D.C. charter board closes City Arts and Prep PCS; starts process to shutter Democracy Prep PCS and National Collegiate Preparatory PCHS

On a crowded night for business, and the first meeting for new board member Lea Crusey, the DC Public Charter School Board voted five to two to close City Arts and Prep PCS (formally the William E. Doar Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (WEDJ)) at the end of the school year. The school failed to meet its PMF target of a 50 percent average over the last five years and also did not show annual progress on its score on this tool over the same period. The charter has had poor academic performance throughout its history.

For me, this was an exceptionally sad turn of events. Maybe the most exciting day of my life was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday in 2005 when, as board chair, WEDJ moved into it permanent facility at 705 Edgewood Street, N.E. Just driving up the ramp to the school’s entrance had my heart racing. My wife Michele and I helped the teachers set up their classrooms on that morning, and I still consider this building that I had a part in acquiring and designing to be the most beautiful school in Washington, D.C. The positive anticipation of those supporting the first 130 students enrolled in this integrated arts curriculum charter was so great that it brought many of us to tears. At its peak, WEDJ would instruct over 660 scholars on two campuses.

Last evening was important for another reason. The board soundly rejected the argument, advanced by the Marcus Firm PLLC and articulated strenuously by attorney Sherry Ingram, that the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework is biased against schools that teach a large percentage of at-risk students. There was a clear unmistakable message for schools that get in trouble over a failure to meet its goals around the PMF. Don’t bother hiring a lawyer, it is just a waste of taxpayer money.

The story around yesterday, however, is larger than this conclusion. The board’s contention about City Arts was that it had no discretion around its decision to revoke its charter. The conditions sealing its fate had been established years ago. Therefore, the board’s action was a foregone conclusion. Member Steve Bumbaugh made the point that if their actions are so cookie-cutter in nature, then fundamentally there is no real reason for this body to exist. He did, in fact, reach the heart of the matter.

Although I watched the meeting online, I really didn’t have to spend all of those hours sitting in front of my computer screen. The meeting material was available at a minimum by last Friday, and the staff reports told me exactly how events would unfold. I could have written this piece over the weekend.

In other news, the board decided on a four-to-three ballot to begin proceedings to close Democracy Prep PCS at its five-year point. The school, after years of low academic performance, had moved to jettison its ties to its charter management organization, put out bids for a different operator, and settled on being run by the TenSquare Group. However, the board had a particularly tough time swallowing this decision in the aftermath of negative press about this organization, and given their erroneous assumption that TenSquare is not in the business of running schools. Never mind that TenSquare actually plays a leadership role in every institution with which it has a contract through its selection of the head, and the fact that this past year each charter engaged with this firm demonstrated strong improvement in its academic ranking. Last month the board tried to come to a consensus about this school but it tied three in favor to three against on a motion to keep the school open and then punted the issue to December.

Continuing on the theme of closures, the board decided unanimously to begin charter revocation of National Collegiate Preparatory PCHS. This Ward 8 ninth-through-twelfth grade school teaching approximately 276 students has been characterized by low Tier 3 PMF scores, low re-enrollment percentages, and low four-year graduation rates. It didn’t stand a chance of moving beyond its decade of existence. National Collegiate shares a building with Ingenuity Prep PCS so the logical course of events would be for this charter to take in more students. Unfortunately, Ingenuity Prep’s Tier 2 status precludes this from occurring.

There was positive news coming out of the session. KIPP DC will be allowed to assimilate Somerset Prep PCS and Friendship PCS’s expansion will include the students from IDEAL Academy PCS. Lee Montessori PCS was given permission to replicate. Meridian PCS, Perry Street Prep PCS, and Roots PCS all passed their 20-year reviews. Again no surprises.

I think for the January meeting, I will instead just go to the movies.

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