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Reviving McKinley High

Plans call for high-tech school to reopen in 2002; community meetings scheduled to present plans

(Published February 26, 2001)


Special to The Common Denominator

The former McKinley Technical High School, which closed after the 1996-97 school year, will reopen in fall 2002 to focus on careers in information technology, biomedical sciences and broadcast technology. A linked information technology program is set to begin at Ballou Senior High this fall.

Plans to reopen McKinley Technical High School in 2002 are underway through a collaboration between D.C. Public Schools and the mayor’s office, and with the support of area corporations in a public/private partnership.

At press time, city officials were preparing to announce a $100,000 donation from telecommunications giant Sprint as the first corporate sponsorship for the new high-tech high school. How corporate sponsors will interact with students at the school had not yet been publicly detailed.

A series of public meetings are planned, beginning March 7, to present information to the community about McKinley’s curriculum and concurrent plans to begin a linked "information technology" program at Ballou Senior High School in Ward 8. The Ballou program is expected to begin this fall.

Persons involved with the planning say a standard curriculum will be offered at McKinley, with students eventually choosing one of three focus areas -- information technology, biomedical sciences or broadcast technology. DCPS hopes to open the school with a minimum of 200 students in the ninth and 10th grades. Curriculum for 11th and 12 grades will then be established.

Archie Prioleau, one of the people who started the movement to revive the school, said he wants to help restore the "past glory" of McKinley. Prioleau, a 1968 alumnus, is executive director of D.C. Link and Learn, a technology center that prepares unemployed, underemployed and low-skill D.C. workers and students to work in a high-tech economy.

Planning for the high school remains in the developmental stage, and a neighborhood advisory board is being established. Debbie Smith, president of the Edgewood Civic Association, said she wants members of the Northeast Washington neighborhood in which McKinley is located to be involved in the school’s planning because it will also host numerous tools for the public’s use, including a GED program and a felon’s internship program.

The advisory board will "have a lot of impact," Smith said at a Feb. 13 advisory board organization meeting.

"With the right community participation, someone will have to listen," said Kathryn A. Pearson-West, a community activist who helped establish the need for community participation in the school’s planning.

The advisory board and its steering committee have no formal role in the decision-making process but are in constant communication with the school board and other offices associated with the project, Smith said. There is no officially sanctioned citizens’ advisory group, but Pearson-West said the board has the potential "to be a strong advocacy group."

Pearson-West said she has yet to see a letter go out to community leaders. "The school is on the fast track and they possibly felt that community participation will slow it down. But something might be missed if you don’t talk to the stakeholders," she said.

If officials don’t make their decisions public, "who knows what will happen," she said.

Also established is a steering committee that will review the recommendations of the advisory board and will be the "decision makers," Smith said. It includes Ward 5 Councilman Vincent Orange, District III school board representative Tommy Wells, a representative from the mayor’s office, local community representatives, school board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Wilma Bonner, Prioleau and others.

In addition to facility management and curriculum, the advisory committee can also help to monitor the hiring and contracting practices for the reconstruction of the building to make sure that small businesses in the community have opportunities to participate in the project, Smith said.

Wells said there is concern that the new high school will not serve its own neighborhood. But he said he "will not do anything without the support of the community" in regards to McKinley, which is situated on a 23-acre parcel that includes Hyde Leadership Public Charter School and the Harry Thomas Recreation Center.

Smith said the advisory board wants to eventually tie the two buildings into the school’s programs.

McKinley will be "one of the greatest information technology schools because of the technical curriculum based in traditional education," said Suzanne Peck, chief technology officer for the District.

McKinley will be not only a model for implementing technology into a curriculum, but also for public/private partnerships, Peck said.

The exact relationship between the corporate donors and the school is not yet defined, said D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman Denise Tann. She said they want the impact of industry professionals being in the school.

Smith said planners envision high-tech companies to lease space in the building from DCPS where students will be able to do work for their internships. The money from leasing the space will be funneled back to maintain the school, she said.

The monetary and physical presence of private corporations "promises to be an effective way to support the school" and is already in practice at Duke Ellington and the Oyster School, said Leonard Haynes, director of the office of corporate and community relations at DCPS.

"My vision is to see technical firms come and become part of the campus," said Orange, who originally proposed building a technology high school at McKinley, rather than east of the Anacostia River as the mayor originally proposed. Orange represents Ward 5, in which McKinley is located.

Orange said there is always dissention when different parts of town think they should have the school, but he thinks this location is "in the best interest of the city as a whole." McKinley is near the high-tech corridor that city officials are trying to create around New York and Florida avenues NE

Many dissenting voices have been calmed by plans for the Ballou Information Technology Center at Ballou Senior High School. The two centers will be "linked" in terms of technology, and $5 million was budgeted into creating the facility.

The budget process for McKinley is still being worked through, and the numbers have not been finalized, Tann said. The city has set aside $20 million in its capital budget to improve the facility itself. The money for the operational budget is what needs to be raised, Orange said.

"People need to know where their tax dollars are going," Pearson-West said.

While McKinley is being envisioned to prepare students to be able to work in the "tech alley" of the metropolitan area, students also will receive a "whole" education -- being able to read, write, and present themselves well, Prioleau said. Students will also take courses in music, English, world languages, and arts, among others, Tann said.

McKinley will be a citywide school, similar to a magnet school, and admission will be based on a number of requirements that have not yet been decided, Prioleau said. He said he wants to make sure that it will not be an "elitist" school.

Pearson-West said she hopes that the broadest cross-section of kids will get a chance to attend McKinley, and especially the students from the immediate community.

"Technology is a way to turn kids around, who don’t necessarily have the greatest academic transcripts," she said.

Tann said it will be necessary to prepare students in elementary school for entering schools like McKinley, and that the effects of the high school will affect the curriculum in other D.C. schools.

"I hope they will do right by McKinley and make sure we will have more schools of this nature," Pearson-West said. "If it’s a good model, replicate it, and broaden it for more kids."

McKinley will be a model that sets the standard for use of technology in other schools, Bonner predicted. The broadcast technology focus and its facilities will enable distance learning for students who don’t have certain courses at their high schools, she said.

They also hope to use the facilities to train teachers in how to use the hardware and software in their own schools, Bonner said.

Before it was closed down, McKinley offered pre-med, pre-engineering and performance art to its students. McKinley was closed in 1997 because of low enrollment and the cost of managing the facility, Tann said. When McKinley closed after the 1996-97 school year, it had 664 students enrolled. Five years earlier the enrollment was more than 800, according to records at DCPS.

A homeless shelter for men is located next to Emory Elementary School, and Smith said she hopes that by 2002 there will be a transition in place to move it elsewhere. She said it does not fit into the equation for what they are trying to do. There were plans to put a probation center near the school, but that idea has been panned, Smith said.

Citywide informational forums

to be held on high-tech plans

A series of informational meetings has been scheduled to present plans for new high-technology programs at the former McKinley Technical High School and Ballou Senior High School.

Community forums on the Ballou Information Technology Center, expected to open this fall, and the Technology High School at McKinley, scheduled to open in 2002, will take place:

For the McKinley community – March 13, April 13, May 8 and June 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Hyde Leadership Charter School, 101 T St. NE;

For the Ballou community – March 21, April 11, May 16 and June 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Ballou Senior High School, 3401 4th St. SE;

For the entire community

March 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Eastern Senior High School, 1700 East Capitol St. NE,

April 25 at 6:30 p.m. at Dunbar Senior High School, 1301 New Jersey Ave. NW,

June 27 at 6:30 p.m. at Eastern Senior High School, 1700 East Capitol St. NE.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator