D.C. charter board redeems itself with decisions on 10 year school renewals

I’ve gone into exhaustive detail regarding the weak year that the DC Public Charter School Board has been having regarding its decisions, exemplified by the back and forth over whether one of its highest performing schools, DC Prep PCS, should be permitted to replicate.  But last night the body took important steps toward rectifying its missteps and setting its course on solid footing.

The opportunity for a correction presented itself in the form of a pair of 10 year reviews.  Both Excel Academy PCS and Achievement Prep PCS were on the agenda.  Each school was represented by attorney Stephen Marcus which is a clear signal that things for the charters are not about to go well.  Up first was Excel.

The school had committed to an average score over the last five years on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework of 45 percent.  The actual number the school recorded was 41.4 percent which is not far off.  However, for the most recent year, the 2016-to-2017 term, it scored 36.7 percent, the lowest result since its opening in 2008.  The all-girls charter teaching 643 students in Ward 8 has been plagued with instability in its leadership team.  I can remember almost exactly three years ago showing up at a PCSB monthly meeting and being surprised that Excel was on the agenda to discuss enrolling students who were not D.C. residents without charging them tuition and management staff changes.  The school was even investigated by The Office of the State Superintendent of Education over the tuition issue.  It appears that management at the facility has been a problem ever since.

I think we have all lost our patience with Excel.  The PARCC Assessment for the school demonstrates that it is performing below the state average for reading and math for those scoring in the career and college readiness rankings of four and five. These results are particularly low compared to the city mean for females, the sub-group the school was created to serve.  Especially disappointing is that for the last three years the proficiency rate in both subjects for students with disabilities is zero.  The board voted to begin the charter revocation process for Excel which is the correct decision.

The story is much more complicated when it comes to Achievement Prep.  This charter was once one of the academically strongest performing middle schools in the nation’s capital, serving children living in poverty in Ward 8 now with an enrollment of 987 pupils.  It seemed like the founder and chief executive officer of the school Shantelle Wright could do no wrong.  But in 2013, Achievement Prep took over the all-boys school Septima Clark PCS in a deal brokered by Scott Pearson, PCSB executive director, Josh Kern, managing member of The TenSquare Group, and James Costan, Septima Clark’s board chair, as it was also adding an elementary school and growing its middle school.  I wrote article after article arguing against the move stating that Achievement Prep was growing at a furious rate which I feared would harm its academic standing, even meeting with Mr. Kern and Mr. Costan to press my point.

Apparently this is exactly what occurred.  The elementary school has been ranked as a tier three school for the two years that it has been graded under the PARCC assessment.  The middle school campus has also seen its PMF score dive, making it just barely a tier two facility.  The charter board could have begun the revocation process against Achievement Prep since the elementary school is not meeting its charter goals and is up for its five year review.  However, as is exactly the right move, the PCSB will instead enter into a charter agreement with Achievement Prep that will set strict targets for both campuses, but that is focused primarily on the elementary school.  Closure of one or both sites could occur if these goals are not obtained.

Everyone involved in the progression of Achievement Prep, including Mr. Pearson, Mr. Kern, Mr. Costan, Ms. Wright, and the school’s board were taking steps they thought best to serve disadvantaged kids living in our town.  But in this instance, it was all too much too soon.  Last evening, you could see this realization written clearly on Ms. Wright’s face.




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