Exclusive interview with Daniela Anello, head of school DC Bilingual

Wow!  If you want to learn why DC Bilingual PCS is ranked in the top five percent of academically performing charters in the nation’s capital, come with me on an interview with Daniela Anello, the hard-charging, effervescent head of school.  I had the great pleasure of sitting down with her for a conversation.

Ms. Anello explained that DC Bilingual began operating in 2004 as part of CentroNia, the organization founded in 1986 by Beatrice “BB” Otero to assist in educating low-income immigrants to this country.  The school was at first completely housed in the same building as CentroNia in Columbia Heights, but by the fifth year it was offering pre-Kindergarten to third grade and needed additional space for its inaugural fourth and fifth grade classes.  The school then added leased space at 14th and Irving Streets N.W., the same location above the CVS Drugstore that incubated several of our city’s charters including E.L. Haynes.  After the DC Public Charter School Board closed the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy PCS in 2015, DC Bilingual consolidated its campuses into CAP’s Keene facility located at 33 Riggs Road, N.E.  Coinciding with the relocation was a break with CentroNia as the school’s management company, a move taken to improve its financial position.  Ms. Anello joined the staff of DC Bilingual at the start of the fifth year.

The DC Bilingual head of school has a fascinating background.  Ms. Anello was born in Chile, and when she was four years old her parents moved her and her sister, four years her senior, to Astoria, Queens.  She attended the local PS17 elementary school while her dad supported his family by working in restaurant and construction jobs.  But he came to America with only a five-year visa, so at age nine she moved back to Chile.  It was a complete culture shock.  “In New York I was basically alone with my family,” Ms. Anello revealed.  “My parents didn’t speak English and I didn’t have many friends.  Then I returned to Chile and we have a large family there with about 25 cousins.  It was then I really immersed myself in my culture and language.”

When Ms. Anello was 13, her parents received green cards and returned to the United States.  But this time they did not settle right next to Manhattan.  Ms. Anello detailed, “I was entering middle school and my mother and father were scared to have me roaming around on my own. They didn’t want me traveling on the subway by myself.  So they decided to locate about 30 miles north of N.Y.C. in a town called Sleepy Hollow.  The school I attended there was incredibly diverse.  It was a complete melting pot.  I was placed in a self-contained  ESL class, and my closest friends came from all parts of the world such as Portugal, Egypt, and Italy.  These were people who were extremely proud of their heritage.  Later I was assigned a general education class and I had tremendous difficulty comprehending the texts that were read.”

Attending the school was also an affluent set of pupils from the other part of town.  Ms. Anello recalled, “There was a boy from this group who was the smartest kid in the classroom.  He consistently volunteered to speak up and he answered all the instructor’s questions.  I decided at age 13 that this was the person I was going to marry.”  Amazingly, years later, her prediction became a reality.

For college Ms. Anello attended the State University of New York at Geneseo, where she started as a psychology major but soon switched to teaching.  “Psychology was too philosophical for me,” the head of DC Bilingual opined.  “I like to plan and implement projects and see them to fruition.  Psychology was just inefficient for me.”

After finishing school Ms. Anello began teaching at the Patrick J. Kennedy Elementary School in Boston.  She was an instant hit.  “The school had not had a new teacher in many years,” Ms. Anello stated.  “Most of the instructors  were all people of Italian decent which in the past matched the demographics of the neighborhood.  But now the area was predominately inhabited by Hispanic families.  There was no one at the school that could really communicate with the students and parents except for me.  I became the principal’s right hand person to help with translations and parent communication. Over time people came to respect the work I was doing.”

But after two years at the school Ms. Anello’s husband sought to move to Washington, D.C. His strong interest in politics would eventually lead to landing a job in President Obama’s administration.  Ms. Anello then accepted a teaching position at Friendship Academy Southeast PCS.  The DC Bilingual head of school soon became convinced that she needed to go back to school to hone her skills as an instructional leader.  So, twelve months later she began her Master’s degree at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College.  There she studied under her hero Lucy Calkins.

Upon returning to Washington after her nine-month program she knew she wanted to work at a school that taught dual languages.  She was attracted to DC Bilingual from the moment she walked in the door.  “I immediately hit it off with principal Wanda Perez, who had arrived the school a couple of years earlier,” Ms. Anello remembered.  “I was also attracted to the fact that the charter serves such a high percentage of kids that qualified for free or reduced meals.”

There was, however, a problem at DC Bilingual.  The previous school year’s DC CAS for third graders demonstrated proficiency rates of 3 percent in math and 30 percent in reading.  “We were in crisis mode,” Ms. Anello related, “recognizing that if we didn’t turn the academics around the charter would be closed.  We literally cleaned house. I spent the entire summer writing literacy curriculum as an instructional coach, and became the principal’s right hand person in helping to set up the systems we needed to strengthen the hiring process, teacher coaching, and professional development experiences.”

It was also during this period that Ms. Anello completed an Emerging Leader Program through the New Leaders program.  After moving up the ranks as resident and interim principal, in April 2015 Ms. Anello was named head of school.

Ms. Anello believes that what sets DC Bilingual apart from other charters is that it is high performing while teaching a low-income population that varies between 76 percent and 82 percent of children living in poverty.  But there are other characteristics as well.  Ms. Anello asserted, “We are closing the achievement gap with our 440 students in grades pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade.  DC Bilingual has a waiting list of 1,623 children.  Students do not leave our school to go someplace else and neither do our teachers.  Most of our staff have been with us for over six years.  People are happy, and part of the reason is that everyone believes that they have an important role in the success of the school.  We set high expectations here but we also provide the support to allow individuals to be successful.  We believe that all children, no matter their background or special needs, can become bilingual and achieve high academic success.”

There is so much depth to this school that it is impossible to capture everything in one article.  Ms. Anello described enrichment activities for the students that link them to the outside world such as learning where food comes from.  There are sports, music, art, dance, and gardening programs.  For the parents there is DACA immigration workshops, English classes, and cooking lessons.  Ms. Anello exclaimed that she absolutely loves the parents “because they remind me of my own family.”

Each minute of the day is planned and everything at DC Bilingual is done intentionally.  I will conclude with one illustration that Ms. Anello shared with me.  When evaluating a job applicant for a teaching position, she has the interviewee teach a mock class in front of a coach.  This makes sense since all of the classes at DC Bilingual have coaches.  Then, when the applicant is through the coach makes suggestions for improvement and then the applicant teaches the class again.  If the teacher can accept the advice and improve the lesson then, and only then, will this individual proceed to the next round.

Ms. Anello indicated to me that there are assessments for all activities instigated at DC Bilingual.  After spending some time with this head of school I came to understand that I would expect nothing less.









Federal judge dismisses D.C. charter school funding inequity lawsuit

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reported last evening that U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan has rejected a three year old lawsuit coordinated by FOCUS and brought by Washington Latin PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools charging that DCPS has for years illegally received, and continues to receive, funding outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.

Charters contend that the traditional schools have been provided about $100 million per year more than the charters through services and other revenue sources to which charters do not have access.  The case was a major test of language contained in the School Reform Act dictating that money for public schools must be allocated according to the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula based solely on the number of pupils enrolled.  The argument, most forcefully made by the former FOCUS executive director Robert Cane, was that the Mayor and City Council have no legal authority to provide dollars to the regular school system to which charters are not also granted.  His point was solidly supported in the 2013 Adequacy Study, which was completed under the prior Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith.

Apparently, the decision came down last Saturday.  Little information is currently available about the ruling except for Ms. Strauss’ assertion that “the judge stated clearly that the District’s funding practices do not violate the School Reform Act and that the plaintiffs have ‘no standing to challenge the District’s enrollment calculation method for’ D.C. Public Schools.”

The legal action only came about after years of negotiations between charter and government leaders got nowhere.  The news of a lawsuit was announced here.

This is a major blow for funding equity in the nation’s capital between the two sectors, and it will have major implications.  For example, as part of the new DCPS contract with the D.C. Teachers’ Union, and the retroactive raise in salaries that it contains, it was estimated that charters would get an additional $51.2 million in extra funding due to the UPSFF.  Now, it is unclear whether the city is bound to that commitment.

More information will be shared as the ruling becomes publicly available.  Also, not known at this time is whether attorney Stephen Marcus is planning on appealing Judge Chutkan’s opinion.

But for now, it is an extremely dark day for fairness, equality, justice, and dignity when it comes to the way our city, the nation’s capital, supports our public schools.



Charter Board cannot get out from under cloud surrounding D.C. Prep PCS decision

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reported Monday that the DC Public Charter School Board violated city law when it proceeded to approve two charter amendment requests at its May meeting involving D.C. Prep PCS.

As you recall, the board gave the green light to one of three charter amendment requests from this school at its April meeting, which dealt with the relocation of its Anacostia Elementary School.  But two other requests involving replication were turned down due to concerns about the D.C. Prep’s student suspension rate, which is higher than the charter sector average.  After this action was taken, the board received widespread criticism for taking into account suspension rates when denying growth of a school since this factor is not included in either its criteria for charter expansion or the School Reform Act.

Then, in a surprise at the PCSB’s June meeting, member Don Soifer reintroduced the two charter amendments for D.C. Prep that were rejected a couple of months prior.  This time however, after the school’s chief executive officer and founder Emily Lawson was able to testify and attenuate concerns over student suspensions, the motion passed in the affirmative.

So the matter was closed.  Well, not exactly.  The problem was that the D.C. Prep charter amendments were never part of the June meeting agenda and therefore the public had no opportunity to comment before the second vote.  This led DCPS parent and blogger Valerie Jablow to make a formal complaint to the D.C. Office of Open Government.  Here’s what she said, according to Ms. Strauss:

“At the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) meeting on March 20, 2017, several citizens and public interest groups either submitted written testimony or testified in person against a petition by DC Prep for an enrollment increase that would allow it to open a new elementary school and a middle school. Some opposition was based on DC Prep’s high student suspension rates, and the overcapacity in available seats that already exists among all DCPS and charter schools.

At its next meeting, on April 24, 2017, the PCSB denied DC Prep’s petition, citing concerns about suspension rates at DC Prep among other reasons.

On June 19, 2017, the PCSB held its most recent regularly scheduled monthly meeting. The agenda for that meeting was posted a day or so in advance of the meeting, on the charter board website. DC Prep was on the agenda for a charter amendment to its Performance Management Framework (PMF), but not for an enrollment increase.

At about an hour and a half into the June 19, 2017, meeting, one of the board members, Don Soifer, introduced additions to the agenda for the evening, citing Robert’s Rules of Order. The first addition was to renew DC Prep’s application to amend its charter to add a middle school, with a corresponding increase in students. The second addition to the agenda was for DC Prep to add an elementary school, along with a corresponding enrollment increase. The board voted to add both items to the agenda, with the vote on each to occur later in the evening.

So it was that at its June 19, 2017, meeting, without any notice to the public, the PCSB reconsidered and then reversed its April 24, 2017 decision, approving DC Prep’s petition to create two new charter schools. Before the June 19, 2017 meeting, the public had no idea this was going to be reconsidered and voted upon that evening. This is a violation of the charter board’s own rules for public notification.

It also is a violation of the District’s Open Meetings law, as the lack of any public notice that the DC Prep expansion vote would be revisited in all practical effect made the June 19 PCSB meeting a closed meeting, particularly with respect to those who had opposed the petition the first time around.

In addition, the PCSB failed to post at least one public comment on the DC Prep petition ahead of time. This too is a violation of the charter board’s own rules.

In response to a question from another member of the public about that reconsideration vote on June 19, 2017, a charter board staff member (Tomeika Bowden) sent the following:

‘Robert’s Rules of Order allows for board members to request to add items to the agenda during the meeting. Additionally, Robert’s Rules of Order advises that a prepared agenda should not prevent members from bringing up business items. In this case, the DC Prep items voted on at the June meeting were identical in substance to those voted on previously, which already went through the complete public hearing and comment process. The public had ample time to provide comments and testimony, which the Board received and considered in its decision. If the items added to the agenda were materially different or new, we would have held a new public comment process to ensure adequate notice.’

There is also a related problem of considering and making available all public comments received on the DC Prep petition.

The day before the June 19, 2017 PCSB meeting, on June 18, I emailed Ms. Bowden at the charter board, along with Scott Pearson, the executive director, and Darren Woodruff, the board chair, noting that my comments on the original proposals from DC Prep and KIPP DC (which I submitted by the charter board’s March 20 deadline) were not listed on the materials for the June 19 board meeting. I re-sent my comments to them in that same email.

Later on June 18, Darren Woodruff sent my comments to all the charter board members and copied me via email. But it wasn’t until days after that June 19 board meeting that my comments on KIPP DC appeared on the posted materials for the June 19 board meeting. And my comments on DC Prep have never been posted with any board materials for DC Prep at any time.

Moreover, in the materials for the March 20, 2017 PCSB meeting, a staff memo (dated that same day) noted that the DC Prep proposal, which was to be discussed but not voted on during the 3/20 meeting, had no public comment. That was not true—I had submitted my comments by then, as had others.

When the DC Prep proposal came up for a vote on April 24, 2017, only one public comment in opposition to DC Prep was posted with the board materials the day prior to the April 24 meeting. That was a comment by Suzanne Wells that was made at the March 20, 2017 PCSB hearing.

Finally, and worst of all, no one commented against the DC Prep proposal for the June 19, 2017, board meeting because no one knew before the June 19 meeting that this proposal was going to be re-visited and voted on by PCSB. While the public had been allowed to comment on the DC Prep petition before the March 20, 2017 PCSB hearing, new information about DC Prep’s suspension rates was learned at the April 24, 2017 PCSB hearing.

In addition, the public had every confidence that once the PCSB had denied the DC Prep enrollment increase petition in April, it would not be up for consideration again without further public notice. As it is, members of the public might have testified if they knew there was a likelihood two additional schools would open in Ward 7, where there is already an overcapacity of school seats in Ward 7 at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

The charter board needs to suspend the vote they took on June 19, 2017, approving both the new elementary and middle schools for DC Prep. They need to announce this addition to their work agenda anew; open it up for public comment; ensure that the public comment is in fact posted well ahead of the meeting; and have another meeting to vote on it.

This would allow people who had no idea DC Prep’s proposal was going to be re-visited and re-voted upon a chance to testify in person or create new comments (and ensure they get posted).

The fact that the proposal for DC Prep was the same as it stood before the vote in April is a moot point: if the public doesn’t even know something is being considered, and voted on, the public is left in the dark not because it chooses to be, but because the public has no other choice.

Moreover, the only people who knew DC Prep’s proposal was under consideration at the June 19 PCSB meeting were those who stood to benefit from it materially: the school itself and the charter board, which depends on its funding in large part from fees from individual charter schools. This raises conflict of interest issues as well.”

In a ten page ruling dated August 9, 2017 the D.C. Office of Open Government sided with Ms. Jablow.  It reads in part:

“As previously stated, there was reliance by the DCPCSB on the “Renew the Motion” pursuant to Robert’s Rules of Order to bring the two disapproved DC Prep charter amendments back before the body for reconsideration on June 19, 2017.  Normally, revising a public body’s draft meeting agenda for adoption as the final meeting agenda under the protocol the OOG has provided to public bodies would present no affront to the OMA [Open Meetings Act] or SRA [School Reform Act]. However, the DCPCSB’s enabling legislation is unique.  The statute requires, without limiting language, for all DCPCSB’s meetings to be open to the public with a reasonable period for public comment on the agenda items.  It is also for this reason that DCPCSB’s “Renew the Motion” was not a lawful means to revise the DCPCSB draft meeting agenda before adoption as the final agenda.  This is because revising the DCPCSB draft meeting agenda at the start of its meeting to include additional items that require a public hearing and a period of public comment voids the statutory public notice and period for public comment mandated by the SRA.”

The Office of Open Government is not asking that the decision on D.C. Prep be reversed, and charter board spokesperson Tomeika Bowden states that the board will not revisit the vote.  It will, however, follow the law going forward and institute training on how to comply with its regulations.

The most ironic part of this whole story is that the findings of the Office of Open Government would normally be signed by its director Traci Hughes.  However, Ms. Hughes had to recuse herself in this case.  You see, she has a child that attends D.C. Prep.

Implicit Bias in Early Childhood Education: Fight For Children’s inaugural Coffee, Conversation & Controversy symposium

Last Tuesday I had the tremendous opportunity to attend the invitation-only Coffee, Conversation & Controversy breakfast session that was part of Fight For Children’s inaugural Fight For Children Week.  I have been following the activities of this group for years and I’ve observed that whatever it does, it does so with class.  This day was no different.

The morning’s session revolved around an outstanding presentation from Dr. Walter Gilliam.  Dr. Gilliam is an Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Yale University Child Study Center, and Director of the The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy. He was introduced by the president and chief executive officer of Fight For Children, the consistently affable Keith Gordon, who explained that one of the driving motivations behind today’s meeting, and others that will occur throughout the year, is the realization that “societal change only happens when the community comes together.”   Dr. Gilliam then began one of the most fascinating talks I have ever heard, entitled “Implicit Bias in Early Education.”

The Yale University professor began the discussion by showing a portion of a 2005 videotape of a five-year=old girl being handcuffed by the police in response to being called by the child’s teacher as a way of controlling her disruptive behavior.  Dr. Gilliam was asked by a St. Petersburg reporter for his reaction to the incident.  After viewing the arrest on Youtube, he became intrigued by the idea that the instructor turned to the police instead of to professionals who could have helped such as social workers, psychiatrists, or guidance counselors.  It was then that he first decided to study expulsion rates in prekindergarten.  The results shocked him.

In his 2005 investigation across the United States, he found that within the last year, 10 percent of teachers reported that they had expelled at least one student.  Of those that had been expelled, 78 percent of teachers had expelled at least one student, 16 percent had expelled two pupils, 3.5 percent had expelled three children and 0.4 percent had expelled four students within a twelve month period.  In fact, the early childhood expulsion rate is more than three times the rate for Kindergarten to high school students.  But these are not the only startling results.  Quoting from the findings:

“Four-year-olds were expelled at a rate about 50 percent greater than three-year-olds. Boys were expelled at a rate over 4.5 times that of girls. African-American students attending state-funded prekindergarten were about twice as likely to be expelled as Latino and Caucasian children, and over five times as likely to be expelled as Asian-American children.”

The research also found common factors that would lead to student expulsions that include logical situations such as a higher child-to-teacher ratio, a longer program day, increased teacher job stress, and less access to behavioral supports.

Dr. Gilliam summed up the characteristics that would increase the probability of a student being expelled as the three B’s:  being big, black, and a boy.

The report received a tremendous amount of publicity.  But while he was happy that the word was getting into the news, he knew that he needed to switch the emphasis on early childhood student expulsions from being an academic issue to a public policy problem.  He wanted the federal government to become involved so that he and his group could promote solutions to help reduce these high expulsion rates.

This is where Congressman Danny Davis came along.  He and his legislative director, Dr. Jill Hunter-Williams, who became the first American Psychological Association Educational Assessment Congressional Fellow, became extremely interested in this topic.  They put pressure on the civil rights division of the United States Department of Education to begin collecting preschool suspension and expulsion data, which is the practice today.

Every bit of Dr. Gilliam’s talk was interesting to the audience of education stakeholders from throughout Washington, DC including policymakers, educators, and community leaders.  I will conclude with one additional example from his lecture.

His group recently completed a study of implicit bias in early childhood education which was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  The results were released last year.  As part of this inquiry, 132 teachers were asked to observe the play of four preschool students that included one black boy, one black girl, one white girl, and one white boy, and identify potential challenging behaviors.  The exercise also included software that tracked the eye movement of the instructors to see who they were watching.  What the teachers did not know is that the students were hired actors who were not going to express any negative behavior.

The bottom line of the findings was that by a statistically significant quantity teachers focused their attention on the African American boy.  Dr. Gilliam explained that we all have implicit biases and this is a fact that will not change.  The issue is whether we recognize those biases and how we handle them.

Through Fight for Children’s Coffee, Conversation & Controversy the chances just became substantially higher that these biases in early childhood education will be addressed.

Gates Foundation to provide $10 million in school vouchers for students in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 to attend college

Washington Post writers Mandy McLaren and Shira Stein reveal today that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide $10 million in school vouchers to increase the number of students from Washington D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 who attend college through the D.C. College Access Program.  D.C. CAP is the program started a couple of decades ago by former Washington Post publisher Donald Graham.  In January 2015, when Mr. Graham announced that he was stepping down from leading the nonprofit organization, the editors of the Post recognized him for his achievement:

“In 1999, fewer than 1 in 3 D.C. high school graduates enrolled in college, and a mere 15 percent went on to get a degree. Today, 62 percent of high school graduates enroll in college — on par with the national average — and 44 percent graduate. D.C. CAP is unique among college access programs in that every student — regardless of family circumstance or academic achievement — is eligible, but those who have benefited most are from low-income, minority, single-parent households. Many have been the first in their families to attend college.

Scholarship money alone could not have achieved this record. The program offers high school counseling, then helps college students register and stays with them as they adjust to higher ed. That other programs have adopted similar methods is further evidence of how Mr. Graham helped pioneer an idea into something with lasting significance. Not many other individuals have had such a positive impact on so many lives — and with so little self-congratulation.”

The money, to be paired with another $1 million from Monumental Sports & Entertainment and together with $7 million from D.C. CAP’s fundraising efforts, will allow scholarships to be awarded up to $25,000 for low-income children to attend college.  This does not include dollars allocated through the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, another initiative promoted by Mr. Graham, that provides tuition assistance for kids from D.C. to attend public universities across the country, private colleges in the nation’s capital, and historically black colleges.

The aim is to help about 600 scholars from eight schools that include Hart Middle School,  Kramer Middle School, Anacostia High School, Ballou High School, H.D. Woodson High School, Maya Angelou Public Charter School, Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School and Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School.  Ms. McLaren and Ms. Stein indicate that “program participants must also attend Saturday sessions throughout the year and a six-week summer academy, where they will receive extra support in math and ­English language arts and preparation for college entrance exams.”

This is the first time that the program will include middle school students, which is being accomplished with the help of the College Success Foundation, the group run by Herb Tillery.

There was some fear that when Mr. Graham stepped down from the helm of D.C. CAP that it would loose momentum.  But obviously, when you have someone like Ted Leonsis from Monumental Sports & Entertainment now in charge and a board of directors that includes Raul Fernandez, also from Monumental Sports, who is also the chairman of Fight for Children, together with Katherine and David Bradley, the founders of CityBridge Foundation, you know that the organization is in truly excellent hands.

The Post indicated that Ward 7 and 8 students and parents learned of the scholarships at a lunch yesterday.  A formal announcement about the Gates contribution will come today.

Gonzaga College High School students research institution’s ties to slavery

In light of the recent discovery that Georgetown University sold 272 slaves in order to pay off debts, this past summer six Gonzaga College High School students wanted to know if their institution had any ties to the dark history of slavery.  The connection was plausible because, as the Washington Post’s Rachel Siegel explained in an article yesterday, before it became Gonzaga, the institution was called the Washington Seminary, which was a annex of Georgetown.

So sixteen and seventeen year olds Jack Boland, Daniel Podratsky, Jack Brown, Hameed Nelson, Joe Boland, and Matthew Johnson, under the supervision of history teacher Ed Donnellan, for a couple of weeks combed Georgetown University’s Booth Family Center for Special Collections.  Their work was spurred by a November 2016 lecture that took place at Gonzaga by Adam Rothman, a Georgetown history professor and the principal curator of the Georgetown Slavery Archive.  Following the talk, Mr. Donnellan asked if pupils wanted to volunteer to investigate the school’s past.  Ms. Siegel details what they discovered:

“That earlier research showed how Georgetown had profited from Jesuit-owned plantations that thrived across the region. What about our school, the Gonzaga students wondered. Did it, too, benefit from, and help sustain, the global slave trade of the 19th century?

They found their answers: Profit from those plantations was funneled to Washington Seminary, which at the time was part of Georgetown. And two slaves — Gabriel and another named Isaih — worked at the school for an unknown period of time.”

The students became fascinated by multiple references to Gabriel.  The Post continues the story:

“Multiple mentions of Gabriel being tipped small amounts appear in records kept by the seminary. And there’s a reference in a Georgetown accounts ledger that describes him as ‘a black boy from the Seminary of Washington.’

How Gabriel got to Georgetown isn’t entirely clear, though the students suspect he was brought by a family and used as counterbalance to get $1 off tuition per month. One document suggests he took the place of another slave in 1827.

Another document from a Georgetown accounts ledger notes ‘Gabe’ was sold for $450 to an unknown buyer, with a 5 percent commission going to an Edward Millard, who once attended the Washington Seminary.”

Gonzaga separated from Georgetown in 1858.  The school’s website states that as “the oldest all-boys school in Washington, DC, Gonzaga has a rich legacy that stretches back nearly 200 years. Over the course of that history, Gonzaga has demonstrated and reaffirmed a deep commitment to Jesuit education. And it has chosen to do so in the heart of the inner city—on a street shared with leaders of business and government, and on a block where it ministers to the least fortunate in society.”  The school accepts some students through Washington, D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, the school voucher plan in the District that offers tuition to private schools.

Hameed Nelson, one of the students doing the research, wonders what they can do now that they have the information about Gabriel.  Mr. Donnellan says he is thinking about building a memorial garden.

Sad story of D.C.’s Options Public Charter School comes to an end

On Saturday the Washington Post’s Michael Alison Chandler revealed that a civil lawsuit by the D.C. Attorney General against the leaders of Options PCS has been settled.  As a reminder, towards the end of 2013, the U.S. Attorney accused Donna Montgomery, David Cranford and Paul Dalton, managers of Options, of stealing $3 million dollars in public funds belonging to the charter through a private company that they had established to provide school services. Others caught up in this mess included long time WUSA Channel 9 newscaster J.C. Hayward, who was Options board chair when a contractual arrangement was struck between the school and the former managers, and who was allegedly paid to attend board meetings, and Jeremy Williams, a hero to those of us involved in D.C.’s charter movement until it was discovered that he was hiding the Options financial scheme through his position as the chief financial officer of the DC Public Charter School Board.  When this news broke Ms. Hayward was placed on leave by the station and she eventually retired.

Options was established to teach severely emotionally and physically disabled students that no other schools were equipped to serve.

Last summer the U.S. Attorney ended a criminal investigation against the same individuals.  Ms. Hayward had been dismissed from the case earlier.  The civil action had been on hold while the criminal complaint was progressing.

Under the civil settlement, Ms. Chander indicates, Ms. Montgomery, Mr. Cranford, and Mr. Dalton will together have to pay $575,000 to Kingsman Academy PCS, the charter that replaced Options in August 2015.  Mr. Williams is being charged $84,237 in an agreement reached the week before.  The Post reporter also states that “the defendants agreed that they would not serve in a leadership role of any nonprofit corporation in the District until October 2020.”

The article includes the additional information that Kent Amos, the founder of Dorothy I. Height Community Academy PCS, also settled a civil lawsuit with the city in 2015 after it was found that he was skimming over a million dollars a year from his institution for himself and family members. The charter was shuttered the same year by the PCSB.

There was some good that came out of the Options disaster.  My friend Shannon Dodge took over Kingsman Academy PCS and she and her team are doing thoroughly impressive work.  I interviewed Ms. Dodge last May.  In addition, Josh Kern, through his role at Ten Square Consulting, demonstrated for all to see as the court-appointed Options Receiver how to superiorly manage a school turnaround.



Next week is the inaugural Fight for Children Week

Fight for Children, known for sponsoring the annual fundraiser Fight Night, is trying something new and innovative in an effort to focus attention on the importance of early childhood education.  Fight for Children Week is being held Monday, September 25th through Friday, September 29th and includes activities for community members, educators, business leaders, and policy makers.

Let’s start with ways that the community can show support for Fight for Children’s mission “to ensure that all kids in Washington, D.C., especially those in the highest need areas, receive a quality early education and a solid foundation for future success.”  There are promotions at multiple area restaurants where a portion of proceeds will go to support Fight for Children:

  • Month of September:  $1 from the sale of each slice of the Pie of the Month from Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Seafood,
  • Week of September 24th to 30th:  Proceeds from the sale of all of D.C.’s Taylor Gourmet’s Cookies for Children,
  • Monday, September 25th:  10% of sales from Cava at Dupont Circle during the hours of 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. when you mention Fight for Children at check-out,
  • Wednesday, September 27th:  &pizza will donate $2 from the sale of every pizza from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Chinatown, Dupont Circle, and Columbia Heights locations but the digital flyer must be shown at checkout, and
  • Thursday, September 28th:  20% of sales from the Roti Modern Mediterranean at 1629 K Street from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. but the digital flyer must be shown at checkout.

Follow Fight for Children on Facebook and Twitter to obtain the digital flyers.

Events for educators, business leaders, and policy makers include:

  • Tuesday, September 26:  Coffee, Conversation, and Controversy is an invitation-only breakfast series that will bring people together to discuss important topics around early education.  The goal of the discussion “is to identify concrete actions that can be taken by key members of the community to further improve the educational experiences and outcomes for D.C.’s youngest citizens.”  The first session will focus on the subject of implicit bias and will be moderated by Dr. Walter S. Gilliam, the Director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy and Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Yale University Child Study Center.
  • Wednesday, September 27:  Organizations are encouraged to have employees wear jeans to work and make a donation to Fight for Children while communicating the importance of early childhood education.  There will be a special media event on this day and people who share pictures of themselves in jeans on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #Jeans4Children could win tickets to Fight Night.
  • Thursday, September 28th:  A daylong conference for teachers and leaders on topics such as Quality Project-Based Learning in the Early Years, Children Are Citizens: Reflecting on a Year of Inquiry, Global Artifacts:  Using Objects to Help Kids Consider Perspectives, Leading Their Own Learning:  Early Elementary Explorations of Their Neighborhood, and Seeing With All Our Senses.  The event is being held at the FHI 360 Conference Center.
  • Friday, September 29th:  Volunteer at Eagle Academy PCS, a Fight for Children partner school.  More information to come.

Additional details about these events can be found here and at the Fight for Children website.

The organization highlights the following information about the importance of high quality early childhood education.  For low-income children lacking this type of schooling:

  • 25% more likely to drop out of school
  • 40% more likely to become a teenage parent
  • 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime

It looks like a truly exciting week to help our youngest neighbors get off to a great start in life.



D.C.’s St. Coletta Public Charter School gets special education admissions preference

Last evening, during a quiet monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board when attendance at the session barely reached a quorum of board members and IDEAL Academy PCS received its third citation of fiscal mismanagement since March 2016, the body voted to give St. Coletta PCS an admission preference for special education students.

Its an interesting development.  St. Coletta, as described in the meeting’s supporting documentation, is the only charter in the nation’s capital to focus on serving only students with disabilities.  The reputation of the facility is stellar.  The school is in its eleventh year of operation educating 251 scholars ages three to twenty two at its permanent facility located in Ward 7.  The supporting documentation states that “St. Coletta PCS is a specially designed program for students with severe disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities and autism, who require over 25 hours of special education services per their individualized education plans (“IEP”) and the most restrictive learning environment.”

The issue the school has been facing is that, like all charters, admission is on a first-come basis and when more students want to attend than there are spots, a lottery is held.  St. Coletta has found that parents have sought admission for their kids who do not have disabilities.  To best explain this situation I will quote directly from the PCSB staff:

“Once enrolled, if St. Coletta PCS determines a student isn’t eligible for its program
because he or she requires a less restrictive learning environment, the school must
complete an extensive process to review and modify the student’s IEP before
finding the student a more suitable educational placement. By implementing the
proposed special education enrollment preference, St. Coletta PCS will ensure that
the students who will best benefit from its program, those with the highest levels of
disability, have the highest opportunity for enrollment. Without this preference, a
student who does not require any special education services or requires a less
restrictive environment would need to be accepted into the program and could
result in 1) students with higher levels of special education needs not getting into
the program and 2) students losing valuable instructional time as they are assessed
and placed out of St. Coletta PCS to a school that offers a general education program.”

I strongly agree that St. Coletta has a unique and extremely valuable mission that should be supported.  But the preference was granted through the school filing a charter amendment.  My question is whether this is the appropriate process for altering an admission policy.

For example, could KIPP DC PCS now use the same method to give a preference to low income children?  What about another school that wants to teach only kids living in the neighborhood?  Might a charter amendment be utilized to discriminate against those that a charter would rather not let in the door?

My inclination is that something as serious as an admissions preference should be addressed as a revision to the School Reform Act.  In this way the language could be written as not to favor a particular charter but all schools in the sector.  For example, in this instance, the legislation would state that “any charter whose mission is to serve special education students may elect to give an enrollment preference to children who would be best served with these services.”

Public school reform has been successful in D.C. due to the competition for students that choice has promulgated.  Therefore, anything that diminishes the educational marketplace must rise to an extremely high level before it is implemented.  This is why I contend that an action by the D.C. Council, while harder to obtain, is the more suitable path.

The St. Coletta admissions preference will take effect for the 2018-to-2019 school year lottery.  The charter has said that it will employ a sibling preference if the child meets its enrollment criteria.




One size does not fit all in public education

Like so many people my age I’m tired of seeing everyone on the street glued to their cell phones.  But the amazing thing about this trend of staring into glass rectangles is that if you could see what individuals were looking at odds are no two would be viewing the same thing.

We all have different interests and are motivated by different experiences.  This is the exactly the point U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been making on a “Rethinking Schools” tour she has been on for the last seven days in six states.  In Wyoming, at the beginning of her visits, she highlighted this concept, as explained by the Washington Post’s David Von Drehle:

“Most students are starting a new school year this is all too familiar.  Desks lined up in rows.  Their teacher standing in front of the room, framed by a blackboard.  They dive into a curriculum written for the ‘average’ student.  They follow the same schedule, the same routine – just waiting to be saved by the bell.  It’s a mundane malaise that dampens dreams, dims horizons and denies futures.”

In a beautifully written piece, Mr. Von Drehle describes Secretary DeVos’s time at Kansas City Academy, a six through twelfth grade private school with 76 students.  This is not exactly the type of institution where you would expect to find Ms. DeVos.  As the Post writer observes, the school’s “heavy emphasis on the arts, the environment and social justice makes it an attractive option for progressive families.  School lunches are farm-to-table.”

Protesters joined Ms. DeVos for her visit.  Supporters of the school were aghast that she stopped by.  A student who recently graduated from City Academy said she was “scared of someone coming into the school who disagrees with just about everything they believe.”  This same former pupil went on to indicate that bathrooms at the academy are “trans-friendly.”

Now I will allow Mr. Von Drehle to tell the rest of the story:

“But as she pinched out a clay pot in the ceramics room and whipped up a veggie burger in the culinary room, DeVos was a living reminder that people who disagree about some things don’t have to disagree on everything.  DeVos agrees passionately with one of the founding concepts of Kansas City Academy and the other schools around the country that practice ‘Expeditionary Learning.’   That is:  Not all students learn in the same way or thrive in the same settings.  This realization has sparked innovation in schools over the past generation.  But it does pose obvious challenges to traditional public schools that group students by geographical boundaries rather than individual needs. . .

DeVos finished her 90-minute visit by answering questions from students in government class, where she made a warm impression on students who had found her mean and forbidding on YouTube.  [Tiger] Baker [a senior at Kansas City Academy] said that ‘she was personally nice, respectful – kind of a mom thing.  I loved being able to talk to her personally.’  When asked by the secretary why she chose his school to visit, DeVos replied that she admired the school’s approach to nurturing individuality.”

If we are to finally close the academic achievement gap and bring children living in poverty up to the same scholarly level as affluent families we are going to have to drastically change the way we having been teaching our kids in the past.  This is the point of Ms. DeVos’ trip to Kansas City Academy.