Exclusive interview with Daniela Anello, head of school DC Bilingual

Wow!  If you want to learn why DC Bilingual PCS is ranked in the top five percent of academically performing charters in the nation’s capital, come with me on an interview with Daniela Anello, the hard-charging, effervescent head of school.  I had the great pleasure of sitting down with her for a conversation.

Ms. Anello explained that DC Bilingual began operating in 2004 as part of CentroNia, the organization founded in 1986 by Beatrice “BB” Otero to assist in educating low-income immigrants to this country.  The school was at first completely housed in the same building as CentroNia in Columbia Heights, but by the fifth year it was offering pre-Kindergarten to third grade and needed additional space for its inaugural fourth and fifth grade classes.  The school then added leased space at 14th and Irving Streets N.W., the same location above the CVS Drugstore that incubated several of our city’s charters including E.L. Haynes.  After the DC Public Charter School Board closed the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy PCS in 2015, DC Bilingual consolidated its campuses into CAP’s Keene facility located at 33 Riggs Road, N.E.  Coinciding with the relocation was a break with CentroNia as the school’s management company, a move taken to improve its financial position.  Ms. Anello joined the staff of DC Bilingual at the start of the fifth year.

The DC Bilingual head of school has a fascinating background.  Ms. Anello was born in Chile, and when she was four years old her parents moved her and her sister, four years her senior, to Astoria, Queens.  She attended the local PS17 elementary school while her dad supported his family by working in restaurant and construction jobs.  But he came to America with only a five-year visa, so at age nine she moved back to Chile.  It was a complete culture shock.  “In New York I was basically alone with my family,” Ms. Anello revealed.  “My parents didn’t speak English and I didn’t have many friends.  Then I returned to Chile and we have a large family there with about 25 cousins.  It was then I really immersed myself in my culture and language.”

When Ms. Anello was 13, her parents received green cards and returned to the United States.  But this time they did not settle right next to Manhattan.  Ms. Anello detailed, “I was entering middle school and my mother and father were scared to have me roaming around on my own. They didn’t want me traveling on the subway by myself.  So they decided to locate about 30 miles north of N.Y.C. in a town called Sleepy Hollow.  The school I attended there was incredibly diverse.  It was a complete melting pot.  I was placed in a self-contained  ESL class, and my closest friends came from all parts of the world such as Portugal, Egypt, and Italy.  These were people who were extremely proud of their heritage.  Later I was assigned a general education class and I had tremendous difficulty comprehending the texts that were read.”

Attending the school was also an affluent set of pupils from the other part of town.  Ms. Anello recalled, “There was a boy from this group who was the smartest kid in the classroom.  He consistently volunteered to speak up and he answered all the instructor’s questions.  I decided at age 13 that this was the person I was going to marry.”  Amazingly, years later, her prediction became a reality.

For college Ms. Anello attended the State University of New York at Geneseo, where she started as a psychology major but soon switched to teaching.  “Psychology was too philosophical for me,” the head of DC Bilingual opined.  “I like to plan and implement projects and see them to fruition.  Psychology was just inefficient for me.”

After finishing school Ms. Anello began teaching at the Patrick J. Kennedy Elementary School in Boston.  She was an instant hit.  “The school had not had a new teacher in many years,” Ms. Anello stated.  “Most of the instructors  were all people of Italian decent which in the past matched the demographics of the neighborhood.  But now the area was predominately inhabited by Hispanic families.  There was no one at the school that could really communicate with the students and parents except for me.  I became the principal’s right hand person to help with translations and parent communication. Over time people came to respect the work I was doing.”

But after two years at the school Ms. Anello’s husband sought to move to Washington, D.C. His strong interest in politics would eventually lead to landing a job in President Obama’s administration.  Ms. Anello then accepted a teaching position at Friendship Academy Southeast PCS.  The DC Bilingual head of school soon became convinced that she needed to go back to school to hone her skills as an instructional leader.  So, twelve months later she began her Master’s degree at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College.  There she studied under her hero Lucy Calkins.

Upon returning to Washington after her nine-month program she knew she wanted to work at a school that taught dual languages.  She was attracted to DC Bilingual from the moment she walked in the door.  “I immediately hit it off with principal Wanda Perez, who had arrived the school a couple of years earlier,” Ms. Anello remembered.  “I was also attracted to the fact that the charter serves such a high percentage of kids that qualified for free or reduced meals.”

There was, however, a problem at DC Bilingual.  The previous school year’s DC CAS for third graders demonstrated proficiency rates of 3 percent in math and 30 percent in reading.  “We were in crisis mode,” Ms. Anello related, “recognizing that if we didn’t turn the academics around the charter would be closed.  We literally cleaned house. I spent the entire summer writing literacy curriculum as an instructional coach, and became the principal’s right hand person in helping to set up the systems we needed to strengthen the hiring process, teacher coaching, and professional development experiences.”

It was also during this period that Ms. Anello completed an Emerging Leader Program through the New Leaders program.  After moving up the ranks as resident and interim principal, in April 2015 Ms. Anello was named head of school.

Ms. Anello believes that what sets DC Bilingual apart from other charters is that it is high performing while teaching a low-income population that varies between 76 percent and 82 percent of children living in poverty.  But there are other characteristics as well.  Ms. Anello asserted, “We are closing the achievement gap with our 440 students in grades pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade.  DC Bilingual has a waiting list of 1,623 children.  Students do not leave our school to go someplace else and neither do our teachers.  Most of our staff have been with us for over six years.  People are happy, and part of the reason is that everyone believes that they have an important role in the success of the school.  We set high expectations here but we also provide the support to allow individuals to be successful.  We believe that all children, no matter their background or special needs, can become bilingual and achieve high academic success.”

There is so much depth to this school that it is impossible to capture everything in one article.  Ms. Anello described enrichment activities for the students that link them to the outside world such as learning where food comes from.  There are sports, music, art, dance, and gardening programs.  For the parents there is DACA immigration workshops, English classes, and cooking lessons.  Ms. Anello exclaimed that she absolutely loves the parents “because they remind me of my own family.”

Each minute of the day is planned and everything at DC Bilingual is done intentionally.  I will conclude with one illustration that Ms. Anello shared with me.  When evaluating a job applicant for a teaching position, she has the interviewee teach a mock class in front of a coach.  This makes sense since all of the classes at DC Bilingual have coaches.  Then, when the applicant is through the coach makes suggestions for improvement and then the applicant teaches the class again.  If the teacher can accept the advice and improve the lesson then, and only then, will this individual proceed to the next round.

Ms. Anello indicated to me that there are assessments for all activities instigated at DC Bilingual.  After spending some time with this head of school I came to understand that I would expect nothing less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal judge dismisses D.C. charter school funding inequity lawsuit

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reported last evening that U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan has rejected a three year old lawsuit coordinated by FOCUS and brought by Washington Latin PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools charging that DCPS has for years illegally received, and continues to receive, funding outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.

Charters contend that the traditional schools have been provided about $100 million per year more than the charters through services and other revenue sources to which charters do not have access.  The case was a major test of language contained in the School Reform Act dictating that money for public schools must be allocated according to the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula based solely on the number of pupils enrolled.  The argument, most forcefully made by the former FOCUS executive director Robert Cane, was that the Mayor and City Council have no legal authority to provide dollars to the regular school system to which charters are not also granted.  His point was solidly supported in the 2013 Adequacy Study, which was completed under the prior Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith.

Apparently, the decision came down last Saturday.  Little information is currently available about the ruling except for Ms. Strauss’ assertion that “the judge stated clearly that the District’s funding practices do not violate the School Reform Act and that the plaintiffs have ‘no standing to challenge the District’s enrollment calculation method for’ D.C. Public Schools.”

The legal action only came about after years of negotiations between charter and government leaders got nowhere.  The news of a lawsuit was announced here.

This is a major blow for funding equity in the nation’s capital between the two sectors, and it will have major implications.  For example, as part of the new DCPS contract with the D.C. Teachers’ Union, and the retroactive raise in salaries that it contains, it was estimated that charters would get an additional $51.2 million in extra funding due to the UPSFF.  Now, it is unclear whether the city is bound to that commitment.

More information will be shared as the ruling becomes publicly available.  Also, not known at this time is whether attorney Stephen Marcus is planning on appealing Judge Chutkan’s opinion.

But for now, it is an extremely dark day for fairness, equality, justice, and dignity when it comes to the way our city, the nation’s capital, supports our public schools.

 

 

Charter Board cannot get out from under cloud surrounding D.C. Prep PCS decision

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reported Monday that the DC Public Charter School Board violated city law when it proceeded to approve two charter amendment requests at its May meeting involving D.C. Prep PCS.

As you recall, the board gave the green light to one of three charter amendment requests from this school at its April meeting, which dealt with the relocation of its Anacostia Elementary School.  But two other requests involving replication were turned down due to concerns about the D.C. Prep’s student suspension rate, which is higher than the charter sector average.  After this action was taken, the board received widespread criticism for taking into account suspension rates when denying growth of a school since this factor is not included in either its criteria for charter expansion or the School Reform Act.

Then, in a surprise at the PCSB’s June meeting, member Don Soifer reintroduced the two charter amendments for D.C. Prep that were rejected a couple of months prior.  This time however, after the school’s chief executive officer and founder Emily Lawson was able to testify and attenuate concerns over student suspensions, the motion passed in the affirmative.

So the matter was closed.  Well, not exactly.  The problem was that the D.C. Prep charter amendments were never part of the June meeting agenda and therefore the public had no opportunity to comment before the second vote.  This led DCPS parent and blogger Valerie Jablow to make a formal complaint to the D.C. Office of Open Government.  Here’s what she said, according to Ms. Strauss:

“At the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) meeting on March 20, 2017, several citizens and public interest groups either submitted written testimony or testified in person against a petition by DC Prep for an enrollment increase that would allow it to open a new elementary school and a middle school. Some opposition was based on DC Prep’s high student suspension rates, and the overcapacity in available seats that already exists among all DCPS and charter schools.

At its next meeting, on April 24, 2017, the PCSB denied DC Prep’s petition, citing concerns about suspension rates at DC Prep among other reasons.

On June 19, 2017, the PCSB held its most recent regularly scheduled monthly meeting. The agenda for that meeting was posted a day or so in advance of the meeting, on the charter board website. DC Prep was on the agenda for a charter amendment to its Performance Management Framework (PMF), but not for an enrollment increase.

At about an hour and a half into the June 19, 2017, meeting, one of the board members, Don Soifer, introduced additions to the agenda for the evening, citing Robert’s Rules of Order. The first addition was to renew DC Prep’s application to amend its charter to add a middle school, with a corresponding increase in students. The second addition to the agenda was for DC Prep to add an elementary school, along with a corresponding enrollment increase. The board voted to add both items to the agenda, with the vote on each to occur later in the evening.

So it was that at its June 19, 2017, meeting, without any notice to the public, the PCSB reconsidered and then reversed its April 24, 2017 decision, approving DC Prep’s petition to create two new charter schools. Before the June 19, 2017 meeting, the public had no idea this was going to be reconsidered and voted upon that evening. This is a violation of the charter board’s own rules for public notification.

It also is a violation of the District’s Open Meetings law, as the lack of any public notice that the DC Prep expansion vote would be revisited in all practical effect made the June 19 PCSB meeting a closed meeting, particularly with respect to those who had opposed the petition the first time around.

In addition, the PCSB failed to post at least one public comment on the DC Prep petition ahead of time. This too is a violation of the charter board’s own rules.

In response to a question from another member of the public about that reconsideration vote on June 19, 2017, a charter board staff member (Tomeika Bowden) sent the following:

‘Robert’s Rules of Order allows for board members to request to add items to the agenda during the meeting. Additionally, Robert’s Rules of Order advises that a prepared agenda should not prevent members from bringing up business items. In this case, the DC Prep items voted on at the June meeting were identical in substance to those voted on previously, which already went through the complete public hearing and comment process. The public had ample time to provide comments and testimony, which the Board received and considered in its decision. If the items added to the agenda were materially different or new, we would have held a new public comment process to ensure adequate notice.’

There is also a related problem of considering and making available all public comments received on the DC Prep petition.

The day before the June 19, 2017 PCSB meeting, on June 18, I emailed Ms. Bowden at the charter board, along with Scott Pearson, the executive director, and Darren Woodruff, the board chair, noting that my comments on the original proposals from DC Prep and KIPP DC (which I submitted by the charter board’s March 20 deadline) were not listed on the materials for the June 19 board meeting. I re-sent my comments to them in that same email.

Later on June 18, Darren Woodruff sent my comments to all the charter board members and copied me via email. But it wasn’t until days after that June 19 board meeting that my comments on KIPP DC appeared on the posted materials for the June 19 board meeting. And my comments on DC Prep have never been posted with any board materials for DC Prep at any time.

Moreover, in the materials for the March 20, 2017 PCSB meeting, a staff memo (dated that same day) noted that the DC Prep proposal, which was to be discussed but not voted on during the 3/20 meeting, had no public comment. That was not true—I had submitted my comments by then, as had others.

When the DC Prep proposal came up for a vote on April 24, 2017, only one public comment in opposition to DC Prep was posted with the board materials the day prior to the April 24 meeting. That was a comment by Suzanne Wells that was made at the March 20, 2017 PCSB hearing.

Finally, and worst of all, no one commented against the DC Prep proposal for the June 19, 2017, board meeting because no one knew before the June 19 meeting that this proposal was going to be re-visited and voted on by PCSB. While the public had been allowed to comment on the DC Prep petition before the March 20, 2017 PCSB hearing, new information about DC Prep’s suspension rates was learned at the April 24, 2017 PCSB hearing.

In addition, the public had every confidence that once the PCSB had denied the DC Prep enrollment increase petition in April, it would not be up for consideration again without further public notice. As it is, members of the public might have testified if they knew there was a likelihood two additional schools would open in Ward 7, where there is already an overcapacity of school seats in Ward 7 at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

The charter board needs to suspend the vote they took on June 19, 2017, approving both the new elementary and middle schools for DC Prep. They need to announce this addition to their work agenda anew; open it up for public comment; ensure that the public comment is in fact posted well ahead of the meeting; and have another meeting to vote on it.

This would allow people who had no idea DC Prep’s proposal was going to be re-visited and re-voted upon a chance to testify in person or create new comments (and ensure they get posted).

The fact that the proposal for DC Prep was the same as it stood before the vote in April is a moot point: if the public doesn’t even know something is being considered, and voted on, the public is left in the dark not because it chooses to be, but because the public has no other choice.

Moreover, the only people who knew DC Prep’s proposal was under consideration at the June 19 PCSB meeting were those who stood to benefit from it materially: the school itself and the charter board, which depends on its funding in large part from fees from individual charter schools. This raises conflict of interest issues as well.”

In a ten page ruling dated August 9, 2017 the D.C. Office of Open Government sided with Ms. Jablow.  It reads in part:

“As previously stated, there was reliance by the DCPCSB on the “Renew the Motion” pursuant to Robert’s Rules of Order to bring the two disapproved DC Prep charter amendments back before the body for reconsideration on June 19, 2017.  Normally, revising a public body’s draft meeting agenda for adoption as the final meeting agenda under the protocol the OOG has provided to public bodies would present no affront to the OMA [Open Meetings Act] or SRA [School Reform Act]. However, the DCPCSB’s enabling legislation is unique.  The statute requires, without limiting language, for all DCPCSB’s meetings to be open to the public with a reasonable period for public comment on the agenda items.  It is also for this reason that DCPCSB’s “Renew the Motion” was not a lawful means to revise the DCPCSB draft meeting agenda before adoption as the final agenda.  This is because revising the DCPCSB draft meeting agenda at the start of its meeting to include additional items that require a public hearing and a period of public comment voids the statutory public notice and period for public comment mandated by the SRA.”

The Office of Open Government is not asking that the decision on D.C. Prep be reversed, and charter board spokesperson Tomeika Bowden states that the board will not revisit the vote.  It will, however, follow the law going forward and institute training on how to comply with its regulations.

The most ironic part of this whole story is that the findings of the Office of Open Government would normally be signed by its director Traci Hughes.  However, Ms. Hughes had to recuse herself in this case.  You see, she has a child that attends D.C. Prep.

Implicit Bias in Early Childhood Education: Fight For Children’s inaugural Coffee, Conversation & Controversy symposium

Last Tuesday I had the tremendous opportunity to attend the invitation-only Coffee, Conversation & Controversy breakfast session that was part of Fight For Children’s inaugural Fight For Children Week.  I have been following the activities of this group for years and I’ve observed that whatever it does, it does so with class.  This day was no different.

The morning’s session revolved around an outstanding presentation from Dr. Walter Gilliam.  Dr. Gilliam is an Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Yale University Child Study Center, and Director of the The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy. He was introduced by the president and chief executive officer of Fight For Children, the consistently affable Keith Gordon, who explained that one of the driving motivations behind today’s meeting, and others that will occur throughout the year, is the realization that “societal change only happens when the community comes together.”   Dr. Gilliam then began one of the most fascinating talks I have ever heard, entitled “Implicit Bias in Early Education.”

The Yale University professor began the discussion by showing a portion of a 2005 videotape of a five-year=old girl being handcuffed by the police in response to being called by the child’s teacher as a way of controlling her disruptive behavior.  Dr. Gilliam was asked by a St. Petersburg reporter for his reaction to the incident.  After viewing the arrest on Youtube, he became intrigued by the idea that the instructor turned to the police instead of to professionals who could have helped such as social workers, psychiatrists, or guidance counselors.  It was then that he first decided to study expulsion rates in prekindergarten.  The results shocked him.

In his 2005 investigation across the United States, he found that within the last year, 10 percent of teachers reported that they had expelled at least one student.  Of those that had been expelled, 78 percent of teachers had expelled at least one student, 16 percent had expelled two pupils, 3.5 percent had expelled three children and 0.4 percent had expelled four students within a twelve month period.  In fact, the early childhood expulsion rate is more than three times the rate for Kindergarten to high school students.  But these are not the only startling results.  Quoting from the findings:

“Four-year-olds were expelled at a rate about 50 percent greater than three-year-olds. Boys were expelled at a rate over 4.5 times that of girls. African-American students attending state-funded prekindergarten were about twice as likely to be expelled as Latino and Caucasian children, and over five times as likely to be expelled as Asian-American children.”

The research also found common factors that would lead to student expulsions that include logical situations such as a higher child-to-teacher ratio, a longer program day, increased teacher job stress, and less access to behavioral supports.

Dr. Gilliam summed up the characteristics that would increase the probability of a student being expelled as the three B’s:  being big, black, and a boy.

The report received a tremendous amount of publicity.  But while he was happy that the word was getting into the news, he knew that he needed to switch the emphasis on early childhood student expulsions from being an academic issue to a public policy problem.  He wanted the federal government to become involved so that he and his group could promote solutions to help reduce these high expulsion rates.

This is where Congressman Danny Davis came along.  He and his legislative director, Dr. Jill Hunter-Williams, who became the first American Psychological Association Educational Assessment Congressional Fellow, became extremely interested in this topic.  They put pressure on the civil rights division of the United States Department of Education to begin collecting preschool suspension and expulsion data, which is the practice today.

Every bit of Dr. Gilliam’s talk was interesting to the audience of education stakeholders from throughout Washington, DC including policymakers, educators, and community leaders.  I will conclude with one additional example from his lecture.

His group recently completed a study of implicit bias in early childhood education which was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  The results were released last year.  As part of this inquiry, 132 teachers were asked to observe the play of four preschool students that included one black boy, one black girl, one white girl, and one white boy, and identify potential challenging behaviors.  The exercise also included software that tracked the eye movement of the instructors to see who they were watching.  What the teachers did not know is that the students were hired actors who were not going to express any negative behavior.

The bottom line of the findings was that by a statistically significant quantity teachers focused their attention on the African American boy.  Dr. Gilliam explained that we all have implicit biases and this is a fact that will not change.  The issue is whether we recognize those biases and how we handle them.

Through Fight for Children’s Coffee, Conversation & Controversy the chances just became substantially higher that these biases in early childhood education will be addressed.

Gates Foundation to provide $10 million in school vouchers for students in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 to attend college

Washington Post writers Mandy McLaren and Shira Stein reveal today that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide $10 million in school vouchers to increase the number of students from Washington D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 who attend college through the D.C. College Access Program.  D.C. CAP is the program started a couple of decades ago by former Washington Post publisher Donald Graham.  In January 2015, when Mr. Graham announced that he was stepping down from leading the nonprofit organization, the editors of the Post recognized him for his achievement:

“In 1999, fewer than 1 in 3 D.C. high school graduates enrolled in college, and a mere 15 percent went on to get a degree. Today, 62 percent of high school graduates enroll in college — on par with the national average — and 44 percent graduate. D.C. CAP is unique among college access programs in that every student — regardless of family circumstance or academic achievement — is eligible, but those who have benefited most are from low-income, minority, single-parent households. Many have been the first in their families to attend college.

Scholarship money alone could not have achieved this record. The program offers high school counseling, then helps college students register and stays with them as they adjust to higher ed. That other programs have adopted similar methods is further evidence of how Mr. Graham helped pioneer an idea into something with lasting significance. Not many other individuals have had such a positive impact on so many lives — and with so little self-congratulation.”

The money, to be paired with another $1 million from Monumental Sports & Entertainment and together with $7 million from D.C. CAP’s fundraising efforts, will allow scholarships to be awarded up to $25,000 for low-income children to attend college.  This does not include dollars allocated through the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, another initiative promoted by Mr. Graham, that provides tuition assistance for kids from D.C. to attend public universities across the country, private colleges in the nation’s capital, and historically black colleges.

The aim is to help about 600 scholars from eight schools that include Hart Middle School,  Kramer Middle School, Anacostia High School, Ballou High School, H.D. Woodson High School, Maya Angelou Public Charter School, Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School and Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School.  Ms. McLaren and Ms. Stein indicate that “program participants must also attend Saturday sessions throughout the year and a six-week summer academy, where they will receive extra support in math and ­English language arts and preparation for college entrance exams.”

This is the first time that the program will include middle school students, which is being accomplished with the help of the College Success Foundation, the group run by Herb Tillery.

There was some fear that when Mr. Graham stepped down from the helm of D.C. CAP that it would loose momentum.  But obviously, when you have someone like Ted Leonsis from Monumental Sports & Entertainment now in charge and a board of directors that includes Raul Fernandez, also from Monumental Sports, who is also the chairman of Fight for Children, together with Katherine and David Bradley, the founders of CityBridge Foundation, you know that the organization is in truly excellent hands.

The Post indicated that Ward 7 and 8 students and parents learned of the scholarships at a lunch yesterday.  A formal announcement about the Gates contribution will come today.