The enthusiastic press release reached my mailbox on Tuesday. “Capital Village Public Charter School today announced that Washington D.C.’s Ward Five will be the home of its first campus, a middle school opening in the Fall of 2020.”
Reading down the page I experienced the definition of mixed emotions. Capital Village will be opening at 705 Edgewood Street, N.E., the location that I found for the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts back in 2004. A firm associated with the Ezra commercial real estate company purchased this property and 707 Edgewood Street so that charter schools could find homes. Broker Anthony King came up with the idea of buying buildings and renting them back to charters after I had recruited him to assist years earlier with the extremely frustrating facility hunt for the Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy. I had been serving on the Cesar Chavez Board and later became a founding board member of WEDJ. The Washington Business Journal covered the story back then:
“Leaders within the charter school system can’t recall a time when the real estate community helped charter schools find appropriate classroom space. And despite its real estate challenges, the charter school system continues to flourish, giving the troubled D.C. school system a much-needed bright spot.
‘These people are heroes,’ says Mark Lerner, of Ezra and his investment team. Lerner is on the board of Doar and director of radiology services at Children’s National Medical Center in D.C.”
After the lease was signed we went on to create one of the most spectacular schools I have ever seen, complete with a black box theater and two dance studios.
In 2018, the DC Public Charter School Board voted to close WEDJ due to poor academic performance. The school had been renamed City Arts and Prep PCS. Here’s what I said about the decision at the time:
“For me, this was an exceptionally sad turn of events. Maybe the most exciting day of my life was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday in 2005 when, as board chair, WEDJ moved into it permanent facility at 705 Edgewood Street, N.E. Just driving up the ramp to the school’s entrance had my heart racing. My wife Michele and I helped the teachers set up their classrooms on that morning, and I still consider this building that I had a part in acquiring and designing to be the most beautiful school in Washington, D.C. The positive anticipation of those supporting the first 130 students enrolled in this integrated arts curriculum charter was so great that it brought many of us to tears. At its peak, WEDJ would instruct over 660 scholars on two campuses.”
I, of course, wondered what would happen to the property. Ezra had sold it to others awhile ago and stopped being a landlord. Therefore, I’m happy that a new charter will be able to take advantage of what we had built. However, at the same time, the news is a tragedy for our local movement.
We know that about a million square feet of vacant or significantly underused classroom space is sitting out there that DCPS is holding onto and will not share with charters. The shocking video of an empty and crumbling Spingarn High School being the latest concrete example of this travesty of justice. The fact that Capital Village has to utilize taxpayer funds to rent from a private developer is disgusting.
I do not for a minute fault the leaders of Capital Village. They had no choice. They needed a spot to open in the fall and there is literally nothing available right now.
But the fact that there is no place for charters to go should make us ill. There are a ton of hallways, common areas, and rooms for desks ready right this minute for the happy sound of children’s laughter to fill. But there is no one willing to take the bold move to force them to be given up to charter schools.
There are no heroes in 2020.