Three high-performing charter schools have submitted bids for the former Winston school in Ward 7. But a local community organization is urging DCPS to use the building to establish the first application-only middle or high school east of the Anacostia River.

The Martha H. Winston Elementary School. All photos by the author.

It’s difficult to predict what the Department of General Services will do with the former Martha H. Winston Elementary School in the Hillcrest neighborhood, given that 3 charter schools have applied for the site. In contrast, the Young and Hamilton schools, which were awarded to charters last month, drew only one bid for each property. Now yet another proposal for Winston has emerged. The Hillcrest Community Civic Association (HCCA) says that although it supports the concept of charter schools, it believes that Winston would be “a prime location” for a DCPS application-only school. Of the 3 charter school applicants, only DC Prep proposes to include a middle school as part of a pre-K-8th grade program at Winston. Rocketship Education and Eagle Academy would focus on pre-K through 5th grade or simply elementary school programs. It’s possible that a decision on the Winston school will be made public very soon. At the annual DC Association of Chartered Public Schools meeting on Tuesday, Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith said that two school dispositions would be announced later this week or next, presumably referring to Winston and another former DCPS school, Shaed. Need for extensive renovation It’s surprising that this particular building has drawn so much interest. As the HCCA acknowledges, the nearly windowless school will need to undergo significant renovation to make it an attractive option for local families. Public charter schools often have fundraising resources that allow them to finance such projects. But it’s not clear that the District would invest the money necessary for an extensive renovation of the building, especially when officials are still attempting to reduce building costs by excessing unused and underused school buildings. Unlike Dunbar High School, which DCPS recently spent $122 million to rebuild, Winston is neither centrally located nor particularly accessible by Metro. The building is nearly a mile from the Naylor Road Metro station, across the District boundary in Maryland, and there are only a few bus lines nearby. The HCCA says in its proposal that it is “not fixed” on Winston as the appropriate location for an application-only school. Its more general point is that there’s an imbalance between the location of charter schools and the location of students in the District. Students crossing the river The HCCA points out that the 6 competitive DCPS application schools are all in Wards 1, 2 and 5: Benjamin Banneker High School, Columbia Heights Education Center, Ellington School of the Arts, Phelps Architecture Construction and Engineering High School, School Without Walls Senior High School, and McKinley Technology High School. Of these schools, only one, Columbia Heights EC, includes a middle school. The HCCA also notes that, as of 2010, 39% of the District’s students lived in Wards 7 and 8. Ward 2, which has two application schools, had only 4% of the District’s students. Ward 1 and Ward 5, each of which also has two application schools, had 9% and 12% of the students, respectively. According to data collected by HCCA from DCPS profiles, parents in Wards 7 and 8 are sending their students to application-only schools across the Anacostia in large numbers.  Phelps, in Ward 5, draws 53% of its students from Wards 7 and 8, and 3 other schools—Banneker, Ellington, and McKinley—each draw over 30%. The HCCA says that enrollment trends in middle and high schools in Wards 7 and 8 have generally been flat or declining:

Source for both charts: Hillcrest Community Civic Association proposal.

In contrast, enrollment rates at DCPS application schools have been rising: The HCCA also points out that the application high schools offer an educational experience that is far better than that available at neighborhood high schools. And an application middle school, the proposal says, would capitalize on the recent gains achieved by some area elementary schools. In addition, it would help prepare local students to succeed at the existing application high schools. The HCCA makes a good case for locating an application school in Ward 7 or 8, and it’s an idea that Councilmember David Catania raised months ago. But it’s far from clear that the Winston school is the right site. A better choice might be the former Ron Brown Middle School, which is located a block from the Deanwood Metro station. A high-caliber school in that more convenient location could even attract students from across the District and possibly serve as a feeder into student-starved Woodson High School. The HCCA proposal doesn’t address the concern that an application-only school would surely attract some of the best students from other Ward 7 and 8 middle or high schools and further diminish overall student performance at those schools. But such a brain drain should not detract from DCPS efforts to increase performance at all of its schools. The HCCA is sponsoring an education forum on Tuesday, October 15th, at 6:30 pm, where its proposal for an application school will undoubtedly be discussed. Speakers will include Deputy Mayor Smith and the Executive Director of the Public Charter School Board, Scott Pearson. The meeting will take place in the Randle Highlands Elementary School gymnasium, 1650 30th Street SE. (Nearest Metro rail access: Naylor Road, Anacostia or Benning Road; Metro bus: 36, 39, A11, J13, K11, M6)