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Schools may abolish current vo-ed concept
DCPS considers mainstreaming programs
(Published April 4, 2005)

Staff Writer

Three years ago, Phelps Career Senior High School closed for renovations, school officials said at the time.

But renovations on the school have not begun and questions linger over when – or if – Phelps will reopen.

Part of the current D.C. Public Schools superintendent’s creation of a "master education plan" will be an assessment of the vocational – or career and technical education – programs currently available in the District.

Based on school officials’ statements, plans being discussed for vocational education in the District appear to favor integrated high school programs over stand-alone schools. This has not only sparked questions about the reopening of Phelps, but about the future of Margaret Murray Washington Career Senior High School, the District’s last remaining vocational school.

"We are reviewing right now an educational policy for a major comprehensive approach to career and technical education for DCPS," Superintendent Clifford B. Janey told The Common Denominator.

One of the things D.C. Public Schools officials are doing is assessing the city’s current vocational programs to get an idea of what kinds are lacking and where new ones should be located, so they can be made easily accessible to residents throughout the city, said Arthur Curry, the school system's executive director of career and technical education.

Within that process, District III school board representative Tommy Wells, who represents Wards 5 and 6, said the school system is considering the elimination of stand-alone vocational schools and a move toward integrating vocational education programs into existing high schools.

National trends show that most states are moving in that direction, Curry said, and education leaders can no longer look at vocational education as being "a stand alone," because it "no longer holds water" in today’s workplace, which is more fast-paced and "sophisticated" than it was 10 to 15 years ago, he said.

Job requirements have changed, especially in the areas of reading and math, Curry said, and the extent to which students learn those skills in vocational schools is not enough.

Darlene Allen, president of the D.C. Congress of Parent Teacher Associations, said she worries that integrating vocational programs into high schools might weaken their effectiveness, unless DCPS has the money to support them.

"I understand the concepts," she said. "My concern is if there’s going to be a vocational education component in all of the high schools that we don’t undertake that task unless we have the money and the resources to put into the high schools so that it is a quality program."

Stand-alone vocational schools are able to spend their money solely on their programs to acquire professionals to teach their courses, state-of-the-art equipment and internships, she said.

Before it was closed, Phelps offered programs in automotive technology, cosmetology, shoe and leatherwork repair, electronics and floriculture.

The 300 students who attend M.M. Washington choose to specialize in one of four career fields – nursing, culinary arts, entrepreneurship and technology, or dental assisting – in addition to learning the fundamentals, like English, math and science.

"I think M.M. Washington has a good quality program," Wells said. The question, he added, is where does it fit – as a stand-alone school or as part of another school?

Curry said a decision has not been made on whether to close M.M. Washington.

When they closed Phelps, school officials didn’t set a date for the school's expected re-opening. That day, if it comes, may not be at least until 2012, as funding for the school was not included in the $641 million five-year capital improvements budget recently passed by the D.C. Board of Education.

The budget also left out funding for Phelps’ neighbor, Spingarn Senior High School. The move has delayed an idea developed by Wells two years ago to create a "hilltop campus" consisting of the two schools, along with adjacent Young Elementary School and Browne Junior High School.

A study completed by Michigan State University last fall on the site advocated the "hilltop campus" concept as the best way to use the land to benefit the school system and the community, Curry said.

Wells, who abstained from the budget vote, said he hopes the site can serve as a community center that would possibly contain adult education programs, a neighborhood library, a public pool and a senior wellness center.

Because some schools are not listed in the budget does not mean they will not receive any money, Janey said. Much of the future funding decisions rest on the creation of a master education plan, to be completed by December, that will assess the schools’ academic programs as they relate to facilities to help officials decide how buildings should be used.

Janey, who became superintendent at the beginning of the current school year, said the board will adjust the budget, which he called a "transition," to reflect the provisions of the master education plan once it is finished.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator