Coolidge Academic Plan Revealed

Stronger Together

The Ward 4 Education Alliance is an organization of parents, students, educators, and community members dedicated to improving the quality of public education in our neighborhood schools.  Its November meeting was held on Thursday evening at Powell Elementary School.  Staff professionals from the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Office of  Strategic School Planning and Enrollment were special guests.

Led by Dr. Erin Bibo, Deputy Chief of College & Career Programs, they presented preliminary details for the Coolidge Academic Plan.

Exploring the Future of Coolidge High School

By now, most readers know that Coolidge High School is undergoing a major renovation.  In conjunction with that effort, DCPS is taking the opportunity to retool the academic program to meet the needs of current and future parents and families.  The office has been working with members of the Ward 4 community for several years, having successfully launched the renovated Roosevelt High School and the reopened MacFarland Middle School.  They hope to use that experience to inform the decision making around the retooling of Coolidge.


In their work, the planning office has identified some unique strengths of the Coolidge community. Some of those strengths include:

  • An invested and engaged community of alumni, parents and community members
  • Support for the modernization and the new middle school
  • A diverse and growing population
  • Engaged and growing feeder schools


An honest discussion of Coolidge  must also outline that challenges that the school faces, including:

  • Low enrollment.  Coolidge has not enrolled over 400 students since 2014
  • Middle grade enrollment in its feeder schools is low. 82% of its feeder school students do not enroll in Coolidge.
  • Only 16% of in-boundary students attend Coolidge
    • In-boundary students attend 36 different schools
    • The top five receiving schools are CHEC, Paul, Wilson, Capital City PCS and Banneker
    • Most students attending a DCPS school attend a selective high school
  • 34% of students do not graduate within 4 years
  • Only 5% of students scored 3 or above in Math PARCC, and only 20% scored 3 or above on English Language Arts

Community Response

Ward 4 Education Alliance | | Jennell Alexander, Realtor| 4646 40th St NW Washington, DC 20016 | (703) 298-3378
A large audience came out on Thursday to hear about the plans for Coolidge

DCPS has embarked on a pretty lengthy engagement campaign throughout this process.  The Ward 4 Alliance played a crucial role in securing funding for the renovation of the building.  The administration has also engaged hundreds of stakeholders through community meetings, focus groups and online surveys.

The response has been clear: The community has a strong desire for rigorous programming.

Here is the money quote from a parent:

 The building is not enough.  It must have rigorous academics and a safe, welcoming environment.

The goals for the “new” Coolidge are simple, but as of yet, elusive:

  • Strengthen programming and accelerate school performance
  • Meet student and family demand for more rigorous programming
  • Increase enrollment
  • Increase access to quality programs

Coolidge Academic Plan

Dr. Bibo revealed the current plan to meet the goals listed above.  It is called The Academies at Coolidge High School.

Academies at Coolidge | | Jennell Alexander, Realtor| 4646 40th St NW Washington, DC 20016 | (703) 298-3378

The features of the three academies are as follows:

  • Health Science Academy
    • In-boundary and feeder school students will have a right to attend
    • Science electives and rigorous core courses
    • Nursing assistant and first-aid certifications offered
    • Will build off of the current, successful program
  • Mass Media Academy
    • In-boundary and feeder school students will have a right to attend
    • Journalism and production electives + rigorous core courses
    • Adobe Premier Pro certifications offered
  • Early College Academy
    • Citywide application program via MySchoolDC lottery
    • 9th and 10th grade are focused on high school level, AP courses
    • 11th and 12th students can take college courses with University Partners, earn up to 60 credits by graduation
    • Dual-enrollment University partners (students take classes on the college campus) include Georgetown, Howard, Catholic, GW, American and others.

Interestingly, as of now, there are no plans for a “general” or “comprehensive” curriculum.  In-boundary students will be encouraged to choose one of the two “career” academies (Health Science or Mass Media) right from the start as 9th graders.  From my understanding, each pathway includes three or four specific elective classes per year.

Next Steps

DCPS still has a long way to go in the journey to revitalize Coolidge High School; the new building and academic plan will launch during the 2019-2020 school year. However, the plan that was revealed last night shows that the office has been responding to stakeholder feedback.

During the Q&A portion of the discussion, there was quite a bit of resistance to the idea of an application-only Early College academy, out of concern for creating a segregated environment.  The staff acknowledged the risk of that perception, but then pointed to the data which show that Ward 4 families are currently choosing Selective High Schools at a high rate.

Parents are asking for rigor and voting with their feet.  As former Councilmember David Catania once stated, Ward 4 has a diaspora of students who leave their neighborhood every day for school.

Should DCPS build  a school for the education environment that we wish we had or should they built for the educational marketplace that currently exists?

Personally, I still need to learn a lot more about the plans before I weigh in with a judgement. When viewing presentations like this, there is a still a veneer of “DCPS-speak” that the listener needs to parse out.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of progress and diligent thought that was on display.  Coolidge is definitely a school to keep an eye on.

Update: After a discussion on another forum today, I am reminded that one of the staff members stated that the Early College Academy could be modeled on the Bard Early College School in Baltimore.

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