The event last night at the AJAX event space located on 4th Street, N.W., was billed as a celebration of the first ten years of operation of Achievement Prep Public Charter School. But as the crowd was building you could tell that something was unusual about this gathering. For in the audience were some of the most prominent charter leaders of our city. The guests included Allison Fansler, president and chief operating officer of KIPP DC PCS; Richard Pohlman, executive director of Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS; Seth Andrew, co-founder of Washington Leadership Academy PCS; Chris Pencikowski, head of school of Lee Montessori PCS; Mary Shaffner, executive director of District of Columbia International School PCS; Hilary Darilek, CEO of E.L. Haynes PCS; and Patricia Brantley, CEO of Friendship PCS. Also joining my wife Michele and I were Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board; Ramona Edelin, executive director of the D.C. Association of Public Chartered Schools; Anne Herr, director of school quality at FOCUS; and Sekou Biddle, the FOCUS board chair. I also spotted attorney Stephen Marcus, who has now become the crisis manager of charter schools before the DC PCSB.
But there was no emergency today. Instead we were presented with a bombshell. At the conclusion of a formal program that brought tears of joy to the eyes of many present in the room, Ms. Wright took the stage to announce that her work at Achievement Prep was not done. She informed the stunned attendees that she had changed her mind and will remain the CEO of the school she founded in 2007. Ms. Wright had written to me on January 5, 2008 to inform me that she was resigning her position.
In her speech, Ms. Wright admitted that mistakes at the school had been made and that most recently it has not been serving the children of Ward 8 according to its mission “to prepare students to excel as high-achieving scholars and leaders in high school, college, and beyond.” She explained that Achievement Prep had grown too fast, an expansion that has resulted in the school’s Wahler Place elementary, serving pupils in pre-Kindgergarten three to third grade, being ranked Tier 3 school on the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework for the last two years. Its Wahler Place Middle school, enrolling grades four through eight, has earned a grade as barely a Tier 2 facility over the same time period. In 2013 and 2014 this campus’ quality school report placed it at Tier 1. During the November meeting of the DC PCSB, the elementary school campus was given strict PMF targets it will have to meet in coming years or it will be closed.
Others making remarks included Susie Cannon, the school’s chief academic officer, who has been with Ms. Wright from the beginning of the charter’s existence. Her passionate words included the revelation that the school’s mission is repeated three times at every staff meeting and professional development session, the final time in unison. Alumni Tykivis Hunter told the story of his mother holding him back from football practice one day without explanation. It turned out that the reason for her decision was that Ms. Wright was paying him a visit; he had just been enrolled as a fourth grader at her school. The young boy did not have the ability to read to the Achievement Prep CEO on that occasion. He is now attending Virginia State University with all tuition paid following his graduation from Thurgood Marshall Academy.
Prior D.C. Mayor and current Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray offered kind words of congratulations to Ms. Wright. Mr. Pearson took to the podium to highlight the tenacious spirit of the Achievement Prep CEO. In comments that were especially animated for my friend, he related that during the many tense confrontations he has had with her over the years regarding differences of opinion, he has always loved the persona of Ms. Wright. It was abundantly clear for all of us standing in the audience, the feeling toward this giant of D.C.’s charter school movement is exactly the same.