D.C. charter schools can never devalue their product

This morning, let’s start with a story. There is a video I love to show to my managers at work. The two-minute vignette is by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank and is about the founding of his company. He talks about his firm’s first big break, which was when his products were featured in the movie Any Given Sunday. Mr. Plank billed filmmaker Oliver Stone $40,000 for all of the clothing that he supplied for the actors. To those who say that he should have provided the material for free his answer is simple: Never devalue your product.

Today, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein has an article questioning whether the city can absorb the 11 new charter schools for which the DC PCSB has received applications to open. Ms. Stein also ponders whether there should be a cap on the number of charters. She writes:

“According to a city analysis, about a fifth of all school buildings are less than 65 percent full. And campuses in the traditional school system are even emptier. That means many of the schools have small enrollments. There are 38 high schools across both sectors serving nearly 20,000 students.”

At the same time, we hear case after case about parents who cannot find a quality school for their children. They find the lottery to be a completely frustrating experience. Some families who can afford to are moving to the suburbs because of their lack of options here in the District. In 2019, there is an almost 12,000 pupil wait list to obtain admission to a charter.

Please do not get distracted. Never devalue our product. If traditional school supporters are concerned about under-enrolled facilities, then low-performing DCPS sites need to be closed. Empty regular schools can be turned over to charters. Co-location can be significantly increased.

We also cannot let the quality of our charters be diluted by the introduction of a teachers’ union. Collective bargaining contracts change the nature of our schools from being the innovative institutions that they are to becoming just another state school. Perhaps as an incentive to prevent this from occurring, the PCSB should change its Performance Management Framework Policy and Technical Guide to proclaim that any charter that has union representation cannot be categorized as Tier 1.

Our children expect us to be brave and bold.

Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS 2019 Shining Star Gala inspires

If you have troubling doubts about the future of our country based upon its youth then I have the perfect potent antidote. Do yourself an immense favor and buy a ticket to the next annual Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS Shining Star Gala. Last Thursday evening, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend this event, and I have to say that a smile has not left my face since I exited the Ward 8 high school.

Just meeting Mr. Lloyd, the leader of TMA’s English Department, made me feel like a better person. His 10th grade exploration was entitled “From Book Club to Classroom.” Students, stationed at various desks, were there to talk about works they had read that have now replaced the use of textbooks and form the sophomore course curriculum. There I met Kiyaari Wilson, who spent her middle school years at Meridian PCS. She had recently finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Ms. Wilson, speaking as if she had been presenting in front of the public for all of her life, explained to me that the 15 year-old boy in the book sees the world in a different way from ordinary people. She detailed that he does not think like you or I, and his facial expressions and emotions are incongruous to events taking place around him. Of course, Ms. Wilson is describing someone who is autistic, but as the student detailed when this book was written in 2004 the syndrome was not nearly as well understood as it is today. I don’t want to give away the story but I learned the plot is centered around love, trust, and truth; concepts that resonate deeply with Ms. Wilson.

It took me a few minutes to arrive at my next destination which was Ms. Alvaredo-Sieg’s Spanish class. In the hallway my eyes were drawn to the banners hanging from the ceiling that proclaimed facts about TMA such as “Thurgood Marshall Academy is among the highest achieving open-enrollment high schools in the District of Columbia,” and “100% of Thurgood Marshall Academy Graduates have been accepted to college since 2005.” Also, I was delayed by waiters and waitresses offering me scrumptious morsels of food.

Once I reached room 107 I met sophomore Amya Hudson, who attended middle school at Achievement Prep PCS. Her assignment had been to study one of two individuals who had fought for social justice. Since she was already familiar with Cesar Chavez, she instead decided to learn about Rigoberta Menchú, a 1992 Nobel Peace Prize awardee who had fought for the human rights of the indigenous people of Guatemala. Ms. Hudson detailed that Ms. Menchú became drawn to her cause after the brutal torture and murder of her mother and brother. Much of the student’s research had come from reading this hero’s book, I, Rigoberta Menchú.

My fate turned for the worse when I entered the Applied Integrated Science classroom and met two “physicians.” Dr. Hudgens, a freshman who last year went to Mary McLead Bethune PCS, was partnered with Dr. Jones, a sophomore, who attended a Maryland public school for the ninth grade. Based upon some inventive physical symptoms I described I was efficiently diagnosed as having adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD, a genetic disorder), and told that the organelle (cellular part, similar to an organ) responsible was peroxisomes.

I was relieved to end the focus on myself when I ran into Richard Pohlman, Thurgood Marshall’s executive director. Last November, Mr. Pohlman announced that after four years in his position this school year would be his last. Each time I come to Shining Stars I get tremendous joy out of watching Mr. Pohlman’s interactions with his scholars, and it was a bond with students that he spoke about when I asked him about his legacy. “It has been all about the people,” the head of TMA related. “Too often in our work you think everything is built around the effort of one individual. But this is not the case here. The success of Thurgood Marshall is the result of a series of many connections between human beings. You need some great adults who are supporting our great kids in allowing them to reach their full potential. It is then about maintaining this tradition. I’m so proud of the work being done every day in this building.”

It was then on to the SoapBox Speeches, which the evening’s professionally produced brochure explained are part of a program TMA students compete in each year organized by the Mikva Challenge. There attendees listened to Jayla Holdip, a government student, talk openly about the dilemma she finds herself in when she is trying to forcefully argue for societal change. Often, she observed, she is relegated to the category of “angry black woman.” She added that she is undeterred by the generalization being made of her.

I learned after hearing her talk that Ms. Holdip came to TMA from Basis PCS. She will be attending the University of Rochester in the fall where she will create her own major based around science, anthropology, and public policy. Eventually, her goal is to be a civil rights lawyer. Ms. Holdip has received a full-ride scholarship to college.

Once the classroom explorations were concluded, the guests moved to the school’s gymnasium for dessert. I had a chance to speak with Raymond Weeden, Jr., the gentleman who has been selected to become the school’s next executive director on July 1st. Mr. Weeden’s background includes serving as principal of DC Prep PCS’s Benning Elementary campus and then as the same school’s senior director of policy and community engagement. He was also previously the principal of Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy’s Parkside Middle School. Mr. Weeden expressed to me that for 16 years he has greatly appreciated the academic achievements being accomplished by Thurgood Marshall Academy and he is excited and honored to be a part of this community.

The evening concluded with the crowd hearing from Ms. Holdip for themselves. In an even more forceful tone and diction than I recalled from the classroom setting, she took the audience through her educational milestones, and expressed her strong gratitude and respect for every person in the school. I have a strong feeling that I have not heard the last from Ms. Holdip.

Mundo Verde board refuses to recognize union

At a crowded open board meeting last night, the trustees of Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS apparently denied accepting that the teachers’ union DCACTS is now representing its teachers. This, despite the claim by DCACTS that 80 percent of the instructional staff (90 employees) have signed union authorization cards. Christian Herr, the Chavez PCS teacher behind that school’s effort to create a collective bargaining unit, stated on Twitter:

“The board @MundoVerdePCS has an opportunity to be forward thinking and progressive- but sadly they are following the playbook of @ChavezSchools – fighting and delaying- you could do so much better- you could be so much better.”

So now the fight moves on to the National Labor Relations Board. The question that needs to be asked, with this effort by misguided staff and parents to destroy a high-performing charter school, is where is the DC Public Charter School Board in this battle? Where is FOCUS?

Here is a sample of the testimony last night that was offered as part of the public comment period of the meeting, according to the union:

“Kindergarten teacher Andrea Molina @MundoVerdePCS shouts out extended day team- they are advocating for better pay and translation assistance when they interact with HR. They need supplies to be able to do their job.”

“Victor is forming a #union at @MundoVerdePCS because he cannot meet his students needs when admin ignores his requests for supports and resources.”

“Kindergarten teacher @MundoVerdePCS Gabriela tells board that her class size has risen each year she has been here. Over 25 kindergarteners in her class- when she approached administration they said they were packing kids in her class because students in higher grades leaving.”

“Data manager Joe Brophy explains why he is supporting a #union “there is no transparency- and there needs to be.”

Information was provided to me last evening that the American Federation of Teachers is set to spend tens of thousands of dollars to infiltrate the charter movement in the nation’s capital. Where are the brave men and women who will stand up for school choice? This is a defining moment in education reform. If we lose, then we are turning our backs on the hundreds of low-income children that were abandoned by the traditional schools decades ago.

The silence out there is really deafening.