This post breaks down the details of the potential Ward 4 Middle School opening. One important note is that if the middle school is opened, it wouldn’t happen until School Year 2019-2020. Not this year, the next year, or the year after that. Current third graders at the feeder education campuses would be the first sixth graders if opened.
In 2014, the Deputy Mayor for Education’s office recommended the opening of a new middle school in Ward 4 (New North) as part of its final boundary and feeder assignment recommendations. This recommendation would open a new middle school in northern Ward 4, converting the four education campuses that currently feed into Coolidge to elementary schools (PK-5th grade instead of PK-8th grade). Those schools are Brightwood, Whittier, Lasalle-Backus, and Takoma Education Campuses.
Two driving factors behind this recommendation were parent/community input and the space constraints at the four education campuses. During the boundary and feeder recommendation community engagement process, parents and community members expressed desire for more stand-alone middle school options, giving both elementary and middle school students more of a traditional elementary and middle school experience. In addition, the education campuses feeding into Coolidge are facing the challenge of growing enrollment that is approaching the capacity in their buildings. Opening a middle school and moving the middle grades there would relieve some of that pressure.
One of the biggest challenges in opening this potential middle school has been securing the space and capital funding to build it. The upcoming modernization of Coolidge High School is an opportunity to have both the space and funding for a middle school, by including a middle school build in the scope of the work being done on Coolidge. There is both money in Coolidge’s modernization budget of roughly $160 million, and space on Coolidge’s south lawn (see below) for middle school construction. In the recently completed feasibility study for Coolidge’s modernization, two of the three options include the construction of a middle school.
The Coolidge campus has sufficient space in its south lawn to construct a middle school.
Architect rendering from feasibility study of possible middle school build south of Coolidge High School building.
In addition to securing space and budget, another important piece in the decision on whether to open a middle school is parent, staff, and community input — do the parents at Brightwood, Whittier, Lasalle-Backus, and Takoma Education Campuses want a stand-alone middle school? Do the teachers and staff? Community members living in the Coolidge boundary? We on the School Planning Team have been working to answer those questions since last spring, with parent meetings, student focus groups, regular Coolidge Community Working Group meetings, and a survey we put out to parents and staff at Coolidge feeder schools.
As the DCPS Facilities Team collects feedback on the Coolidge feasibility study, the Planning Team will continue to analyze enrollment and academic data and meet with Coolidge Community Members, particularly parents from Coolidge’s four feeder education campuses: Lasalle-Backus, Brightwood, Takoma, and Whittier. DCPS will need to make a final decision on the potential middle school by late fall in order to stay on track with Coolidge’s construction timeline. We’ve met with parents at Brightwood and Whittier already, and have upcoming meetings at Lasalle-Backus (10/6) and Takoma (10/20). We are also meeting with school staff along with regular meetings with the Coolidge Community Working Group.
Whittier parents discussing potential middle school and building modernization. Lasalle-Backus families filling out the survey at Back to School night
If you’d like to weigh in, please click on the relevant survey link for your language. The results of our survey up to 9/21/16 are below.