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In late December, Mayor Adrian Fenty announced that he would like to redevelop 11 former school sites. Today, we’ll start to take a look at the location and history of these schools. For a little insight (minus any sentimentalizing, as you’ll see), I’ve talked with Hayden Wetzel, archivist at the Sumner School Museum and Archives.
School: Backus Middle School
Address: 5171 S. Dakota Ave, Northeast
Neighborhood: Riggs Park
Closest Metro: Fort Totten on the red and the green line is roughly a third of a mile away from Backus Middle School.
History: Wetzel was the P.T.A president of Backus in the early 1990s, when his son attended the school. “It was one of these schools that started with a lot of hoopla, but quickly descended into mediocrity,” he says, recalling the institution’s history. “I’ve read that when it opened, it was going to be a model school.” But Wetzel learned from early Backus community members that “the bloom had worn off very quickly,” he says. At first, Backus “looked very beautiful, but it had just become another troubled D.C. school.” When Wetzel served, the school also “went to uniforms—-but they very soon went back to normal. The P.T.A.—-we designed what we thought were rather attractive and informal t-shirts with the Backus logo that were for sale at the school office. School uniforms were never really mandatory—-having a rule which could not be enforced was very emblematic of the general rules of the school system, and how poorly things were thought out.”