To anyone unfamiliar with the management style of D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, The Washington Post’s report that her department had recently evaluated the cost of moving the Duke Ellington School of the Arts out of Georgetown would scarcely seem like a reason to panic. To those familiar with the way she has run DCPS, however, outrage seemed like the appropriate emotion. In the past, Rhee has not invited community or parental input, instead announcing major decisions abruptly, even cavalierly. Parents of children at Duke Ellington can count themselves lucky that they are privy to Rhee’s plans before she publicly announces them—and they should take this opportunity to demand to be part of the discussion about whether to move the school.
The Georgetown community ought to join the parents in resisting relocation. Duke Ellington—a performing arts school where students must audition to be accepted into its intensive art, vocal and instrumental music, dance, and theater programs—is a credit to the Georgetown community, hosting events open to the public. The school draws about 500 students from around the District, many from dangerous neighborhoods who are lucky to attend school in such a safe area.
While Rhee has backed away from an immediate move, she and Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) have indicated that they hope to move the school eventually. Fenty will not promise that the school will be in its current location in two years. “No, in fact, the opposite,” he told the Post. “We’re exploring all options for all of our schools.”
These other options are distressing. Any move would deprive both the University and Duke Ellington students of valuable collaboration such as the production of Thornton Wilders’ Our Town this past summer. The cost evaluation reported by the Post looked into moving Duke Ellington into an empty school facility near Union Station, which is neither as safe nor as well-equipped for arts programs as the current location. It remains to be seen whether the city even has the money to outfit a new home for Duke Ellington with the studios and sound equipment necessary to keep the school performing at its current caliber.
But if Duke Ellington’s unavoidable fate is to be moved from its current location to make room for a public high school that will serve the area, as Rhee proposed—Georgetown’s Ward 2 is, after all, the only ward in the City without one—her office needs to make a sincere effort to involve students and parents in the decision, especially since her unpopular and unexpected ousting of Principal Patrick Pope at nearby Hardy Middle School is so fresh in the community’s memory. If Rhee won’t engage in an honest dialogue for the parents, she should at least do it for the students who will be dramatically affected by the proposed change.