The 2018 to 2019 school year has concluded, and for charter schools in the nation’s capital it is one to forget. These innovative laboratories of public education have been under attack like in the early days of the movement, and the support mechanisms have all but disappeared.
We used to have Jennie Niles as the Deputy Mayor for Education. She naturally favored charters as the founder and former executive director of E.L. Haynes PCS. Now we have Mr. Paul Kihn, who came in with such high expectations but has proved in eight months to be a charter detractor. First, he tried to put pressure on the DC Public Charter School Board to cap the number of schools. Next, he turned his back on AppleTree PCS, one of the country’s preeminent practitioners of early childhood pedagogy, in allowing one of its campuses serving at-risk students to close for a year rather than delay a DCPS modernization project for a few months so that the charter would have a place to operate.
Simultaneously, a teachers’ union associated with the AFT has gained a foothold at Munde Verde PCS, after being defeated at Paul PCS and Cesar Chavez PCS. By reading the printed playbook, unions are on the search for other sites where they can slowly and deceivingly destroy these schools from within.
While all of this is going on, last Friday Friends of Choice in Urban Schools lost two key individuals. Its executive director Irene Holtzman and senior director of government relations Michael Musante have vacated the organization. This, while a FOCUS coordinated charter funding inequity lawsuit is winding its way through the courts and the City Council is considering mandating that charters adhere to open meeting and freedom of information requirements.
I feel like we are witnessing the opening of the film The Exorcist. Everything on the surface appears to going well on a cool autumn day but the winds are blowing cold and there is terror on the horizon.
Meanwhile, as we struggle through year five of the Bowser Administration, not one vacant traditional school building has been offered to a charter school as is required by statute.
The characters in the movie never give up in the face of evil. Are we ready for this challenge? Perhaps a more appropriate question is who is up for the fight? Was the collaboration and the dedication of resources that we just witnessed around the saving of Monument Academy PCS a unique effort inherently related to the school’s unique mission? Or is this something that can be sustained to charge through the seemingly impenetrable barriers that have been erected to block our path forward?
I feel like the years, months, days, hours, and minutes have not been spent in vain. I still believe that those among us who were born less fortunate than ourselves deserve our help. I contend that when society looks retrospectively on this period in history it should not have the option of contending that we closed our eyes and walked away.
It is summer and we all deserve a break. But instead of bringing a beach book to peruse as you sit in front of the waves, I recommend turning to the reading list of Washington Latin PCS and picking up The Autobiography of Malcolm X. After reaching its final pages you will then be ready for the fall.