Last week, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh publicly floated a proposal to create a new middle school for Ward 3. This would dramatically affect Georgetown families, as discussed below.
Citing overcrowding, Cheh wrote in a letter to the Current this week that “the problem at the middle school level seems to be a lack of capacity.” She suggests as a solution the construction of a new school at the Palisades Recreation Center. She also mentioned the possibility of expanding the Mann School. It’s so early at this point, though, that Cheh doesn’t really have a “plan” so to speak and is open to other suggestions for locations.
The good news for Georgetown: the plan would lump them in with the Ward 3 elementary schools that currently feed in Hardy like Hyde-Addison does (Mann, Key, and Stoddert). So if this theoretical new middle school is constructed, Georgetown students would have a right to attend it, even though it would be in another ward (ward boundaries don’t really have much to do with school boundaries). This seems somewhat obvious, but there is always a remote possibility that DCPS would break Hyde off from the other schools and have Hyde students flow up to Francis-Stevens in the West End (which would be a much closer school than a Palisades-based school).
The story behind this story has already been well told by Mike Debonis:
While parents at Lafayette and Janney and Hearst have some comfort in knowing their kids are entitled to a spot at Deal, parents at Mann and Key and Stoddert have less certainty that Hardy is the right place for their kids…That was the subtext of Michelle Rhee’s effort to remake Hardy (which is actually in Ward 2) from an application-only [GM note: Hardy was never application only] arts-focused school attended mostly by out-of-boundary kids to a more traditional neighborhood middle school. At this point, after all the fury, some Ward 3 parents just don’t want to mess with Hardy any more.
Cheh puts a different spin on this dynamic. She states that what Hardy has become to out-of-boundary students is too precious to take away by making it more into a neighborhood-serving school:
[Hardy's] arts-focused curriculum does not appeal to a sufficient number of Ward 3 parents. If the school’s structure were changed to attract Ward 3 families, then Hardy would no longer have room for many of the out-of-boundary students who thrive there and benefit from the school’s quality education.
In other words: “it looks good on you though“.
Cheh has happily touted the success DCPS has had in bringing local families into the Ward 3 elementary schools. But that success came at the cost of out-of-boundary seats at those schools. Is depriving a child from across the park of a seat at Hardy any worse than depriving them of a seat at Janney or Lafayette? Of course not. The only difference that GM sees is that the out-of-boundary families at Hardy brought down the last mayor.
The issue of capacity is somewhat of a red herring. There is not a middle school capacity problem for Ward 3 students. The problem is that they would rather attend one middle school (Deal) instead of the other (Hardy). They could simply switch one or two of the upper Ward 3 elementary schools to feed into Hardy instead of Deal. But the parents at those schools would go nuts. Deal has genuine capacity issues, but this solution would do nothing to address that issue.
Implicit in Cheh’s plan is the idea that Hardy would become a true magnet school, which it never has been. So unless Georgetown students applied and were accepted, they would have to travel to the new Ward 3 middle school. This would be bad for Georgetowners since the likely location of the new school would be much less convenient than Hardy.
All of this is really making the issue way more complicated than it needs to be. There is already a process in place to create a true arts focused magnet school. It still has a way to go until it is ready, but it’s certainly further along in planning than a new Ward 3 middle school is. And once it does open, the main reason for not using Hardy to ease Ward 3 middle school capacity problems disappears.
Ultimately it makes more sense to build the new magnet middle school at a central location (like the vacant Franklin School) and keep Hardy as a neighborhood-oriented school. Adding another building to the mix would just be a waste of money.