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Local

Duke Ellington May Leave Northwest

This topic is a little out of my usual purview, but it’s worth commenting on because schools are so necessary for smart growth – and are such a bloody issue.

DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee is apparently considering relocating the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts to a more central location. Currently, the school occupies a historically significant building in Burlieth, but if the move goes through, the school will move into the old Logan Elementary building near Union Station. In its place, a new High School serving mostly Ward 2 students (according to Councilmember Jack Evans) would begin operating.

For the most part, I support this move. Locating the building near a metro station will make it much more accessible for both students and teachers. Logan would also require a renovation, which would hopefully allow for some great new architecture and preservation by a local firm. The building seems dilapidated and lacking in the relevant facilities – and theaters demand great architecture. It could be a win-win for DC and its design community.

But much more importantly, opening up room for a new public high school in Northwest will accommodate new families who will undoubtedly come as appropriate development restarts in Northwest. Don’t forget, the building now occupied by Duke Ellington once held Western High School, one of two high schools in Northwest, along with Tenleytown’s own Wilson. Wilson is now pretty crowded. With more residents along Wisconsin and Connecticut, it will need to more room even than what the current renovation will provide. Private schools cannot be the answer anymore – St. Albans, Sidwell, Maret, and GDS are already larger than intended – and the costs of each are way too high for most families, $30,000 per year for some.

Backlash and speculation has (unsurprisingly) followed the discovery of the plan. Is it a racist plot to get black kids out of Georgetown? Apparently some assholes not only think so, but approve. Perhaps its is just a ploy to get better test scores from parents unable to foot private education. That’s plausible to me. Either way, the students are even getting involved, with a blog and a facebook group.

But look at it this way: growth in Northwest means slower growth and minimal displacement in less affluent parts of the city. If a new high school – and a renovated campus in Capitol Hill helps to facilitate those trends, then it is definitely worth it. Even if Jack Evan’s posturing is right, and this school will serve only students in Ward 2, then it will still likely serve African-American students. However, like Wilson, Hardy, and Deal, it should be open to promising students across the city. Compromises that benefit the entire city are absolutely necessary.

There are a lot of “ifs” behind my support. But planning for a future of 600,000 DC residents is necessary, and a new high school in Northwest would play a major role. DC has sacrificed enough school properties in recent years, however, it is time for re-use and revival.