MacArthur High School to open in fall to alleviate overcrowding

Clara Doyle, Contributor

In an effort to combat overcrowding at Jackson-Reed, DCPS will open MacArthur Boulevard High School this fall in Northwest DC. MacArthur will be the new in-boundary school for all in the Hardy Middle School district.

However, there is uncertainty as to whether the school will be ready in time. 

Last fall, DCPS purchased the building from Georgetown Day School (GDS). The building previously served as the GDS lower-school. Some proposed for the school to become a new elementary school to help Key Elementary School with overcrowding, while others suggested a new high school or ninth grade academy. After months of meetings, panels, and surveys, DCPS and the community decided on making it a new high school. 

DCPS has set a goal to enroll 200 students in ninth grade, and 50 students in 10th grade this coming fall, recruiting students from across the city, with a focus on Hardy and Deal. The goal is for around 800 students to enroll in once the school is opened. 

The school will have a soft opening, meaning that they will gradually increase the enrollment each year and eventually Hardy students will have no feeder “rights” to Jackson-Reed. For the next two years, students currently enrolled at Hardy will have dual feeder rights. This means they are guaranteed a spot at both Jackson-Reed and MacArthur. However, the students following them will not have feeder rights to Jackson-Reed, and will attend MacArthur. The only exceptions are attending Jackson-Reed through the My School DC lottery or if students have a sibling enrolled at Jackson-Reed at the same time as when they are in high school. Allie Brown-Smith, a sophomore who went to Hardy, felt the school is a good idea. “Hardy kids would benefit from having their own school because they are so used to being able to get one-on-one help from their teachers in a smaller environment,” Brown-Smith said.

The main reason for opening the new school was to alleviate overcrowding at Jackson-Reed. By no longer feeding Hardy into Jackson-Reed, DCPS hopes that Jackson-Reed’s enrollment will decrease and the school will be able to better manage the number of students. 

However, Principal Sah Brown said that, “We should not feel a drastic reduction in our enrollment until a few years out.” Many members of the Foxhall and Palisades community have concerns. Bob Avery, of the Foxhall Citizens Association, a community group near the school, noted that members are concerned about traffic, student and staff parking, the increased size of the building, and “student spillover into the local neighborhood before and after school.”  

It is our hope that DCPS takes the intervening time to come up with mitigating plans for issues such as parking and student spillover,” Avery said. According to Hardy PTSO president Abigail Paulsen, community members are also concerned about transportation. Unlike Jackson-Reed, MacArthur is not near any metro stations, and there are barely any bus lines running to the school. 

DCPS has yet to pick an official name, mascot, or colors for the new school. Paulsen said that DCPS is doing a good job of engaging Hardy students in what they want for the new school. She emphasized the importance of building MacArthur with a good base. DCPS said that MacArthur will have AP and honors classes, as well as IT and Engineering Academies and a dual enrollment program. 

“I hope that [MacArthur] will be able to meet every student where they are and help them,” Paulsen said.

While the school plans to open in the fall 2023, there are concerns that the building will not be ready in time. The building needs renovations, and there is fear from community members that they will not be done in time for the first day of school. Paulsen said, “the school doesn’t feel like it will be ready, and we haven’t been let inside to see it.”

In a recent facilities update, DCPS showed photos of a construction crew starting the demolition of the cafeteria to prepare for renovations. Their plan is not to renovate the whole building, just what is necessary for next school year. According to the facilities team, they are “constructing a kitchen/cafeteria space, ensuring data and connectivity, and improving security and access control systems.” 

Many are hopeful for the new school. Harold McCray, the soon-to-be principal of the school, has impressed many community members, including Paulsen. He has over 18 years of education experience, including a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. Most recently, he was the principal at DCPS’s Stanton Elementary School. 

“MacArthur can quickly become the premier high school that upholds inclusive values [and] provides students with the tools and resources necessary to become a productive citizen in a global society,” McCray said. 

Paulsen shares similar optimism for the future of MacArthur. “I hope that the broad DC community can be supportive of the school to give it the best chance it has, and the more people who engage with the school, the better it will be.”