Extremely interesting news came last Friday from the Washington Post’s Perry Stein that Democracy Prep PCS has decided that following the coming 2018-to-2019 school year it will close its D.C. campus and turn the school over to another operator.
The decision speaks to the power of the high stakes reviews being conducted by the DC Public Charter School Board. Democracy Prep opened during the 2014-to-2015 term and therefore was about to face its five year review. The problem is that academic performance at the charter is on the decline with Democracy Prep scoring as a low Tier 2 facility on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework a couple of years ago and during 2017-to-2018 fell to a Tier 3. The charter educates approximately 658 students in Ward 8 and, as Ms. Stein points out, even though it is poor performing, it has a wait list of 111 pupils. Almost all of its scholars qualify for free or reduced priced meals. Ms. Stein quotes Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC PCSB, as commenting on the situation at the charter, “Performance at the school needs to improve, and it’s important that Democracy Prep is now taking the step to find a quality operator for the school,”
It seems like only yesterday that I attended the charter board meeting during which the application for Democracy Prep was considered. It was held at Carlos Rosario’s International PCS’s Harvard Street campus and there was a sea of children in the audience all wearing Democracy Prep tee shirts. The charter came from New York City, where it has a strong reputation for closing the academic achievement gap between affluent and poor children. Here in the nation’s capital it took over Imagine Southeast PCS after that school struggled to produce good classroom results. The Post reporter reveals that an email to parents from Democracy Prep national chief executive Katie Duffy and local board chair Jennifer Wider, stated “Four years ago, we promised Ward 8 a school in which scholars would thrive academically and socio-emotionally. . . Ultimately, we have not been able to deliver on that promise.”
I am confident that the usual well-regarded charter management organizations will be in the mix to take over the school, such as DC Prep PCS, Friendship PCS, and KIPP DC. But how about something different this time?
During the six years I served on the Washington Latin PCS board of directors, strengthening student diversity was always on the mind of the governors and the staff, although it is one of the most racially inclusive charters in the city. I remember the occasional suggestions I made as chair to long-time head Martha Cutts during which I kicked around ideas for replication of this Tier 1 middle and high school. These were extremely preliminary suggestions that were never acted upon. One particularly fascinating and exciting concept I thought about was the notion of bringing the success of this school to Anacostia. Since Latin begins at the fifth grade, I even considered the possibility of opening a pre-Kindergarten-three to fourth grade campus there that would become a feeder school to the Northwest location. If I remember correctly, the current leader of Washington Latin, Peter Anderson, has a background leading a school with a large population of students from low-income households.
Perhaps Washington Latin expanding to include the current Democracy Prep campus is an idea whose time has come.