 22, 2010 3:50 AM | Report abuse

Kudos to the teachers of the Rock Creek Academy and also of Wilson HS! You have a tough job, and it's a shame that the Wash Post backs Rhee and her blame-the-teacher mentality. Rhee needs to get serious about helping to create an educational environment---more security at the schools and surrounding area and options to keep disruptive kids from staying in a classroom when other well behaved students want to focus on their education. It's just EASIER (and more economical) for Rhee to blame the teachers for problems and fire them and get younger and less expensive teachers on board.

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Posted by: strade37 | August 22, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

As a prior DCPS student, I will state this: the politics that surround the district, spill over into the school system.

The kids who many of you deem as thugs, punks, and recalcitrant youth are merely a reflection of the society in which we live. While it is a parents responsibility to nurture his or her own child, many parents in D.C. are just not equipped with the proper artillery for child rearing. That artillery being: money, education, dignity, love, and ultimately peace. If there is chaos out in the streets, there is chaos at home; if there is chaos at home, there is chaos at work; if there is chaos at work, there is chaos at school! Less we forget? "We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly!"

So, I concur "it takes a village to raise a child." It takes compassion and understanding not just from teachers at school, but from the community in general.
Not every person from a broken home or dysfunctional family will rob, knife, or disturb you. The problem facing most people in D.C. who are struggling with these issues is ostracism and subjugation. What is evident to me is that if people are ostracized for being poor, black, and uneducated OR poor, white, and uneducated the reaction from those parties will never be pretty.

I think that, as a society, if we continue to condemn those who we fill we are "above" or are "better than" in some way, we will find ourselves deeper in the dark hole of despair. We're all brothers and sisters in the human family despite economic status, skin color, age, or intellect. We must learn to have some compassion; so, that we can live amongst each other in peace.

Posted by: JVKXVIII | August 22, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

UDweller has received sincere thanks for his service and caring and skill as an educator before. Now we wants our deep sympathy for his plight, as he might term it, for being a well paid, highly effective teacher. Used to his concerns about Ms. Rhee, we now read that he seems to be pushing the divisive fractionalizing of the population and the student body, searching for the big plot and The Plan, based on demographics. If he believes Vince Gray is running consistent with those suspicions, he is dead wrong, as are others playing the same old song, with high comfort as victims that they so energetically want to be. Marion likes that. In the District, if we can drop the victimhood that seems second nature, we could solve many of our problems. Lord knows that DCPS kids of any kind or background can immediately sense it when their teachers are feeling sorry for themselves for having to teach them.

Posted by: axolotl | August 22, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

to axolotl: Glad to see you back. You were MIA for a while.

No, not looking for people to feel sorry for me. Not looking for more money. Not thinking Vince Gray will solve all of DC's problems if elected.

What I'm looking for is honest reporting by WaPo...for Fenty and Rhee to be held accountable for the dismal results of their school reforms...for a fair evaluation system which has data to indicate it really does what they say it does, i.e., that it actually distinguishes ineffective from effective teachers.

When I mention home environment and poverty, I and other teachers aren't making excuses for poor performing students. Nor are we throwing up our hands in defeat and ignoring those students. What we are doing, unlike Rhee, is dealing with and recognizing reality and agreeing with all the research from top education specialists and the top universities: that home environment is the biggest factor in student achievement. This has been studied, researched, proven, etc. Rhee thinks we're all miracle workers and that something mysterious happens when a student enters a school building: that the impact from their environment just melts away. Wrong!

As qualified and educated professionals, we are recognizing our limitations in being able to impact this student. We are also asking to be held accountable but only for those things over which we have total control.

I don't know anyone on here who would agree with an evaluation system where a portion of their evaluation is based on how someone else performs their job.

Bottom line is that the data shows Rhee has made the school system worse, not better. You can continue to hide your head in the sand but those of us who really care about the students will continue to speak out about the educational injustice these kids are receiving under these "Rhee-forms." It's nice to notice that even some parents are now speaking out about how their child's school has declined under Rhee.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | August 22, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Lacairaine was absolutely correct in her assessment of the disparity between the Wilson and Eastern projects. One of key factors for Eastern's low enrollment is attributed to the student body being relocated to trailers. Parents didn't see the fairness in it. School Without Walls was moved to the Logan building during their modernization. Eastern's community requested Hine or even co-location in the Eliot building but were denied. What's good for one population is good for the other. I commend Eastern's principal for creating a wonderful environment in the trailer park, but it wasn't the most ideal situation for the students. And, the Eastern project was about $30 million less than the projection for Wilson. Hmmm.....

Posted by: hrhjcg | August 22, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

UD -- thanks, as always, for your thoughtful response. And I share your hopes for improvements; it will come regardless of who is mayor, and, because of the efforts of strong teachers like you who have put up with a lot of chaos and have not lost your professional and social commitment.

That said, do you share my concern (and those of people in many wards) for the we-they, be it based on ward, race, income, neighbornood, teacher age, etc that is being injected in the last two weeks, obviously in sync w the primary campaign? The conspiracy theorists' rants on the temporary Wilson move and the neighborhood complaints about the kids are disturbing. The kids' behavior, even if half as bad as asserted, is a teen version of what the parents are doing.

Posted by: axolotl | August 22, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

"Van Ness has turned into a dumping ground for all the dysfunctional, single-parent, teenage crack babies in DC.

What did we do to deserve this?

Posted by: kenk3"

You must not have any political power or money, otherwise this would not have happened.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 22, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

ax: Yes, I share your concerns. I think WaPo has done an excellent job of turning this campaign into a race about race! I suspect that the majority of DC voters are intelligent enough to see through this farce. It's about effective government, style of leadership and serving the people who elected you. I also hope it's about honesty--well, as honest as politics can be!

See my post under the Fenty article which appeared in today's edition. I believe I was the first response. Much of what Fenty claims as successes are NOT. I won't repeat what I wrote there but I outlined the claims he made in the article and indicated why I believed they were false. The improvement in schools is one area. There has been NO improvement and it's now coming to light.

As for the students at Wilson, well, some of that behavior is typical teenage mischief and I remember being guilty of some mischief myself as a teen lo those many years ago. Yes, I agree with you that some of these teens are mirroring behaviors they see/are exposed to at home. And I believe it is as bad as those who have posted. I see it every day in southeast where I teach. Many Wilson students commute from southeast.

The big difference with students today and those back in my day is respect. There is a lack of respect for adults and those in authority such as teachers, police officers, etc. Students today don't fear teachers, there seem to be no repercussions for bad behavior in school, threatening to call their parents only leads to the student himself handing you his cell phone and saying, "Here, call." So how do you manage a classroom when you have a classroom full of students who don't respect you and know you have no power to do anything about it? I'm fortunate that I work with small groups or 1-1 but I feel for the teachers in middle and high schools who have 25-30 students. No one, unless they teach in DC, can imagine what it's like. And if you think those young TFA and DCTF kids can handle it, think again! A number of them end up crying their first few weeks and the veteran teachers rush to their aid.

That's a good segue into teachers and DCPS and Rhee. Yes, I believe there is a calculated effort to rid the system of older African-American teachers. I've watched it happen. I've watched one principal in particular give stellar scores to brand new young White DCTF and TFA teachers and literally harass older African-American teachers...and these were very good, effective teachers in my opinion. Perhaps it's less about race and more about economics. There is a definite effort to replace veteran teachers with less expensive (and unfortunately less experienced) TFA and DCTF teachers. I agree with Linda/RT who wonders why Rhee isn't hiring experienced, highly effective teachers in order to improve things? Why aren't teachers flocking here from other districts?

I've run out of space & may be off topic by now! Hope I answered. If not, tell me and I'll try again!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | August 22, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I live in Van Ness, and this is the first I have heard about this. There was no notice in my building or any signs that I am aware of.

In the few years my wife and I have been here we have never had a problem with UDC students, but we have felt uncomfortable with some of the groups of high school students cursing and running around outside the metro station and in the Giant. Also, and this is particularly upsetting, there has been an increase in graffiti. On the side of the Vincent Orange headquarters right on Connecticut several huge "tags" have popped up in recent months that no one has taken down yet.

I am very disappointment in how poorly they got the word out about this. I would have liked to have actively been involved in meetings about security issues.

Posted by: roteki | August 23, 2010 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Wow, the hatred that people here have for school kids is astounding. I saw lots of kids getting off the metro at Van Ness today and I have to say that it didn't affect my day at all.

Posted by: Shulan | August 23, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

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