At last evening’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board deputy director Naomi Rubin DeVeaux delivered a heartfelt report on changes in procedures the organization is considering in the aftermath of Sustainable Futures PCS’s decision to relinquish its charter after only one year of operation. The alternative high school charter was approved in 2016 and had an enrollment of approximately 46 students. It shuttered its doors last June. The ideas obviously came to the board after much thought as Scott Pearson, PCSB’s executive director, stated that there has been “a lot of soul searching, examination, and self-reflection,” that has been going among the staff regarding the closure. It was clear that the board is viewing this event as a failure and is taking responsibility, perhaps overly so, for the negative outcome. You can view the presentation here.
Ms. DeVeaux explained that once a new school is approved there are almost always conditions placed on the charter that need to be fulfilled before it is allowed to open. She revealed that some of these are basic, such as securing a facility and the need to incorporate as a 501(c)(3). In other cases, Ms. DeVeaux detailed, there are changes to the curriculum or the educational plan for special education students that are required due to board concerns. In these instances, sometimes schools will negotiate over the final form of these changes and the implementation deadlines. While in the past the staff has made decisions on their own as to whether to accept, for instance, a delay in meeting the new requirements, the deputy director opined that these modifications should probably go back to the board for approval. In the case of Sustainable Futures, Ms. DeVeaux recalled that almost all the dates around meeting conditions slipped.
The PCSB deputy director also observed that the planning year, the time between approval to open by the board and the first day of school, is tough for new schools because there is so much that has to be accomplished. Therefore, the charter board is going to change its calendar to move up the application process. While new submissions are now made in March and approved by the board in May, beginning in the year 2020 applications will be due in January with decisions made in March. Ms. DeVeaux remarked that this step will help significantly with schools being ready for common lottery applications in November.
Another modification that the board is considering is around the founding members. In a new school’s application key individuals are identified. Ms. DeVeaux opined that there has to be some assurance that this group will be in place when the school opens. She feels that if there is significant turnover of key personnel then the new body should be approved by the board. The PCSB deputy director explained that in the case of Sustainable Futures, only the original board chair and founder remained. Moreover, while the PCSB staff meets with key individuals of a new school about once a month before the charter opens, Ms. DeVeaux said that the new charter’s board should be included in these sessions at least on a quarterly basis.
Finally, Ms. DeVeaux believes that the PCSB should be much more active in setting new charters’ enrollment levels. She revealed that many have lofty targets for its initial year of teaching and she wants the board to restrict this number in case the schools run into difficulties. She added that she was glad that this is exactly what transpired in the case of Sustainable Futures, which limited the number of students impacted by the school’s decision to close.
All of these recommendations appear to make logical sense and are obviously coming from people who care exceedingly deeply about the scholars under their care.