Eerie quiet at monthly meeting of D.C. charter board

Last night’s meeting of the D.C. Public Charter School Board can only be described as strange. Missing from the public comment segments of the last few months were the throngs of people supporting the teachers’ union from Cesar Chavez PCS’s Prep campus passionately demanding that the charter board force its schools to adhere to open meeting and Freedom of Information Request laws. I do not even think Christian Herr, the Prep teacher behind the collective bargaining agreement effort, was in attendance. It was as if the decision to close two Chavez schools and pass a transparency policy lacking two key components was a fait accompli. The charter school opponents must have decided that their time was better spent before the National Labor Relations Board or in front of the D.C. Council trying to place their stamp on the transparency legislation being introduced today by Charles Allen.

The session started with a longer than usual introduction by board chair Rick Cruz. He has now been in his volunteer position for one year. Mr. Cruz announced that his organization has received 11 applications to open new schools in the 2020-to-2021 school year, a gigantic increase over previous cycles. He said that in April there would be presentations by each of these groups. Mr. Cruz also informed the audience that last Friday a group of students from National Collegiate Preparatory PCS had come to the PCSB headquarters in an effort to reverse the decision to shutter their school. The board chair stated that he appreciated their efforts but that they could not now change a ruling that was based upon the poor academic performance this school has demonstrated over its history.

Lastly, Mr. Cruz revealed that the term is coming to an end for board member Don Soifer who had joined this body in December 2008. I have always greatly appreciated Mr. Soifer’s thoughtful and respectful questions of school representatives, and his strong defense of the autonomy of our local charter school movement.

At the conclusion of Mr. Cruz’s comments the board navigated through its agenda with few delays or detours. The most interesting part to me was the discussion around Friendship PCS’s takeover of WEDJ PCS. It turns out that this is not the typical assumption of management of one LEA by another as we have seen, for instance, with Friendship PCS’s decision to acquire IDEAL PCS. What is transpiring in this case is that the arts-integrated program of City Arts and Prep PCS is being transitioned over to Friendship’s Armstrong campus, along with many of its arts staff. Friendship will do this without needing to request an enrollment ceiling as it has space to incorporate the students from the site that is being closed. The move will result in some extremely fortunate charter being able to move into a truly beautiful school building at 705 Edgewood Street, N.E.

As foreshadowed, the discussion around the plan by Cesar Chavez PCS to close two campuses and consolidate high school students at its Parkside site was anti-climatic. With hardly a whimper the board unanimously went along with the plan, and just like that the first charter school in the nation’s capital to become unionized will become history this June.

Also passed without objection was the revised school transparency policy.

The longest dialog of the night involved an agreed-upon notice of truancy concern issued against Ingenuity Prep PCS. There is a recognized issue at this Ward 8 elementary school around ensuring that kids show up for class each day. It was mentioned by Aaron Cuny, a co-founder of the school and past CEO, when I interviewed him last October, and it was admitted to yesterday by the other co-founder and interim head Will Stoetzer present with board chair Peter Winik. I have to say that the school’s leadership gave little sign that they have a handle on this problem despite the expressed desire of this charter to reverse its slowly declining Performance Management Framework scores and become a Tier 1 facility so that it can replicate. The situation calls for the creation of a solid action plan that incorporates strategies utilized by other institutions teaching this highly at-risk population of kids.

In April comes the review of new school applications.

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