[Below is a letter sent to Mayor Bowser, and copied to DCPS Chancellor Wilson, the deputy mayor for education, and council members on the education committee, from public education advocate Peter MacPherson, May 21, 2017]
Dear Mayor Bowser:
This weekend I took one of my bi-weekly sojourns to Georgetown so I could view the pace of construction on the budget-atomizing Duke Ellington School of the Arts building. The site was thick with workers, all scrambling to finish the project by August. You and the council have spared no expense in transforming the old Western High School into what is supposed to be a cutting edge arts-oriented facility for District students–with $200 million+ spent already and its size having ballooned to 260,000 square feet. A building that size serving 550 high school students that’s been lavished with funding should be expected to have every core function done to the highest standard. And virtually every amenity should be there as well.
A properly sized and provisioned library is a core resource for any high school, even if it has a specialty focus. As it stands, Ellington students, despite an expressed desire for a good library, aren’t getting one. What they’re being given instead is only the size recommended by DCPS in its own education specifications for high schools. Ellington’s library should have enough shelving for 10,000 volumes, which is a national standard for a collection the size Ellington should possess. That means the library needs 665 linear feet of shelving. Right now, the plans show 128 linear feet of shelving. Though funds have been budgeted for books, there’s only space for a small fraction of them. Additionally, current plans show the absence of a circulation desk, no interactive white board, and no teaching area. DCPS education specifications show these items should be present.
Despite all of the spin about the national reputation of Ellington, it has not had a strong academic program for some time. Go to the OSSE website, and you’ll see consistently low performance in both the PARCC and its predecessor, the DC-CAS. The arts portion has taken precedence over the academic. Before the modernization began, Ellington had been without a librarian and library for many years. And it shows. Ellington’s leadership has been allowed to trade away academic resources again and again. But given the municipal treasure that is going into Ellington, I think you’ll find very little patience with the old governing model in which the school does whatever it wants.
This school needs to have a proper library when it opens in August. Regardless of size and expense, Ellington should have a real library. That it is the most expensive public school building as yet constructed, a library’s absence will be noticed immediately. This project has been injurious to many other school modernizations because of the resources it has consumed. And there are monies you have pulled out of school modernizations that have not been replaced. The Ellington building being finished without a real library will be recognized as your toleration for massive waste in capital projects and an inattention to details.
This needs to be dealt with, soon.