Video of empty Spingarn High School is shocking, sad, and motivating

WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle revealed the other day a 26 minute video made by two gentlemen, Bryan and Michael, who call themselves the Proper People, who took an unauthorized tour of D.C.’s Spingarn High School that was closed in 2013. He wrote:

“Opened in 1952 as a segregated high school for African American students, Spingarn came to be known both for its academics and its fearsome basketball program, which produced NBA talents like Elgin Baylor, Sherman Douglas and Dave Bing — who also served as Detroit’s mayor. In 2012, the building was declared a historic site, partially in response to plans by the city to build a streetcar repair facility on the school’s grounds. But dwindling enrollment prompted D.C. Public Schools to close Spingarn in 2013, alongside 14 other schools.

The pictures remind me of other former DCPS facilities in which through the pealing plaster, cracked floors, and mounds of trash, you can imagine the spectacular beauty that once characterized the space. It looks extremely similar to Rudolph Elementary that now houses Washington Latin PCS. More than $20 million was spent renovating that building. This site apparently once had an elegant auditorium, theater, gymnasium, and greenhouse.

The images were particularly moving to me because it appeared that there may have been a school for radiologic technologists based upon the x-ray equipment that was found. I have worked in the medical imaging field for more than 30 years.

There is something terribly wrong here. A 225,000-square-foot building sits empty accumulating damage from wind, water, and vandals, and charter schools struggle on a daily basis desperately trying to figure out where they are going to educate their students. Parents have placed their complete faith in these institutions to provide the optimistic future for their children that they do not have. But due to politics, ego, discrimination, or simply poor public policy judgement, this structure and many others are blocked from their use.

Life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people and we do not understand the reason. Injustices persist in this country and around the world. Despite heroic efforts by numerous philanthropic individuals, too many human beings go to bed at night without sufficient food, shelter, and clothing.

No, not every problem in society can be fixed. But there is one issue that could be resolved this morning. Surplus DCPS space can be turned over to charters. Let’s ask Mayor Boswer to take this step today. She simply needs to say O.K.

One day after call for increased funding for D.C. public schools, Mayor agrees to 4% jump

Yesterday, I wrote about a column in the Washington Post by Anthony Williams calling for a four percent increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. The same day, Twitter ignited with the news that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had agreed to include the additional spending in her fiscal 2021 budget. If approved by the Council, this will be a tremendous help for schools desperate to stay competitive with teacher salaries.

Mr. Williams in his piece talked about the revenue available to the District for such an investment. He wrote;

“The Office of the Chief Financial Officer recently announced the collection of $280 million in unanticipated revenue in fiscal 2019 and is projecting nearly $518 million in additional revenue over the next four years.”

In an article by the Post’s Perry Stein about the new incremental school spending she adds,

“Bowser’s announcement comes just days after her administration announced the city has a $1.43 billion rainy day fund.”

The reporter also included some interesting statistics about public school spending in the District of Columbia:

“In all, the mayor plans to spend about $989 million in city money on the District’s traditional public school system. The total spending figure represents an average increase of 8 percent for each campus in the traditional school system, with some of that boost reflecting expected growth in enrollment.”

More money for our students is big news, however, a couple of paragraphs in Ms. Stein’s story really caught my attention:

“But many schools — especially in Wards 7 and 8, the swaths of the city with the highest concentrations of poverty — have struggled with enrollment in recent years. Teachers have said they feel hamstrung, with declining enrollment leaving them with less funding and inadequate resources to serve their students and attract new ones.

Smaller schools are more expensive to operate and, with the opening of new campuses in the traditional public and charter sectors, the city has an increasing number of campuses with many vacant seats. A total of 38 high schools educate nearly 20,000 students in the traditional and charter sectors.”

The reality of underutilized traditional school school buildings, while nothing new, should at this point in our city’s efforts at public school reform drive a complete rethinking of the actual number of DCPS schools that are truly needed, how consolidation could lead to improved academic achievement for students, and which buildings could be turned over to the charter sector that desperately needs them.

Spending more money is easy. Realigning resources to match student needs is much more challenging. We have heard time and time again that parents do not care if a school is a regular one or a charter. They just want a quality education for their children. We have also listened as people across this town have called for coordination of resources between DCPS and charters.

Now is the time for real leadership.

Finally, a creative solution for D.C.’s charter school facility crises

Former D.C. Mayor and chief executive officer of the Federal City Council Anthony Williams had an editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post calling for several “investments” on our public schools. The column is timed to influence current D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s upcoming proposed 2021 fiscal year budget. Mr. Williams argues for stabilization of the 2.2 percent increase in the charter school facility allotment that was provided to schools last year, an at-risk student admission preference, an increase in the at-risk weighting in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, and a four percent across the board increase in the UPSFF.

The suggestions contained in the piece mirror those included in an “Open Letter to Mayor Bowser, Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council on 2020 Education Priorities” dated January 28, 2020 that is signed by 38 charter and public school advocacy group leaders, although these individuals state that they are writing on behalf of themselves and not their organizations. The letter supplements the recommendations of Mr. Williams, stating that the UPSFF at-risk student weighting should go up to 0.37 and remarks that the at-risk admission preference by schools be voluntary.

Both Mr. Williams and the Open Letter contain a intriguing incentive to increase charter school co-locations with traditional schools. As stated in the Post piece:

“We should also encourage more efficient use of existing public school buildings, including incentivizing co-locations of DCPS and public charter schools. One way to do that is by dedicating a portion of rent paid by a public charter school to the school-level budget of the “host” DCPS school. Doing so would provide resources for these schools schools without increasing the District’s overall budget while providing high-quality learning environments to more public school students. That is a true win-win.”

There you have it. The most promising positive suggestion regarding the stifling charter school facility shortage that I have seen in my 20 years of involvement in this movement. This concept desperately needs to be included in Ms. Bowser’s upcoming budget. In addition, she, together with the Deputy Mayor for Education, need to make co-location of charters with DCPS a priority of their school building utilization efforts going forward.

Now that we have a first step toward breaking the deadlock for charter classroom space what else can be done? Can the city provide developers a financial incentive to include schools in their projects? Can charters get first crack at properties that are condemned?

Here is one thing that should happen starting today. The Bowser Administration must follow the law and turn over vacant surplus DCPS building to them for their immediate use.

D.C. school buildings need to be turned over to an independent agency

I read with supreme interest yesterday’s Washington Post story by Perry Stein about the decision by DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee to close Washington Metropolitan Opportunity Academy, a poor performing alternative public school serving 150 middle and high school students near Howard University. It is the first school closed by the system since 2013. My immediate question was whether the building would be turned over to a charter. My answer came in the last paragraph of the reporter’s article:

“A spokesman for Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said the District does not yet know what it will do with the building. He said keeping it in the school system’s inventory is one option.”

This response is totally unacceptable. Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and others have estimated that there is currently over a million square feet of excess building space that the traditional school system is holding that should be available to charters. Other D.C. Mayors have turned scores of excess buildings over to the sector that educates 43,556 students or 46 percent of all public school pupils in the District. Mayor Muriel Bowser is talking about providing one in her five years in office, as long as the winner of the request for proposal agrees to renovate a community center on the site that includes the complete refurbishing of a swimming pool. A final decision on who gets this land has yet to be made.

Enough is enough. If this Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Education cannot objectively assess whether it needs to maintain classroom structures in its inventory then we need an independent agency to manage the properties.

Charters are desperate for buildings in which to operate. For those of you who are not familiar with the exciting charter movement in the nation’s capital you really need to visit one of these locations. These are public schools that resemble private schools in setting high expectations for both students and staff. They are on a life or death mission to close the academic achievement gap because they are held accountable to meet stellar standards set by themselves and the DC Public Charter School Board. They have to operate in this manner because they are institutions of choice in which perceived weaknesses by parents will drive them to take their children somewhere else along with their scholarship money.

The Mayor is over DCPS but not charters. Therefore, I can see in a twisted, distorted way why she would want to keep the school buildings she has control over. But for someone who represents all citizens of our great city this really does not make any sense. There are an estimated almost 20,000 children on wait lists trying to obtain admission to a charter school.

If Ms. Bowser cannot make the right decision because of politics, personal bias, or poor judgment, then we desperately need an independent, nonpartisan, government body that is empowered to do the right thing. New charters are ready to open their doors and others are dying to expand. The moment to act is now.

D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education doubles down on illegal holding of excess school facilities

Right before the Christmas holiday the editors of the Washington Post came out swinging against Mayor Bowser’s refusal to turn surplus former DCPS buildings over to charters for use as permanent homes. They wrote:

“’Special interest group.’ That’s how the District’s deputy mayor for education recently characterized those behind a spirited public information campaign urging that more of the city’s buildings be made available for use by worthy public charter schools. At first, we thought the description derisive but, upon further thought, we decided Paul Kihn was right.

The interests being advanced by this effort are indeed quite special. They are those of the nearly 44,000 children — most of them black or Hispanic, and many of them economically disadvantaged — who are enrolled in public charter schools, and the thousands more who languish on waiting lists because of a lack of facilities. The administration’s churlish response to this problem is troubling, another sign it doesn’t have the same sense of obligation to public charter school students as it does to those enrolled in the traditional school system.”

The column appears to have had an impact on Paul Kihn, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Education, but not the one intended by charter advocates. Just before the start of the New Year, Mr. Kihn responded to the Post in a series of five tweets entered in rapid succession:

“Disappointed to again see false claims promoted by @PostOpinions. Readers should also be surprised that misleading information about school waitlists and facilities made its way onto the @WashingtonPost editorial page.”

“Must focus on unique students & not combine multiple schools’ waitlist. Students often waitlisted at multiple schools. In SY19-20, because duplicates, total waitlist of 33,876 (K-12) reduced to 10,891 individual students at DCPS & charters.”

“Waitlist numbers inflate demand. Approx. 25K applications in SY18-19, 84% received matches/offers, 57% accepted offers and 43% declined.”

@mayorbowser admin. works tirelessly & impartially for students in both the traditional & public charter sector. Pace of improving outcomes in DC’s two-sector system is leading the nation. #DCProud of this progress & know there’s more to do”

“DC continues to invest in students, including the annual increase of funds for buildings in both sectors. Suggesting otherwise ignores our values, actions and ongoing support for ALL of DC’s public school students in both sectors. #FairShot

But all of these words evades the main point in a wholly dishonest manner. There are structures that currently exist out there, likely as many as 13, that by statute should have been turned over to charters for use as classrooms. Another six have already been given away for other purposes. These surplus properties are rotting away instead of being filled to the brim with the laughter, excitement, and learning of children.

There can only be one explanation for what is going on here and it was perfectly captured by the Washington Post editors:

“No doubt assessments can differ of what may be available, and there may be reasons for the city, with school system enrollment increasing, to hold on to some schools. But only once in Ms. Bowser’s nearly five-year tenure has she proposed a lease of a city building to a charter. Some buildings stand empty and in disrepair even as top-ranked charters scramble for space. It makes no sense — unless, of course, the aim is to hinder the growth of charters, which now account for 46 percent of D.C. public school enrollment.”

The charter school facility issue is not getting off to a good start in 2020.

Testimony of Scott Pearson, PCSB executive director, on charter school facilities misses main point

Last Wednesday, Scott Pearson provided the most detailed and passionate testimony before the D.C. Council of his eight and a half years as executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board. The occasion was a hearing on the Master Facilities Plan, and Mr. Pearson used his opportunity to poke a huge hole in the administration of Mayor Bowser’s contention that there are only three surplus DCPS facilities that could be turned over to charter schools. From his remarks:

“We put city-owned buildings potentially available to charter schools into seven categories.
Category one is the one building that we and the city agree is vacant, and for which the city is currently seeking offers from public charter schools. This building is Ferebee Hope, a 193,000 square foot facility in Ward 8.
In category two are two buildings that we and the city agree are vacant, but for which the city says that DCPS is currently “evaluating programming” – which we fear is a euphemism for “allowing to demise.” The buildings in this category are Spingarn, a 225,000 square foot building in Ward 5, and Winston, a 138,000 square foot building in Ward 7. Both should be immediately released to public charter schools.
Category three is a building that will soon be vacant. As this council well knows, a new Banneker High School is being constructed. When it is ready in Summer, 2021, the old building will be available, 146,000 square feet in Ward 1.  The city should begin planning now to transfer this to a public charter school before the building deteriorates and requires major repairs.
Category four is a building that was wrongly removed from the list of surplus buildings. I say wrongly because it is a vacant school building highly sought-after by charter schools. Fletcher Johnson, a 302,000 square foot building in Ward 7, is instead being redeveloped by DMPED. All agree the site is large enough to accommodate both school and other uses. It is essential that the city ensure space at this redeveloped site for a public charter school.
Category five contains four DCPS buildings that in the past few years have been allowed to house other city agencies. Given our facilities shortage the city’s first priority should be to use public school buildings for public schools.  Moreover, in all of these sites, the residing city agency is not using all of the space, so if these agencies won’t move, they should at least co-locate. The four buildings are Emery in Ward Five, used for DCPS administration, Kenilworth in Ward 7, used by DPR, Malcolm X in Ward 8, used by DPR and DOES, and Wilkinson in Ward 8, used by the DC Infrastructure Academy.
Category six is a nearly empty, 100,000 square foot building owned by another agency. I’m referring to DC Public Library’s Penn Center building at 1709 3rd Street NE in Ward 5. A careful review of city buildings would likely find other such opportunities, but this one is truly low hanging fruit.
Finally, in category seven are three buildings used by DCPS for swing space – Davis, Garnet-Patterson, and Meyer. DCPS needs swing space. But from time to time these buildings are empty for a year or more, as Garnet Patterson is this year. When vacant they should be made available to charter schools for temporary, swing, or incubator use.”

The total number of buildings that should have been transferred to charter schools by law, according to Mr. Pearson, is 13. However, he neglected to mention Stevens Elementary, which adds one to the total. Finally, if we want to know the final count for how many classroom spaces Ms. Bowser could have turned over to charters, we have to include the five structures that she transferred to private developers. Now the grand total goes up to an astonishing 19 schools.

There are almost 12,000 students on charter school wait lists. There are many charters that are currently desperate for permanent facility space. When you combine these two facts that only conclusion that can be reached, sadly and unfortunately, is that Mayor Bowser does not care about our children.

Prominent members of our local charter movement have speculated as to why Ms. Boswer is skirting a legal and moral prerogative. One view is that the Mayor is holding onto these sites to purposely limit the number of students in charters so that the share of pupils attending traditional schools during her tenure does not fall under 50 percent.

Can this at all be true?

I want to conclude with a few lines from a recent analysis by David Osborne and Tressa Pankovits, both from the Progressive Policy Institute who were kind enough to spend some time on the telephone with me recently to review this data.

“The bottom line: DCPS has improved by leaps and bounds, but it has not figured out how to educate its poorest students. In contrast, many of the city’s charter schools have figured that out. The 2019 NAEP score gap between D.C.’s FRL [Free and Reduced Lunch]-eligible charter students and other charter students in eighth grade was 12 points; in fourth grade it averaged just 10 points.

The city’s annual PAARC test results confirm what we saw on the NAEP. In wards 5, 7 and 8, which have the highest concentrations of poor children, 22 of the top-performing 23 schools were charters. The one DCPS school in the top 23, McKinley Tech High School, selects its students. The charter schools vastly outperform DCPS schools in these three wards — roughly doubling DCPS’s percentage of students who score a 4 or 5 (meeting or exceeding expectations).”

If we truly care about the future of our most vulnerable kids, then the empty deteriorating surplus DCPS buildings would be immediately given to charters.

Latest D.C. Mayoral plan to keep closed traditional school buildings away from charters: open early-childhood centers

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed on Friday that next fall the former DCPS Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School will become an early-childhood center teaching approximately 30 kids from age birth to three years old. Bright Beginnings, a nonprofit company described by Ms. Stein as experienced in working with homeless children, will manage the program. From the organization’s website:

“Bright Beginnings was established in 1990 by the Junior League of Washington to provide quality childcare to families experiencing homelessness in Washington, DC. For over 29 years, Bright Beginnings has helped thousands of children experiencing homelessness by providing them and their families with quality care and support during times of hardship and transition. In 2014, Bright Beginnings pioneered the first home-based program in the country with the sole focus of supporting families impacted by the trauma of homelessness. Through programs such as this, Bright Beginnings staff have provided hundreds of Washingtonians living in shelters and transitional housing with important high-quality family and educational support.”

The location, according to Ms. Stein, will also include a preschool program for about 100 three and four-year olds that DCPS will administer.

The Steven School was closed more than a decade ago due to low attendance. This is the third plan for the site, which should have been turned over to charter schools in 2008 as a surplus property. Although the city has a plethora of under-enrolled schools that can be utilized if needed to create early-childhood centers, it appears the strategy now is to convert other vacant buildings for this purpose, slamming the door on charters who desperately need these properties. From the article:

“While the stand-alone early-childhood center will be novel, the city already has three infant and early-toddler centers at existing elementary schools. The idea with those existing centers is that children can attend the same school for the first decade of their lives. United Planning Organization — a community agency founded in 1962 to bring programs to the District’s low-income residents — operates those early-childhood centers.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said stand-alone campuses such as Stevens can offer more slots than co-located programs by having a campus solely dedicated to the city’s youngest learners. The stand-alone campuses can also provide professional development opportunities for preschool teachers.”

Ms. Stein announced the charter school facility blockade campaign as part of her reporting:

“The Bowser administration said it has dedicated $52 million to create similar stand-alone childhood facilities at three other closed schools. Next up: The city is in the early stages of transforming the former Marshall Elementary School in Northeast Washington into an early-childhood center.”

Steven has an fascinating history. According to the National Park Service:

“Named for  Pennsylvania Congressman and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, the four-story brick school was built in 1868 for Black students. The emancipation of slaves in 1863 and the abolition of slavery in 1865 resulted in huge numbers of freed African Americans in need of basic services such as education. The Stevens school was built to accommodate this influx of students in a racially segregated city.”

The Washington Post editorial writer Colbert King attended Stevens when he was growing up. It’s now almost exactly 20 years since he and I sat in his newspaper’s conference room to discuss providing school choice to our city’s children. Mr. King is a brave man. He is just the individual to make a strong argument in his newspaper that the failure of our Mayor to follow the law regarding turning shuttered DCPS buildings over to charters is doing an injustice to our children. It is also not right.

Tremendously inspiring D.C. charter movement End the List rally

Last Thursday morning at Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center over 1,000 charter school students, teachers, and their supporters gathered in a call to action for Mayor Bowser to release empty surplus former DCPS buildings for use by the city’s public charter schools. As I scanned the expansive room with my eyes I saw not an empty seat. Overflow members of the audience had to stand along the back of the space and up and down the entrance stairs in order to get a glimpse of the activities.

The two hour perfectly choreographed program made it extremely difficult to turn your attention away from the front of the stage. There were student performances by Rocketship Legacy Prep PCS students together with those of the Friendship PCS Collaborative Choir. At one point on the agenda KIPP DC College Preparatory PCS pupils became the cast of “Newsies: the Musical.” My wife Michele and I had seen Newsies just last week at Arena Stage and I can safely say that the scholars of KIPP are definitely ready for primetime.

Toward the end of the session the Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy PCS Drumline proceeded from the rear of the hall to the front. The sound so engulfed the area that the guests had no choice but to jump to their feet in thunderous applause.

Emotions, as demonstrated on the faces of the crowd, were riding exceedingly high. This was due to the purposeful interweaving of prepared remarks by esteemed members of the charter school community, together with student performances, combined with several snippets from the documentary “Open Doors Open Minds“. It was a trifecta of activities that resulted in numerous opportunities for those seated to lift up their “I love Charter School” signs high above their heads and cheer in unison.

Dr. Ramona Edelin, executive director DC Association of Chartered Public Schools, was the emcee. She introduced comments by Rick Cruz, chair of the DC Public Charter School Board; former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu; Shawn Hardnett, founder and executive director Statesman College Preparatory Academy for Boys PCS; and Dr. Howard Fuller, of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning.

Throughout the gathering there were constant reminders on two large screens positioned on either side of the dais of the approximately 12,000 students currently on a charter school wait list. The wait list exists in large part because the city is holding onto more than a million square feet of property in the form of shuttered DCPS facilities that by law should have already been turned over to charters. One of the most moving parts of the schedule was when pictures of the exteriors and interiors of many of the 14 vacant school buildings were projected. There they were for all to see, image after image, of structures that could be serving our kids right now.

Mr. Cruz spoke eloquently about his days growing up as a child in the Bronx, N.Y. He remembered vividly watching on television Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. On the program he recalled Mr. Rogers repeating over and over again that “anything big started out small.” He made an analogy to the dreams that the pupils in front of us have that we must ensure have the chance to blossom. Of course, Mr. Cruz intoned, these dreams may never become a reality if these individuals cannot get into our charter schools due to a lack of adequate classroom space.

The remarks of Senator Landrieu especially impressed me. She talked from her heart about this country’s efforts to provide equity in education to our kids. However, with her voice rising, she extolled the fact that there is no equity when students go to schools that lack cafeterias, science laboratories, libraries, gymnasiums, and playing fields. Ms. Landrieu is of course referring to charter schools that, due to the blockade of access to permanent homes, are often located in warehouses, church basements, and storefronts.

I feel that my duty as a recorder of these types of events is to share the participant’s remarks directly with you the reader. In this case, however, I will not be successful. It turns out that this terrible travesty of justice that has been taking place in our nation’s capital for over two decades regarding the lack of appropriate charter school facilities has so enraged the morning’s speakers that they felt no need to write down prepared remarks. This was true of the passionate comments of the Senator and it is also the case with Mr. Fuller.

Anytime Howard Fuller is at a lectern there is a one hundred percent chance that people will become riled up, and so it was the case on Thursday. Dr. Fuller reflected that he liked the strong show of support he was witnessing in front of him to wrestle closed buildings away from the traditional school system. But he admonished the crowd that if this effort ends with the conclusion of this gathering then it will all be for naught. The intensity of his will traveled through each and every person’s molecular structure as he reminded us through the words of civil rights icon Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.”

The organizers of the End the List rally know exactly to what Dr. Fuller is referencing. D.C.’s charter movement has not in the past seen a coalition come together for a common cause as it did four days ago. Every group involved in promoting, supporting, and improving our charters was represented. The Center for Education Reform, with the tremendous assistance of others too numerous to mention, did much of the facilitating. But the man who was the fountainhead of this perhaps once-in-a-lifetime effort was my hero and friend Josh Rales. Mr. Rales, together with the Rales Foundation, has for years now been toiling quietly but fervently behind the scenes to do what he can to provide every child who needs one an exemplary education in the District of Columbia. I caught up with him before most others had arrived and asked him to reflect on his undertakings:

“I’m happy to support children,” Mr. Rales related, “to go to the school that they and their parents want them to attend. However, the Mayor is holding onto the supply of surplus DCPS schools that by law need to go to charters. We need these buildings so that we can end the wait list of 12,000 students seeking slots in our charter schools. These schools that have been allowed to sit and deteriorate will be renovated with private capital that will improve blighted neighborhoods of our town.”

It was an overwhelmingly amazing day.

Bowser administration reacts to End The List campaign with misleading facts

D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn recently released a report entitled “Citywide Landscape of Former DCPS Facilities Remaining in Educational Use or Government Owned” which is a clear attempt to blunt the attack on Mayor Bowser’s administration regarding the withholding of more than 1 million square feet of surplus DCPS space that by law must be turned over to use by charter schools. The criticism is the recent focus of the DC Association of Chartered Public School’s End The List campaign and the Open the Doors of Opportunity effort led by the Center for Education Reform.

The DME’s publication is highly misleading. It claims that there are only three schools, for a total of 385,000 square feet, that are currently empty and “undergoing DCPS programmatic review.” The document states that these buildings have not been deemed “excess” according to D.C. law. The former traditional schools are Langston, closed in the mid-1990s; Spingarn High School, shuttered in 2012; and the Winston Education Campus, also closed in 2012. If these schools cannot be classified as excess, then I do not understand what structures will ever land in this category.

The report lists seven schools that have been turned over to entities for other purposes. There are another 16 buildings classified as being occupied by District agencies. One of these is Ferebee-Hope that is being offered to charters through a request for proposal.

Strangely missing from the schools listed in the addendum to the government’s study are Hine and Randall, two of the five former DCPS sites that Ms. Bowser turned over to private developers.

We also do not see any data on the DCPS schools that are operating with significant under-enrollment that could be used for charter school co-locations.

There is only one overriding theme that one comes away with after reviewing this material. If Muriel Bowser wanted to, she could provide a permanent facility for every charter school that needed one. Instead, after 20 years, charters are still struggling to identify adequate space in which to operate. The search is a major distraction from the mission of educating children, and is a significant contributor to the continuing presence of an academic achievement gap in our city that is currently at about 65 points. It is the largest one in the nation.

It appears crystal clear now that there is only going to be one way to ensure that empty DCPS structures are turned over to charters. This will be through the courts. Who will have the guts to take up this challenge?

DC charter board about to approve two new school campuses

Last night the DC Public Charter School Board held its monthly meeting and it was one of the least controversial sessions I have witnessed in years. The session started with former PCSB board member Sara Mead receiving the organization’s Distinguished Service Award. Ms. Mead served on the board from 2009 to 2017. Here’s what I wrote when she stepped down:

“Yesterday was also the final board meeting for PCSB member Sara Mead as her term is up after eight years of volunteer service.  She will be missed as she consistently provided a rational and thoughtful voice, especially in her specialty area of early childhood education.”

On the agenda was Rocketship PCS, which is seeking to open its third location in the District in the Fort Totten area of Ward 5 during the 2020 to 2021 school year. Not discussed on Monday evening was the fiasco Rocketship created when it tried to create a school in this same area in 2018. The charter had 22 students enrolled for the additional location only to find that it was unable to secure a facility. The parents of the children that had signed up scrambled to find spots at Rocketship’s existing Ward 7 and Ward 8 sites a couple of months before the term was to begin. This mess represented the third instance in which Rocketship delayed constructing classrooms in the District. Following the experience a couple of years ago, the charter board required Rocketship to come before it regarding expansion plans with a proposed lease. Rocketship has met this condition through an agreement to rent property from the Cafritz Foundation.

The representatives from Rocketship appeared to have alleviated fears that it has not properly engaged with the local community before moving into a new neighborhood. This was a criticism the public leveled at the school regarding its first two locations. It certainly helps that its Legacy Prep in Ward 7, servicing in 2018 about 100 pre-Kindergarten three through third grade students of which three-quarters are classified as at-risk, scored a 94.6 percent as a Tier 1 school on the Performance Management Framework the very first time it has been graded on this tool. It’s Rise Academy school, teaching 527 pre-Kindergarten three though fourth grade pupils last year, ranks as a high Tier 2. Look for the additional campus to be approved.

Proceeding the discussion about Rocketship, Richard Wright PCS for Journalism and Media Arts was up to discuss moving to a different location during the second half of the next school year. The charter has outgrown the “Blue Castle” where it has operated the last eight years, and the building is about to be redeveloped. The school is seeking to move to 475 School Street SW, also in Ward 6 as is its current address. The proposed property is quite a bit larger than its present campus, coming in at 62,500 square feet versus its existing 42,500 square feet. The upgraded site, which will provide an auditorium, media studio space, and a dance studio, will cost $2,000 more per student than the school currently spends. This raised concerns by the board, especially in light of the fact that Richard Wright successfully completed a Financial Corrective Action Plan in 2017. Dr. Marco Clark, the school’s CEO, testified that Richard Wright will be able to meet its operating budget by enrolling additional students and subleasing space to another charter. The board requested a revised budget representing these revenue projections, and, as with Rocketship, I anticipate this amendment being granted without difficulty in October.

On a purely philosophical note, I found the questions the members of the PCSB asked regarding future cash flow at Richard Wright to be perfectly appropriate and consistent with its role as a board. Why then could it have not initiated a similar line of inquiry when problems first surfaced regarding student safety issues at Monument Academy PCS?