D.C. charter board has tough choices about approving new schools

As I’ve previously mentioned, the DC Public Charter School Board received 11 applications for new schools this cycle, which may be an unprecedented number. What I’ve noticed is that the quality of these bids is exceptionally strong. Reading the hundreds of pages of charter proposals leads one to believe that all should be allowed to begin teaching children. But choices have to be made and here are mine.

Already on my list is The Sojourner Truth PCS from Monday night’s PCSB meeting. From the next evening I liked I Dream Academy DC PCS, a proposed pre-Kindergarten three to sixth grade school that would instruct 240 pupils in Ward 7 or 8. As we saw with Sojouner, the Dream Academy team, dressed in matching white tee shirts and black jackets, were able to confidentially handle any question directed their way by board members.

I would also give the green light to Anna Julie Cooper PCS. This Kindergarten through twelfth grade school would be located in Ward 6 instructing 568 children. The application contains this information about the school’s namesake:

“Born into slavery, Anna Julia Cooper devoted her life to classical study, ultimately becoming the fourth African-American woman in history to receive a doctorate, and the first from the Sorbonne. Her life testified to the power and importance of education in bestowing dignity and opportunity upon its learners. Dr. Cooper conceived of the liberal arts curriculum as essential in educating the entire human soul, believing that such an education produces men and women of character, who are prepared to confront and right the wrongs and ills facing the nation. . .

In 1906, Anna Julia Cooper resigned as principal of the M Street High School, following a controversy in which the school board disagreed with her educational aspirations and methods. Instead of simply preparing her African American students for vocational professions as was the norm in her day, Cooper scandalously believed that these students were capable of more. Her curriculum was a classical one, designed to prepare her students to think independently, respond creatively, and process critically. In short, Anna Julia Cooper had the audacity to believe that every student was entitled to and capable of an education that liberated them from an allotted and prescribed path and profession.”

The charter will receive free support from Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative that currently assists 20 schools across the country in successfully establishing a classical liberal arts curriculum.

Two schools that sought to open new schools last year and were turned down, but that should be given the go-ahead now are Bolt Academy PCS and Capital Village PCS. Bolt Academy, a Ward 6 high school with 400 students conceived by my friend Seth Andrew, removed the student residential requirement and now limits its study abroad component to summers. Capital Village, which will have its home in Ward 1, 4, 5, or 6 and enroll 180 children in its grade five through eight middle school, updated its bid to include back-filling vacant slots. The board was impressed.

If my advice is followed, then that would mean five out of eleven new applications would be approved, representing a rate of 45.5 percent. This is over my estimate of 40 percent which therefore makes it too high. Adding to this complication is that there is one more charter I would like to see pass the test.

Aspire to Excellence Academy PCS would teach children in pre-Kindergarten three and four and offer vocational training to adults in bookkeeping, construction trades, and national hair care. It would also provide an opportunity to earn a high school diploma or G.E.D. The Ward 6 charter, which reminds me of the Briya PCS model, would enroll 22 three and four year-olds and 148 grown-ups. I thought the founding group did an outstanding job in their presentation. My heart is with Aspire.

The final decisions will be announced at the May 20th PCSB meeting.

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