Unease at monthly Charter Board meeting

I attended last evening’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board to witness firsthand the bestowment of the Exceptional Service Award to John “Skip” McKoy and to listen to the review of applications of three new charters.  Things didn’t go exactly as planned.

The recognition of Mr. McKoy was dignified as is most anything having to to with this gentleman.  This was the first time the board had given out this honor.  In his gracious remarks the past board chair stated that he should really be giving the award to his peers for all of the hard work they performed during his seven years on the PCSB.

It was then time to go over charter amendments.  Six schools appeared on this night, and I commend Eagle Academy PCS, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS, and Excel Academy PCS for solid presentations. I thought it was a little strange that during the conversation around Excel’s request to shorten its school year by eliminating its mandatory Saturday Academies there was no mention of management issues at the school that were identified in late 2014.  Perhaps that is because these difficulties have all been resolved.

But this section of the agenda went on much longer than anticipated.  It seemed like board members were asking numerous questions only tangentially related to the reason the charters were asked to appear.  The new school applications finally came before the group at about 8:20 p.m., about an hour and a half behind schedule even with executive director Scott Pearson postponing one agenda item to the following month.

It was highly encouraging to hear from Allison Fansler, KIPP DC PCS’s president and chief operating officer, as she detailed her school’s intentional effort to balance the structure of grades at her various facilities with the charter’s goal of accepting students at any level of their educational experience.  The contrast could not have been greater to that of Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS, whose representatives explained to the obvious disbelief of the directors that the institution does not back fill empty spots after Pre-Kindergarten Four.  The Performance Management Framework Tier 1 school defended this policy on the grounds that children will not be successful in its program if they are admitted after this stage because of the challenging Montessori and language immersion program.  But the result of this practice appears to be that about half of the pupils that start at the school withdraw before graduating at the fifth grade.  Based upon yesterday’s discussion, be prepared for a change in this area.

Regarding the new charter applications, it had already been revealed on the agenda that one of them, Adult Career Technical Education PCS, had been withdrawn.  Speakers from both Interactive Academy, a 400 student charter to be located in Wards 7 or 8 that focuses on “bridging the gap between academics and real world application,” and Sustainable Futures, a “competency-based school” serving 500 students aged 14 to 21 who have not been successful in traditional classroom settings, did commendable jobs making the case that their bids should be approved.  My prediction is that Interactive Academy will be asked to re-submit next cycle over inquiries about serving special education students and the experience of the founding team in running a school.  Sustainable Futures, on the other hand, should be given the green light based upon the knowledge and familiarity of its representatives in our local school reform movement.

By this point I was ready to go home.

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