D.C. charter school movement awash in change

During the period that my wife and I were studying charter schools on Cape Cod, change after change was taking place at a breathtaking rate at home regarding our own charter network. As I re-enter my life here in the nation’s capital, please allow me to update you on many of the developments.

First, Ingenuity Prep PCS board chair Peter Winik announced in early June that Will Stoetzer has been named the school’s chief executive officer. Mr. Stoetzer, a co-founder of Ingenuity Prep along with Aaron Cuny, has been in the interim CEO role since December of last year when Mr. Cuny transitioned to the position of senior adviser. I interviewed Mr. Cuny last October. Mr. Winik wrote of the decision:

“The Board’s selection is the result of an inclusive interview process that evaluated Will against a set of qualities co-created by the Ingenuity Prep staff, families, and Board. Will participated in four separate interview panels of key stakeholders–school staff, leadership, families and Board members. The Board then reviewed the feedback from each panel to inform its decision. The Board is incredibly grateful to all panelists–their input was invaluable in the selection process.”

The Ward 8 charter has been anxious to offer its program to more students but has been unable to replicate because it is classified as a Tier 2 institution on the DC Public Charter Board’s Performance Management Framework tool. The last result in 2018 demonstrated that the school slipped in its quantitative score.

Next, the local charter world erupted in excitement because the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Mayor Bowser has released the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School in Southeast for other uses. The facility was shuttered in 2013 due to low student enrollment. Ms. Stein indicated that perhaps the structure will be turned over to a charter which would be the first empty DCPS classroom space that this Mayor has relinquished to the sector. I’m not so sure. Consider the language that the Post reporter in her article captures D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and Ms. Bowser using to describe the change:

“’Because D.C. Public Schools has determined that it does not need the school as a current or future school building, we are opening it up to see how we can make it something really special for the community in that location,’ Kihn said.”

“’We’ve heard it loud and clear from the community — it’s time to reactivate and develop the Ferebee-Hope site to breathe life back into this space and bring new opportunities to the neighborhood,’ Bowser said in a news release. ‘I’m committed to working hand-in-hand with residents on what they want to see at the site.’”

This is about as far as we can get from a strong blanket commitment from our city’s top education leaders to support the public schools that now educate 47 percent of all students in our city. The Mayor’s failure to immediately turn this school over to charters is against the law.

Here’s a warning: You may not want to continue reading. The news is about to get worse.

In May I detailed the trouble the Monument Academy PCS found itself in at the PCSB’s monthly meeting. A piece by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss captured the issues:

“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.”

On June 5th, the Monument Academy board of directors voted to close the school at the end of this academic year. Charles Moore, the charter’s board chair, explained the reasons behind the move in a letter to the school’s community:

“First, we believe the likelihood of the Public Charter School Board renewing the charter in the upcoming review cycle was low, based on what we heard when board members met with PCSB staff and trustees on April 26. The core message was that when schools have not met their accountability goals, the only path to charter renewal would be having a clear, positive trajectory in student outcomes. Our own analysis of the performance showed that while there were pockets of success with student progress—in fact, many students saw tremendous gains—the aggregate results showed uneven gains and an unclear path to create faster growth in a short time frame. Second, despite the valiant work of our family engagement team, the board believed that our student recruitment numbers were behind the pace needed (based on the historical record) to reach our enrollment target of 120 students by the start of the school year.”

I am sure that the charter’s CEO and co-founder Emily Bloomfield is personally crushed regarding the situation, as she put all of her heart and soul into Monument Academy. In fact, I have never seen a more rapid denouement of a charter school. Just last year at a CityBridge Education forum, the staff of this school received accolades for the methods it has implemented for caring for children who have suffered Adverse Childhood Events.

In his letter, Mr. Moore explains that other charter operators have reached with offers of help. Let’s sincerely hope that one takes over this school of 100 disadvantaged students so that they can be offered the possibility of a bright future.

I was also notified by Golnar Abedin, the executive director and founder of Creative Minds PCS, that after eight years she is stepping down from her position. Here’s a portion of her note to her constituents:

“As a parent and an education professional, I founded Creative Minds International eight years ago with guidance and support from a small and passionate group of parents and co-founders, after discovering that DC public school lacked a meaningful arts-based, international curriculum that welcomed children of varying abilities and backgrounds. We presented a plan to the DC Public Charter School Board for a unique school that would be inclusive of all learners. We opened our doors in the fall of 2012 to 100 preschool to 2nd-grade students, in a small building on 16th Street. Today we welcome nearly 500 students, in prekindergarten through 8th grade, at our beautiful campus at the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

I could not be more proud of what we have built and accomplished together, with support from colleagues and our community. We became the first public charter school to achieve International Primary Curriculum accreditation, the first to secure a long-term lease in a beautiful, historic federal government building, and the first to succeed in providing high-quality opportunities in an international and arts-based program that is truly inclusive of all learners.”

I interviewed Dr. Abedin in 2018 and I was so impressed that it is a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I will not give away her story here. You will have to read the discussion. Let me just say that there is definitely a reason that the school has a 2,000 student wait list to gain admission.

Finally, at a period when charters are facing their greatest political struggles in their relatively short quarter of a century history, it appears that the support organization Friends of Choice in Urban Schools is undergoing a leadership change. I received a message from Irene Holtzman, its executive director for the last four years, that she is stepping down at the end of this month. No word yet on a successor. Apparently, Michael Musante, the group’s long-term government relations director, is also departing at the conclusion of June. I always thoroughly Ms. Holtzman’s highly energetic enthusiasm when I heard her speak at meetings.

Next time, I think I will simply stay in town.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s