D.C. charter board not in Christmas spirit; decides to close campuses

There was a clear unambiguous message that was delivered to D.C.’s charter sector at last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board:  if you want to keep operating your school, then you will meet your charter’s goals.

The actions throughout the long night were perfectly consistent, exceedingly painful, and correct.  It was as if the board has reached the same collective conclusion about the history of public education in the nation’s capital that I have been repeating on this page.  Namely, it is the belief that we have failed our kids for way too long and if a school is providing a program that is not resulting in academic excellence the doors will be shuttered.

So let’s go down the list.  Somerset PCS was up for its five year review.  The board has determined that it is not meeting “its goals and academic expectations.”  As part of its charter agreement the school will now have to meet specific Performance Management Framework metrics for the next three years or it will be closed.

Cesar Chavez PCS faced its 20 year review.  Again, it has not meet “its goals and student achievement expectations.”  Therefore, the Parkside Middle School, the lowest performing campus in the LEA’s portfolio, will begin to be shutdown immediately, one grade at a time beginning with the sixth prior to the start of the next school year.  The Capitol Hill and Chavez Prep campuses’ operations will also be halted if they do not reach specific PMF levels over the next three years.

Also up for its 20 year review was Seed PCS.  Continuing the pattern, the board found that it has not met “its goals and academic expectations.”  The result is that its middle school will also wind down by the end of the 2019-to-2020 school year.  It will, however, have the option of applying to re-open its middle school in the 2021-to-2022 term.

Protests by some school representatives against these moves due to the presence of a high proportion of at-risk children, the fact that they were in turnaround situations, or that the PMF floor was increasing next year, were met with a distinct lack of interest by the PCSB members.  Executive director Scott Pearson pointed out that if a school had not met its targets, then the entire charter could be revoked, not just the campuses that were closed in the instances above.

Tomorrow night the board is considering the revocation of Excel PCS’s charter, which does not bode well for this institution.

It was actually easy to tell right from the start of this session that it was not going to be a good evening.  Achievement Prep PCS was up early in the agenda for a charter amendment.  The school has had an interesting reaction to the poor academic performance of its elementary school.  It wants to decrease the enrollment of its second and third grades so that each do not have more than 60 pupils.   The school believes that this will improve the culture and instruction of its students.  There are now 80 kids enrolled in the second grade and 93 children in the third grade.  Achievement Prep would hold an internal lottery through My Schools DC for these spaces for those currently in the first and second grades.  Unfortunately, for this portion of the meeting much of the sound was unavailable through the live feed, but the discussion was obviously tense.  It ended with the school’s founder and CEO Shantelle Wright accusing the board of “an abuse of power” and “the overreach of this board and this staff in particular.”  She was reacting to being told that the  PMF targets she agreed to at the November meeting in return for allowing her school to continue to be in business would have to be voted on by the PCSB in January.

There were a few positives.  D.C. Prep PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and Center City PCS all sailed through their charter reviews, the first two schools at 15 years and the third at 10 years.  In addition, Lauren Catalano, the principal of Somerset PCS, did an amazingly admirable job making the case that conditions should not be placed on her school even if it was a lost cause.  In the end yesterday was an extremely tough session.

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