I had an opportunity to watch the presentation of Monument Academy PCS last Monday night before the DC Public Charter School Board. The session has received much attention by Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. Ms. Stein cannot be described as a charter school supporter and Ms. Strauss has been a vocal opponent. As stated by the newspaper:
“Since the start of this school year, more than 1,800 safety incidents have been reported at the campus, including bullying, property destruction, physical altercations and sexual assault, according to the charter school board. Forty alleged incidents of sexual misconduct and four of sexual assault have been reported. And the charter school board said that on 17 occasions, students have been found to possess a weapon, which ranges from using a stapler in a dangerous manner to a knife.
Half of the school’s roughly 100 students have been suspended this academic year, according to the charter board.”
A follow-up article by the same individuals indicated that the Monument Academy board of directors is now considering closing the school next month.
Monument Academy PCS is attempting to teach some of the most challenging children in the city. It provides a residential program specializing in those that have been engaged with the foster care system. 80 percent of its students are characterized as at-risk. 60 percent require special education services.
At Monday evening’s hearing co-founder Emily Bloomfield, board chair Charles Moore, and chief operating officer Keisha Morris did an admirable job answering the PCSB’s questions and concerns. However, it appeared that the board and school were talking past each other. As described by Mr. Moore, there was a clear misalignment between the two entities. The difference in perception were so great that there was not even agreement about what constitutes a safety incident, the number of staff that are included in next year’s operating budget, or whether or not the school is meeting its academic goals.
I have seen this movie before and believe me the ending is not a happy one. In cases where there is this much of a difference between visions of reality, the result in almost all cases is charter revocation. The board’s evaluation of this charter is particularly important at this time because next year Monument Academy is facing a high stakes five year review.
I do not think Monument Academy should be closed. As board member Steve Bumbaugh pointed out, the PCSB brings these alternative schools before them who instruct kids who have experienced trauma in their lives and then it beats them up. He remarked, “We are not talking about Washington Latin here.” Mr Bumbaugh questioned where these students would go if there was not Monument Academy. In addition, because of the stark variance between the viewpoints of the track record of this school, he thought that it was too premature to be having this review.
Something is going to have to be done if Monument Academy is to survive. My recommendation is to have Kingsman Academy PCS take it over. The school has an excellent reputation and handles an extremely similar student demographic. School leader Shannon Hodge is amazing.
The charter board stated that it will be meeting with Monument Academy again next week to see if it can resolve its differences with the school. Meanwhile, the charter’s board chair Mr. Moore told the Post that a decision will be made by June 8th as to whether it will continue operating.