D.C. charter board approves three new schools

A fascinating evening last night as the DC Public Charter School Board held its monthly meeting with a action-packed agenda.   First up was a public hearing regarding consideration of replication of two of our city’s finest charters, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS and Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS.  Each of these schools have extensive student waiting lists for next year’s terms, with Whitlow Stokes at 1,595 pupils and Mundo Verde with 1,335 students wanting admission.  Both charters are rated at Tier 1 on the Performance Management Framework.

The session even included appearances during the public comment period of Theola DuBose, past director of communications for the PCSB, and Ariana Quinones, former PCSB board member and staff member of FOCUS and Fight for Children.

The most interesting part to me of the replication discussion was that both of these schools are feeders into the District of Columbia International PCS.  Therefore, the issue naturally comes up that if these charters begin accepting more students will their scholars eventually gain entrance to DCI when they graduate the fifth grade?  The response from both institutions was similar in that they may work out an arrangement with other schools for acceptance of students if there are no openings at DCI and could consider in the future creating their own middle schools.  There was also hope that DCI would expand in coming years.

The other noticeable aspect of this hearing was that both charters made a point of highlighting that they are no out of school suspension schools, thereby formally institutionalizing the brand-new unwritten requirement first introduced with D.C. Prep PCS this month that charters must have exceedingly low out of school student suspension rates to be candidates to open new campuses.

Elsie Whitlow Stokes will have no problem being approved to add 400 pupils to its current 350 student body in the 2018 to 2019 school year, especially since it wants its new campus for bilingual education to be in Ward 7 or 8.  The story is not the same with Mundo Verde, which seeks to add 600 students to its current enrollment of 635 during the 2019 to 2020 term in a building on 8th Street, N.E.  More than a dozen parents testified that the expansion plans for this school was coming too soon with complaints that there was high teacher turnover occurring at the charter, although the school stated that it has a retention rate of over 80 percent.  They also contended that the school had just reached its current maximum enrollment this year, and therefore it was premature in its relatively short six year history to grow to another site.  The negative statements resulted in spurring PCSB executive director Scott Pearson to interject a couple of times in the discussion to point out Mundo Verde’s impressive track record.

In the past I would say that Mundo Verde would be approved for replication because it meets most of the charter board’s criteria for expansion, but based upon the D.C. Prep experience I’m now not so sure.

Next on the agenda was the approval of new charter school applications.  Here I was surprised with the results.  First, it was announced that CyberTech High School’s bid had been withdrawn.  I thought this school would not be approved.  Also, as I had anticipated, the Adult Career Technical Education Public Charter School was denied a charter.  Digital Pioneers Academy Public Charter School was given the green light which I had felt would happen.  The Family Place was also approved, a school that my heart wanted to be approved to open but whose application I thought had some weaknesses.  North Star College Preparatory Academy for Boys was given a charter despite the PCSB staff’s concerns that research has not shown benefits of having an all male school.

Two schools that I thought would be granted charters were not.   The board members liked the idea of the Waldorf approach of the Washington School of Arts and Academics PCS, but expressed that starting with this pedagogy in high school was too late.  The shocker to me was the denial of Citizen of the World’s application.  Apparently, board members whom had visited the other national campuses of this experienced operator were not overly impressed  with what they saw.

Congratulations to those charters that were approved to open in the 2018 to 2019 school year.

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