D.C. arts magnet may slip a year
It looks as if plans for the middle school fine arts magnet--the one that Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee dispatched Hardy Middle School principal Patrick Pope to open in fall 2011--will be pushed back a year. DCPS had been looking at existing buildings to renovate for the new school, but in an Oct 12 e-mail to members of the "blue ribbon" advisory panel, which is scheduled to meet today, DCPS community and family engagement chief Peggy O'Brien raised the possibility of taking more time with the project.
O'Brien noted that some panel members had been leaning in that direction since the group's meeting in June. She quotes actor Eric Booth, who said the "extra months will allow time to clarify the school's identity, goals, and design with an inclusive process that taps the best knowledge and most promising practices in the field, enabling the school to become a national leader from the outset."
A couple of more practical factors are also in the mix. One is the city's parlous financial condition, with the possibility of a $400 million budget shortfall by 2012. School officials said last spring that $20 million had been set aside in the DCPS capital budget for building renovations, but it's not clear whether that money is still there. Even if it is, the other problem is that Rhee is gone--Friday is her last official day--and mayor apparent Vincent C. Gray has never liked the idea of a middle school arts magnet. He's said that the existing middle schools should have their arts programs upgraded instead.
The arts magnet was the stated reason that Rhee pulled Pope last year from Hardy, which has its own popular arts and music program. The move triggered huge pushback from parents who accused Rhee of meddling in an attempt to attract more neighborhood kids to the Georgetown school, which draws most of its enrollment from across the city.They regarded the whole arts magnet idea as a contrivance to ease the removal of Pope, who did not market the school to the surrounding neighborhood as aggressively as Rhee wanted.
Their protests caught the attention of Gray, who praised Hardy as a "one city school" and said at a March D.C. Council hearing that moving Pope was ill-advised. With the arts magnet apparently on a slower track, calls for his reinstatement could intensify.
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