Meeting District Needs

D.C. Eyes Plan for Shared Space

By Jeff Archer — May 16, 2006 1 min read

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

That’s what some education leaders hope to do in the District of Columbia, where the local school board is considering an unusual partnership between a new charter school and a regular public school.

Under the plan, a charter school in the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, network would open this coming fall in the building now occupied by Washington’s Scott Montgomery Elementary School.

While charter schools in some other cities share space with regular public schools, the KIPP-Montgomery deal would go a step further. Students would go through grades K-4 at Montgomery, and then on to grades 5-8 at the KIPP school.

Backers of the plan, including District of Columbia Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, see it as a win-win deal. Montgomery Elementary’s enrollment has dwindled in recent years to 200, and the school could face consolidation. Meanwhile, KIPP needs a home for what will be its third campus in the city.

“We think this is the kind of creative way of thinking that the school system needs to engage in,” said Robert Cane, the executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a pro-charter group in the city. “And we very much need the space.”

But some school board and community members question the wisdom of using a district school as a feeder for a charter school. Already, about one-fourth of the 65,000 public school students in Washington attend charter schools—one of the highest proportions in the country.

Another concern is that charter schools must accept students from throughout the city, and so students from Montgomery Elementary could not be guaranteed spots in the KIPP school. KIPP organizers say, however, that they’ll have more than enough spots.

Regina Arlotto, the president of Save Our Schools, a local group that has challenged charters, said she worries that students in a district school would be taught using KIPP’s techniques, which she sees as overly strict and rote.

“While I understand they can operate the charter independent of the system,” she said, “I do not believe [the school district] should endorse this as a method.”

A public hearing on the plan is set for June 8, after which the school board is expected to vote on it.

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