D.C. charter board jumps into facility fight

For the first time in its 20 year history, the DC Public Charter School Board has openly engaged in the battle to secure surplus DCPS buildings for charters.   Read it for yourself:

“A recent facility survey conducted by the DC Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), indicated that 71% of public charter schools are interested in moving into a city-owned building. DC PCSB has identified 10 vacant city-owned school buildings with more than 1.6 million square feet that are ideal for a public charter school to locate. However, only one of these city-owned school buildings is currently being considered as the location for a public charter school. Instead, public charter schools will have to continue to lease from private landlords.”

The board also makes the point that currently charters are forced to locate in places that are not suitable for classrooms such as storefronts, church basements, and warehouses.  “Far too often, public charter schools are educating students in buildings that were not intended to be a school, which means that some schools do not have access to things like playgrounds, fields, gyms, and cafeterias,” the PCSB asserts.

Although there is no moral reason that these buildings have not been turned over to charters, the PCSB makes three points as to why this move should be made.  The board states that the facilities bring increased rent to the city while at the same time are renovated at no cost to taxpayers.  However, these first two justifications actually perpetuate the public policy discrimination against charters in that the regular schools don’t have mortgages and are renovated to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars without costing them a dime.

The PCSB also claims that co-locating charters in underutilized DCPS buildings is a better use of space.

The organization’s website includes a list of 10 vacant schools and six under-enrolled facilities to which charters would love access.  Buildings noted as under-utilized currently have students in 48 percent or less of its total square feet.  Here is the list.

Let’s see if this plea has any impact.  I would not hold your breath.


Maryland creates private school voucher program

Today, the Washington Post’s

Ms. Wiggins reminds us that 16 states now have some form of private school voucher plan, failing to mention the Opportunity Scholarship Program here in the District of Columbia.  Similar to D.C., the teachers’ union vigorously opposed the scholarships, claiming that the program diverts desperately needed dollars away from the traditional public schools.  The OSP derives its money from the federal three sector approach in which Congress provides $15 million a year in increased incremental revenue equally to traditional schools, charters, and private school scholarships.  In Maryland, the cash for vouchers will come from the state’s reserve account.

Sealing the passage of this legislation was strong backing from Democratic representatives.  Delegates Antonio Hayes, Keith Haynes, and others made the case that the scholarships would significantly help black children in Baltimore.  The Post states that “former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is now the president of the University of Baltimore, also pushed for the scholarships, calling private schools ‘a lifesaver’ for many Baltimore students in need.”

It is great to see our neighbors to the north following in our footsteps when it comes to getting behind school choice for those who can benefit from it the most.




Exclusive interview with Hilary Darilek, CEO E.L. Haynes PCS

I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down recently with Hilary Darilek, the new chief executive officer of E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. She has the challenging job of succeeding Jennie Niles in this position. Of course, Ms. Niles is the current District of Columbia Deputy Mayor for Education under Mayor Muriel Bowser and the founder of E.L. Haynes.

In several ways, Ms. Darilek is the perfect fit for the task ahead. She is a native Washingtonian.  She was also a math and science teacher for two years through Teach for America during the organization’s first decade, educating seventh and eighth graders in a Baltimore City middle school. Ms. Darilek is obviously extremely smart. She received her undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary as a mathematics and economics double major and then went on to earn three masters’ degrees. She obtained a master’s of arts in teaching from the Johns Hopkins University, a master’s of science in operational research from the London School of Economics, and an executive master’s in leadership from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.

Following her work as a teacher, Ms. Darilek joined the RAND Corporation for three years as a quantitative analyst. She then left research to work for New Leaders for New Schools, ultimately becoming the managing director of the D.C. program that focused on training aspiring principals for local district and charter schools. Ms. Darilek was with this organization for four years, and it was here that she developed her strong appreciation for how crucially important the role of the principal is to the success of children in a school. New Leaders was a start-up at the time and her work there introduced her to leaders across Washington;  in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS); D.C. charter schools; and the many local foundations and non-profits working to support students in the city. It was at New Leaders that she first became acquainted with the efforts of Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson. Ms. Darilek was inspired by the changes she saw happening in DCPS, and was so impressed that she took an opportunity to join their team.

For six and a half years she served as DCPS’ deputy chief for principal effectiveness focused on principal recruitment, selection, development, compensation, and evaluation. While there, she led the creation and development of the Mary Jane Patterson Fellowship for aspiring principals. DCPS launched this internal program by leveraging internal resources combined with support from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant program, the CityBridge Foundation, and others.

This was a time when it appears everything was crystallizing for Ms. Darilek around what it really takes to change the culture and practice in our nation’s public schools. She was also working with Chancellor Kaya Henderson to help Georgetown University launch a version of its executive master’s in leadership degree program for an annual cohort of 25 DCPS principals. Together with Georgetown professors, she helped make this learning opportunity even more relevant to public school principals. When there was an extra space in the inaugural cohort of students, she asked and received permission from Chancellor Henderson to enroll.

I asked Ms. Darilek what she had learned. “Great people change schools,” the E.L Haynes CEO answered without hesitation. “True positive change comes from having excellent teachers and principals and then giving them the tools they need to perform their jobs.” But she had much more to say on this subject.

“There are six elements to creating really good schools,” she opined. “First, it starts with really solid instructional knowledge. Then there has to be an understanding by the principal as to how to lead people in the building. Closely associated with the idea of leadership is the ability to form a strong culture of learning for both adults and students. I have also found that family and community engagement plays a vital role in creating great schools.”

The fifth element to forming excellent schools, according to Ms. Darilek, revolves around operations management. School leaders must know how to efficiently allocate scarce resources. Lastly, she pointed out that a principal must have strong personal leadership. “The individual should be skillful in communication and understanding students’ unique cultural needs. She or he must be able to admit failure and know how to keep going. It takes a true knowledge of oneself.”

Ms. Darilek summarized all of her points by simply stating that “what makes a great principal is what makes a great leader.”

The new CEO then revealed to me that for years before joining the school she was aware of the fine work going on at E.L. Haynes. When she was still with New Leaders she visited its classrooms. Ms. Darilek said that she could feel a powerful sense of community when she entered the building. She had in fact become a supporter from the very beginning of the school’s existence when it was located above a CVS drugstore. So when the position for CEO opened she decided to throw her hat in the ring. Ms. Darilek mentioned that she already has several goals in mind for the future of E.L. Haynes.

“Our mission is to serve every student,” she detailed. “We have a true commitment to understanding how race and equity impact our school community. When we are making a decision we strive to have multiple perspectives at the table. We are deliberate in our goal of inclusion and listening to different points of view.  We will also continue to be collaborative in nature. E.L. Haynes will strive to raise the level of academic achievement for all students in the city. Toward this end when we discover a best practice we will share this with other stakeholders whether they be from DCPS schools, charter schools, or independent schools.”

According to Ms. Darilek, another aim of E.L. Haynes, and something that has been identified in the school’s VISION 2020 strategic plan, is to continue to build student leaders before they graduate from high school. Moreover, she indicated to me that in the school’s drive to have them accepted by the college of their choice, the staff also wants to figure out how best to support them at that institution.

In my short time with her I completely understood why Ms. Darilek was selected to lead E.L. Haynes. She has a gentle and kind personality. When talking with her you immediately get the sense that she would do anything just to help. Ms. Darilek concluded our conversation by stating how fortunate she feels she is to be in her position at this moment in E.L. Haynes’ history. “This is only the second year that we are not growing and adding a new grade,” she stated. “We have the incredible luxury of having our permanent facilities in place. In fact, we just completed the addition of a new turf field and track at the Kansas Avenue N.W. location.  We can now focus on what happens in classrooms and continually improve to make our mission a reality. Our drive is to serve a diverse student body and continue to achieve academic success with every student in the school community.”

Clearly, E.L. Haynes PCS is in exceedingly competent hands.



Military families to get charter school admission preference

This week legislation was approved by the D.C. Council and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser that would allow a new charter school located on or near the Joint Base Anacostia–Bolling (JBAB) a 50 percent admission preference for children of parents active in military service.  The bill was sponsored by Council chairman Phil Mendelson and education committee chairman David Grosso.  JBAB Commander, Navy Capt. Frank Mays commented on the new law:

“This public charter school will provide additional educational opportunities not only to our military families here on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, but also our Ward 8 families.  Plans for creating a public charter school with a military preference on or near JBAB have been in the works for nearly 20 years and we are excited to see them finally come to fruition. This is truly a win-win for JBAB and the local community.”

The provision of charter schools for military families is not new.  According to the DC Public Charter School Board, “There are seven military bases across the country with public charter schools including Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago.”

Scott Pearson, the PCSB executive director, stated that his organization will try to identify a charter to fill this need as soon as possible.  I applaud Mr. Pearson’s effort in this regard.

Now what about the other 22,000 students on charter school waiting lists?

DC Charter Board votes not to reduce its funding

During Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board the body considered an update to it Administrative Fee policy.  The revision, which amounted to  a “tidying up” of slightly different versions of the policy, was opened for public comment on January 27, 2016 and kept open until February 25, 2016, with a public hearing held on this issue on February 22, 2016.

As background remember that the PCSB back in 2014 increased the fee it charges the charters it regulates from a half of a percent of a school’s total revenue budget to one percent.  Three institutions, KIPP DC PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and Maya Angelou PCS, submitted comments asking that certain categories of revenue be excluded from this calculation, with all three recommending that some form of competitive grants, such as those provided at the Federal and state level, not be counted as part of the one percent.  KIPP had four areas where it thought the charge should be reduced, including eliminating the per pupil facility allotment from the formula.

The PCSB staff stated that it reviewed these proposals and concluded that taking out any of the suggested categories of revenue from the fee “could limit the organization’s ability to sustain current operations and flexibility to respond to urgent issues, such as school closure.”  The updated Administrative Policy was then approved unanimously by the board.

During the discussion Don Soifer, PCSB vice chair, pointed out that the doubling of the fee billed to charters allowed the contribution in general funds from the city to be lowered to zero.



In State of the District address Mayor Bowser calls for re-authorization of school voucher program

History was made yesterday when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, while speaking about public education in her annual State of the District address from Arena Stage, proudly talked about her support for the city’s private school voucher plan.  This event is so monumental, let’s take a moment to reflect on her exact words:

“I have also called on Congress to renew the SOAR Act, which provides $225 million in education funding over the next 5 years.”

The number to which Ms. Bowser is referring is the $15 million a year in federal dollars for traditional schools, charters, and scholarships for low income students to attend institutions such as Sidwell Friends, St. Peters, and Gonzaga College High School.

Never has the chief executive of Washington D.C. so publicly called for continuation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Thank you Mayor Bowser.

But don’t get me wrong.  All was not perfect on the public policy front on Tuesday.  Here is what Ms. Bowser had to say about charters:

“In order to do all the other things we want to do as a city, we have to get education right.  So with this budget we will make the largest investment in public education in our history – with a $75 million dollar increase over last year!

This means more funding for instruction, and focused programming in both our traditional public schools and our public charter schools.”

Not one mention about providing desperately needed facilities for charters.  Silence about the FOCUS engineered law suit which is desperately trying to bring equality to the $100 million a year in revenue that DCPS gets to which charters are denied access.  No comment about the 22,000 students on charter school waiting lists anxious to get into the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework Tier 1 classrooms.

Moreover, her statement about focused programming is in itself worrisome.  Does this mean the Mayor wants to try to micromanage what is taught in the sector now teaching 39,000 students?

We will come back to all of these subjects on another day.  This morning, let’s piggyback on the Mayor’s remarks and request Congress to re-authorize the SOAR Act as soon as is humanly possible.




Fight for Children grants over $800,000 to local nonprofits

Recently, Fight for Children announced that due to the success of Fight Night 2015 it has been able to grant over $800,000 to deserving nonprofits in the Washington, D.C. area.  Last year’s Fight Night Gala brought in a record of over $5 million.

According to Fight for Children the bequests went to “award-winning organizations” that “operate crucial programs that support early childhood students’ needs, including mental health interventions, special education instruction, family engagement, and one-on-one reading tutoring.”  Yesterday, I was able to catch up with Raul Fernandez, Fight for Children’s chairman and chairman and CEO of ObjectVideo.  I asked him about the significance of the grants.

“As Fight for Children celebrated its 25th year,” Mr. Fernandez explained, “we are encouraged that the environment around school reform has changed, and it has changed for the better.  Because of people such as Fight for Children founder Joe Robert, public officials in the city, and leaders of our school system, we have seen tremendous positive improvements.  Joe started to make a difference and taught us that we need to be smart, nimble, and quick.  These qualities have led us to concentrate on education, health, and family engagement for children three to eight years old.”

Mr. Fernandez continued, “The nonprofits that we support are having a real impact on improving the lives of people in Washington, D.C., especially for kids in low income families. Fight for Children, through the awarding of these grants, is adding fuel to their fire and raising awareness of the really important work they are doing.”

The organizations receiving awards include:

Children’s National Health System
DC Special Education Co-Operative
The Family Place
The Literacy Lab
Mary’s Center
Project Zero, via the Washington International School
Reading Partners
Turning the Page, and
The Wendt Center

Moreover, Fight Night Presenting Sponsor Under Armour directed that a $1 million contribution be imparted to Living Classroom Foundation in Baltimore City.  The money will allow LCF to enhance their early childhood and elementary education offerings through STEM, robotics, music, art, and culinary programs.

Combined with their Joe’s Champs program for training teachers in early childhood education, the influence of Fight for Children in Washington D.C. and Baltimore appears to be stronger than ever.




10 D.C. students receive GW Trachtenberg Scholarships

Last Thursday 10 D.C. high school students were surprised with the gift of a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship to the George Washington University.  The award covers tuition, room, board, and books for four years at GW.  Traditional public school, charter, and private school students are eligible for the prize which has been given out since since 1989 to more than 160 kids.

There were some extremely interesting winners for 2016.  Mr. Carlos Lopez Sanchez from Bell Multicultural High School traveled alone from his home country of Guatemala to the United States three years ago.  After a highly dangerous trip and detention he was accepted to live in an American home.  Mr. Sanchez now is conversant in three languages and serves on his school’s robotics and debate clubs.  He plans to study engineering in college.

Md Ahammed, also from Bell, was raised on a farm in Bangladesh.  His father was a school principal and his mother was a teacher.  Mr. Ahammed is now an apprentice at the National Building Museum.

These pupils, as well as eight others, were greeted in person by George Washington University president Steven Knapp, Karen Stroud Felton, GW’s dean of undergraduate admissions, George, the GW mascot, and admissions department staff.  None of the high academic achieving students knew that this day would be one of the most important in their lives.

The press release around the event points out that the Trachtenberg Scholarships are one way GW is trying to bring hard working students from all backgrounds to the school.  Others include “GW’s July 2015 announcement that it will no longer require most undergraduate applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores was another. Still more include the university’s participation in D.C. College Application Week, its Early College Program at School Without Walls, the District Scholars Award and partnerships with the Posse Foundation and Say Yes to Education.”

Others winning the 2016 scholarships include:

Mikias Gebremeskel of Roosevelt High School;

Nathan Hanshew of Washington Latin Public Charter School;

Adel Hassen of School Without Walls;

Asia Jones of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School;

Lisa Le of Bell Multicultural High School;

Daniel Nguyen of Capital City Public Charter School;

Jarid Shields of Eastern Senior High School; and

Sakiya Walker of Duke Ellington School of the Arts





Washington Post editors call for re-authorization of D.C. school voucher plan

Today, the editors of the Washington Post congratulate the D.C. Council members in coming to their senses by reversing their previous position and now urging Congress to re-authorize the SOAR Act which provides low income children in the nation’s capital with scholarships to private school.  The reason for the change of heart comes down to the possible loss of millions of dollars for the city.  The SOAR Act contains within it the three sector approach championed by Joseph E. Robert, Jr. that provides equal funding, this year equating to 15 million each, for private school vouchers, DCPS, and charters.

As explained in the letter to Congress from Mayor Bowser and eight Council members:

“SOAR Act funding for DCPS has been used to support initiatives that reward and increase retention of high performing teachers and principals.  The funds also help attract more high quality teachers and principals to DCPS and to improve the efficiency with which schools are run.  After years of decline, DCPS enrollment is rising for the first time in decades.  Schools that previously struggled to fill their pre-Kindergarten seats have waiting lists and other schools are attracting families back into the system at grade levels that have historically lost students.

Public charter schools in the District represent 44 percent of the public school population of more than 85,000 students with 62 public charter schools on 115 campuses.  Since FY2004, federal funds authorized in the SOAR Act have supported the acquisition, renovation, modernization, and expansion of charter school facilities in the District.  These funds have also been used to improve academic achievement, teacher and leader quality and recruitment, instructional support, and graduation pathways.”

The Washington Post editors also point out that there are now more than 1,900 applications for next year’s 146 open Opportunity Scholarship slots.  Going forward the program could be halted altogether.  The strategy now is to have Congress give the green light for another five years as part of the 2016 omnibus spending bill.  Without passage, DCPS and charters would lose $150 million.


In major reversal, D.C. Council, Norton, support D.C. school voucher program

There is breaking news this morning involving the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the plan that provides private school scholarships to students living in poverty.  In a stunning reversal from last October when Congress was in the process of passing its most recent omnibus spending bill, eight members of the D.C. Council and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton have now publicly called for re-authorization of the Soar Act, the legislation that contains within it the OSP.

Just five months ago the Council sent a letter to Congress arguing that the voucher program should be shutdown.  Joining them was long-term OSP opponent Norton.  These individuals made the false argument, among others, that the OSP had been forced onto the residents of the District by those on the Hill, against the wishes of local representatives.  Here is a long list of Washington leaders who were advocates of the plan when it was originally authorized.

So what changed their tune?  As an editorial last fall by the Washington Post pointed out in exasperation, the end of the OSP would result in the loss of about $45 million a year in federal dollars to D.C., funds that allocate the vouchers as well as aid the traditional school system and charters.  Since the inception of the voucher program a dozen years ago the three-sector approach has resulted in more than $600 million in money benefiting our school-aged children.

It also did not hurt that recently Senator Cruz introduced a bill that would continue the voucher program using local instead of federal money.

To their credit, Mayor Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Mendelson tried hard to have the OSP re-authorized the last go around.  However, it was a bold effort that came after all the other politicians had weighed in against it.  Now, the Mayor and Mr. Mendelson have joined seven others from the Council in calling for the voucher program to continue for another five years.  Signing the new letter  to Congress that also were parties on the previous one are members  Alexander, Bonds, and May.  Absent from support of the OSP is the Council’s education committee Chairman Grosso.

Let’s now hope that Congress fixes its past omission and finds a way to re-authorize the Opportunity Scholarship Program.