D.C. Mayor Bowser does right thing on education; much more to do

Last Friday, Fenit Nirappil of the Washington Post revealed that Mayor Bowser utilized her first veto to reject D.C. Council-approved legislation permitting this year’s chronically absent high school seniors to receive diplomas.  The act would have also allowed students who missed significant portions of the term to be socially promoted to the next grade.  Her move should be applauded but is not all together surprising since it came in the aftermath of the following comments about the bill from interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith as quoted by the Post’s Perry Stein:

“This emergency legislation undermines [the school system’s] efforts and sends a troubling message about the importance of school attendance, suggesting that students need a waiver to excuse absences.  We will continue to stress the importance of attendance because every day counts.”

The Council passed the law early last month by a vote of 12 to 1.  Shockingly, one of the sponsors was David Grosso, the chairman of the Council’s education committee.  What a stunning sad example for our kids.  It would have excused students who missed more than 30 days of class but who were otherwise in academically satisfactory standing.  Mr. Nirappil explains that the measure would have increased the graduation grand total by 26 pupils.

The Council could override Ms. Bowser’s veto but this course is not likely since the body is out for summer recess until September.  Mr. Nirappil points out that it is not clear at this point that there are nine representatives who would vote to reverse her decision.

Now that the Mayor has taken this bold step, it is time she corrects some other deficiencies currently present in the city’s education landscape.

First, the chief executive needs to ensure equitable funding between charter schools and DCPS.  Its way past time that the playing field between these two sectors is made equitable to the tune of $100 million a year that the traditional schools receive that charters do not.

In addition, Mayor Bowser must immediately turn all surplus DCPS buildings over to charters.  Charter leaders and parents are desperate for a way to reduce the wait list of over 11,000 children wanting urgently to get into one of these institutions that now educate 47.5 percent of all public school students.

Lastly, she needs to hire a new Chancellor that understands and accepts the power that school choice has exerted in the nation’s capital to provide its children with a high quality alternative to the regular schools and to incentivize DCPS to improve.  Perhaps the new head of DCPS can work with the DC Public Charter School Board to create a charter and traditional school compact that would guarantee a permanent home for any charter that needs one.




Washington City Paper is attempting to shutter Cesar Chavez Public Charter School

Last Friday, Washington City Paper published its third recent article highly sympathetic to the demands of the American Federation of Teacher’s union that last summer was voted in at the Chavez Prep Middle School, and the second in which it blames problems at the charter on the TenSquare consulting group. From the piece:

“In its latest complaint, the union alleges that the charter network and TenSquare have illegally changed the school’s calendar for the 2018-19 school year in ways that affect terms of employment, have bargained in bad-faith (referred to as ‘surface bargaining’), and have walked out of a bargaining session before its scheduled end time, ‘thereby disregarding their bargaining obligation under the [National Labor Relations] Act.’ . . . In late April, Chavez Prep teachers staged two outdoor demonstrations to protest their charter’s TenSquare contract. The educators objected to their school paying the company $138,000 every month while also claiming to be unable to afford filling vacant teacher positions.”

Here is a “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” story if there ever was one. While Chavez chief executive officer Emily Silberstein reflects to City Paper that “the union is seeking to minimize the number of days its members work, and we are trying to maximize the number of days our scholars learn,” the DC Public Charter School Board has its eyes fixed directly on academic performance at the school. Here is what it said at the charter’s twenty-year review last December, and please pay close attention to its findings regarding Chavez Prep:

“Chavez PCS is a multi-campus local education agency (LEA) that adopted the Performance Management Framework (PMF) as its goals and student achievement expectations. Pursuant to the school’s Charter and Charter Agreement, Chavez PCS did not meet its goals and student achievement expectations. The Capitol Hill, Chavez Prep, and Parkside High School campuses had average PMF scores above 50%, which is the minimum required by the school’s Charter Agreement. However, two of these campuses, Capitol Hill and Chavez Prep, have experienced significant declines in almost every metric over the past two years and cannot continue with current performance levels. Additionally, the Parkside Middle campus scored below the 50% threshold, with an average PMF score of 40.5%. The school’s Charter Agreement requires every campus to earn an average PMF score equal to or above 50%. Therefore, the entire LEA has failed to meet the PMF goal.”

The charter board did not take these results lightly, as should be the case when it comes to the extraordinary responsibility of educating our children. It therefore adopted some exceedingly serious action steps:

  • The Parkside Middle campus will close one grade at a time, starting with sixth
    grade prior to SY 2018-19, seventh grade prior to SY 2019-20, and eighth
    grade by the start of SY 2020-21. During this time, the school will not be able
    to admit new students to its middle school grades and will reduce its enrollment ceiling each year by 100 students, ultimately resulting in a maximum enrollment ceiling of 1,320.
  • If the Capitol Hill campus receives a PMF score of below 40 in 2017-18, below
    45 in 2018-19, or below 50 in 2019-20 the campus will close at the end of the
    year following the year the school failed to achieve the target, with a
    commensurate decrease in the school’s enrollment ceiling.
  • If the Chavez Prep campus receives a PMF score of below 40 in 2017-18,
    below 45 in 2018-19, or below 50 in 2019-20 the campus will close at the end
    of the year following the year the school failed to achieve the target, with a
    commensurate decrease in the school’s enrollment ceiling.
  • The internal control environment at Chavez PCS must be strengthened to ensure compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and DC PCSB requirements, including compliance with DC PCSB’s Contract Submission Policy. To do so, the school must draft and submit a financial corrective action plan, subject to the DC PCSB Board’s approval.

In other words, due its inability to reach its scholastic targets, the board closed one of four Chavez campuses and has its sights on ending the operation of another two. This is a crisis for this charter school. Its current state of affairs is about as opposite as you can get from the enthralling, optimistic high-spirited vision provided by founder Irasema Salcido that was ever-present when I first joined her in 1999 trying to advance the organization’s mission of creating the next generation of our city’s leaders.

City Paper can of course continue to write again and again in support of Chavez Prep teachers whining to the National Labor Relations Board, and attack the group hired to turn the school’s dire situation around. But if the union prevails and the contract with TenSquare ends, the final result, tragically, may be empty buildings.

D.C. Mayor Bowser wrangles with Congress over surplus DCPS facilities

Coming shortly before the excellent editorial that appeared in last Sunday’s Washington Post by District of Columbia International Public Charter School’s executive director Mary Schaffner that bemoans the loss of five vacant DCPS facilities for use by charters, was a squabble between D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Senator Ron Johnson over space for the sector that now educates 47 percent of all public school students in the nation’s capital.  Senator Johnson sent a letter to Ms. Bowser on May 31, 2018 under his authority as chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which is responsible for oversight of the city’s operations.  He wrote:

“Under D.C. law, public charter schools have a right of first offer to purchase, lease, or otherwise use excess school facilities.  This right provides D.C. public charter schools with access to surplus school buildings while allowing the traditional public school system to generate additional revenue.

Although leasing excess school facilities is beneficial to both charter schools and traditional schools, ten percent of D.C. school facilities were vacant or ‘significantly underused’ as of July 2017.  Meanwhile, waiting lists at D.C. charter schools have increased across all charter schools and totaled 28,698 students – an increase of 27.2% from the 2016-2017 waitlist total of 20,880.”

The letter concludes with a request for a list of all surplus and underutilized DCPS buildings and the names of schools that have been turned over to charters during her time in office.

On June 14, 2018, Mayor Bowser responds and answers the two questions in this manner:

“Thank you for your May 31, 2018 letter regarding the District of Columbia’s management of vacant or significantly underutilized public school facilities.  As you noted, District of Columbia law gives public charter schools the right of first offer when school facilities are designated as excess.  However, the law does not require the District to designate every vacant or underutilized school as excess.  Rather, my administration evaluates both the short and long-term needs of a growing school system when determining facility designations.

The population of the District of Columbia declined for several decades but starting in 2010 our population began to grow -recently surpassing 700,000- and so too did student enrollment in the District of Columbia Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools.  Since Fiscal Year 2015, my administration has provided public charter schools over $500 million for school facilities through the per pupil facility allotment, and has awarded over $13 million to high-performing public charter schools through ‘Scholarships for Opportunities and Results’ (SOAR) facilities grant funding.

During my tenure, we have converted three facilities to public charter use; these schools now serve approximately 2,000 public charter school students.  We also established the Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force in August 2015, to increase dialog and coordination between DCPS and our public charter schools, especially with respect to the opening, closing, and siting of school facilities.  My administration will also be completing a Public Education Master Facilities Plan (MFP) this year.  The MFP will identify schools that are currently underutilized or overcrowded and provide recommendations on how to address these imbalances as well as identify potential gaps between future facility needs and anticipated public school enrollment growth.  Additionally, to address overutilization, the District’s FY 19-24 Capital Improvement Plan includes $40 million to add permanent classroom capacity at two of DCPS’s most over-utilized schools.”

Ms. Bowser includes with her letter a spreadsheet of vacant and “significantly underused” DCPS facilities.

In consulting with Friends of Choice in Urban Schools regarding the mayor’s response, it appears that several of her statements are not perfectly accurate.

First, it is true as Ms. Bowser states that under the law every vacant building need not be deemed a surplus property.  However, the law was intended as a method of making these sites available to charter schools.  Simply holding them without explanation means she is restricting access to quality school seats to children living in the District of Columbia.

In addition, the Bowser Administration has really not “awarded over $13 million to high-performing public charter schools through ‘Scholarships for Opportunities and Results’ (SOAR) facilities grant funding.”  These dollars are provided at the federal level and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education then grants them to public charter schools.  Going forward, the awards will be given to each charter school based upon a per pupil allotment.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the Mayor has not turned over three former DCPS buildings to charters.  In fact, the conversions she included in her letter to Senator Johnson had taken place years earlier and these buildings were already being utilized by the sector.

Specifically, M.C. Terrell-McGogney Elementary School, as the Washington Post’s Emma Brown reported, was turned over to Somerset PCS in 2013 under Mayor Gray through Building Hope’s Charter School Incubator Initiative.  In 2016, Mayor Bowser renewed the incubator lease.  The William B. Keene Elementary School was awarded to Dorothy I. Height Community Academy in 2008.  After Community Academy was shuttered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 2013 the site was transferred to DC Bilingual PCS.  Finally, the P.R. Harris Educational Center has been the home to National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High School and Ingenuity Prep PCS again as part of the Charter School Incubator project.  Ms. Bowser renewed the lease for this space in 2016.

In fact, there have been no vacant or underutilized DCPS buildings turned over to charters to date since Muriel Bowser came into office in 2015.





Mieka Wick stepping down as CityBridge Education CEO

In a beautifully poetic note Katherine Bradley, co-founder of the CityBridge Foundation and executive chair of CityBridge Education, announces that Mieka Wick is leaving her position as chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization.  The following letter is reprinted with Mrs. Bradley’s permission.

June 28, 2018

Dear CityBridge Colleagues and Friends,

Although the core of my message is not news for most of you, this writing may bring surprise for some. So I thought I would start with the headline: After ten wonderful years as my partner and colleague at CityBridge, Mieka Wick will be departing at the end of June. She leaves us without having fixed a next destination, instead hoping to explore multiple pathways for her future life and professional contribution. Leadership departures are never easy, but this one deserves an unusual moment of gratitude, as the CityBridge team and I thank Mieka for the exceptional decade we have had together. Mieka has been nothing short of a treasure—as a person of deep warmth and compassion, and as a critical leader through the growth and development of CityBridge.

Eleven years ago this summer, I hired Mieka Wick based on one, fateful phone conversation. She was considering a move to Washington with her husband David and her newborn, Annabelle. (Sam Wick arrived a few years later.) It was time for her to be back in her hometown, closer to her family. She had built the donor relations practice area at New Profit in Boston and was looking for some way to continue that special blend of education and philanthropy. I was looking for someone to be my close partner in building what we have come to call our Stewardship Network—a collection of leaders in philanthropy, business, and civic life who, together, could ensure that the education reform platform being built in Washington would remain resilient and strong. I had seen glimmers of similar networks in other cities, and my hunch was that CityBridge could help create the “glue” that would allow Washington, D.C. to avoid the political whiplash plaguing education reform efforts in other cities.

Mieka joined us in September 2007. Together, she and I met with countless local leaders and champions, and our Stewardship Network thrived. In December 2010, I asked her to take on the role of CityBridge executive director, and to my delight and good fortune, she accepted. In January 2017, we launched a new venture, CityBridge Education, entirely focused on the incubation of innovative school models and the redesign of existing schools. Mieka became CEO of that enterprise, which is now finishing a first (successful) full fiscal year as a public charity.

She leaves us now in order to have the time and space to craft a whole new chapter—tethered surely to the non-profit purposes that have animated her career, namely, work that allows children, families, and individuals to thrive. We know that whatever she touches—whichever lucky entity it is she creates or attaches to next—will have the full magic of the Mieka Wick we have all known and loved.

After a decade of close partnership, there are hundreds of moments and images I could turn to, to sum up her unique gifts: moments when I have had the privilege of watching her masterfully present our work to individuals or to large audiences; and many moments of triumph—schools succeeding, programs launched, partnerships formed. Her most profound impact, however, is not in any tally of external achievement, as significant as that success is. Instead, her deepest impact is on all of us, her close-in colleagues at CityBridge and her wider network of stewards and friends. Mieka is an individual of unsurpassed warmth and positive energy, compassion and delight. As with any human endeavor, it is these moments—the friendships, alliances, and loyalties we build—that most endure. And in that sense, Mieka Wick will never really leave us. Sometimes, long after an individual has moved on, a trace of them remains in the air, like the scent of a signature perfume, lingering and distinct. Mieka’s signature—that thing that will linger in the air at CityBridge—is her deep humanity and the care, warmth and affirmation she consistently brought to others. Hers has been a presence of love, and CityBridge has been immeasurably blessed by it.

Although we hope to have news on the appointment of her successor by early in the fall, I will save all of those practical points for future writing. Mieka’s personal email is: mieka.wick@gmail.com. I know she will want to stay in touch with the friends and colleagues she has from CityBridge. For today’s writing, however, my purpose is simply to say: Thank you, Mieka Wick.

With best wishes,

Katherine Bradley
Executive Chair
CityBridge Education

Rocketship PCS on the hot seat at last night’s charter board meeting

As I reported regarding May’s meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, it is becoming clear that often the most significant portion of these monthly sessions involves the public comment period that comes before the regular business section of the agenda. Participants appearing before the board are supposedly given a couple of minutes to speak but in reality there is no time limit. Therefore, anyone with a beef regarding D.C.’s nationally recognized charter school movement has an open opportunity to air their grievances for as long as they want to talk and this is exactly what they are doing.

Yesterday, it was Rocketship PCS’s turn to bear the brunt of citizen anger. The outpouring was prompted by a proposal by the brand-new Statesman College Preparatory Academy for Boys PCS, formally named North Star College Preparatory Academy for Boys, to begin its first year of operation by co-locating its facility with Rocketship Legacy Prep PCS on Massachusetts Avenue Southeast. A public hearing on whether Statesman will be permitted to begin its first year serving children at this site is not scheduled until this coming Friday at 4:00 p.m. which is in itself a highly inconvenient time for a function of this type, but this fact is only a technicality. It was as if an approaching battle prompted people to prepare for their defense and their protection on Monday night was the English language.

Individual after individual went on the attack against Rocketship and specifically its new campus in Ward 7. The remarks went on for about an hour. To save you the time of listening to the proceedings I will summarize them as the criticism that has whirled around the expansion of this charter management organization since it came to town in 2014. Citizens feel that the school has not engaged with local residents before entering their communities and has ignored their opinions while treating them as if they are irrelevant bystanders to its plans. Complaints even included the specific location of trash dumpsters and the cutting down of trees.

In fact, the DC PCSB is having its own difficulties with Rocketship. Yesterday’s supporting documentation regarding the charter’s decision to delay opening its third campus contains the following narrative:

“This is the school’s third campus postponement since DC PCSB approved Rocketship PCS’s charter on November 3, 2014. While the school was originally scheduled to open its first campus in SY 2015-2016, Rocketship PCS requested a one-year postponement, resulting in Rocketship PCS – Rise Academy opening in SY 2016-2017.

In preparation for its second campus, Rocketship PCS provided notification to DC PCSB on November 21, 2016 of its intent to open Rocketship PCS – Legacy Prep in SY 2017-2018 at a permanent site in Ward 7. However, the school was unable to obtain necessary permits to complete construction before the start of SY 2017-2018. As a result, on June 19, 2017, Rocketship PCS returned to DC PCSB to obtain urgent approval to operate at two temporary facilities for part of SY 2017-2018, until its permanent site was ready for operation in early January 2018.

Each time that Rocketship PCS has postponed opening one of its campuses or changed a campus location last-minute, the students and families enrolled at those have been affected. Most recently, approximately 22 students who were enrolled at Rocketship PCS’s Ward 5 campus through the DC common lottery were left without a school placement for the upcoming school year when Rocketship PCS announced in May that it will not open the Ward 5 campus until SY 2019-2020. (Of these, 17 were students in grades K-2, and 5 were students in grades PK3-PK4.) To help families find an alternative placement quickly, most PK3-PK4 students were placed at AppleTree PCS at Perry Street, while students in grades K-2 were provided the option to attend either Rocketship PCS’s Rice Academy or Legacy Prep. The school reports that Rocketship PCS helped 21 of these students find a suitable placement for SY 2018-2019, and only one student received an offer that was deemed unsatisfactory to the parent.

Over the past three years, DC PCSB has received several community complaints regarding the school’s lack of community engagement, which played a significant role in the issues the school faced when trying to open its second campus. Parents have also understandably complained about the inconvenience caused by delayed openings and changes in location. Thus, DC PCSB staff wants assurance from Rocketship PCS that in the immediate future the school will increase its community engagement and plan carefully for any future campus openings to ensure it maintains a sufficient timeline.”

During the period that Rocketship was before the board discussing its latest campus fiasco in Ward 5, it was revealed that its Washington Regional Director Jacque Patterson is no longer with the CMO. I cannot help but wonder if his departure is associated with the school’s problems integrating into this city.

There was one bright spot last night. Relatively new board member Naomi Shelton is beginning to show real leadership of this body. Her thoughtful comments were direct and heartfelt. She instantly connected with an inhospitable crowd. Here is someone to keep our eyes on.

Sustainable Futures PCS relinquishes charter

The DC Public Charter School Board announced yesterday that Sustainable Futures PCS has decided to close the school on June 29, 2018 after one year of business.  It opened in August 2017.  According to the DC PCSB, the organization received a letter from the school’s board chair Paul Jackson who said the charter “grappled with several challenges during its first year of operations that led to necessary changes at both the board and administration levels.”

Sustainable Futures was one of only two schools to be approved to open during the 2016 application cycle.  The school’s website states that it was established as “a free alternative public high school for students who haven’t traveled the traditional path through school, but are eager to re-engage in their education to create a successful life for themselves.”  Its application calls for enrolling 65 students in its inaugural term.  Only limited information is available about the school from the PCSB, and the school’s web page does not contain a notice about it closing its doors on Harvard Street, N.W.

The charter board does make the statement that it “will examine key events and decisions made about Sustainable Futures PCS” and review at its September monthly meeting the results of an investigation by the staff.

I’m sure its especially concerning to the PCSB that a highly vetted new charter is going out of business after only a year.  This comes on the aftermath of the shuttering of Washington Math Science and Technology PCS due to financial problems that were only recently made known publicly but were discovered by the charter board in May 2017.


Denver School of Science and Technology PCS wins $250,000 Broad Prize

Yesterday it was announced at the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s annual conference that the Denver School of Science and Technology Public Schools won the Board Prize for being the nation’s leading charter management organization.  As DSST chief executive officer Bill Kurtz explains,

“The Broad Prize is determined based on publicly available student performance data from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years for 41 of the country’s largest public charter management systems. The review board considers student outcomes, college readiness indicators, scalability, size, special education results and student demographics such as poverty. This data-driven approach makes the award all the more meaningful to us.”

Melanie Asmar of Chalkbeat reveals that the award is presented yearly by the The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and that this is the second time in 12 months that DSST has been a finalist.  She indicates that the grant of $250,000 that comes along with the selection must be used to prepare minority and low-income students for college.  The reporter also provides some background on the charter school:

“DSST operated 13 middle and high schools in Denver this past school year, serving 5,300 students. More than 80 percent were students of color, and two-thirds qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. DSST strives for diversity and at some of its schools, gives priority to students who qualify for subsidized lunch.

In choosing DSST, the 10-member Broad Prize review board noted that for the past decade, 100 percent of DSST graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges or universities. They also recognized the network’s high test scores, particularly on the ACT.”

Ms. Asmar also informs us that the charter is expanding.  “DSST is poised to grow even more in the coming years. It will open a new middle school in far northeast Denver this fall, and a middle school and a high school in the neighboring city of Aurora in 2019. The Aurora school board has approved four DSST schools in what will be the network’s first expansion outside of Denver. Meanwhile, the Denver school board has approved eight more DSST schools that don’t yet have opening dates.”

Mr. Kurtz had this to say about his network’s accomplishment:

“Winning the Broad Prize is a great achievement, but we know we still have work to do to serve all of our students with excellence. Continuous improvement is part of our ethos, part of our culture, and we’re eager to work on ways to get better during the next school year.”

I visited the Denver School of Science and Technology a couple of years ago as part of the Amplify School Choice conference sponsored by the Franklin Center for Public and Government Integrity and was blown away by the presentation by Mr. Kurtz.  He explained that the teachers and staff at his school have done much to close the academic achievement gap between affluent and low-income students, which I at the time was 12 points.  However, he added passionately, any difference between standardized test scores between these two groups is too large.  His value-based approach to learning impressed me because it mirrors our department’s customer service program at my place of employment.  In fact, when I met the DSST CEO in 2016, before bringing up academics, facilities, or finance, he spoke about the values that he tries to instill in his scholars.


Emily Lawson stepping down as DC Prep PCS CEO

While my wife Michele and I were vacationing in London last month Emily Lawson, the founder and chief executive officer of DC Prep PCS, announced that she was stepping down as head of the school.   Towards the end of 2018 Laura Maestas will become the new CEO.  Ms. Maestas currently plays the role of Chief Talent Officer at the school.

Ms. Lawson states that Ms. Maetas is the right person for the job because:

She thinks about people first. Laura’s career has focused on talent – how to attract, develop and retain a diverse group of great people. Talent has been – and always will be – a huge priority for DC Prep. Laura’s talent expertise and lens will help us remain a great place to work on behalf of students.

She’s tremendously thoughtful. Okay, I’ll just say it: Laura’s really smart! When she considers an issue, she sees all angles, and asks questions until she knows she sees it in three dimensions. In a complex world, it’s essential for our CEO to have this view.

She is committed to high standards – for our students and for herself. Like all of us, Laura wants the best for our students, and she holds herself to a high standard in advancing that goal. She is a great model of growth mindset. And while she is creative and open-minded, she is also extremely persistent and determined. She will make sure that DC Prep continues to set the bar for excellence in education.”

My friend Michela English, the former president and CEO of Fight for Children, who is DC Prep’s chair of the board of directors, released the following statement regarding the selection of Ms. Maestas:

“I am thrilled that Laura Maestas will be DC Prep’s next CEO.

Our Board engaged in a comprehensive process to evaluate Laura as a candidate for this role.

  • Last fall we retained an experienced external consultant to seek input from Laura’s DC Prep colleagues and to assess her strengths and growth areas against the skills needed in the CEO role. We were greatly encouraged by this assessment and thus publicly announced her candidacy.
  • As a next step, we asked for the involvement of staff and parents in our stakeholder interviews.  The Board and I are very grateful to the 24 staff members and parents who answered this call.  Their reflections after interviewing Laura offered valuable insights that influenced our decision, and Laura has benefitted from their feedback.
  • Following that process, and informed by both our consultant’s report and the three group stakeholder interviews, members of the Board interviewed Laura. Last week, the full Board voted unanimously to extend Laura the offer to become our next CEO.
  • We are delighted that she has accepted our offer!

Laura joined DC Prep two years ago as our Chief Talent Officer responsible for Recruitment, People Operations, and PrepEX!  During that time she has built a high-functioning Talent Team, evolved our diversity recruitment and improved our faculty compensation.  She has also served as a member of the Executive Team and worked especially closely with our President and CAO, Katie Severn.

A graduate of Kenyon College and of New York University School of Law,  Laura has devoted her career to the field of education.  Prior to coming to DC Prep, she worked on education-related projects as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. and in New York City and Newark Public Schools. She then served as Chief Talent Officer for Uncommon Schools, a high-performing charter network based in New York.

It is never easy to succeed the founder of an organization who is as successful and well-respected as Emily Lawson, but the Board and I feel very fortunate to have someone of Laura’s experience and talent here at DC Prep who is committed to leading our schools into the future. Laura is already deeply immersed in the people management aspects of DC Prep, which is a foundational part of our organization. Over the next few months, Laura will delve into the other aspects of DC Prep and will benefit from having Emily’s support and counsel as she transitions into the CEO role in early November. Once Laura takes on the full responsibility of the CEO role, Emily will serve as a Senior Advisor and will remain on the Board of Directors to be available to Laura. We are also developing a plan that will enable Laura to better get to know the many members of the DC Prep community, including many of you.

At DC Prep, we are very fortunate to have a strong leadership team — including our principals and academic and executive leaders. We also have an experienced and committed Board of Directors. I am proud to serve as DC Prep’s Board Chair, and I look forward to working with Laura and with all of you to ensure the continued achievement of our students in the future.

None of us will ever be able to properly thank Emily and Terry Eakin, my predecessor as Board Chair, for all that they have done for DC Prep.  I am personally delighted that Emily will stay involved as an active member of our community in the years ahead.

Thank you for your support.”

Ms. Lawson mentions that she has been in her current position for 17 years.  Of course, this is not the first time she tried to relinquish the job as CEO.  Six years ago, current chair of the DC Public Charter School Board Rick Cruz was named as her replacement.  A year after starting in the position he resigned.  You can read my interview with Mr. Cruz here.

The 7th Annual Richard Wright PCS Black Tie Gala

O.K. I finally get it.  Last Friday night my wife Michele and I attended Richard Wight Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Art’s 7th annual Black Tie Gala.  We have been to this event several times in the past and have enjoyed ones like it as many of D.C.’s charter schools hold fundraisers.  But the event is not primarily about increasing the institutional endowment.  It is actually staged to celebrate this city’s next generation of leaders.

One hundred percent of this school’s 325 scholars qualify for free or reduced priced meals.  In other words, they all come from low-income families and therefore their upbringing is about as different from the ones my kids had as you can get.  But that is not the focus of the celebration.  We came together to honor the academic achievements of those who could easily have been left behind, ignored, and forgotten about.

The symbolism for the importance of these young people started with the setting.  For the first time it was held at the University of the District of Columbia.  My hero Dr. Marco Clark, the charter’s chief academic officer and founder, informed me early in the night that the college’s communication department has formed a partnership with the one at his school in which Richard Wright’s students would be able to take advantage of UDC’s facilities.  He added that as part of this relationship the charter would have input into the program’s design.

The spirit of defining excellence continued with the highly professional glossy booklet containing the program.  It is more accurately described as a book it is so dense with pages.  Contained within it are congratulatory letters from ten D.C. Council members and U.S. Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton and U.S. Representative (Shadow) Franklin Garcia.  In a note from Mr. Gregory Adams, Sr. , the school’s board chair, he speaks about the tremendous accomplishments of Richard Wright this term.  He writes:

“During the school year 2017/2018 Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts received its full accreditation through the Middle States Accreditation Agency and was named one of the 41 Most Innovative K-12 Schools in America for its revolutionary approach to education.  Our students were invited again to the Annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s Public Policy and Media and Telecommunications Symposium with many notable and historic Civil Rights icons.  This year our students were asked to participate, cover, and produce a documentary film on Reverend Jesse Jackson, who met personally with them to talk about his educational experiences and the importance of education.  Our founder and CEO, Dr. Marco Clark recognized during the legacy dinner with a “Distinguished Leadership Award” from Reverend Jackson in appreciation for his exemplary dedication and leadership and commitment to the community.  We attended and covered the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Convention, the Health Mean Business National Summit at the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotarian Club International Women’s Day Celebration, the State of Race in America hosted by the Aspen Institute at the Newseum, the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation Careers in Entertainment DC at the Fillmore Theater, and the White House for the South by South Lawn (SXSL) event as an Official Selection the 2016 White house Student Films Festival.  I guess it would be safe to say that this year Richard Wright was everywhere.”

Student films are always a highlight of the agenda, and the Reaching Our Excellence in Education (ROXIE) interview with Reverend Jesse Jackson was simply unbelievably moving.  His description in slow deliberate words of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated coming after his powerful delivery of his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the evening before was enough to move the audience to tears.  Others such as “Black Girl Fly,” and a disturbing portrait of an interaction between a mother living on welfare and her teenage daughter reminded the overflow crowd of the obstacles that these students have had to overcome just to be able to have a chance to sit in a Richard Wright classroom.

The formal part of the sit-down dinner included the presentation of awards as a way of demonstrating to parents, teachers, students, and guests what is possible to accomplish in this world.  Those recognized included Ronald Mason, UDC’s president; Angie Gates, director government of the District of Columbia Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment; Pastor Melvin Maxwell, senior pastor, the East Friendship Baptist Church; Gwendolyn Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins Foundation president; Malcolm Jenkins, NFL player, philanthropist, activist, and entrepreneur; Shauna Small, entrepreneur; and actor Michael Rainey, Jr.  Raheem DeVaughn, singer, songwriter, and humanitarian, served as the Master of Ceremonies.  D.C. Council member Trayon Wright, Sr. was also recognized for his work in the community.

Many months ago Dr. Clark was kind enough to come to my place of employment and provide a discussion around leadership to my managers.  They were captivated.  Perhaps it is simply through his will, together with the efforts of his team that include the invincible Michelle Santos,  that he is able to persuade these kids to achieve up to their highest potential.  It is no wonder that all of the school’s 50 seniors this year have been accepted to college.







D.C. Council passes emergency legislation to allow 26 high school students to graduate

As follow-up to an issue reported here last week, the D.C. Council, by a 12 to 1 vote, yesterday passed emergency legislation to allow high school seniors who missed more than 30 days of class, or 6 weeks, to receive a diploma.  The bill was approved despite opposition from D.C. Mayor Bowser, interim Deputy Mayor for Education Smith, and the traditional school system management.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein indicates that because the act is classified as “emergency” it would not be reviewed by Congress. However, if ever there was a time that members on Capitol Hill should provide oversight it is this case. Apparently, our local representatives don’t understand the concept of accountability.

In perfect DCPS fashion, the exact number of students who would be impacted by this move is uncertain.  At first the number was 64 but yesterday it went down by 59 percent to 26 pupils. The purported reason for the steep decline is that many of whom have been chronically absent have also failed to pass their classes academically.  Ms. Stein states that “A D.C. schools spokesman said the number of students the legislation will affect is not final.”  There are 3,623 seniors in the traditional schools.

Mr. Grosso, who along with Councilmember Robert White sponsored the legislation, asserts that, according to Ms. Stein, “the school system started enforcing long-ignored attendance policies in the middle of the year, amid the graduation imbroglio. They said it is unfair that students have to pay the price for the city’s mistake.”

The Mayor has not made a decision as to whether she will veto the measure.  The bright light in all of this is the steadfast dignity of the Deputy Mayor for Education.  Ms. Stein quotes Ms. Smith as commenting, “This emergency legislation undermines [the school system’s] efforts and sends a troubling message about the importance of school attendance, suggesting that students need a waiver to excuse absences.  We will continue to stress the importance of attendance because every day counts.”

Every day does count and words matter. Mr. Grosso has championed himself as a civil rights leader for equality.  With this move, he is sending a powerful signal that some individuals are more equal than others.