Last Thursday evening my wife Michele and I had the fortune to attend the E.L. Haynes Public Charter School Toast to Transformation event, held as it has been traditionally at the LongView Gallery on 9th Street, N.W. Much has changed since the last time I was fortunate enough to join this celebration. Jennie Niles, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Education, was on hand. Ms. Niles is of course the founder and past executive director of E.L. Haynes. Hilary Darilek, who is now the chief executive officer for the charter and someone I recently interviewed, was the master of ceremonies for the formal program. I also had the opportunity to speak with Abigail Smith. She was the Deputy Mayor for Education the last time I was here; Ms. Smith is now the chair of the E.L. Haynes Board of Directors. I have to admit that she looks much more relaxed now compared to the previous occasion in which we were in the same room.
The Toast to Transformation is really a party in which open bars and food stations appear everywhere you go in the space. Waiters bring plentiful appetizers to the guests. Early on I ran into Dr. Ramona Edelin, the executive director of the D.C. Alliance of Public Chartered Schools. She was only too excited to tell me that the fight to raise the financial floor of the annual charter school facility fund is definitely not over with the passage of the Mayor’s 2017 fiscal year budget. The goal, Dr. Edelin stated, is to increase this revenue level 2.2 percent from its current amount and then tie enhancements to this number to inflation. Based upon her determination I had the sense that in the not too distant future her objective would become a reality.
Moving toward the entrance I had the fantastic opportunity to meet Soliyana Seyoum, an eighth grader who was demonstrating the results of her science project along with other scholars who were doing the same with other guests regarding their own work. She had investigated what type of dance shoe was most amenable to performing a ballet pirouette. In an enthusiastic and perfectly articulate manner she explained that she had looked at four different possibilities including bare feet. Ms. Seyoum’s hypothesis was that ballet shoes would provide the most support but in the end it turned out that tap shoes were the clear winner.
After a stimulating performance by the elementary school’s choir, Ms. Darilek took the stage. I continue to be extremely impressed with her as E.L. Hayne’s representative. She comes across as such a sincere and caring individual. Ms. Darilek spoke proudly of some of the accomplishments of her student body. “In only six months,” she stated, “I’ve already seen so much – a group of high school students’ award-winning National History Day presentation on the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, our high school Robotics team’s competition-winning robot that is here with us tonight, middle school science fair projects on friction, perception, and the effects of video games on memory; and, our youngest students in pre-K teaching me about impressionist art. I learn from our students every day and hope you did tonight as well. They will reach high levels of academic achievement with all of our support, and so much more. Thank you to E.L. Haynes teachers and leaders – many of you are here in the room – for making these opportunities a reality for our students.”
The high performing charter then honored John “Skip” McKoy for his years of support for all schools in Washington, D.C. through his service on the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which he chaired for a couple of years, and through his role as director of programmatic initiatives at Fight for Children. Mr. McKoy paid perhaps the highest compliment to the institution when he emphatically exclaimed that E.L Haynes “is raising confident, competent, and contributing young people who represent the rich variety of DC’s urban demographic, with the skills base to become tomorrow’s effective global citizens.”
Most fittingly, the next speaker was Ariela Garcia-Queche, a senior who has been with the school since the third grade. Ms. Queche explained that through the outstanding preparation E.L. Haynes has provided she will attend college next year at Salisbury University in Maryland to study nursing. I now understand perfectly why this event is called a Toast to Transformation.