A letter from the WJ Cluster Coordinators supporting the funding of Phase II of the construction of Woodward

A letter from the WJ Cluster Coordinators supporting the funding of Phase II of the construction of Woodward

October 8, 2021

Hon. Brenda Wolff President
Montgomery County Board of Education

Dr. Monifa McKnight Interim Superintendent
Montgomery County Public Schools

President Wolff, Dr. McKnight, and Members of the Board:

On behalf of the more than 10,000 students and their families in the Walter Johnson Cluster, we
write to you today to support MCPS staff and recommend that the upcoming CIP fully fund Phase II of
the Woodward High School project.

The culmination of Phase II funding follows more than seven years of work with MCPS. For several
years, the Walter Johnson cluster has been actively engaged with you, your predecessors, and MCPS
staff regarding the severe overcrowding in the Walter Johnson cluster and at Walter Johnson High
School in particular. The many years of this work, from the formation of the Walter Johnson
Roundtable Discussion Group in 2015 to the Woodward Phase II design discussions currently taking
place, have made us no strangers to the art of compromise. Compromise is about give and take; it
is about seeing needs of other community members and how decisions might affect them. Compromise,
however, also entails an understanding that some values, some outcomes, cannot be negotiated – they
are firm.

What has been firm for our cluster from the outset has changed little. We have always stated, and
continue to believe, that Woodward must (1) relieve the overcrowding at Walter Johnson HS; (2)
allow the cluster communities to remain together in either Walter Johnson or Woodward, while
welcoming an expanded community from other clusters; and (3) be a facility with physical amenities
and course offerings comparable to all other high schools in MCPS.

Within these firm first principles, however, we have both promised and demonstrated flexibility,
and there have been plenty of compromises along the way. For example, from the time it was first
announced, we fully supported the two-Phase approach of rebuilding Woodward so that it could be
used as a holding school for our neighbors in the Northwood cluster. We supported this plan even
though it would lead to a delay of at least 2 years in the much-needed

relief to the overcrowding at Walter Johnson High School, as well as result in an added level of
uncertainty in the project through a two-phase funding system. Even with these concerns, we
realized that we needed to be flexible to meet the needs of the MCPS community as a whole –
specifically to assure that a new Northwood High School was built in the most efficient and safest
way possible.

We believe that the Phase II design plans presented earlier this month to the community are also a
great example of the art of compromise. In 2019, there was some debate on whether Woodward would
be the first and only MCPS high school not to have its own athletics stadium. We opposed this
suggestion because it would have deprived Woodward students of the opportunities afforded all other
high school students in MCPS. This was a debate that implicated much more than a Friday night
football game – stadium and field space is a Title IX issue, as girls’ sports such as soccer,
lacrosse, and field hockey are, unfortunately, more likely to bear the brunt of playing field
shortages. As we began to reopen from COVID, our MCPS community also recognized the value in
outdoor seating venues – as a place to safely enjoy lunch and resume celebrations like
graduations. Accordingly, we were pleased to see that all four Phase II design options included
an athletics stadium, a track, and separate softball and baseball fields. We thank MCPS for
recognizing we cannot compromise on having sufficient facilities for outdoor play and gathering
spaces and for supporting a core value of parity among MCPS high schools.

The evolution of the design that has become Option 1 also shows the value of compromise – the give
and take needed in projects that affect many different constituents. Chief among them is the
extent to which the county should use an undeveloped land tract between the existing Woodward site
and Edson Lane that used to be a part of the Woodward property. This property was owned by MCPS but
surplused to the county in 2004 at the request of the County Executive as a potential site for a
workforce housing development and to provide funds for the school system. The land, however, was
not used for affordable housing and has remained a wooded area. Neighboring residents near the
future Woodward High School, particularly on the Edson Lane side, value this area and feared the
wooded area would be completely tom down.
While original designs for Phase II would have used more of this property, we are grateful that
MCPS staff has taken these neighbors’ concerns seriously and re-designed Option 1 to use only a
portion of this area, thereby preserving a substantial portion of the wooded space. This choice to
mitigate the disruption to the property – this compromise – came at the expense of design elements
of the Woodward stadium compared to a typical stadium, including smaller total seating capacity,
foregoing a “visitors section”, and a less than optimal location of the press box. In the spirit of
compromise, the Walter Johnson Cluster supports Option 1, as it preserves much of the wooded area
while using only what is needed for MCPS students.

In addition to Option 1, there are options before you that make no use of the property adjacent to
Woodward. However, we are concerned that options that make no use of the Edson Lane area require
workarounds that would make Woodward’s facilities inferior to every other school in the County.
Specifically, efforts to avoid using even a portion of the wooded land would come at the expense
of equity in girls’ athletics and accessibility for those with disabilities. It could also
saddle the project with unnecessary costs at the request of a small minority of County residents.
To be clear, we believe that all options presented for Phase II are worth moving forward to fund,
as all contain at least a stadium and field space, an auxiliary gym, an auditorium, and other
related facilities that are integral to the high school. As we discuss below, we believe that
Option 1 offers the most benefit to future students of Woodward High, all MCPS students, and the
entire neighboring community.

Option 1 contains the best use of field space for all sports – regardless of the gender of the team

  • by allowing for the proper orientation of the softball and baseball fields. It also promises to
    be the most ADA accessible and provide the easiest access for emergency response.
    Accordingly, we believe that Option 1 promotes equitable opportunities to participate in athletics
    and school events regardless of gender or disability and provides the infrastructure to keep our
    kids safe in the event of an emergency. While secondary to these core values of equity,
    accessibility, and safety, it is also the most appealing design, as it allows for a more centered
    grandstand and traditional track. Second, we understand that Option 1 requires fewer retaining
    walls, which can keep costs of construction and maintenance down. While cost is not everything,
    we recognize that design options that increase the cost of Woodward will slow the work on other
    projects in the MCPS Capital Improvement Plan. We therefore believe avoiding unnecessary costs
    must be a priority. Finally, while there are other options that preserve the entirety of the
    County-owned area along Edson Lane, this preservation seems to come at the expense of neighbors
    adjacent to other parts of the Woodward property. We agree that looking at the needs not just of
    MCPS but of the neighboring community – the entire Woodward community, is important. That
    community should be inclusive not only of current owners of property adjacent to the Edson Lane
    parcel, but also to Woodward’s other surrounding
    neighbors, as well as the future students, teachers, staff, and parents of Woodward High School,
    including those with disabilities.

Therefore, we urge the Board to fully approve Option 1 for the Phase 2 design of Woodward High
School and to reject any design options that do not meet the tests of cost effectiveness, equity in
fac‘Cities, and accessibility.

As ever, we appreciate our continued partnership with you and the MCPS staff on the reopening of
what we are confident will be a Woodward High School that will be state-of-the-art and benefit all
of Montgomery County. While there is much work left to do, it is gratifying to see such an
important project reach this final design phase. We look forward to being a constructive partner
in seeing Woodward to its fruition.

Sincerely,

Emily Beckman, Jim Bradley, and Sara Cortes Walter Johnson Cluster Coordinators

Cc: Members of the Montgomery County Board of Education Hon. Marc Elrich, County Executive
President Hucker and Members of the Montgomery County Council
Chairman Anderson and Members of the Montgomery County Planning Board Hon. Bridget Donnell Newton,
Mayor, City of Rockville
Hon. Kacky Chantry, Mayor, Town of Garrett Park Hon. Tracey Furman, Mayor, Town of Kensington
Cynthia Simonson, President, Montgomery County Council of PTAs Laura Stewart, Chair, MCCPTA CIP
Committee
Sheri Steissel Weiss, President, Luxmanor Citizens’ Association Ed Rich, President, Greater
Farmland Civic Association Shannon Ross, President, West Femwood Citizens Association Amy Ginsburg,
Executive Director, Friends of White Flint
Deb Berger, The Oaks at North Bethesda Community Association

Amy Ginsburg

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