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When the brand-new Kelly Miller Middle School opened in 2004, it came packed with amenities that would make even spoiled suburban kids salivate—an auditorium with stadium seating, a library/media center, a full gymnasium. Stairwells and hallways were bathed in sunshine, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows installed specifically to fill the building with natural light.
But for all its state-of-the-artedness, some parents complain that Kelly Miller, in Northeast’s Capitol View neighborhood, doesn’t have some more basic features—a playground fence, for instance.
During a recent lunch period, 15 sixth-graders put on a show—a play-by-play re-creation of R&B star Ciara’s “Promise” video—in the school cafeteria. Ciara is known for her athletic and aggressive dance style—and these 10- and 11-year-old girls are serious about her song. One girl sitting at one of the lunchroom tables plays the set director. Whenever a dancer messes up what Ciara does in the actual video, the director makes all the dancers stop while she demonstrates the proper move.
This isn’t practice for an upcoming school talent show. They’re just working off a little energy—energy they might be running off outdoors if their school had a fence.
It’s a sunny January day, and a student approaches one of the volunteer cafeteria guards with a question: “Can we go outside?” But Kelly Miller has a rule: Unless at least four volunteers are available to stand guard at the playground’s perimeter, there’s no outdoor recess.
Raymond Portis is one of those volunteers. Mostly he helps monitor the halls and lunchroom, but occasionally he and other volunteers stand guard around the schoolyard in lieu of a fence. Most of the volunteers are parents of Kelly Miller children; Portis doesn’t have any children of his own, but four of his ex-girlfriend’s kids attend the school, and he still comes by two or three times a week to keep an eye on rambunctious pre-teens.
Later, after the dancing’s finished and the sixth-graders have left, Portis watches a couple of seventh-graders fighting over the same stool at one of the long cafeteria tables.
“When they get through eating, they’ll have to find something to do for 30 minutes,” Portis says. “They do this almost every day.”
Kelly Miller, named after an early-20th-century Howard University dean, has been a showpiece for the beleaguered D.C. Public Schools: Superintendent Clifford Janey has held news conferences there, and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray held his annual “State of the Ward” address in the school’s auditorium while he was Ward 7 councilmember.
During school hours, says Rossalyn Parks, a member of Kelly Miller’s PTA, things aren’t perfect. Parks’ daughter, Angel, is a seventh-grader at Kelly Miller. Parks says that on occasion her daughter has complained that there was no toilet paper in the bathroom and she was forced to hold her bladder until she got home. In some girls’ bathrooms, stalls have no doors and some of the stalls with doors don’t close or lock.
“We have issues,” she says. “Things were in the original contract for the school that we never got.”
The school was supposed to be equipped with a number of security cameras so that school personnel could monitor the halls and staircases where mischievous students tend to roam. Kelly Miller was supposed to have a fence to keep the kids in and the neighborhood out.
Calvin Lucas, father of a Kelly Miller eighth-grader, thought the fence and the cameras were set to be installed when the school opened. “When I was in junior high school, we were in a fenced-in area where we couldn’t leave the property,” Lucas says. “I just assumed, since it was a new school, they would have put that in from the beginning.”
Lucas says he sent then Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray a letter complaining about the absence of the fence about a year ago but didn’t get a response.
Kelly Miller’s principal, Sheena Tuckson, declined to comment because she hadn’t received permission from her supervisor. DCPS authorities, for their part, say that there’s no definitive evidence that a fence was ever planned in the first place. “I’ve not seen a plan that says a fence was absolutely scheduled for Kelly Miller,” says Patricia Alford-Williams, interim communications chief for the school system.
Alford-Williams notes that some help is on the way: According to the most recent DCPS Master Facilities Plan, Kelly Miller is slated for more than $5 million in improvements to the school’s plumbing, roof, interior finish, technology, and other items. As for the school grounds, the plan states, “playground and parking lot is in good condition. Some pavement marking in the parking lot needs repainting.”
There is no mention of a fence.