Exclusive Interview with Patricia Brantley, CEO Friendship Public Charter School

I had the distinct pleasure recently of sitting down for an interview with Patricia A. Brantley, the new chief executive officer of Friendship Public Charter School.  Ms. Brantley has been in her new position for about eight weeks.  My first question for her was why she thought she had been selected by her board of directors to replace Donald Hense.  She answered without hesitation.

“A group of Friendship student reporters asked me the same question,” she replied.  “I first met Donald 23 years ago.  At the time I was working for Dorothy I. Height as the head of domestic programs and development for the National Council of Negro Women.  Donald was at the Children’s Defense Fund under Marian Wright Edelman.  She put Donald on loan to the Council for the purpose of helping with the development of strategy and to help bring the organization to the next phase.  We had obtained a new huge building at 633 Pennsylvania Avenue and we were ready to organize around a future direction.  Donald had joined the board of the Friendship House, which had been struggling to define itself.  He was then invited to become their CEO.  I joined him at Friendship House as program director and director of development. “

Ms. Brantley explained that Friendship House started as a settlement house.  Settlement houses allowed middle-class settlement workers to improve the lives of the poor.  They provided services such as housing, healthcare, daycare, and education beginning as early as the 1880s in England and the United States.  Their goal, according to Ms. Brantley, was the development of high-quality schools, housing, jobs, and a good community.  At the Friendship House, Mr. Hense and Ms. Brantley noticed that when parents sent their eager, bright toddlers to school, their love of learning and confidence was not the same when they returned.  This is when Donald decided to open his own charter school.

Ms. Brantley returned to the National Council to assist with the upgraded headquarters.  But it was the education of children that she had come to realize would be the focus of her life.  She could hear the words of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded the National Council in New York before its eventual move to D.C.  Dr. Bethune would say throughout her life, “I leave you a thirst for education. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.”

Her drive to provide better educational opportunities to children led her back to Friendship PCS after being executive director of the Dance Institute of Washington for a year.  She arrived when the school was approximately three years old.

Her accomplishments during her dozen years at the charter school as chief operating officer include transforming Collegiate Academy to create a school with college-level courses.  She arrived in September and by January she had brought Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement courses to the campus.   She led the development of teacher quality initiatives that includes Fellows, Professors, and Master teachers.  Ms. Brantley also supports the development of school leaders by encouraging their attendance at Relay, a leadership training program.  During her tenure, she expanded Friendship to include Southeast Academy, Technology Prep, Friendship Online, and Armstrong campuses.  The school’s press release announcing her appointment had this to say about her work:

“As COO, she engineered the acquisition and development of six schools in Washington, D.C., four partner schools in Baltimore, Maryland, and a new charter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She oversaw all school operations, secured more that $96 million in public and private funding, instituted management policies that aligned the network’s campuses, and established the Friendship Teaching Institute as a model of professional development.  Ms. Brantley also launched the independent Friendship Education Foundation to take the charter network’s academic model across the nation.  And she led the development of FPCS’ high school model, which yields one of the District’s highest graduation and college acceptance rates, a record that outpaces the national average and continues to grow.”

Ms. Brantley reflected that all of Friendship PCS’s accomplishments are due to the singular mission of putting the child first.

I then asked Ms. Brantley about her own goals for the charter school.

“Donald gave up his baby,” the Friendship CEO replied.  “He wants it to continue to grow.  This is a different time for our school.  We are not building a foundation.  We are focused on advocacy and providing rigorous academic opportunities.  We are particularly interested in fair funding for at-risk students.  We agree with Norm Johnson, formerly of IDEA PCS, and Barbara Nophlin, past Paul PCS head of school, who both helped design the DC Public Charter School Board’s original Performance Management Framework, that student academic growth over time should be the most important measure of a school’s educational achievement.”

Ms. Brantley continued, “We are extremely motivated in developing ethical literate learners who meet high academic expectations.  We want to increase the number of students prepared to complete college and pursue meaningful careers.  We strive to teach our scholars to be resilient, self-advocates with a passion for gaining knowledge.  We are introducing new rigorous curriculum across content areas and grades.

The Friendship CEO then began talking philosophically.

“We have many conversations at Friendship about values.  We strive to develop our students to be empathetic and also aware of their right to a good education, even when many have not been born into privilege.”

Ms. Brantley, too, was not raised in an environment of privilege.  She was born in Newark, New Jersey, becoming the first member of her high school to attend Princeton University.  She majored in economics.

Lastly, I wanted to understand from Ms. Brantley how it felt to succeed Donald Hense.

“I miss him every day,” the Friendship CEO shared.  “He always says directly what is on his mind.  He is a social worker at heart.  He believes in the kids he is serving.  Just as we expect so much from our students, Donald does not apologize for having us work 100 hours a week. He also allows for an individual vision within the overall goals of Friendship.  He inspires relentless effort, all in the service of children.”

It appeared clear to me after meeting Ms. Brantley that Friendship PCS is definitely in excellent hands.


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