Sunday, November 29, 2009

Scott Montgomery Elementary: Should It Close?

Chancellor Michelle Rhee is considering closing Scott Montgomery Elementary School on the 400 Block of P Street NW in Shaw [DCPS Announcement].  The school's 200 students would join the new $36 million Walker Jones campus on New Jersey Avenue NW just south of New York Avenue NW.  Some have said, "it's a done deal." 

On first instinct, one might think, "what's not great about moving the students into a brand new building with an attached public library."  The school also has a new recreation center, athletic field, and playground.  Those favoring the consolidation may note that it would maximize the benefits of the new school, located in the Sursum Corda area, which is woefully under-enrolled -- practically empty.  The principal of Montgomery would move to Walker Jones with the consolidation.

Underlying this proposal is the likelihood that the Kipp charter school, which now shares the Montgomery building, would expand to occupy the entire space (there is also a likelihood that most of Montgomery's teachers would not have jobs in Walker Jones).  Kipp recently built and paid about $6.9 million for a 15,000 sf addition to the Montgomery Elementary School to house 3 pre-K classrooms 900 sf each, a 2,270 sf cafeteria, and a 6,885 sf gymnasium, along with restrooms and locker rooms.   DCPS has also made a substantial investment in the school, bringing the building and grounds up to par, resulting in a more welcoming environment.  DCPS removed old rusted grates and installed new windows; installed new fencing and lighting; painted the interior and installed new whiteboards, built a new playground, and paved and secured the back lot, among other improvements.

Teachers and parents opposed to the consolidation/closure have appeared at recent meetings of the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association and Convention Center Community Association.  They raise strong points.
  1. Safety of the children.  There is significant crime in the barren Walker Jones area.  It is an elementary school with metal detectors.  Children would need to walk distances as far as a mile and a half and cross New York Avenue, New Jersey Avenue, or both -- the most most dangerous intersections in city. Crossing New York Avenue is entering another world.
  2. Montgomery is not under-enrolled.  At its peak, the school had 500 students.  It now has 500 students -- 200 in the public school and 300 in the charter school, which pays for its share of the space.  The public school's enrollment is limited by discontinuation of the 5th grade. The lack of a 5th grade discourages parents from sending their children to Montgomery because they will need to switch schools.  Fifth grade should be restored.
  3. A family, a history.  Over 50% of the students are not first generation at Montgomery.  Some of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents went to the school.
  4. Choice exists now.  Parents of students at Montgomery currently have the choice of sending their child to Walker Jones.  Most have chosen not to do so.  A survey of parents found that if Montgomery is closed, then 85% will send their child to another school in Ward 2, not Walker Jones. 
  5. Not our fault.  The city is, in effect, punishing Montgomery students for its own poor planning in building Walker Jones.  Montgomery has great facilities and teachers, and a strong community.  Its test scores and diversity have gone up in recent years.
  6. Give us time.  Montgomery parents would like one to two years to show that they can increase enrollment. Provide a goal and they will meet it.  They have four full pre-school classes that will work their way up.
I lean toward keeping the school open and find point #1 most persuasive.  There are strong points, however, on both sides.

Councilmember Evans, whose ward includes the school, has responded that he fully understands the concerns.  "New York Avenue is a river.  We might as well send them to Virginia," he said at a recent CCCA meeting.  Evans has pledged to "do what I can to help," but also noted that "I don't control the schools and can't guarantee results."  At a prior MVSNA meeting, Evans expressed a general hands-off philosophy regarding the school system, which he views as Chancellor Rhee's domain.  Some will remember, however, that Evans' had a different approach in regard to the proposed closure of Shaw Middle School just two years ago, which, when facing closure, he took credit for persuading Chancellor Rhee to retain.

Councilmembers Kwame Brown and Michael Brown both expressed a willingness at the CCCA meeting to convey the community's concerns to Chancellor Rhee.  M. Brown added, however, "She does not return my calls. She does not return my emails."  "If CM Evans has had no success," he said, "there's no way I will have success."

Mayor Fenty is expected to reach a decision on the consolidation after considering  Chancellor Rhee's recommendation by December 15.

What's your view?

The CCCA website includes contact information for the officials involved in making the decision.


Phalanx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phalanx said...

In addition, if Montgomery were to stay open with the 5th grade restored, they would only be the need to hire one additional teacher given the current structure of their classes. Currently, they have 4 Reggio Pre-K classes, one kindergarden, one first grade, two second grades, one third and two fourth grade teachers. That is roughly a total of 11 teachers. Without disrupting the pre-k and kindergarden programs, the principal would simply have to rotate the six remaining teachers into the seven first grade through fifth grade classroom teacher positions and hire one additional teacher. Additionally, of the current six first through fourth grade teachers, three have previously taught or currently teach fourth grade, and one has taught fifth and sixth grade in previous years.

Before any decision can be made, all the pieces of evidence must be presented for all to closely examine and all possible consequences must be explored so that the best decision can be made, which I fear is not what is happening in the case of this school. I encourage all others who have any information regarding the possible closing of the Scott Montgomery Elementary School to come forward and present their knowledge, information and findings so that an informed decision can be made. Thank you.

Frances said...

Phalanx, thanks for the insights. Actually, SMES would probably need at least two new teachers if permitted to stay open next year. For the first time in years, thanks to the popularity of the preschool program, SMES would have two kindergarten classes next year. So they are proposing to close a school finally showing signs of growth, that has rising test scores, and is right-sized for the amount of space they occupy in the building. Children first? More like "punishing Montgomery students for its own poor planning in building Walker Jones" as noted here.

SMES said...

I SMES closes, then it is a done deal that the KIPP school will open the entire building. They currently have campuses all over DC ranging from Kindergarten to 8th grade. They will be able to fill the SMES lower half with their lower grades. If parents are already sending their kids to SMES because of the location and safety, why would they change schools and send them to the much more dangerous Walker-Jones campus? It wouldn't make sense. Closing SMES doesn't guarantee that the kids will move with the principal. It does though, ensure that enrollment at W-J will not skyrocket as Rhee predicts, and the teachers from SMES will not be needed at the new W-J campus. Closing Scott Montgomery means more kids at a charter school, and more teachers with no jobs. Hasn't she fired enough people for one year?

Phalanx said...

This is simply a convenient way for Rhee to appear to be improving the school system by moving students to a newer building, when it is really a last ditch effort to save face in an otherwise tumultuous year of public scrutiny (between her mishandling of an inappropriate sexual incident at a previous job, the RIF and the decline or plateau of scores at a number of schools, and decreasing enrollment, she's simply digging a deeper hole with this event).

There seems to be a lot of ugly truths that are slowly making their way to the surface. Let us hope that they all reveal themselves before it is too late.

Anonymous said...

VCLEE It sounds like everyone knows what is best for our children. Most people are to removed from the classroom to have a clue. If we stick with the fundamentals of creating safe learning enviroments and making student achieve everyone's goal the rest will fall in place. If our intentions are to have better schools for all DCPS students , we will. We are in the midst of a major school system transition. No one has all the answers or knows the perfect solution to dismantling an outmoded school system and reconstructing one that delivers on quality education for all citizens. I do know that we must have greater parental and community involvement in decisions that require the movement of students and the possible displacement or disruption of their family life. We are looking for executives initatives and actions taken to teach us how we best manage change. These are worthy of being teachable moments devoid of the political manuerving and posturing that makes our children and their families the sacrifical lambs and teachers potentially a larger portion of the unemployment statistics.
It is my desire that whatever the outcome, it reflect a concerted effort to put 'children first' and the families and staff at SMES know it.

Anonymous said...

Who conducted the surveys of parents that verifies where they plan to send their students? If they want to keep their students close to home and away from Route 50, send them to the KIPP (a great school) which will probably expand to welcome them.

This ant-Rhee plan campaign seems to be more about teachers than students and families. Teachers who do not get transfered to WJ will be excessed, they do not get fired or laid off necessarily, but they are given the option to be placed in other schools.

Mr Evans was more interested in getting the dog park installed (temporarily/permanently) at the Shaw JH campus than he seems to care about the hundreds of students at Montgomery.


Frances said...

The surveys were conducted by six parents, two staff members. They were both sent home with the students, and filled out by parents on-site at before and after care program.

KIPP is an excellent school and many of our students would do well there but they have a history of growing programs a single grade year at a time leaving many children without that as an option.

I can assure you that the dedicated teachers of SMES care much more about the children they serve than their jobs. It is true that they may get picked up by another school, but as the system continues to lose students through closures such as this one, the number of positions available will obviously be decreased.

And VLD, you are absolutely right about Jack Evans and his lack of concerns for the kids, the school.

Anonymous said...

Surveys conducted by those who have a financial stake in their results are dubious -- whether they be pharmaceutical companies, political entities and their Faux News outlets, or in this case teachers. IMHO, they should have used an outside entity.

Ingrid C

Long Time Rez said...

If you want to see the upshot of Rhee's closing and consolidating manuvers, take a look at the Stevens School, which the community wanted to remain open, at 21st and L.

Stevens was consolidated with Francis Junior High (at 24th & N) and the Stevens parents, virtually all of whom were out of boundary, pulled their kids out.

CCCA Prez said...

Cary, Nice write up. Perhaps CM Mike Brown doesn't know the Chancellor's correct email address. The Chancellor and I have certainly disagreed on issues, but she AWLAYS returns my messages, sometimes well after c.o.b. and before 8am. I know the Councilmember is an honest man, so there must be some rational reason other than the suggestion that Rhee is unresponsive.

Brooks said...

Am I missing something? Please point out to me where our children have been put first? When did the community stop becoming a priority? Has anyone taken note on the demographics school closings and can you point me to that data. In addition, can someone tell me what happens of the WJ Campus continues to remain under-enrolled? Clearly, this was a poor financial decision on the part of the City.

Dee Does DC said...

This is a done deal. I've spoken with several Montgomery employees. Montgomery is merging with Walker-Jones with the Montgomery principal becoming the principal of the merged school. Montgomery teachers will have to reapply for their jobs, but not Walker-Jones' folks. Additionally, KIPP will take over the current Montgomery building; currently, they occupy half of the building.

lightkeeper said...

Closing Scott Montgomery Elementary and handing it over to KIPP Academy was the plan from the beginning. When the addition to the building broke ground at KIPPs expense it was a done deal. The current principal (melissa martin) at SM lied to the staff about it, saying that the upgrades/new additions were being made by DCPS. Or perhaps she did not lie; could DCPS have paid for the additions on behalf of KIPP? Jack Evans should double check that fact. There was never any intention for the community to have a say in what happened at SM. No SM parent in his or her right mind will send their children across New York Avenue to Walker Jones. The existing students (the acceptable ones) will have a place at KIPP; the rest will have to go elsewhere. As for Jack Evans, anyone in the SM community depending on him to take a stand against this action should forget it. The community now knows where he's coming from AND should work to unseat him as soon as possible. SM teachers will be excessed and follow the route of the recent 266 teacher terminations. Will no one step to Michelle Rhee? As for Melissa Martin - she is not the person to put in charge of Walker Jones. She can barely manage SM. It is time for the citizens of DC to take charge of their communities. FENTY MUST GO! along with Rhee and Evans. Rhee has indicated by word and deed that parent and community involvement in her opinion is overvalued.

Anonymous said...

A school volunteer that comes to us from a community partnership is actively researching the funding of the new addition as answers to parents questions in that regard were not immediately forthcoming. He first stumbled upon this:

suggesting a level of partnership between the two schools that is slightly exaggerated, and an active movement on KIPP's part to secure grant funding based upon this collaboration. Perhaps the portion of the construction "funded" by KIPP does indeed come from outside sources, grants and not the KIPP organization itself. But the rest? And what does that say if funding was secured and accepted based upon a collaboration, and then weeks after occupying the new wing, SMES finds out about the proposed closure. As our friendly researcher recently commented, "Can you say fiduciary responsibility?"

KIPP said...

KIPP had no idea that SMES was closing until recently. They have been trying to find space for a elementary school in NW and have unsuccessfully placed bids for closed schools. KIPP liked SMES because it was a partnership between a public and a public charter school. When KIPP opened WILL Academy there agreement with DCPS included a first right of refusal to the building if SMES closed. Don't get me wrong, KIPP is excited about the oppurtunity to open an elementary school in the building that already houses it's junior high school. However, the school has committed to opening an elementary school in NW even if it is not at SMES and has been submitting RFPs for the last year for space. When KIPP renovated the school it had no idea the school was closing. They thought that they were adding a separate cafeteria for KIPP students and a gym for both SMES and KIPP. KIPP DC and DCPS shared expenses for the new renovation because both entities use the space. SMES got some new classrooms, KIPP got the cafeteria, and both schools share the gym.

Brooks said...

Long Time Rez - do you have any contact infomation for the Stevens Elem School parents? My oldest daughter graduated from Stevens prior to it's closing. I recall the parents, 80% were out of boundary. I would be interested is contacting some of those parents.

CCCA Prez, I too have recieved return e-mails from Rhee well into the evening. However, I have not recieved a response or rept of my e-mail letter from today that you were cc'd on. However, I am not surprised.

Dee? when did you hear this? and from whom?

lightkeeper? I agree, and can't wait!

Anonymous & Kipp. I have a report that states the renovations and additions provided by Kipp have a price tag of 6.9 million. I need to read it futher, however I believe there were some costs to DCPS as well, howeve it is pennies compared to the 6.9 million. I will post a link to the docuement on Tuesday for review.
There is also a report on the prejected school closings from 2008and Montgomery was slated to remain open that I will also post.

Brooks said...

Food for thought.... I just recieved an e-mail from a community member that suggested that Kipp move to the new building. In addtion, she suggested that Rhee wait until after the 2010 census to determine the school needs for the community.

Never thought about this.

Sarah said...

No, Scott Montgomery Elementary School should not be closed. Everyone's focus at this point should be on what's going on inside the school buildings in terms of learning and teaching in a safe, secure and properly equipped and maintained environment, not on how many buildings there are. It's disruptive to even bring it up and, if carried out, will just further undermine all the effort and money we've spent to restore the vitality of our neighborhoods.
The kids at SME did not create the problem of a fancy new building where there is no neighborhood and they and the people of this neighborhood should not be made to risk life and limb to solve it.
If all Ms. Rhee has to offer in the way of reform is to rearrange the entire city and its network of neighborhoods in order to get a system that's small enough for her to impose her teaching methods on, then she is not the person we need to lead a true school reform effort.
Stop closing the schools and start fixing them!

Dee Does DC said...

Regardless of what you think should or should not happen, this is a done deal. I've heard it from both Scott-Montgomery and Walker-Jones teachers.

lightkeeper said...

The Scott Montgomery community originally welcomed KIPP, envisioning all the wonderful things that would happen for their children. SM began to drop in enrollment losing grade 6 and ultimately grade 5 (to KIPP). KIPP and DCPS operated a lottery for students to attend KIPP. It was interesting that students who by behavior or academic performance were found not up to KIPP expectations somehow did not make it into the final selection. Any of "those" students who slipped through quickly found their way back to SM or another DCPS where selection of the fittest was not a prerequisite for entry. Now that SM faces closure, parents and community members should get Rhee to agree that their children will be given priority to attend KIPP, Cleveland Elementary at 1825 8th St. N.W. or Seaton at 1503 10th St. N.W. Cleveland and Seaton require some walking and some street crossing also. Parents should demand a meeting with Rhee and their city council rep. (Jack "Bobblehead" Evans. It is acknowledged that KIPP is a strong academic setting. We all want the best for our children but not at the cost of the democratic process. Parents/families/citizens have a right to a say in what happens in their communities and to their children. Fenty and Rhee have shown contempt for this process. Each time they are permitted to take actions that are not transparent until it is too late to question or change, they undermine the foundation of participatory democracy. In ancient times reform was often done by the sword. This is 2009. Stand up. Fenty and his education wizard must go.

Frances said...

Jessica Cunningham, principal of KIPP, and her staff are some of the hardest working people I have ever seen. As a teacher at SMES, I am glad to see our kids choose to go upstairs because I know their needs will be met and then some. It is tempting to demonize KIPP in this scenario, but that does not serve the best interests of the children. KIPP does serve those needs but so does SMES, and we feel the injustice of what is happening keenly. Children first, chancellor. Children first.

Long Time Rez said...


I have an email in to one of the parents we worked with from Stevens and will send her info to Cary who can pass it on to you if she is OK with that.

Yes, 80% of the Stevens kids were out-of-boundary [and it's even higher for School Without Walls which is only a few blocks away as well as its new location at Francis], but most of their parents had jobs nearby in the neighborhood, and it was a very convenient place for them to have their children schooled.

The neighborhood and our ANC were fully behind preserving the school at that location for numerous reasons, not the least of which, it worked.

Cary Silverman said...

Pedestrian struck and killed in downtown Washington

By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009; 2:14 PM

A pedestrian was struck and killed by a truck in downtown Washington Tuesday afternoon after the man stumbled into traffic, authorities said.

The man, believed to be in his 50s, was in the 300 block of New York Ave NW, near New Jersey Avenue NW, when "apparently the man fainted or tripped and fell in front of the vehicle," said D.C. fire/EMS spokesman Pete Piringer.

The man's identity has not been released.

Cary Silverman said...

There's more on the pedestrian that died on Tuesday here: He apparently lost his balance and fell into a truck while standing on the median strip on New York Avenue NW near the intersection with New Jersey Avenue and I-395.

Brooks said...

Currently there are neighborhood petitions at the Giant on 7th and O street NW to keep the school open. There are many, many area residents that are not aware of the proposed clousure and are against it.

Brooks said...

Update on the petition. There is an overwhelming response from the community residents against the closure of Scott Montgomery Elem. School.

You can view some of the school Ward data at the following link.

If you look at the excel data here (same data a above):

It states "Density and percent utilization do not reflect building usage by students at co-located KIPP", however SMES is noted as under enrolled.

Wasn't the partnership with Kipp one part of the purpose to increase enrollment?