Exclusive interview with Rick Cruz, chairman DC Public Charter School Board

I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down recently for an interview with Rick Cruz, the chairman of the DC Public Charter School Board.  I asked Mr. Cruz for his feelings about the state of the local charter movement.

“I think there are a number of things that are going well,” he answered without missing a beat.  “We released our School Quality Reports in November and the number of schools ranked Tier 1 continues to grow.  More of our students are attending Tier 1 schools than ever before and the number of Tier 3 schools and the pupils attending them are decreasing.  These phenomenons are, of course, not a complete picture of our sector but it’s a good indication that the schools that are bench-marked against overall city data are improving.  It is definitely a good sign.” 

“The performance of children in our subgroups,” Mr. Cruz added, “is also continuing to get better.  Black and Latino students, kids with different needs, such as special education children or English language learners, are performing well.  There are a number of our schools that teach the most difficult to educate children such as those living in poverty that have reached Tier 1 status.  This is especially hard work.  I feel good about the health of the local charter school movement.  The board is careful about burdening schools but we want to make sure they’re respecting every student’s rights and that’s the role we play when it comes to compliance.  But we also realize that we are a long way from the old days of being a handful of schools with 15 percent of the public school population.  We want cohesion in our buildings, and we want to make sure we are good stewards of public money, but we also need to balance these ideals with a freedom of schools to innovate.”

I then wanted to know from the PCSB chair if the board is trying to reduce the amount of information it is requesting from the schools it oversees.  “We think a lot about streamlining the material,” Mr. Cruz responded.  “For example, if we ask for data and the same information is required for The Office of the State Superintendent of Education then we report it to them.  We try and prevent the same statistics from being required of schools in different forms.  The board also invests in systems to improve the efficiency of reporting, and we strive to provide clarity around timelines and expectations.  We will also question the U.S. Department of Education, OSSE, or other groups as to the rationale for asking for numbers from our charters.  We are always looking for ways to make it easier for schools to respond to information requests.”

Mr. Cruz assumed his position at the PCSB last February.  I asked him if he had specific goals for his tenure as chair.  “Yes,” he affirmed.  “The first is the natural continuation of increasing the quality of our schools and the creation of more high quality seats.  I want to stay true to the processes that we have implemented, and we want to find other means to help schools get better, such as our middle schools.  One of the efforts we have made is to increase mental health services.  We want to aid social and emotional learning, decrease depression among our students, reduce bullying, and help young adults that are discovering aspects of their identity that may not be widely accepted.  Our staff tries to connect resources in our city that can benefit our children and families.”

“Next,” Mr. Cruz detailed, “I really want to work to ensure that charters have access to suitable facilities.  Our new schools cannot open, and others cannot grow and replicate, without adequate buildings.  The board has been a strong advocate with city leaders regarding spaces that would make great homes for our charters.  Scott Pearson, the PCSB executive director, argued the same point on the D.C. Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force.  One idea our staff has had around facilities is to encourage developers to include charter schools in their projects.  Another avenue we can look at, although it might not be optimal for school leaders, is to expand co-locating with other schools like they do in New York City.  We also need to effectively communicate the facility needs to our parents so that they can understand how important their voice is as advocates.  About a month ago we had more than 200 students in front of the D.C. Council.  Fundamentally we need facilities where children have a place to exercise and to be able to go outside, and therefore our buildings must have gymnasiums and fields.  We have many schools that are obtaining excellent academic results without these amenities, but if we want our children to have a joyful experience then they have to look more like real schools.”

Another focus of the PCSB chairman is to do more work around the ecosystem of education.  Mr. Cruz stated, “We can strive to increase mental health services as I’ve mentioned.  We can also assist with transportation, making sure it is safe for students to travel from one part of town to another, help obtain crossing guards and school resource officers.”

Mr. Cruz mentioned that transparency is a major objective of his time in office.  “This comes from my role as head of the board’s Finance Committee,” he imparted.  “We want to continue to find ways for citizens, school partners, and public officials to have access to financial information about our schools.  For example, we currently share our quarterly report from our Finance and Operations committees meetings online.  This tells you what schools we have concerns about. I asked Mr. Cruz if individual charter schools should be required to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, which will require a change in the law.  The PCSB chair indicated that in his opinion this was not a role for charters.  “One of the challenges,” Mr. Cruz asserted, “is that we need to protect the flexibility of schools. They need to focus on academics, safety, finances, facilities, personnel, and meeting their specific goals.  I think the current level of transparency is sufficient.  Our aim is to make it easier to look inside of these schools.”

I then asked Mr. Cruz if he was concerned about the relatively low number of applications to open new schools the charter board has been receiving in recent years.  It was obvious to me that he has given much thought to this issue.  “For myself,” Mr. Cruz replied, “I love it when there are a lot of groups wanting to open schools.  The current situation does make me take pause.  Is it because of the difficulty of obtaining facilities that prevents them from applying?  Is a 150-page application too long?  Is the board too hard on charters?   But you also have to realize that we are now in a mature charter school market.  There is a lot of competition for teachers, school leaders, facilities, and students.  We need to look at a particular geography and see what we are offering.  We also are interested in learning how to create a pipeline of leaders for our campuses.”

I brought up the subject of schools contracting with the TenSquare Group to improve their academic performance and I wanted to know if Mr. Cruz had an opinion on charters taking this step.  “School turnarounds are immensely difficult,” the PCSB chair offered.  “Some organizations accomplish this by being absorbed by a high performing CMO like ATA PCS did with KIPP DC PCS.  Others need help and contract with TenSquare and have seen some positive results.  Our job on the board is to hold schools responsible for making smart decisions in investing in their kids and teachers.  Academic performance is always the best indicator as to whether they made the right move.”

I mentioned to Mr. Cruz that I heard him say at a recent board meeting that he was disappointed with the academic performance of national charter management organizations that came to the District.  He was eager to respond to my observation.  “I’m extremely disappointed,” Mr. Cruz indicated, “when you look at Harmony PCS, Democracy Prep PCS, and Somerset Prep PCS.  These are schools that are doing great work in other locations.  We need to question their judgement and ours.  When a school decides to open here it needs to bring its ‘A’ game.  But Rocketship PCS has been an exception.  You look at the two campuses Rocketship has opened so far and the kids that they serve.  It is getting fantastic results.  I believe schools really need to perform a due diligence before coming to D.C.  They need to understand whether they have the right model and are going to offer the right grades.  They need to really get a grasp on who they are going to serve.  In addition, schools must respond extremely quickly to the results they are seeing in the first few weeks and months after opening.  How is the school doing with its homeless population, special education students, and English language learners?

All of this is to say that the board understands how difficult it is running a school.  It is really, really hard.  That is why we approach our roles with humility.  We want to preserve the flexibility and independence of schools.  We want the decision making to be done at the school level and provide them with support.  We recognize that their jobs are vitally important and we really don’t want to interfere with their work.”

Mr. Cruz ended our conversation by reiterating the importance of the DC Public Charter School Board’s role to hold schools to high standards, create the conditions for educators to lead, and to provide lots of quality information to families and provide assurance these public funds.   

“I am the undertaker.” D.C. charter board’s COO on closing schools

In an exceptionally well written piece, Lenora Robinson-Mills, the chief operating officer for the DC Public Charter School Board, reflects on her role in working with schools whose charters have been revoked by her organization. She states:

“In the presenter’s scenario, where school closure is the death, the school community dies, and I am the undertaker. And the grief counselor. Part of my role at DC PCSB is to manage the wind-down of the school and support families in finding new schools once our Board makes that final decision. And, I was onboard with the presenter using the metaphors ‘death’ and ‘funeral’ to symbolize school closure (“yes, we should give families time to grieve!”) until I remembered how it usually plays out in our city. I remembered why we’re pushing students and families to pick a new “parent” so quickly: usually, the final closure decision by our Board happens very close to (and in some cases past) the My School DC common lottery application deadline. So to ensure the families of closed public charter schools have access to as many quality options as possible, we push… hard. We call, email, text, send snail mail, and host school fairs. We have the school make calls, send letters, emails, texts, send robocalls, and hold parent meetings. We listen to family concerns and considerations with empathy, and then we ask, beg, and plead with them to submit their lottery applications TODAY!”

Ms. Robinson-Mills openly grapples with the entire process around school closure. She mentions that a charter often does not inform their parents that it is in trouble before the decision is made by the board to close the doors. If the word got out early and families left, and then by some chance the school was allowed to keep operating, then it may not have sufficient revenue to keep going. She is talking about the inherent paradox of running a charter school. Newly approved institutions are required to sign leases on buildings when they do not know how many children will enroll. Add to this the fact that no charter opens with its full enrollment, almost all open with a couple of grades and then add a grade a year until they reach their ceiling, and you get just one sense about the difficulty of running this business. Founders must complete an arduous application process, secure a facility, hire the staff, sign up the pupils, comply with a myriad of reporting requirements, and then after one year of grace, become accountable to a grade on the Performance Management Framework. You can see why I refer to these leaders as heroes.

The PCSB COO wishes that no school had to face closure. She yearns for a surgeon that could come in and medically repair the ill patient. Ms. Robinson-Mills knows this is not the role of authorizer. In D.C. we have TenSquare that can play the part of doctor but their fixes have recently been the subject of intense criticism. Attorney Stephen Marcus has gallantly tried to block the executioner from casting the final vote to end the existence of schools, however his argument that there is a bias built into the PMF against low-income children has now been firmly rejected.

All of this points to the tremendous differences between charters and traditional schools in this city. The fact that DCPS faces none of the challenges is a testament to charters that teach almost 44,000 students or 47 percent of all public school students in the District of Columbia. There are 123 schools run by 66 non-profit entities in the city. This is an unbelievable achievement.

 

Washington Post writers continue anti charter school tirade

The Washington Post’s education writer Valerie Strauss desperately wants all charter schools closed. Here’s what she wrote in a recent opinion piece:

“There are some wonderful charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, but the sector is rife with scandal, and critics charge that they are harming traditional public schools, which enroll most of America’s children.

What was once billed as a model for the improvement of traditionally governed public schools has become a troubled parallel system of privately managed schools with, in many places, patterns of waste, fraud and segregation.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Charters are public schools but they are not privately managed. In the District of Columbia each one is a non-profit governed by a board of directors made up of members of the community. The school itself is ultimately held accountable to the DC Public Charter School Board, a public body whose composition of individuals is selected by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the D.C. Council. All of those serving on a school board and the PCSB are unpaid volunteers.

Charter schools are not characterized by “waste, fraud, and segregation.” There have been just two cases of financial irregularities in the 20-year history of our local charters, and in both cases the schools were closed once the problems were identified and criminal charges were brought against those involved.

Today, Ms. Strauss, together with Perry Stein, continues to spread false claims about charters in a news story about The Future Family Enrichment Center, a home where Monument Academy PCS apparently sent three children and Friendship PCS sent one student on a temporary basis while arrangements were being made to meet their special education needs. The Enrichment Center was found not to have a business license. The charter board and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education are now investigating this business. I am confident that after this publicity no charter school will ever again utilize this vendor.

The article again spreads the inaccurate bromide about charters being privately run schools and it adds this one about the PCSB: “The board — which oversees dozens of charter schools in the city — grants schools autonomy to make financial decisions, meaning that contracts schools sign with outside vendors do not need to be approved by the board. “

In the aftermath of the problems around finances that were mentioned earlier the board increased its requirements around procurement contracts. You can read the policy here. In addition, in an tremendous effort to increase transparency around the use of public funds anyone can review the balance sheet and fiduciary health of any one of its institutions. Try dong that with a traditional public school.

But all of this is really besides the point. If you want to have an inspiring day skip work and go visit one of our city’s charter schools. There you will find heroes spending every bit of energy contained in their bodies to take kids living in poverty and close the academic achievement gap. As soon as you walk into one of these buildings the positive energy will make you feel like you have entered one of the most prestigious learning establishments in this country although it may be located in a store front, warehouse, or church basement. These schools are taking children who in the past have ended up in jail or would have been killed, and sending them to college.

Instead of writing highly misleading pieces, Ms. Strauss and Ms. Stein should take a trip to Monument Academy or any one of Friendship’s 13 campuses.

D.C. charter board closes City Arts and Prep PCS; starts process to shutter Democracy Prep PCS and National Collegiate Preparatory PCHS

On a crowded night for business, and the first meeting for new board member Lea Crusey, the DC Public Charter School Board voted five to two to close City Arts and Prep PCS (formally the William E. Doar Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (WEDJ)) at the end of the school year. The school failed to meet its PMF target of a 50 percent average over the last five years and also did not show annual progress on its score on this tool over the same period. The charter has had poor academic performance throughout its history.

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.

Last evening was important for another reason. The board soundly rejected the argument, advanced by the Marcus Firm PLLC and articulated strenuously by attorney Sherry Ingram, that the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework is biased against schools that teach a large percentage of at-risk students. There was a clear unmistakable message for schools that get in trouble over a failure to meet its goals around the PMF. Don’t bother hiring a lawyer, it is just a waste of taxpayer money.

The story around yesterday, however, is larger than this conclusion. The board’s contention about City Arts was that it had no discretion around its decision to revoke its charter. The conditions sealing its fate had been established years ago. Therefore, the board’s action was a foregone conclusion. Member Steve Bumbaugh made the point that if their actions are so cookie-cutter in nature, then fundamentally there is no real reason for this body to exist. He did, in fact, reach the heart of the matter.

Although I watched the meeting online, I really didn’t have to spend all of those hours sitting in front of my computer screen. The meeting material was available at a minimum by last Friday, and the staff reports told me exactly how events would unfold. I could have written this piece over the weekend.

In other news, the board decided on a four-to-three ballot to begin proceedings to close Democracy Prep PCS at its five-year point. The school, after years of low academic performance, had moved to jettison its ties to its charter management organization, put out bids for a different operator, and settled on being run by the TenSquare Group. However, the board had a particularly tough time swallowing this decision in the aftermath of negative press about this organization, and given their erroneous assumption that TenSquare is not in the business of running schools. Never mind that TenSquare actually plays a leadership role in every institution with which it has a contract through its selection of the head, and the fact that this past year each charter engaged with this firm demonstrated strong improvement in its academic ranking. Last month the board tried to come to a consensus about this school but it tied three in favor to three against on a motion to keep the school open and then punted the issue to December.

Continuing on the theme of closures, the board decided unanimously to begin charter revocation of National Collegiate Preparatory PCHS. This Ward 8 ninth-through-twelfth grade school teaching approximately 276 students has been characterized by low Tier 3 PMF scores, low re-enrollment percentages, and low four-year graduation rates. It didn’t stand a chance of moving beyond its decade of existence. National Collegiate shares a building with Ingenuity Prep PCS so the logical course of events would be for this charter to take in more students. Unfortunately, Ingenuity Prep’s Tier 2 status precludes this from occurring.

There was positive news coming out of the session. KIPP DC will be allowed to assimilate Somerset Prep PCS and Friendship PCS’s expansion will include the students from IDEAL Academy PCS. Lee Montessori PCS was given permission to replicate. Meridian PCS, Perry Street Prep PCS, and Roots PCS all passed their 20-year reviews. Again no surprises.

I think for the January meeting, I will instead just go to the movies.

In STAR system comparison with PMF, it looks like we are reliant on D.C. charter board measure.

Last Friday, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released its DC Report Card which ranks schools in the nation’s capital on a School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) framework of one to five, with five being best.  This effort is the result of the State Board of Education’s effort to comply with the U.S. Congresses’ Every Student Succeed Act which required that states offer a measurement of the quality of its public educational institutions as a substitute for the Annual Yearly Progress measure under the No Child Left Behind law.

Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, pointed me to the excellent analysis of the new grading scheme conducted by Empowerk12.  This is only the start for this organization as there is much more number crunching to come.  It offers in great detail a comparison between STAR grading and the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework.  I will not pretend for one minute to understand all the nuances of its conclusions.  But I can offer some overall general observations regarding our city’s charter schools after looking at the data.

My biggest question about the new ranking was whether it would replace PMF.  This issue appears clearly settled in favor of the charter board’s quality school reports simply because the OSSE STAR report does not include all schools.  Excluded are charters that have only early childhood education programs like AppleTree PCS.  It also does not measure schools at the other end of the spectrum such as those that focus on the teaching of adult students.  Alternative programs are also left out.

When you look at charters that offer traditional grades to a general population of students, the picture becomes murky for STAR in relation to the PMF.  For example, going down the list of Tier 1 PMF charters, these schools sometimes received a five, such as Washington Yu Ying PCS or Washington Leadership Academy PCS.  But they can also earn a three, as seen with Lee Montessori PCS and KIPP DC College Preparatory Academy PCS.  Most of the top tier charter schools get a four.  If I were a parent I would be shy about sending my child to a place that only received a three.  In addition, while I might favor a school labeled as a five, there are only a few that measured this high.

Where the PMF and STAR report more closely correlate is in relation to the lower performing schools.  Out of the six of seven Tier 3 charters that receive a STAR number, four receive a one ranking on STAR with two others getting a two.  The message to parents is that if it is academic quality that most interests you in a school, look for a number higher than two.

One weakness of the STAR grading system is that it includes five levels while the PMF only has three.  This makes the PMF easier to understand for the general public.  Although some have expressed serious problems with the charter’s board’s tiering, especially when it comes to schools with a large population of at-risk students, it looks like this is the best that we have at this moment in time.

 

 

 

 

Transitions and consolidations at D.C. charter schools

Late Friday, I received a note from Aaron Cuny, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ingenuity Prep PCS, announcing that he was stepping down from his position at the school.  He wrote:

“After much deliberation, I’ve decided to transition from the role of Ingenuity Prep’s CEO.  After nearly 18 years of working in schools — including serving as the leader of this organization since we opened our doors in 2013 — I’ve come to the conclusion this transition is necessary for me to fulfill my commitments to my own family, one which will soon get a little bit bigger as my wife and I prepare for the birth of our first child later this month.”

Mr. Cuny, who I interviewed this past October, indicated that his co-founder and the school’s current chief operating officer Will Stoetzer will assume the interim CEO role.  Mr. Cuny added that he is not leaving the school entirely; after a paternity leave he will continue to serve Ingenuity Prep by assisting with special projects.

Board chair Peter Winik commented on the change:

“Having worked closely with Aaron for close to six years — since before the first students walked into Ingenuity Prep —  I have enormous affection and respect for Aaron. He cares deeply and passionately about the vision of the school: making certain that our kids receive the finest education possible. Over these past years, no one has worked harder at making that vision a reality than Aaron.  We’re proud of what the school has been able to achieve, and we all owe Aaron an enormous debt of gratitude for this.

Even as we are sad to see Aaron transition from the role of CEO, we are fortunate to be in a position to provide for stability and strong continued leadership in this transition.  As a former teacher with a masters in special education and as a co-founder of the school, Will Stoetzer has worked side-by-side with Aaron from the very beginning — crafting the vision for the school; engaging external partners, staff, families, and students; and executing with a high level of excellence his work as Chief Operating Officer.”

As I wrote following my conversation with Mr. Cuny, Ingenuity Prep has achieved much, especially in the area of academics.  The school would like to replicate but being ranked as Tier 2 on DC Public Charter’s School Board’s Performance Management Framework, it does not meet the criteria for expansion.  Over the last three years the charter’s PMF score has been gradually declining.

Then on Saturday at the annual EdFest event at the DC Armory, I ran into Patricia Brantley, the CEO of Friendship PCS.  She was only too excited to tell me that her school has filed an amendment with the charter board to takeover Ideal Academy PCS.  My sense of Ideal is that it has been a chronically low academically performing school for much of its existence since it was approved to open in 1999 under the old Board of Education.  The PCSB began revocation proceedings in 2011 against the school, which was allowed to stay open after it agreed to eliminate its high school.  In 2018, the pre-Kindergarten to eighth grade facility teaching approximately 279 students in Ward 4 ranked as a Tier 3, where it has generally scored over the last three years.  In all certainly the PCSB would have moved shortly to close this charter.

The conversion of this school to fall under the Friendship umbrella means that this will be the second charter consolidation to be considered at the charter board’s December meeting.  The other is the KIPP DC management of Somerset Prep PCS.

 

 

 

 

 

Teachers’ union strike at Chicago charter schools not good sign for D.C. movement

On Tuesday more than 500 teachers and other employees walked off the job at 15 Acero Public Charter Schools. According to the Washington Post’s Laura Meckler, the instructors, represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, and charter school management are fighting over issues that “include pay; class size, now set at 32 students; and the length of the school day and school year.” This is the first strike in the history of the charter school movement in the United States.

The Post reporter states that the Chicago union has organized about 25 percent of individuals employed in charter schools in that city, and that the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools relates that across the country about 11 percent of charters have unions. The article also points out that across the nation approximately three million pupils attend charter schools, which number around 7,000.

Last week at the Celebrating Best Practices in Public Charter School Education event, Scott Pearson, the DC Public Charter School Board executive director, had this to say about the condition of our local movement:

“In DC, the per-pupil spend is closer to $20,000. And I know it doesn’t feel like enough – because it isn’t. Tuition at Sidwell Friends is over $40,000 – and they fundraise on top of it. But, acknowledging it should be more, it’s at a level that an Indiana educator would imagine would solve all of her problems. And yet it doesn’t seem to. Our teacher turnover in DC is higher than in most places. Sometimes it feels that we are on this treadmill of churning through teachers, where we end up having to spend a fortune on recruiting and coaching and long-term subs. What are the hidden savings in retaining our teachers, whether through higher pay or reduced workload? For example, would you need instructional coaches if most of your teachers stayed with you for seven years? How many teachers would stay if they could job share and work half time for a bit more than half pay? I’m just throwing out ideas – you are the experts, the ones closest to the issue. But I’d remind you that you have unique freedoms. You are public charter schools. You aren’t unionized. You have exclusive control over your budgets and your personnel policies. And you have uniquely high per-pupil funding. I encourage you to use those freedoms to find a way to make teaching work more sustainable. Perhaps what’s holding you back is PCSB and our high standards of accountability. What I’d say is, if you want to try something bold, talk with us. Your idea may be the one that solves the issue. I would hate to know that our high bar kept you from innovating.”

His speech, however, contains one inaccuracy. We are unionized, at least on one campus. In addition, he should know this to be the case since almost exactly two years ago he suggested that a teachers’ union could be a good thing for our schools. But events have not transpired in a positive way at Chavez Prep PCS, the unionized charter in our town, with teachers and other staff protesting on the streets and educators bringing charges to the National Labor Relations Board. The staff has also complained to the Washington City Paper about the hiring of the TenSquare Consulting Group to improve academic achievement at Chavez, including this comment by Christian Herr, one of the teachers who led bringing the American Federation of Teachers to the school:

“It’s not like we needed to spend $140,000 a month to have someone tell us to do more test prep,” he says. “It was really hard for us when our school board decided some things needed to be restructured, but didn’t even come to us, didn’t even ask what we the teachers thought. They have these buildings full of people who live in these neighborhoods and have worked in these schools for a long time, all this expertise, yet you make the choice to bring in someone who knows nothing about it and pay them massive amounts of money.”

Despite Mr. Herr’s criticism, the Performance Management Framework results for Chavez soared in 2018.

We need to keep a close eye on union activity in Washington, D.C.’s charter schools.

With pick of Lewis Ferebee to become next Chancellor of D.C. schools, public education reform comes roaring back to the nation’s capital

Here is the key paragraph to Perry Stein’s Washington Post article about the selection by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Lewis Ferebee to become the next DCPS Chancellor:

“Ferebee received leadership training at the Broad Academy, an initiative to support urban school superintendents funded by philanthropist and charter school backer Eli Broad. [Kaya] Henderson, [Antwan] Wilson, D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang and Paul Kihn, the deputy mayor for education whom Bowser tapped this year, also received training at the Broad Academy.”

The choice of Mr. Ferebee sends a tremendously significant signal that public school reform in D.C. should not only continue but accelerate in its pace.  It is a fascinating move coming from a Mayor whose top priorities in office have focused on affordable housing and reducing homelessness.

The nominee has been Superintendent of Indianapolis schools since 2013 where, among other things, he turned management of low-performing traditional schools over to charters.  Sound familiar?  It’s something I have been calling for since beginning to write an education blog in 2009.  There are more interesting details about his past work from Ms. Stein’s piece:

“In Indianapolis, Ferebee oversaw a cash-strapped system and closed some schools. He said that there is little social mobility in Indianapolis and that the departure of manufacturing jobs forced him to rethink how high schools train students for the workforce.

He dismantled the neighborhood high school system, replacing it with vocational and college preparatory academies that students could choose to attend no matter where their families lived.”

In other words, this is a much different decision than putting forth Amanda Alexander for Chancellor, someone who has been with DCPS for over 20 years, and who was believed to be the other finalist for the position.  Ms. Alexander hinted that she would tinker around the edges of the current regular school sector, commenting that if she got the job she would would send more central office personnel into schools to support academic achievement.

However, we have to sincerely thank Ms. Alexander for the work she has done since last February to provide stability in a system rocked by controversy around discretionary school placement by the former Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education, graduating high school students that failed to meet requirements for a diploma, and residency fraud.

Interestingly, Mr. Ferebee turned down the opportunity to become superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District last April.  I’m wondering what the difference was between Los Angeles and Washington that led him to pick coming here?  I’m hoping it is the general positive climate toward school choice and charter schools in particular in this town.  But perhaps I’m being too optimistic.

Here’s one other public education update.  On November 9th the office of the Deputy Mayor for Education released the final report of the D.C. Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force.  You don’t need to read it.  I’ve taken a brief look at the document and it fails to cover the most pressing issues facing the local charter movement such as the acquisition of facilities and solving the funding inequity problem.  Now we can place this document on the shelf and move on.  It is time for a new day.

 

 

 

D.C. charter board honors top performing schools

Last Thursday I had the honor of attending the DC Public Charter School Board’s Celebrating Best Practices in Public Charter School Education event.  The venue was a perfect setting for the occasion.  It was held at the stately Willard InterContinental Hotel, whose opulence all decked out for the Christmas season seemed a perfect match to the quality of the work being performed in the classrooms of the institutions recognized on this day.  No detail was left for chance.  Upon arrival each individual representing a charter received a personalized program inscribed with a quotation from one of its students highlighting his or her excitement over attending that particular school.  Once the attendees grabbed their breakfast and were seated, a highly professionally produced video was presented that interviewed children attending Tier 1 charters whose adorable comments echoed those found on the cards containing the morning’s agenda.

Thanks to the board’s efforts it really did feel like a special gathering.  This was reinforced by the stature of those in attendance, who included Chairman of the D.C. Council Phil Mendelson, At-large D.C. Councilmember Robert White, Jr., Ward 6 D.C. Coucilmember Charles Allen, and the new Acting D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn.

Next up was Scott Pearson, the PCSB’s executive director, who welcomed the guests.  He congratulated all of the award winners, recognizing all of the challenges they face in practicing their profession.  But then something fascinating happened.  Mr. Pearson became philosophical and provided some comments that I never would have imagined being spoken by this man.  He talked about issues he referred to as impacting the sustainability of an educator’s career:

“The second concerns the growing demands we place on you and your staffs.  Just in the past year the city council has regulated or is about to regulate your discipline policies, how you work with non-English-speaking families, and how you hire your staff.  We now have two evaluation systems, the PMF and the OSSE five-star rating, which nearly doubles the data validation work you must do.  The work we require of you for procurement contracts is greater than ever.   Sometimes I feel like I am slowly witnessing the slow, steady, reconstruction of the traditional public system we were supposed to be the alternative to.  The fact that I’m part of this process is not only ironic to me – given that I used to be a charter school board chair – it’s deeply painful.  And yet there is a logic and a rationale behind each turn of the ratchet.  We’re all good people, trying to do what’s best.  We play our roles.  The council’s is to legislate.  PCSB’s is to oversee.  Yours is to educate.  But it’s also to fight.  To fight for your flexibility, to fight for what makes your schools special.  Acting alone neither PCSB nor OSSE or the Council can anticipate how our well-meaning actions will affect you.  Only you can tell us – and the way things are, you sometimes need to shout it at us.  You have to constantly remind us that your freedom to innovate, your exclusive controls, and your ability to be able to focus you energies on student achievement and well-being as opposed to compliance is not just a nice feature – it’s the essential, the core, the heart and soul of what allows you to succeed.   Only when you are in our faces reminding us of this essential fact do we have a chance to get it right.”

It was as if the PCSB executive director was reading directly from my blog.

Next was the announcement of the 11 best practice honorees.  These were nominated by the schools and picked by a selection committee.  They included:

Community Influence Award:  Joyful Food Markets,
Data Excellence Award:  Jodi Ihaza, Briya PCS,
Program Innovation Award:  Stephanie Remick, Washington Leadership Academy PCS,
Program Innovation Award:  Zeleta Green, E.L Haynes PCS,
TIERific Teacher Award:  Francis Richards, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS,
TIERific Teacher Award:  Alexis Rosario, Cedar Tree Academy PCS,
TIERific Principal Award:  Rachel Tommelleo, Center City PCS,
TIERific Parent Award:  Nicole Fitzgerald, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS,
TIERific Student Award:  Kalkidan Haile, E.L. Haynes PCS,
Excellence in English Language Learner Programming Award:  Alicia Passante, Center City PCS, and
Excellence in Special Education Programming Award:  Wanda Gregory, Capital City PCS

Additional details about those recognized can be found here.

Each of the 53 Tier 1 school was then called to the podium to receive their award recognizing their attainment of the top ranking on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, while a brief narrative was read giving an overview of the mission of the charter.  Afterwords pictures of each school team were taken with Mr. Pearson, Ms. Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, the PCSB Deputy Director, and invited special guests.

In all it was an exceptionally positive ceremony.

KIPP DC PCS to takeover Somerset Prep PCS

Multiple individuals involved in the transition have confirmed to me that Somerset Prep PCS has agreed to be taken over by KIPP DC, and that KIPP will be asking the DC Public Charter School Board to approve the change in the charter management organization overseeing Somerset at its December 2018 meeting.

Somerset is a sixth-through-twelfth grade charter that opened in the 2013-to-2014 school year. It currently serves approximately 424 students of whom 71 percent are classified as at-risk and 60 percent are economically disadvantaged. Last December, the PCSB conducted its five-year review of Somerset and determined that it was not meeting its academic goals. It permitted the school to continue operating under a list of academic conditions. The high school has consistently scored as a low-to-average Tier 2 institution on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, while the middle school has been ranked as Tier 3 for two out of three years.

The charter has a special place in D.C.’s charter school movement. Major support for this school opening here came from Joe Bruno, the president of Building Hope, who served as the school’s first board chair. It receives services from Academica, a charter school support organization, as the Somerset national charter management organization does in many localities in which it operates. Somerset and Academica operate many schools in Florida where Building Hope also has an office. I remember Martha Cutts, the former long-term head of school at Washington Latin PCS, informing me that Mr. Bruno asked her to consult with the principal of Somerset Prep in order to improve the operation of the school.

Due to Somerset’s low academic performance, especially around its middle school, its board of directors initiated a search for a new partner. The process included parent and teacher board members and included school tours, data reviews, and site visits. The decision by Somerset’s board to join KIPP DC was unanimous. The KIPP DC board has also approved the expansion of their network to include Somerset PCS.

KIPP DC now has 16 campuses in Washington, D.C., instructing almost 6,300 students and has 1,800 alumni. Eight of its schools are ranked on the PMF as Tier 1. The Promise Academy campus was recognized this year by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School for its high performance and for closing the academic achievement gap.

KIPP DC’s goal is to begin operating Somerset PCS during the Summer of 2019. It would also like to expand its offerings at the new location to start in the fourth grade. The current principal of Somerset, Lauren Catalano, will continue to have a leadership position at the new school.

Susan Schaeffler, the founder and chief executive officer of KIPP DC commented about the expansion of her CMO, “I am excited to be exploring a partnership with Somerset. A partnership between KIPP DC and Somerset would provide continuity to families and ensure they have education supports that will prepare them for college and rewarding careers. We’re eager to listen to students, families and the community in the coming months about what the school could look like in the near future.”

Look for the PCSB to quickly and easily decide to proceed with this change.