On Monday afternoon, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, Principal Mark Sanders, students and guests celebrated the complete modernization of MacFarland Middle School with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. This was a journey that began five long years ago when the old MacFarland was closed due to low enrollment. Monday’s event showed that the school has made a true 180-degree turnaround. Where there used to be dark, gloomy room hallways now stand bright, sun-filled spaces designed to enlighten and inspire students in two academic programs.
$63 Million Renovation
As Mayor Bowser noted, the modernization of MacFarland is a continuation of the District’s commitment to improve facilities for students and teachers across the city. To date, the program has invested more than $4 billion of capital funds, with the renovation of Ward 4’s Coolidge High School and the creation of another middle school in the neighborhood on track for an opening in school year 2019-20.
As we got to see during the building tour, the work done at MacFarland is truly spectacular. I spent many hours inside of the old building by serving as a member of MacFarland Community Cabinet and by helping to launch an after-school robotics club during the Dual Language program’s inaugural year. I can tell you that the atmosphere inside is a night and day difference! The 1923 building retains its classic architectural style and adds modern amenities including a new cafeteria, auditorium, gymnasium, science and music labs and outdoor classrooms. The building has a green roof and other environmentally friendly features as well.
The real show-stopper is the new media center. The library takes over the space once used by the school boiler room and cuts three levels into the ground. The center features state-of-the-art technology, including a “maker space” laboratory where students can learn principles of engineering, robotics and 3-D printing using a Project Lead the Way STEM curriculum.
Art as Education
It was very exciting to see that the school’s designers (and the taxpayers) made a significant investment in public art throughout the building. Since 2014 when the city’s Department of General Services (DGS) began the “Percent for Art” program, it has allocated funding for public art in its new construction. For MacFarland, DGS commissioned six works for a total of $170,000 which includes murals, suspended works of art, and screens. Each work was created by a local artist and they are beautiful.
A Grassroots Effort
During his remarks, Councilmember Todd acknowledged the work and support of the Ward 4 Education Alliance. This group of dedicated parents and community members, including leaders like Cathy Reilly of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, has been instrumental in prodding and cajoling the city to improve the educational system in the Ward.
Todd said, “I want to thank the members of the Ward 4 education alliance who helps me and neighbors in all twenty neighborhoods stay focused on what’s best for our schools. They had a seat at the table every step of the way to make sure that MacFarland represents everything that our Ward deserves.”
From a Troubled Past, Looking to the Future
DC Public Schools in Ward 4 were in a dismal state just a few short year ago. Both high schools were physically decrepit. Paul Junior High School leaving DCPS to go charter was a shock that fractured an already fragile system. Parents essentially went on strike against the old MacFarland; data from 2014 showed that only 7% of middle school students who lived within the MacFarland boundary attended the school. The subsequent K-8 “Education Campuses” were not much more successful.
School planning officials are hopeful that the new buildings and the addition of interesting and rigorous curricula will attract parents back to the neighborhood schools and away from charters and other options. Other popular city middle schools are stuffed past the breaking point because of what former DC Councilmember David Catania once called the “Ward 4 Diaspora” of children leaving their neighborhoods every morning to attend school elsewhere. A strong MacFarland middle school could mean a higher-performing cohort of students feeding into Roosevelt High School, and a similar pyramid in the upcoming North middle school and Coolidge HS.
Time will tell if this effort will be successful. The city has taken the first step. Now, it is up to us as parents, educators, and citizens to decide if we can come together to utilize and support these schools. To learn more about the city’s plans and learn how you can participate, come out to a Ward 4 Education Alliance event. The next meeting will be on September 13th. We would love to see you there!
About MacFarland Middle School
MacFarland Middle School is a the newly reconstituted school which serves middle grade students from the southern half of the District’s Ward 4. Because MacFarland serves as both a Dual Language program (Spanish) and a comprehensive middle school, students from two separate branches of DC elementary schools feed into it:
- Its programmatic feeders include Bancroft Elementary School, Bruce-Monroe Elementary School, Cleveland Dual Language, Marie Reed Dual Language, Power Dual Language and Tyler Dual Language. You will notice that these schools are spread across the city.
- Its geographic feeders are Barnard Elementary School, Bruce Monroe Elementary School, Dorothy Height Elementary School, Powell Elementary School, Truesdell Education Campus, Raymond Education Campus, West Education Campus.
This year, the school hosts 6th through 8th grade students in its Dual Language program and welcomes incoming sixth graders from its neighborhood feeder school. It will add one grade per year as those students rise in age.