Five applications for new D.C. charters; two should open

Last Monday evening over at Friendship PCS’s Armstrong Campus, the DC Public Charter School Board heard presentations from five schools that wish to open in the 2018 to 2019 school year.  Two of these are ready to join the local movement.  Let’s quickly go through the list.

The Adult Career Technical Education Public Charter School wants to provide students “ages of 16-24, [an] academic and career technical education that leads to high school credentials, postsecondary training, and career paths to productive and economically sound lifestyles.”  When the board was listening to the representatives from the school, red flags were obviously raised in their minds regarding the recent experience with the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy PCS in which this charter school that also serves adults found that its population of students was much further behind academically than anticipated.  I was less than satisfied when this applicant answered how it would address a similar student body so I don’t believe the charter will be approved.

Citizens of the World Public Charter School proposes to open two campuses that will initially serve pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade students, but will eventually go through high school.  It should definitely be allowed to do just as it plans.  The charter is actually an experienced operator with existing schools in Kansas City, New York, and Los Angeles.  The founders for the D.C. campus spent four years on the ground working with stakeholders on adapting their model to local conditions.  It was one of the best applications I have seen in a long time.

CyberTech High School Public Charter School’s application calls for instructing 400 students in Ward 5 to provide them with the technical training to work in the information technology profession.  The discussion around the dais focused on the concept of mindfulness that will be woven throughout the curriculum.  While the emphasis on this approach seemed well understood by the founders, along with their desire to open in one particular Ward in the city, the overall structure of the curriculum did not.  This charter should go back to the drawing board to base its school on a model that is already working well academically in another locality.

Digital Pioneers Academy Public Charter School would open in Ward 7 or 8 as a middle and high school initially enrolling 360 students in grades six through eight in its first three years of operation.  This application of a charter that would teach computer science knocked it out of the park.  In fact, the board was openly complimentary about the proposed program.  Perhaps all you really need to know is that one member of the founding group is Justin Cohen.  I first met Mr. Cohen when he was DCPS’s director of portfolio management under Michelle Rhee.  I was speaking to him about bringing an art infused curriculum to the traditional school system when I was board chair of the William E. Doar, Jr PCS for the Performing Arts.  He went on to form his own nonprofit that was centered on school turnarounds.   Mr. Cohen wrote much of Digital Pioneer’s highly detailed application.  He is an extremely impressive individual. However, I don’t want to take anything away from the experience of the other representatives of the school that were equally talented.  If a group of people want to study how to open a new charter, they should study this proposal.

The final applicant for the evening was The Family Place Public Charter School.  This charter would provide adult literacy education to immigrants to this country, primarily those coming from Central America.  I have to say I was fascinated by this proposal. It turns out that The Family Place has been around since 1980.  It was founded by Dr. Ann Barnet, a pediatrician practicing at Children’s Hospital.  It is currently serving 700 families a year from its headquarters on 16th Street, N.W. providing adult education in a two-generational model.  It strives to “meet the students where they are” while at the same time offering wraparound services to keep the grownups in school.  This support may come in the form of meals, social services, and childcare up to the age of five.

My heart wants The Family Place to be approved due to its tremendous mission and the work that it is already doing, but my head says that the application needs some additional refinement.  The charter would co-exist with the original organization, and I believe further delineation is needed to create solid lines between the responsibilities of each entity.  In addition, the charter established a goal of having 50 percent of its 150 students take the pre- and post-ESL exam, while the group’s track record over the past several years has been an average of 63 percent of its students reaching this milestone.  I hope that The Family Place will re-apply next year.

So between this meeting and the last of new school applications, I count three new charters being approved:  Washington School of Arts and Academics PCS, Citizens of the World PCS, and Digital Pioneers Academy PCS.  This would give a 43 percent acceptance rate, which is consistent with the overall past PCSB track record.

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