Parents Want to Reopen Old Woodward High School to Ease Walter Johnson Capacity Problems
155-page 'Roundtable Discussion Group' report makes clear preference of PTA groups
Walter Johnson High School
Update at 12:45 p.m. – Parents who live in the Walter Johnson High School cluster overwhelmingly support reopening the former Woodward High School to ease overcrowding at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, according to a 155-page report released last week that will be considered by the school system’s incoming superintendent.
The report, a product of the “Roundtable Discussion Group” that met nine times over the past few months, doesn’t make any formal recommendations for how to deal with enrollment at Walter Johnson, which is projected to be 21 students over its 2,335 capacity next school year and more than 300 students overcapacity by the 2019-2020 school year.
But when PTA leaders took 10 different approaches back to their individual school groups, all came back saying their favorite approach would be to reopen Woodward as a full, grade nine through 12 high school. Wendy Calhoun, one of the PTA representatives, said PTA groups agreed that students from other overcrowded clusters should be allowed at Woodward High School. But parents want to assure any student who lives in the current Walter Johnson cluster still attends either Walter Johnson or a reopened Woodward.
A representative from the Farmland Elementary School PTA said the approach was the only one “supported by a majority of the families from nine schools in the cluster.”
“It creates space for more students, and the cost per student is comparable,” wrote Thomas Biggs, the Farmland representative. There will be “more [athletic] teams and places on those teams. Drama and music programs along with student government would have more opportunity for more kids to participate. Educational programs could be maintained at roughly their current level at [Walter Johnson], but now in two locations, so that there would be enough spaces for kids to seek the special or educational track they desire.”
The former Woodward High School building at 11211 Old Georgetown Road is now home to Tilden Middle School. Tilden Middle School will reopen for the 2020-2021 school year at the Tilden Lane site where it used to be.
Current projections for capacity at Walter Johnson High School, via MCPS
How those projections would change if MCPS reopens Woodward High School, via MCPS
That would allow Woodward to reopen as a high school with a 1,750-student capacity as early as the 2022-2023 school year, though it would likely require significant funding for a renovation and the hiring of new staff, an operating cost that would remain year after year.
But reopening Woodward would allow Walter Johnson, which is about a mile away on Rock Spring Drive, to remain at its current 2,335 capacity and avoid another addition project which many parents in the cluster say would make the already large school too big.
The roundtable group also asked Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) staff to project enrollment for 2035, 2040 and 2045, recognizing the projections could be way off and would depend on a complete build-out of the housing allowed in the White Flint and Kensington sector plans.
A complete build-out of the White Flint plan would include 115 new single-family detached units, 115 townhome units, 350 mid-rise apartment or condo units and 14,334 apartment or condo high-rise units, a prospect that seems unlikely even in a 20-year timeframe.
The roundtable report acknowledges that “enrollment grown in the Walter Johnson cluster results from a combination of housing turnover and new development.”
The report also includes potential approaches for addressing capacity issues at most of the cluster’s six elementary schools and at its two middle schools—Tilden and North Bethesda.
The 10 approaches for Walter Johnson High School and the two middle schools include collocating some middle school and high school programing at the Woodward site, encouraging seniors at Walter Johnson to do half their coursework online, and using a nearby office space for grade nine and 10 programming.
But those approaches were mostly panned by PTA representatives, many who said they’d prefer the traditional high school and middle school setups.
Incoming MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith, who will start July 1, is expected to look at the report and make recommendations based on it. Walter Johnson is slated for an addition project in time for the 2020-2021 school year that would bump the building’s capacity to 3,000 students.
Jim Bradley, a PTA representative from Garrett Park Elementary School, wrote in the report that while most support reopening Woodward, some are concerned it won’t match Walter Johnson in terms of academics and other activities.
“On the one hand, the opportunity for some of our children to attend a brand new high school is an exciting opportunity. But will it be as good as the existing [Walter Johnson]?” Bradley wrote. “Schools are more than just brick and mortar. [Walter Johnson] is an excellent school, one of the best in the nation, not because of its physical plant, but because of the teachers and administrators who make it so. Woodward will be a brand new facility with a brand new faculty and staff. That worries me.”
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect the consensus of PTA groups on whether the Walter Johnson cluster boundary should be opened to allow students from other clusters to attend a reopened Woodward High School.
Map of the Walter Johnson High School cluster, via MCPS