Transitions and consolidations at D.C. charter schools

Late Friday, I received a note from Aaron Cuny, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ingenuity Prep PCS, announcing that he was stepping down from his position at the school.  He wrote:

“After much deliberation, I’ve decided to transition from the role of Ingenuity Prep’s CEO.  After nearly 18 years of working in schools — including serving as the leader of this organization since we opened our doors in 2013 — I’ve come to the conclusion this transition is necessary for me to fulfill my commitments to my own family, one which will soon get a little bit bigger as my wife and I prepare for the birth of our first child later this month.”

Mr. Cuny, who I interviewed this past October, indicated that his co-founder and the school’s current chief operating officer Will Stoetzer will assume the interim CEO role.  Mr. Cuny added that he is not leaving the school entirely; after a paternity leave he will continue to serve Ingenuity Prep by assisting with special projects.

Board chair Peter Winik commented on the change:

“Having worked closely with Aaron for close to six years — since before the first students walked into Ingenuity Prep —  I have enormous affection and respect for Aaron. He cares deeply and passionately about the vision of the school: making certain that our kids receive the finest education possible. Over these past years, no one has worked harder at making that vision a reality than Aaron.  We’re proud of what the school has been able to achieve, and we all owe Aaron an enormous debt of gratitude for this.

Even as we are sad to see Aaron transition from the role of CEO, we are fortunate to be in a position to provide for stability and strong continued leadership in this transition.  As a former teacher with a masters in special education and as a co-founder of the school, Will Stoetzer has worked side-by-side with Aaron from the very beginning — crafting the vision for the school; engaging external partners, staff, families, and students; and executing with a high level of excellence his work as Chief Operating Officer.”

As I wrote following my conversation with Mr. Cuny, Ingenuity Prep has achieved much, especially in the area of academics.  The school would like to replicate but being ranked as Tier 2 on DC Public Charter’s School Board’s Performance Management Framework, it does not meet the criteria for expansion.  Over the last three years the charter’s PMF score has been gradually declining.

Then on Saturday at the annual EdFest event at the DC Armory, I ran into Patricia Brantley, the CEO of Friendship PCS.  She was only too excited to tell me that her school has filed an amendment with the charter board to takeover Ideal Academy PCS.  My sense of Ideal is that it has been a chronically low academically performing school for much of its existence since it was approved to open in 1999 under the old Board of Education.  The PCSB began revocation proceedings in 2011 against the school, which was allowed to stay open after it agreed to eliminate its high school.  In 2018, the pre-Kindergarten to eighth grade facility teaching approximately 279 students in Ward 4 ranked as a Tier 3, where it has generally scored over the last three years.  In all certainly the PCSB would have moved shortly to close this charter.

The conversion of this school to fall under the Friendship umbrella means that this will be the second charter consolidation to be considered at the charter board’s December meeting.  The other is the KIPP DC management of Somerset Prep PCS.

 

 

 

 

 

Teachers’ union strike at Chicago charter schools not good sign for D.C. movement

On Tuesday more than 500 teachers and other employees walked off the job at 15 Acero Public Charter Schools. According to the Washington Post’s Laura Meckler, the instructors, represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, and charter school management are fighting over issues that “include pay; class size, now set at 32 students; and the length of the school day and school year.” This is the first strike in the history of the charter school movement in the United States.

The Post reporter states that the Chicago union has organized about 25 percent of individuals employed in charter schools in that city, and that the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools relates that across the country about 11 percent of charters have unions. The article also points out that across the nation approximately three million pupils attend charter schools, which number around 7,000.

Last week at the Celebrating Best Practices in Public Charter School Education event, Scott Pearson, the DC Public Charter School Board executive director, had this to say about the condition of our local movement:

“In DC, the per-pupil spend is closer to $20,000. And I know it doesn’t feel like enough – because it isn’t. Tuition at Sidwell Friends is over $40,000 – and they fundraise on top of it. But, acknowledging it should be more, it’s at a level that an Indiana educator would imagine would solve all of her problems. And yet it doesn’t seem to. Our teacher turnover in DC is higher than in most places. Sometimes it feels that we are on this treadmill of churning through teachers, where we end up having to spend a fortune on recruiting and coaching and long-term subs. What are the hidden savings in retaining our teachers, whether through higher pay or reduced workload? For example, would you need instructional coaches if most of your teachers stayed with you for seven years? How many teachers would stay if they could job share and work half time for a bit more than half pay? I’m just throwing out ideas – you are the experts, the ones closest to the issue. But I’d remind you that you have unique freedoms. You are public charter schools. You aren’t unionized. You have exclusive control over your budgets and your personnel policies. And you have uniquely high per-pupil funding. I encourage you to use those freedoms to find a way to make teaching work more sustainable. Perhaps what’s holding you back is PCSB and our high standards of accountability. What I’d say is, if you want to try something bold, talk with us. Your idea may be the one that solves the issue. I would hate to know that our high bar kept you from innovating.”

His speech, however, contains one inaccuracy. We are unionized, at least on one campus. In addition, he should know this to be the case since almost exactly two years ago he suggested that a teachers’ union could be a good thing for our schools. But events have not transpired in a positive way at Chavez Prep PCS, the unionized charter in our town, with teachers and other staff protesting on the streets and educators bringing charges to the National Labor Relations Board. The staff has also complained to the Washington City Paper about the hiring of the TenSquare Consulting Group to improve academic achievement at Chavez, including this comment by Christian Herr, one of the teachers who led bringing the American Federation of Teachers to the school:

“It’s not like we needed to spend $140,000 a month to have someone tell us to do more test prep,” he says. “It was really hard for us when our school board decided some things needed to be restructured, but didn’t even come to us, didn’t even ask what we the teachers thought. They have these buildings full of people who live in these neighborhoods and have worked in these schools for a long time, all this expertise, yet you make the choice to bring in someone who knows nothing about it and pay them massive amounts of money.”

Despite Mr. Herr’s criticism, the Performance Management Framework results for Chavez soared in 2018.

We need to keep a close eye on union activity in Washington, D.C.’s charter schools.

With pick of Lewis Ferebee to become next Chancellor of D.C. schools, public education reform comes roaring back to the nation’s capital

Here is the key paragraph to Perry Stein’s Washington Post article about the selection by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Lewis Ferebee to become the next DCPS Chancellor:

“Ferebee received leadership training at the Broad Academy, an initiative to support urban school superintendents funded by philanthropist and charter school backer Eli Broad. [Kaya] Henderson, [Antwan] Wilson, D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang and Paul Kihn, the deputy mayor for education whom Bowser tapped this year, also received training at the Broad Academy.”

The choice of Mr. Ferebee sends a tremendously significant signal that public school reform in D.C. should not only continue but accelerate in its pace.  It is a fascinating move coming from a Mayor whose top priorities in office have focused on affordable housing and reducing homelessness.

The nominee has been Superintendent of Indianapolis schools since 2013 where, among other things, he turned management of low-performing traditional schools over to charters.  Sound familiar?  It’s something I have been calling for since beginning to write an education blog in 2009.  There are more interesting details about his past work from Ms. Stein’s piece:

“In Indianapolis, Ferebee oversaw a cash-strapped system and closed some schools. He said that there is little social mobility in Indianapolis and that the departure of manufacturing jobs forced him to rethink how high schools train students for the workforce.

He dismantled the neighborhood high school system, replacing it with vocational and college preparatory academies that students could choose to attend no matter where their families lived.”

In other words, this is a much different decision than putting forth Amanda Alexander for Chancellor, someone who has been with DCPS for over 20 years, and who was believed to be the other finalist for the position.  Ms. Alexander hinted that she would tinker around the edges of the current regular school sector, commenting that if she got the job she would would send more central office personnel into schools to support academic achievement.

However, we have to sincerely thank Ms. Alexander for the work she has done since last February to provide stability in a system rocked by controversy around discretionary school placement by the former Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education, graduating high school students that failed to meet requirements for a diploma, and residency fraud.

Interestingly, Mr. Ferebee turned down the opportunity to become superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District last April.  I’m wondering what the difference was between Los Angeles and Washington that led him to pick coming here?  I’m hoping it is the general positive climate toward school choice and charter schools in particular in this town.  But perhaps I’m being too optimistic.

Here’s one other public education update.  On November 9th the office of the Deputy Mayor for Education released the final report of the D.C. Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force.  You don’t need to read it.  I’ve taken a brief look at the document and it fails to cover the most pressing issues facing the local charter movement such as the acquisition of facilities and solving the funding inequity problem.  Now we can place this document on the shelf and move on.  It is time for a new day.

 

 

 

D.C. charter board honors top performing schools

Last Thursday I had the honor of attending the DC Public Charter School Board’s Celebrating Best Practices in Public Charter School Education event.  The venue was a perfect setting for the occasion.  It was held at the stately Willard InterContinental Hotel, whose opulence all decked out for the Christmas season seemed a perfect match to the quality of the work being performed in the classrooms of the institutions recognized on this day.  No detail was left for chance.  Upon arrival each individual representing a charter received a personalized program inscribed with a quotation from one of its students highlighting his or her excitement over attending that particular school.  Once the attendees grabbed their breakfast and were seated, a highly professionally produced video was presented that interviewed children attending Tier 1 charters whose adorable comments echoed those found on the cards containing the morning’s agenda.

Thanks to the board’s efforts it really did feel like a special gathering.  This was reinforced by the stature of those in attendance, who included Chairman of the D.C. Council Phil Mendelson, At-large D.C. Councilmember Robert White, Jr., Ward 6 D.C. Coucilmember Charles Allen, and the new Acting D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn.

Next up was Scott Pearson, the PCSB’s executive director, who welcomed the guests.  He congratulated all of the award winners, recognizing all of the challenges they face in practicing their profession.  But then something fascinating happened.  Mr. Pearson became philosophical and provided some comments that I never would have imagined being spoken by this man.  He talked about issues he referred to as impacting the sustainability of an educator’s career:

“The second concerns the growing demands we place on you and your staffs.  Just in the past year the city council has regulated or is about to regulate your discipline policies, how you work with non-English-speaking families, and how you hire your staff.  We now have two evaluation systems, the PMF and the OSSE five-star rating, which nearly doubles the data validation work you must do.  The work we require of you for procurement contracts is greater than ever.   Sometimes I feel like I am slowly witnessing the slow, steady, reconstruction of the traditional public system we were supposed to be the alternative to.  The fact that I’m part of this process is not only ironic to me – given that I used to be a charter school board chair – it’s deeply painful.  And yet there is a logic and a rationale behind each turn of the ratchet.  We’re all good people, trying to do what’s best.  We play our roles.  The council’s is to legislate.  PCSB’s is to oversee.  Yours is to educate.  But it’s also to fight.  To fight for your flexibility, to fight for what makes your schools special.  Acting alone neither PCSB nor OSSE or the Council can anticipate how our well-meaning actions will affect you.  Only you can tell us – and the way things are, you sometimes need to shout it at us.  You have to constantly remind us that your freedom to innovate, your exclusive controls, and your ability to be able to focus you energies on student achievement and well-being as opposed to compliance is not just a nice feature – it’s the essential, the core, the heart and soul of what allows you to succeed.   Only when you are in our faces reminding us of this essential fact do we have a chance to get it right.”

It was as if the PCSB executive director was reading directly from my blog.

Next was the announcement of the 11 best practice honorees.  These were nominated by the schools and picked by a selection committee.  They included:

Community Influence Award:  Joyful Food Markets,
Data Excellence Award:  Jodi Ihaza, Briya PCS,
Program Innovation Award:  Stephanie Remick, Washington Leadership Academy PCS,
Program Innovation Award:  Zeleta Green, E.L Haynes PCS,
TIERific Teacher Award:  Francis Richards, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS,
TIERific Teacher Award:  Alexis Rosario, Cedar Tree Academy PCS,
TIERific Principal Award:  Rachel Tommelleo, Center City PCS,
TIERific Parent Award:  Nicole Fitzgerald, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS,
TIERific Student Award:  Kalkidan Haile, E.L. Haynes PCS,
Excellence in English Language Learner Programming Award:  Alicia Passante, Center City PCS, and
Excellence in Special Education Programming Award:  Wanda Gregory, Capital City PCS

Additional details about those recognized can be found here.

Each of the 53 Tier 1 school was then called to the podium to receive their award recognizing their attainment of the top ranking on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, while a brief narrative was read giving an overview of the mission of the charter.  Afterwords pictures of each school team were taken with Mr. Pearson, Ms. Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, the PCSB Deputy Director, and invited special guests.

In all it was an exceptionally positive ceremony.