Discover more from DC Schools Analysis
Is Intelsat a better spot for MacArthur High School?
Councilmember Matt Frumin, who represents Ward 3 on the DC Council, is proposing the District purchase the former Intelsat building on Connecticut Avenue at the Van Ness Metro station for civic uses. The centerpiece of his idea is to sell the new MacArthur high school to the Lab School and put the high school at Intelsat.
Frumin says the District would benefit from having this uniquely enormous space right by Metro in Ward 3, potentially including “an early childhood education center, senior wellness programs, urban agriculture, a central food processing facility, and space for UDC or another university.”
The space most recently housed the Whittle School, a new private school that aimed to link campuses in the US and China. Whittle opened at Intelsat in 2019 before closing in 2022 amid financial woes. It leaves behind a partially built-out facility with a kitchen, art performance spaces, dorms, and so forth.
I can’t speak to whether UDC, located a block away, could benefit from the space and whether that’s worth the financial investment. Nor can I say whether DC should fund a central food processing facility or senior programs and whether they should go in this spot or cheaper locations elsewhere in the city.
I can, however, give you an analysis of school locations, given that I wrote substantial code (with help from ChatGPT) to map out what schools are convenient to reach. For its part, DCPS says it’s not interested in Intelsat, and neither are a number of parents Lauren Lumpkin interviewed in the Washington Post.
The new MacArthur High School just opened this fall, on MacArthur Boulevard (hence the name) at what used to be the lower campus of Georgetown Day School. DCPS’ objective in creating the school was to relieve overcrowding at Jackson-Reed (formerly Wilson), in Tenleytown.
MacArthur serves students coming from Hardy Middle School, on Wisconsin Avenue in Burleith (near Georgetown). Unfortunately, the MacArthur location is not so easy to get to from the neighborhoods to the north, with the only bus (the D6) running east-west along MacArthur and then toward downtown. Here is a map showing this:
Each dot is a random address (not necessarily one with a student); the color shows which high school is closest by walking or transit. Light green is Jackson-Reed, while teal is MacArthur. (You can interact with the map here, including clicking on dots to see the travel times to the closest 3 schools.)
It’s true, unfortunately, that for a significant portion of the MacArthur boundary (shown by a heavy line), Jackson-Reed is still easier to get to than MacArthur is. That includes much of the Mann Elementary boundary (around Spring Valley) and some of Stoddert (Glover Park). It’s especially true for Eaton Elementary in Cleveland Park, which was moved from Deal Middle School to Hardy 10 years ago because Deal was (and still is) overcrowded; Eaton is not a bad fit for Hardy, geographically, but worse for MacArthur.
OK, so let’s look at Intelsat.
MacArthur vs. Intelsat
In contrast to the awkward MacArthur location, Frumin wrote, Intelsat “sits near a Metrorail station and numerous bus lines. … While Intelsat would be less convenient than MacArthur for some Palisades and Foxhall residents, it seems likely that Intelsat would be more convenient for many, if not most, MacArthur attendees.”
Here’s a map looking at whether Intelsat or MacArthur is closer to various addresses:
The navy blue dots are addresses closer to Intelsat than MacArthur, by walking or transit. The teal dots, MacArthur. (Interactive version here.) I’ve omitted Jackson-Reed so we can see Intelsat vs. MacArthur for all addresses around there.
As you can see, for most of the MacArthur boundary, MacArthur is still actually closer — even for a large number of addresses where Jackson-Reed was more convenient than MacArthur was.
I’d have guessed MacArthur would come out worse here than it does. I think the fact is that while it’s on the Red Line, the Intelsat location doesn’t have buses coming from the southwest any more than MacArthur has buses coming from the northeast.
Eaton is again a clear exception, since Cleveland Park is definitely closer to Intelsat.
What would be a reasonable boundary for Intelsat?
What if there were a high school at Intelsat, instead of MacArthur? What would make sense as a boundary for that?
Frumin is not suggesting changing the boundaries. He specifically said he’d leave them as is, and just have people in the current MacArthur boundary attend Intelsat. That’s a little awkward since Intelsat isn’t in the MacArthur boundary (it’s near Hearst Elementary, a feeder to Deal and Jackson-Reed), though it’s not far outside.
What if, instead, DCPS had never bought the GDS site and instead bought Intelsat? And now the boundary study is going on, and we need to give Intelsat HS a boundary?
Let’s look at which schools have the best access to Intelsat (interactive version):
Basically, it’s schools along Connecticut Avenue, or the Red Line from Van Ness south. Besides Eaton, the Connecticut Avenue / Red Line schools are Hearst (Van Ness area), a bit of Murch (the Forest Hills neighborhood), Oyster-Adams (in Woodley Park), and Francis-Stevens (West End). None of those (except Eaton) feed into Hardy or MacArthur. Also, Bancroft (in Mount Pleasant) has a bus right across the park to that area.
One could make a new high school boundary encompassing those schools, I guess, taking four or five schools from Jackson-Reed’s feeder pattern and one from Cardozo’s. But, it’s not overwhelmingly compelling. It could have been *an* approach to relieving Jackson-Reed, but putting a high school at MacArthur, imperfect a spot though it was, seems to make more sense than one at Intelsat.