The mystery of lethargic D.C. charter academic performance

The report card came in on Thursday afternoon in the way of the 2018 PARCC assessment scores and the findings were frankly anemic.  It was actually a sad day.  As the Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported:

“D.C. Public Schools outperformed charter schools on the 2018 PARCC test. Overall, the traditional school system showed greater improvement over 2017 and had a higher percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the tests.”

How in the world could DCPS, dysfunctional from the loss of its most recent Chancellor, embroiled in a high school graduation controversy, and reeling from accusations of residency fraud at one of its most prominent institutions, top the collective standardized test scores of D.C.’s charter schools?  After all these are the entities that are free from the constraints of the regular schools to hire their own staff, set many of their own operating rules, design the curriculum, and establish their own goals.  They are provided freedom to innovate in return for being accountable for their results to the DC Public Charter School Board.  In order to reach kids that traditional schools have not, almost all of them have longer school days, smaller class sizes, and describe themselves as extremely tight-knit communities.  Charters are recognized as paying particular close attention to the needs of their students and families because their revenue stream is dependent upon how many children are sitting in its classrooms each October.  With an ecosystem like this in place for over 20 years, and with the exception of one campus a lack of teacher union representation, these nonprofits should be knocking it out of the park academically compared to the bureaucratic DCPS.  What is going on?

Well I think I know the answer.  We have a problem with the way we are conducting our local movement. Here are the issues.

First, the charter school facility problem is proving to be intractable.  We are so fortunate to have Building Hope and other like-minded groups here and banks that now actually have some understanding of charter school finance.  However, it is still, after two decades, much too difficult for a charter to obtain a permanent home.  In fact, the task is almost impossible.  The hunt for a building is a tremendous distraction from educating our scholars, and is restricting the replication of high performing schools that could help more kids.  I do not accept that with so many smart people invested in this cause that a solution to this issue cannot be found.

Second, we desperately have to rethink the PCSB mantra that charters must be “Tier 1 on day 1.”  The pressure to be atop the Performance Management Framework rankings is driving schools to what Jeanne Allen, the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform calls “isomorphism.”  Ms. Allen defines isomorphism as “the process that forces one unit in a population to resemble others who face similar environmental conditions.”  The phenomenon is resulting in charters looking more and more like the traditional schools already failing our children, and is causing them to shy away from true innovation.

The PCSB must be a true partner in reversing this trend.  Some crucially important steps are needed such as:

  • Holding off PMF tiering a new school for two years instead of one,
  • Giving CMOs that replicate a one-year hiatus for the entire system and not just the new campus,
  • Significantly reducing the reporting requirements of the schools it oversees,
  • Simplifying the new school application process, and
  • Redesigning the PMF to emphasize student growth over absolute test scores.

Charters enroll some of the most difficult to teach pupils.  Forty-eight percent of the kids in these schools are classified as at-risk.  Many live in poverty.  Almost all enter these schools years behind their age-appropriate grade level.  Yet, with all of these mighty challenges, some leaders are stating that it appears that the PCSB is running their schools in place of themselves.

Charters are really at a critical juncture.  As evidence for my conclusion consider that just last week, Democracy Prep PCS, which is located in Ward 8 and enrolls 656 students with a wait-list of 111, announced it was abandoning the District rather than face a five-year charter review.  This is exactly the opposite of what our city needs.  We desperately want high performing charter networks moving into the nation’s capital, not the other way around.  But they don’t want to come.  It is too difficult to find a place in which to operate and the regulation is overbearing.

There is no time to waste.  The times call for exceedingly bold actions.




Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss on Arne Duncan

President Obama’s first education secretary Arne Duncan has written a book entitled How Schools Work, and last Sunday he talked about his work at Politics and Prose. My wife and I would have liked to be there but my grandson Oliver turned five years old and we were instead grateful to be at his ice skating birthday party watching his one year old brother Emmett.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss was in attendance, and as would be expected had much to complain about concerning his remarks. She was never a fan of Mr. Duncan because he advocated policies when he was in office with which she strenuously disagrees such as the expansion of the number of charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, and use of the Common Core curriculum. But there was one paragraph in her article about his work as United States Education Secretary that really caught my attention.

“What he didn’t do, which some in the education world argue is the most important thing he could have attacked, is this: attempt to change the way the United States funds its public schools. School districts rely in large part on property taxes, which guarantees that poor communities have schools with fewer resources. Federal funding aimed at closing the gap doesn’t come close, and, so, in this country, standardized test scores tell us only where a child lives, making reforms that place high stakes on the scores nonsensical.”

It is tragically true that in 2018 for far too many students standardized test scores tell us only where a child lives. But a policy that dramatically changes this equation, private school vouchers, is attacked at every opportunity by Ms. Strauss and Mr. Duncan. When he served in Mr. Obama’s cabinet, Mr. Duncan took every step at his disposal to shutdown D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school voucher plan created by Congress for kids living in poverty. He so restricted the number of families that could participate that instead of continuing to administer the awards, Joseph E. Robert, Jr. closed the Washington Scholarship Fund, the organization he had founded to provide private school tuition for low-income scholars. Here is the letter Mr. Robert sent to Mr. Duncan in 2009 about his decision.

This is what I would have asked him about if I could have attended the book forum. I would have wanted to know how he could sleep at night knowing that while his children received a high quality education, be personally blocked hundreds of young people without means from the same chance.

D.C.’s local charter school movement needs to learn from Democracy Prep

In nearly a decade of writing about charters in the nation’s capital, I have never seen a decision by a school like the one revealed by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein last week.  Here is Democracy Prep PCS, a stellar charter network with facilities in six cities, deciding before the new school year had even begun that it would shutter its classrooms here in Washington, D.C. at the end of the term.  It has announced it will find another operator for the site.  Here’s how the school’s website describes its track record:

“Founded in 2005 and opening our first school in 2006, Democracy Prep set out to prove what is possible for public education in America. Our flagship school, Democracy Prep Charter Middle School, first opened its doors in August 2006. By 2009, DPCS became the highest performing school in Central Harlem and was ranked the number one public middle school in New York City.

Democracy Prep Public Schools currently operates 22 high-performing schools and one program in New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Baton Rouge, and Las Vegas educating 6,500 citizen-scholars. The incredible growth of the scholars is possible through the tireless and dedicated work of the educators who make up our DREAM Team.

By proving that students, regardless of what ZIP code they are born into, can perform at high academic levels, we seek to transform not only the lives of the students at Democracy Prep but also the expectation of what public schools can achieve.”

I guess there is an exemption for closing the achievement gap if the zip code is in Washington, D.C.  But this is absurd.  This is not the way charter schools operate.

What has happened to the can-do, beat-the-odds no matter what is thrown at us, attitude that has characterized this movement since its inception more than twenty years ago?  It was perfectly captured this year in the efforts of Washington Math Science and Technology PCS that fought with all its might to stay open despite intractable financial difficulties.  It is the fortitude that is found in any of the city’s charters that has been successful in securing a permanent facility.  It is the guts and bravery of the heroic individuals who believe they can start a school from nothing and hire the staff, design the curriculum, recruit the families, and balance a budget as part of the start-up business that a charter school represents.

So if Democracy Prep is really going to throw in the towel, we really have to understand the reason.  We need to know because we cannot let it spread to other institutions.  We need to stamp it out like we would a racial slur or the words of someone who defends the status quo in public education as the best that we can do.  We cannot let it infect people who believe with every cell in their bodies that today is going to be a better day than the one before it.

I only ask one thing of Democracy Prep.  Please don’t let the entire school school year go by before you select another operator.  Make that choice immediately so we don’t have to be tortured watching the slow demise of a school with a proud and distinguished history.  Get out of town now.  Its bad enough you are going to abandon over 650 children living in poverty, but I urge you not to let this tragedy linger in our minds like some plague that has been foisted upon the citizens of our city.

Am I upset?  You bet I am.  The move by Democracy Prep is a direct shot at the bright optimism of all of us that fight around the clock to improve the lives of others who in the past have been told in no uncertain terms that they are not important.  At the end of the day, it is often only the optimism that we have left.


Washington Latin should take over Democracy Prep

Extremely interesting news came last Friday from the Washington Post’s Perry Stein that Democracy Prep PCS has decided that following the coming 2018-to-2019 school year it will close its D.C. campus and turn the school over to another operator.

The decision speaks to the power of the high stakes reviews being conducted by the DC Public Charter School Board.  Democracy Prep opened during the 2014-to-2015 term and therefore was about to face its five year review.  The problem is that academic performance at the charter is on the decline with Democracy Prep scoring as a low Tier 2 facility on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework a couple of years ago and during 2017-to-2018 fell to a Tier 3.  The charter educates approximately 658 students in Ward 8 and, as Ms. Stein points out, even though it is poor performing, it has a wait list of 111 pupils.  Almost all of its scholars qualify for free or reduced priced meals.  Ms. Stein quotes Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC PCSB, as commenting on the situation at the charter, “Performance at the school needs to improve, and it’s important that Democracy Prep is now taking the step to find a quality operator for the school,”

It seems like only yesterday that I attended the charter board meeting during which the application for Democracy Prep was considered.  It was held at Carlos Rosario’s International PCS’s Harvard Street campus and there was a sea of children in the audience all wearing Democracy Prep tee shirts.  The charter came from New York City, where it has a strong reputation for closing the academic achievement gap between affluent and poor children.  Here in the nation’s capital it took over Imagine Southeast PCS after that school struggled to produce good classroom results.  The Post reporter reveals that an email to parents from Democracy Prep national chief executive Katie Duffy and local board chair Jennifer Wider, stated “Four years ago, we promised Ward 8 a school in which scholars would thrive academically and socio-emotionally. . . Ultimately, we have not been able to deliver on that promise.”

I am confident that the usual well-regarded charter management organizations will be in the mix to take over the school, such as DC Prep PCS, Friendship PCS, and KIPP DC.  But how about something different this time?

During the six years I served on the Washington Latin PCS board of directors, strengthening student diversity was always on the mind of the governors and the staff, although it is one of the most racially inclusive charters in the city.  I remember the occasional suggestions I made as chair to long-time head Martha Cutts during which I kicked around ideas for replication of this Tier 1 middle and high school.  These were extremely preliminary suggestions that were never acted upon.  One particularly fascinating and exciting concept I thought about was the notion of bringing the success of this school to Anacostia.  Since Latin begins at the fifth grade, I even considered the possibility of opening a pre-Kindergarten-three to fourth grade campus there that would become a feeder school to the Northwest location.  If I remember correctly, the current leader of Washington Latin, Peter Anderson, has a background leading a school with a large population of students from low-income households.

Perhaps Washington Latin expanding to include the current Democracy Prep campus is an idea whose time has come.




Excel as traditonal school highlights financial differences of charter sector

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reports today that in a couple of weeks Excel Academy Public School will reopen as part of DCPS after the decision was made last January by the DC Public Charter School Board to close the school this past June.  Remember that both KIPP DC and Friendship PCS were interested in taking over this institution but the leadership of Excel decided that it would rather have it join the traditional school system.

During the 2017-to-2018 school year the all-girls Excel enrolled approximately 643 students in grades pre-Kindergarten three to eight.  So far about 300 students have signed up to attend the new school, which represents a decline of 53 percent.  It will apparently stay in the building that housed Excel as a charter.   Ms. Stein writes:

“The first day of school is in two weeks, and the staff at Excel Academy in Southeast Washington needs to make sure everything is just right. Teachers crammed preschool classrooms with colorful books, plush seating and games. Maintenance workers tidied the school garden, pruning the sunflowers and picking the ripe vegetables.”

According to PCSB records, last term Excel had total occupancy expenses of $2,125,421 that included $2,061,316 in rent.  It used a facility allotment of $2,234,910 to cover the lease, providing the school with about a $110,000 surplus in this cost category.

The bottom line is that with enrollment dropping by more than half, a charter school would never be able to afford to stay in the same facility.  The only choice a charter would have would be to subsidize the lease with the per pupil dollars provided to administer the school, which in this case would be so large a number that this would prove impossible.  Teacher and other staff salaries could never be met under this scenario.  As a matter of fact, with this much of a reduction in the size of the student body, I’m sure that the per pupil dollars for instruction under DCPS do not cover personnel costs.  Therefore, the only option that this school would have is to close.

The reason that all of this financial analysis is critically important is that market forces have been relied upon for more than 20 years in the nation’s capital to drive improvement in public education.  Since the first charter opened here money has followed the child.  It was the mass exodus of families from DCPS that finally put sufficient fiscal pressure on the system to improve.  Now, with the incorporation of Excel into DCPS with simultaneous subsidy of the rent expense, we are seeing a distortion of the market which will end up harming our kids.

Excel was an extremely low academically performing school when it was a charter.  That’s why it was shuttered by the PCSB.  Allowing this school to continue to operate while running a substantial financial deficit works directly against the concept of school choice created by economist Milton Friedman.  He stated that when revenue became linked to enrollment good schools would prosper and grow while poor ones would run out of dollars and close.  With the acceptance of Excel as a regular school, DCPS is harming the cause.


Donald Hense guest commentary: Creating a College-Ready, Career-Success Culture

The following is a guest commentary by Donald Hense, founder and chairman of Friendship Public Charter School.

This summer, while I watched the latest graduates of Friendship Public Charter School’s two high schools, Collegiate Academy and Technology Preparatory Academy, take the stage to receive their diplomas, I reflected on how far the public charter school I founded has come.

It is worth remembering that, prior to the subsequent challenging and rewarding years, Friendship’s first two campuses opened their doors at a bleak time for the District of Columbia’s traditional public school system. More than half the students dropped out of a system that had effectively abandoned the children of its most disadvantaged neighborhoods to the many economic and social ills that plagued them. Students endured substandard schooling in unsafe environments and often dilapidated buildings, with devastating consequences that could last a lifetime.

Into this public policy disaster, which took such a toll on individuals and whole communities, Friendship arrived as a pioneer among the public charter schools that now educate nearly half of all D.C. public school students. The D.C. School Reform Act allowed charter schools to apply to provide tuition-free public education to District-resident students on a first-come, first-served basis. Publicly funded but operated independently of D.C. Public Schools, charters could design and develop their own educational programs while being accountable for improved student performance, unlike the then status-quo.

Friendship Collegiate Academy, which welcomed its first students at the turn of the new century, had a 90.3 percent on-time—within four years—graduation rate from 2012 to 2017. To place this in context, the D.C. charter high school rate is 73 percent, and 42 percent of DCPS students are currently deemed “on track” to graduate on time.
Collegiate also has 100 percent college-acceptance, accepted to colleges and universities such as Columbia, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Morehouse, Spelman, UCLA, UNC Chapel Hill, University of Maryland at College Park, University of Chicago, University of Virginia, The College of William and Mary, Emory, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, The George Washington University, Howard, Bucknell University, Lafayette College, University of Rochester, University of Wisconsin at Madison, UC Davis, Northeastern, Tufts, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan and others.

The Friendship flagship charter high school graduated one-fifth of all D.C. public charter school students between 2012 and 2017; and in D.C.’s Ward Seven, where the campus is located, the school accounted for nearly 40 percent of all DCPS and charter high school graduates.

This success is the product of a college-going culture that prepares children for the rigors of a college education, providing high standards in a caring and supportive environment. Key to this is the value added by Advanced Placement courses. The 17 AP courses that are authorized by the College Board at Collegiate Academy require much more academic rigor than citywide standardized tests while providing students with experience of college-level work and the opportunity to earn college credits in high school.

Ten years ago, Collegiate Academy was one of three high schools nationwide to be awarded the AP Inspiration Award by the College Board in recognition of its strong college readiness programs. In addition, Collegiate Academy was the first District of Columbia public high school to offer an Early College program in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Since then, more than 4,500 students have taken AP and college courses, with nearly 5,000 transferable college credits earned.

To further increase student success in AP and college courses, the College Board recently selected Friendship Collegiate Academy as the only DC high school, and one of 100 schools nationwide, to offer the pre-AP Program. This upcoming fall, all ninth-grade students will take four pre-AP courses in English, math, science and social studies, in addition to pre-AP in visual arts, dance and music.

Similar college-ready opportunities are available at Friendship’s Technology Preparatory Academy, located in D.C.’s Ward Eight, in a state-of-the-art $19 million multi-resourced, LEED-designated facility opened four years ago. Tech Prep had its first graduating class three years ago and provides multiple opportunities for students to develop the STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—skills required for success in tomorrow’s global, green economy.

Obviously, college preparation is of little value if students lack the financial and emotional supports to take advantage of this opportunity. Friendship has stepped up to the plate with mentoring for college applications; summer internships for college students; “posse” cohorts of students attending the same colleges; summer college experience for high school students; and socio-emotional care from pre-Kindergarten onward.

Since 2012, Collegiate and Tech Prep have competed for the highly-prized D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education Scholars Program and attended summer college programs at Barnard, Brown, Boston University, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Emory, Harvard, Smith College, Stanford and Syracuse. These selective summer college programs at top-ranked universities across the country provide early exposure to college-level academics, the skill of navigating a college environment, and often the opportunity to earn college credit.

This early experience of college life combined with taking AP and college-level courses have helped students earn highly-competitive scholarships such as Posse, Gates Millennium, Trachtenberg, Presidential Scholarships, Milken, Torch, and numerous other merit-based grants and scholarships.

Friendship students also have been extraordinarily successful at securing D.C. Achievers Scholarships, which fund up to $50,000 toward college costs. From 2007 to 2017, Collegiate Academy students were awarded 36 percent of all such scholarships in the District, receiving nearly $45 million in total scholarship funds. This College Success Foundation program, led by Herb Tillery and funded by the Gates Foundation, awards scholarships that are a mix of college readiness, mentoring and support, and provide financial aid for scholars from low-income families, which are three in four families of D.C. students.

College preparation also is enhanced by the partnerships that Friendship has established with the University of Maryland at College Park, Arizona State University, Granite State College in New Hampshire and others. Here again, the preparation provided by AP and college courses prove their worth as students study close to 10 hours each week at college-level, thereby increasing college readiness and jump-starting college and their career by earning college credits on college campuses and online.

While data confirms the academic accomplishments of Friendship students and the opportunities that await future generations, perhaps the most rewarding aspect is to observe the achievements of individual students who are now alumni of this college-going culture.

In this regard, I think of Percee Goings, a Columbia University graduate, now working with a technology company in New York City; Daniel Spruill, Princeton Class of 2018 who is contemplating many job offers and a tech start-up opportunity; Kianna Murphy, who is studying for her PhD in English at the University of Pennsylvania and will begin teaching there in the fall; and Jay Cammon, who is a University of Pennsylvania student. I think of their fellow alumni, Posse scholars and college graduates Kirk Murphy and Brandon Irack-Edelin, who have established a scholarship program for upcoming Friendship students.

In all of this, I am reminded of the lifeline that creating a culture where students graduate college-ready provides, profoundly benefiting them and all of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Sustainable Futures PCS relinquishes charter

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Emily Lawson stepping down as DC Prep PCS CEO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your support.”

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