Two new D.C. charter school applications; look for one to be approved

At Monday night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board two applicants made their case to open new schools in the 2018 to 2019 term.  Remember that in March the PCSB announced that it has received eight submissions for charters, but since then one applicant, Interactive Academy, has withdrawn.  In listening to the presentations and reviewing the proposals look for fifty percent approval.  However, this prediction is not easy and it is not the one you might expect.

Let me start the discussion by stating that both schools have submitted high quality applications and the representatives of each did a fine job making their case before the board.  Also, credit goes to the PCSB for making public the capacity interviews that it held with charter representatives.

First up was North Star College Preparatory Academy for Boys.  North Star wants to be a middle school eventually instructing 425 pupils in grades four through eight in Ward 7 or 8.  The school is led by the impressive Shawn Hardnett, its founder, CEO, and head of school.  Mr. Hardnett has a background bringing student achievement to students as a teacher and school administrator within the KIPP system, at Friendship PCS, and at Center City PCS.

It was interesting that much of the early conversation involving the board that night and the staff during the capacity interview revolved around the academic track record of all-boys schools.  The PCSB clearly believes that data does not demonstrate an improvement for students in this model with the applicant taking the opposing view.  Add to this disagreement the local charter movement’s extremely painful experience closing Septima Clark PCS in 2013 which served male students and you could detect skepticism coming from the questioners.

The timing of this meeting could not have been more appropriate.  Just last week I met with former PCSB member Herb Tillery.    Mr. Tillery is the executive director of the College Success Foundation, a non-profit that uses best practices to help low income students graduate from high school and college.  The work that this organization is doing is so exciting that during our session it brought tears to my eyes.  Mr. Tillery’s group started over a decade ago as focused solely on helping boys.  But it realized over the years that it was leaving women behind, and therefore expanded its mission to include young people of both sexes.  I think North Star should learn from this experience and change its target for who it is serving.   Only after it makes this revision should the school be considered for approval.

The other applicant on this evening was the Washington School of Arts and Academics PCS.   As board chair Dr. Darren Woodruff pointed out, it is not every day that the PCSB sees a Waldorf curriculum-based school come before it.  The charter plans to enroll 400 students in grades nine through twelve in Ward 7 or 8.

The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America describes it model this way:

“Waldorf schools offer a developmentally appropriate, experiential, and academically rigorous approach to education. They integrate the arts in all academic disciplines for children from preschool through twelfth grade to enhance and enrich learning. Waldorf Education aims to inspire life-long learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.

Founded in the early 20th century, Waldorf Education is based on the insights, teachings and principles of education outlined by the world renowned artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. The principles of Waldorf Education evolve from an understanding of human development that address the needs of the growing child.

Music, dance and theater, writing, literature, legends and myths are not simply subjects to be read about and tested. They are experienced. Through these experiences, Waldorf students cultivate their intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities to be individuals certain of their paths and to be of service to the world”

One aspect of the charter’s application I appreciated is that the school envisions breaking up its student body into randomly grouped cohorts that would spend much of the day learning together.  This would also include, whenever possible, special education students.

My wife Michele and I have good friends that sent their children to a local Waldorf School.  The parents and their son and daughter loved the experience.  Unfortunately, the impression most people have of these facilities is that they serve primary white students in a private school environment.  Bringing this pedagogical philosophy to a public school targeting an under-served high school population is exciting and broadens the portfolio of public charter schools.  This application should be given the green light.

The PCSB will hear from five other proposals on Monday, May 1st.

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