Sustainable Futures PCS relinquishes charter

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Emily Lawson stepping down as DC Prep PCS CEO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your support.”

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

The 7th Annual Richard Wright PCS Black Tie Gala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

D.C.’s Yu Ying PCS inducted into the National Charter School Hall of Fame

Yesterday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools announced that Yu Ying PCS has been inducted into its National Hall of Fame.  A couple of years ago I interviewed Maquita Alexander, the charter’s head of school.  Here is a reprint of our conversation:

Although I have witnessed firsthand some truly amazing sights over my seven years covering the D.C. charter movement, I can honestly say that I was overjoyed during my recent visit with Maquita Alexander, the head of Washington Yu Ying PCS. This Chinese language immersion school currently has 552 students in grades pre-Kindergarten three to fifth. The charter, which opened in the fall of 2008, was started by a dozen parents who were fascinated by the Asian culture and language together with a strong desire for their kids to have an international education. Ms. Alexander came into her position a year after Yu Ying became a reality.

Immediately after meeting this head of school you get the feeling that she never really stops working. Information I requested was available immediately at her fingertips. Ms. Alexander seems so intertwined in the details of what is taking place at the school that I’m hoping at the end of the day she is able to sit back and enjoy all that she and her team have created.

It may be that Ms. Alexander’s drive evolved from her years of experience in the field of education. She has played a multitude of roles in her 19-year career, from being a first and second grade teacher, a reading recovery specialist, a school-based technology specialist, and an assistant principal. Fifteen of those years were spent in Fairfax County Public Schools.

Washington Yu Ying is housed on a sprawling three-acre campus complete with a playground, turf field, and nature center located near the Old Soldiers Home in Northeast D.C. The redbrick building, which looks straight out of an Ivy League college, originally was a Marist seminary that was used by the troubled Joz-Arz Public Charter School before it relinquished its Board of Education charter in 2006. Washington Yu Ying’s previous executive director Mary Shaffner, now the executive director of the D.C. International Public Charter School, played a major role in securing the building which now measures approximately 50,000 square feet after the current occupant augmented the space with two 10,000 square foot additions. Before moving into this permanent facility in the fall 2011, Yu Ying shared a Building Hope charter school incubator space with Potomac Preparatory PCS on Eighth Street, N.E.

The aesthetics of the site is in perfect alignment with the high level of academics going on inside. For example, pre-kindergarten three and four year olds spend their entire day speaking Mandarin. Ms. Alexander wanted me to know that the kids almost universally love learning this language, something I can attest to seeing the broad smiles on their faces as I visited the brightly colored classrooms. Once the children reach Kindergarten then English language classes are paired with those across the hall taught in Chinese. The same pattern repeats though the fifth grade, with pupils learning in English one day and Mandarin the next. Ms. Alexander explained that the rotation between classes does not involve a repeat of the same material in two languages. “The teachers coordinate their lesson plans,” the Yu Ying head of school related, “so that each session adds content to those the students just experienced.”

Besides language immersion, a crucial component of the Yu Ying curriculum is the International Baccalaureate program. Ms. Alexander stated that this course of study begins in pre-Kindergarten three in Mandarin. The pre-Kindergarten four and younger students take four trans-disciplinary units and the older students take six. The combination of the Chinese language with I.B. has led to Yu Ying being quantified as a Tier 1 charter on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework for each of the three years that schools have been ranked. The school is doing so well that there are over 1,000 children on their waiting list.

But I wanted to know from Ms. Alexander what other factors have led to her institution’s outstanding success. It appeared from her immediate response that she has thought about this question before. “We have a tremendous leadership team that has been in place for the last couple of years,” the Yu Ying head of school responded. “We have a fantastic teaching staff. They are completely passionate about what they do. To support them we have half day Friday for professional development and team planning. This is in addition to two weeks of professional development before the start of the school year and additional days throughout the term. We have created an exceptionally interesting curriculum together with the central idea of the Common Core, but simultaneously we provide latitude around how the teachers present the material to their pupils.”

Ms. Alexander informed me that the school’s staff spends considerable time analyzing student data. They utilize a test that is a predictor of how students will perform on the PARCC, and data specialists create dashboards documenting each child’s progress. Several layers of intervention are available for kids who are falling behind.

The Yu Ying head of school talked to me about the challenges inherent in her program to support a pipeline of qualified teacher applicants. “All of the Mandarin instructors come from mainland China or Taiwan and they must speak English,” Ms. Alexander remarked. “We sponsor them on visas and green cards, and have a partnership with two universities. There is, however, a lottery for visas and as a result we don’t get to keep as many instructors as we would like. The school also has had some interesting experiences with miscommunication. We try and mitigate these situations by assigning our foreign teachers English mentors, and we provide the Chinese teachers with cross-cultural training.”

Another fascinating aspect of the program that needed to be tackled is the whole nature of the dual immersion pedagogy. Ms. Alexander detailed, “Research shows that by the fifth grade students begin to catch up with their traditionally taught peers, but until that year it is important to keep in mind that they are getting half of the instruction in English that pupils in other schools receive. Therefore, our English teachers need to work twice as hard.”

Yu Ying has defied some of the recent fads in education by providing their student body with virtually no test preparation and not a lot of “skill and drill.” Ms. Alexander said that they substitute these activities with an emphasis on writing and having them think about, question, and analyze the material being presented.

Yu Ying has a 95 percent student retention rate, but the staff is still not completely satisfied. They want to better serve those who are behind grade level; in fact, they want to do the best for every child who attends the charter. The teachers and administrators continue to reflect on how to improve their practice, how they can better connect with parents in a transparent manner, and how everyone involved with the school can spend more time in the classroom.

Ms. Alexander stressed that she has a real sense of urgency regarding providing the best education to her students that she can. She commented, “No parent wants to waste a year of his or her child’s educational experience while their school learns how to improve. My kids didn’t have a year to waste. We have to do whatever we need to do now to help our student body learn to the best of their ability.”

Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS students shine at 2018 gala

I just love when organizations that have hosted annual events shake things up by re-imagining the ceremony.  So was the case last Thursday evening with Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS’s 2018 Shining Star Gala.  This year the celebration was moved from the charter’s classic building in Anacostia where it has been held in the past to the downtown D.C. law firm of  Hogan Lovells U.S. LLP.  The chair of Thurgood Marshall’s board of directors Jonathan Stoel, a graduate from Georgetown Law, is a leader in the practice, and many of the school’s program partners such as Crowell & Moring LLP, Latham & Watkins LL, and Williams & Connolly LLP, have offices located in close vicinity to this site.  While Thurgood Marshall’s executive director Richard Pohlman assured the guests that next spring the proceedings will be back at the school, it was fascinating to see the transformation of all of the usual activities to a new space.  Come with me inside.

When attendees entered the expansive first level atrium of the office building, they were whisked to the 13th floor by a TMA student.  Joining me on my elevator ride was Meiko, a sophomore, who explained that she chose to attend the charter because of the many support systems it provides.  Once I arrived at the main level, Destiny, an 11th grader who has spent her entire high school experience at Thurgood Marshall, directed me to the registration desk.  She related that when she first came to the school she was behind academically in math, and shyly pointed out that before coming to TMA she was not so good a pupil.  Now, she beamed that she is on the honor role.

I immediately headed up a grand staircase to the roof terrace with its bird’s eye view of the Washington Monument.  Down a long path where the patio took a turn to the right was seated a musical quartet composed of individuals playing the keyboard, bass, drums, and saxophone. But before I could reach the bar at that end, I was stopped in my tracks by Spanish instructor Jessie Yuan.  She has been teaching this subject at the school for a decade and she was ready for my arrival.  “Working at this charter school offers more flexibility around the design of the curriculum and the administration supports our creativity,” Ms. Yuan exclaimed.  She detailed that while D.C. requires high school students take to two years of a foreign language, TMA has its pupils to take three.  Ms. Yuan informed me that she utilizes Organic World Language, an out-of-the -box pedagogy that encourages students to speak, draw, or circumlocute in the second language 100 percent of the time while in the classroom.  In order to explain circumlocution, the teacher  immediately engaged me in a game with her student London, a junior.  The young woman would hold up a card with a picture of an object with its name written in Spanish beneath it.  Between plentiful appetizers brought around by uniformed waiters and waitresses, Ms. Yuan and I would compete to be the one to act out a replica of the word by being the first to press a buzzer like on the television game show Jeopardy.  I immediately wanted to take Ms. Yuan’s course.

Before heading back downstairs I took a minute to review the placards positioned in each of the waist-high flower beds dividing the patio into sections every few yards.  One read “100 percent of  TMA students accepted to college.” Another stated, “TMA’s in-seat attendance rate is 94.5 percent.”  A third said that “80 percent of the alumni class from 2008 and above are enrolled in college.”

I then joined Ahnna Smith, the interim Deputy Mayor for Education, who was observing 10th grade geometry students utilizing a computer program to construct windmills.  We were in one of seven classroom explorations set up this evening.  When Ms. Smith asked one of the presenters why she liked this school the student replied that her family has always taught her that her education is the most important thing in life because it cannot be taken away.

In another math classroom I watched as two impressive girls used algebraic equations to calculate their potential future earnings in the careers of nursing and fashion design.  I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the shrimp cocktail prepared with three different seasonings provided for guests on a side counter.  Moving next door, equally smart advanced placement chemistry students tried their best to describe to me Le Chatelier’s principal.  They are taking their AP test today.  I am confident they will pass with flying colors.  Their teacher, Liza Enrich, has been with TMA for seven years and greatly appreciates the trust in the instructional staff exhibited by the charter’s leadership.  “We are allowed to try different stategies,” Ms. Enrich informed me, “and we are never micromanaged.”

The formal program was about to begin.  On the way back upstairs to the enclosed common area that also contained two buffet stations, I heard one of the many soapbox speeches provided by students.  The extensive and well produced booklet for the evening’s activities mentions that TMA students competed in a D.C. soapbox competition sponsored by The Mikva Challenge.  The passionate address I heard spoke about education as a civil rights issue.

Mr. Pohlman in his remarks thanked all of the volunteers that provide important services to his students.  Tutoring, mentoring, and classes teaching the subject of law are just some of the ways those from outside the school work with those enrolled at TMA.  There is even an academy run by Howard University School of Law students that assist with professional development and enhancing the pupils’ legal skills.

But Mr. Pohlman also recalled that it has been a exceedingly tough year for Thurgood Marshall.  Two of its scholars, Zaire Kelly and Paris Brown, were killed by gunfire.  The TMA executive director expressed how proud he was of his school pulling through as a community in the face of these tragedies.  He was especially gratified to see his students bring national attention to the issue of violence in the inner city when Thurgood Marshall hosted students from Marjory Stoneman Doughlas High School to meet with them a few days before the March for Our Lives rally.  You could feel the warmth and admiration that these children and adults have for one another in the way that the students congratulated Mr. Pohlman for his speech at the conclusion of the presentation.   It was a truly magical night.

 

 

D.C. charter board takes a final vote to shutter Washington Math Science and Technology PCS

Last evening the DC Public Charter School Board decided to close Washington Math Science and Technology Public Charter High School at the end of the current school year.  The unanimous decision was reached despite the charter taking heroic efforts to reverse its dire financial state:

  • WMST has secured $97,000 in short term debt and other contributions that enabled it to meet the March 23rd payroll and pay other expenses.
  • The school’s staff has agreed to defer the April 6th payroll until the charter receives its fourth quarter annual payment which is due next week.
  • It has sold its building for $6.25 million with a July closing.
  • The charter has negotiated with the purchaser, Douglass Development, to occupy the building during the next school year rent-free.
  • WMST has reached an agreement with its mortgage and line-of-credit holders to delay payments of principal dollars until the purchase of the building has been finalized.
  • The charter has hired Building Hope to provide back-office financial services.
  • Building Hope has completed a financial forecast that shows that the school will have sufficient funds to complete the 2018-to-2019 term.

The forensic accounting firm hired by the PCSB to access the situation, StoneTurn, has concluded that the school still must obtain $500,000 in order to continue operating past June.  At the public hearing held on April 5th, the charter was hopeful that this money would come from Industrial Bank, but an agreement could not be finalized.  There is now a chance that United Bank will provide the needed cash, but that decision will not be made by this institution until today.  Therefore, the PCSB agreed to revoke the charter but will reverse the move if a loan comes through by six p.m. on Tuesday, and an acceptable financial corrective action plan is submitted by the school within the next three days.  The strict timeline is being driven by the fact that families have until May 1st to enroll their children in a public school.

Chair Rick Cruz issued the following statement following the board’s vote:

“Because WMST PCHS is not economically viable, we’re required to revoke its charter. I speak for our entire board when I say how deeply saddened we are that this came to pass. Throughout this difficult process, we have provided the school with all the support and flexibility we were able, but unfortunately the school was not able to close the large financial shortfall facing them. To minimize disruption to the students currently attending the school, we’ll ensure the school can operate through the end of the school year.  And in the coming days, our enrollment specialists will begin to work closely with every student and family to help them find a new school for the upcoming school year.”

The verdict appears reasonable, but I would provide you with a pass if you had tried to watch these proceedings live remotely and had not been successful in this effort.  The PCSB’s referred viewers, as has been the custom, to a Livefeed link in order to observe the session.  However, for some unknown reason, the broadcast was switched to Facebook.  The sound emitted from this social media website was practically unintelligible and the video seemed as if you were witnessing a meeting taking place on the moon.

In other news, the board heard from three charters proposing to open new schools.  There was no word as to why the Friendship PCS plan to expand its on-line campus through the twelfth grade was not included in this cohort.  When I first read the remaining three applications I thought none was strong enough to actually be approved to begin operation during the 2019 to 2020 school year.  But yesterday changed my mind.  Capital Village Academy PCS should definitely be given the green light.  The main representative for the charter did a perfectly eloquent job of making the case for the school.  It appeared that every facet of the application was well thought out and logical.

The M.E.C.C.A Business Learning Institute-D.C. PCS  presentation reflected the lack of clarity contained in its written bid.  Bolt PCS is the brain-child of my friend Seth Andrew, although he is not listed as a member of the founding group.  It would use his Washington Leadership Academy PCS’s curriculum.  The discussion around this school reminded me of the first iteration of WLA with its combination of residential and nonresidential instruction.  As occurred with Washington Leadership, this application should be refined.

Let’s sincerely hope that WMST can pull out another miracle today.

 

 

 

Shantelle Wright reverses decision; will stay on as CEO of Achievement Prep PCS

The event last night at the AJAX event space located on 4th Street, N.W., was billed as a celebration of the first ten years of operation of Achievement Prep Public Charter School.  But as the crowd was building you could tell that something was unusual about this gathering.   For in the audience were some of the most prominent charter leaders of our city.  The guests included Allison Fansler, president and chief operating officer of KIPP DC PCS; Richard Pohlman, executive director of Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS; Seth Andrew, co-founder of Washington Leadership Academy PCS; Chris Pencikowski, head of school of Lee Montessori PCS; Mary Shaffner, executive director of District of Columbia International School PCS; Hilary Darilek, CEO of E.L. Haynes PCS; and Patricia Brantley, CEO of Friendship PCS.  Also joining my wife Michele and I were Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board; Ramona Edelin, executive director of the D.C. Association of Public Chartered Schools; Anne Herr, director of school quality at FOCUS; and Sekou Biddle, the FOCUS board chair.  I also spotted attorney Stephen Marcus, who has now become the crisis manager of charter schools before the DC PCSB.

But there was no emergency today.  Instead we were presented with a bombshell.  At the conclusion of a formal program that brought tears of joy to the eyes of many present in the room, Ms. Wright took the stage to announce that her work at Achievement Prep was not done.  She informed the stunned attendees that she had changed her mind and will remain the CEO of the school she founded in 2007.  Ms. Wright had written to me on January 5, 2008 to inform me that she was resigning her position.

In her speech, Ms. Wright admitted that mistakes at the school had been made and that most recently it has not been serving the children of Ward 8 according to its mission “to prepare students to excel as high-achieving scholars and leaders in high school, college, and beyond.”  She explained that Achievement Prep had grown too fast, an expansion that has resulted in the school’s Wahler Place elementary, serving pupils in pre-Kindgergarten three to third grade, being ranked Tier 3 school on the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework for the last two years. Its Wahler Place Middle school, enrolling grades four through eight, has earned a grade as barely a Tier 2 facility over the same time period.  In 2013 and 2014 this campus’ quality school report placed it at Tier 1.  During the November meeting of the DC PCSB, the elementary school campus was given strict PMF targets it will have to meet in coming years or it will be closed.

Others making remarks included Susie Cannon, the school’s chief academic officer, who has been with Ms. Wright from the beginning of the charter’s existence.  Her passionate words included the revelation that the school’s mission is repeated three times at every staff meeting and professional development session, the final time in unison.  Alumni Tykivis Hunter told the story of his mother holding him back from football practice one day without explanation.  It turned out that the reason for her decision was that Ms. Wright was paying him a visit; he had just been enrolled as a fourth grader at her school.  The young boy did not have the ability to read to the Achievement Prep CEO on that occasion.  He is now attending Virginia State University with all tuition paid following his graduation from Thurgood Marshall Academy.

Prior D.C. Mayor and current Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray offered kind words of congratulations to Ms. Wright.  Mr. Pearson took to the podium to highlight the tenacious spirit of the Achievement Prep CEO.  In comments that were especially animated for my friend, he related that during the many tense confrontations he has had with her over the years regarding differences of opinion, he has always loved the persona of Ms. Wright.   It was abundantly clear for all of us standing in the audience, the feeling toward this giant of D.C.’s charter school movement is exactly the same.

 

 

 

 

Exclusive interview with Dr. Golnar Abedin, founder and executive director of Creative Minds International PCS

I had the great honor of sitting down recently for an interview with Dr. Golnar Abedin, the founder and executive director of Creative Minds International Public Charter School.  I came away thinking that the city could not be more fortunate to have this charter school as part of our community.

Dr. Abedin explained to me that the school was approved in 2011 from around 20 applications that year; only four schools were approved by the DC Public Charter School Board that cycle.  Creative Minds International opened in the fall of 2012.  The story of how the executive director reached this milestone is fascinating.

Dr. Abedin obtained her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University in the field of psychology.  As part of her program she was placed to work with children with severe emotional and behavioral challenges.  During the same period, she was assisting with dance therapy for children who had Down’s syndrome.   She found these endeavors especially rewarding.

When she finished college, Dr. Abedin was hired as an assistant teacher at Sawtelle Learning Center, a private school for children with autism.  After about a year and a half, Dr. Abedin decided to pursue her master’s degree in special education.  She attended the prestigious Teacher’s College at Columbia University while being employed full-time at the private Gateway School in Manhattan that served students with learning disabilities.  “This school provided a fantastic opportunity for the students within small class sizes and learning groups,” the Creative Minds executive director related.  “They implemented engaging approaches and differentiated instruction within an exquisite learning environment.  As an assistant teacher, I worked in classrooms that implemented small-group instruction with five to ten students at a time.  They also integrated art and movement therapy. I was inspired and became committed to this intentional, multi-disciplinary approach to special education.”

Gateway offered her a teaching position after finishing at Columbia, but Dr. Abedin was adamant that she wanted to practice her profession in a public school setting.  So she became an instructor at an urban bilingual Spanish middle school, also in New York.  “This was an eye-opening episode that highlighted the systemic trends that lead to inequities of educational opportunities, and heavily fueled my desire to make a difference for public school students. The atmosphere could not have been more opposite of the private school,” Dr. Abedin detailed.  “The teachers yelled at the students all day long.  There was not much instruction in either English or Spanish, leaving the students with serious gaps in learning. One day the principal took one of my students out of the classroom stating that he was not going to learn anything anyway, so he might as well clean the hallway floors.  As a new and idealistic teacher, this incident was traumatic and disillusioning.  Instead of being bilingual, many of these students ended up illiterate in both languages; many were performing five to six years below grade level.  This was right after the passage of the No Child Left Behind Law.  These kids were taking grade-level standardized tests when they did not have the skills to approach the content.  The entire situation was extremely sad.  When they offered me tenure I turned it down and left to find explore other implementation models.”

Dr. Abedin’s next stop was at a Greenwich Village magnet middle school that afforded her the opportunity to teach and implement strategies for the inclusion of special education and at-risk students.  “The school was part of the small schools movement in New York City.  I learned a lot alongside my colleagues because we were given autonomy and encouraged to try new things.  I stayed at this school about four to five years and it was a great learning opportunity in teaching and leadership.”

She and her husband then relocated to Washington, D.C. after he had accepted a position at the George Washington University.  Dr. Abedin decided to go back to school to obtain her PhD in Organizational Leadership and Education Policy at the University of Maryland. She augmented her studies with international education and economics courses, and worked in school leadership positions in D.C. charter schools.

It was over the years that she was completing her program that she had a son.  At two and a half years of age he was diagnosed with sensory integration challenges.  Logically, I had to ask her how it felt to have a child like the students she had been caring and advocating for throughout her career. She said her son is “twice exceptional,” a term used to describe students who are gifted in some areas while they experience challenges in others such as attention and executive function. The knowledge and experience she gained raising him further confirmed her belief that all students have individual learning profiles and interests that require creative approaches to education that keep them engaged to maximize their learning potentials.

During her son’s early childhood, Dr. Abedin consulted with Dr. Stanley Greenspan who had a practice in Bethesda, Maryland called the Floortime Center.  He proved to become a tremendous influence in the life of the Creative Minds executive director.  Dr. Abedin reflected, “Dr. Greenspan was an expert in child development with a deep understanding of how individual sensory-processing systems influence learning. He also deeply believed in the importance of children’s emotions in learning.  He would prescribe the number of times I should engage in play with my son that involved following his interests, as if it were doses of medication.  After being exposed to the brilliance of Dr. Greenspan, I believed that that every parent should have access to his approach and his techniques.”

Next came a frustrating phase for Dr. Abedin.  She could not find a good school option for her child.  For employment she did some charter school special education consulting and instructional coaching as well as a short stint at SAIL PCS, when she was approached by other parents having similar difficulties around their children’s education.  A gentleman by the name of Bob LaVallee connected with her about his interest in partnering to start a new charter school and was interested in Dr. Abedin’s inclusive and international education model.  Although the application deadline was fast approaching, the two of them along with a small group of community members assembled the necessary paperwork with Dr. Abedin writing the entire educational plan.  In 2012, Creative Minds International opened on 16th Street, N.W. with 103 students in grades pre-Kindergarten three through second grade, including Dr. Abedin’s own son.  It had a waitlist of over 500 children.

This waitlist is now more than 2,000 students.

Three years ago, Creative Minds International moved to its permanent location at the Sherman Building on the Old Soldiers’ Home campus in Ward 5.  The charter currently teaches 438 pupils in grades pre-Kindergarten three through seventh.  Plans are to add its last grade, eighth, next year and grow to about 510 students.

The mission of Creative Minds International PCS is to offer “early childhood, elementary, and middle school D.C. public school students a highly engaging, rigorous, international and inclusive education plan that provides them with the knowledge and skills required for successful participation in a global society through a project- and arts-based international curriculum that fosters creativity, self-motivation, social/emotional development, and academic excellence.”

Dr. Abedin expounded on the foundation of Creative Minds International, which coincides directly with her life experiences.  She describes the schools pillars as “international, inclusion, and the arts.”  The Creative Minds International executive director is bilingual, studying Spanish in school and through time spent in Madrid and Valencia, Spain. She is proud of the fact that the charter is the first in D.C. to be accredited by the International Primary Curriculum, which emphasizes thematic, interdisciplinary and project-based learning; most subjects are taught around themes and integrated across disciplines.  Creative Mind’s unique model requires highly skilled and specialized lead and inclusion staff.

What gets Dr. Abedin excited about the field of education is to try and figure out how kids learn.  Her doctoral school dissertation investigated the effect of arts-focused education on student engagement in a public charter school inclusion environment.  For this executive director and her team, the key to increasing students’ ability to learn is to raise their engagement in learning which leads to higher levels of academic achievement.  The arts, according to Dr. Abedin, are a powerful way to achieve this outcome in children.

Creative Minds International is a rising Tier 2 school as ranked on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework.  One of the weaknesses of using the PMF when it comes to this charter is that in the testing grades, an average of 40 percent of her pupils are categorized as special education with Individual Education Plans.  But she is proud of the student-centered approach to learning that takes place here, which includes every student receiving instruction in Spanish and Mandarin starting age three, and choosing one of the two languages toward the goal of proficiency beginning in grade four.

“I had no idea that I’d be doing this when I began my education,” Dr. Abedin related.  “But it became vitally important to me that we prove it is possible to successfully meet the needs of all learners in a rich, engaging, public school setting. I couldn’t be more proud of the work of our team of teachers, specialists, and aides at Creative Minds who bring tremendous creativity, experience, and dedication to our students each day, and the support of our Board of Trustees. It’s hard, rewarding work and we are lucky to have a strong school community committed to our model.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D.C. school lottery leave many families frustrated

In a well-written piece appearing on the Washington Post website yesterday, Perry Stein describes the frustration many families experience when going through the My School DC lottery to find a public school for their children.  From the article:

“Sabrina Gordon knows that any lottery is a fluky game of odds. But she needs to believe that the school lottery is different.

The single mother lives in a poor area of Southeast Washington and refuses to enroll her 10-year-old son, Trevonte, in their neighborhood school, Johnson Middle, where he has a guaranteed slot.

So Gordon joins the thousands of families across the city anxiously awaiting results of the city’s competitive school lottery this week — a system that highlights the bleak reality that the demand for high-performing schools in the District far exceeds the supply.”

Ms. Perry highlights the difficulty of children obtaining spots in some of the city’s high performing charters.  At Munde Verde PCSshe states that only one child was accepted last year into Pre-Kindergarten three who did not already have a sibling at the school or whose parent is not already there as a teacher.  Two Rivers PCS has a wait-list of over 1,400 pupils.  The story mentions DC Bilingual PCS where the backlog is almost as high.  Many charters in the District have similar numbers of students trying to get admitted.  The reporter indicates that 40 percent of lottery participants live on the east side of the Anacostia River.

There is only one solution for this mess that we have on our hands, and that is the opening of many more high quality schools.

Yet, when I talk about the charter school facility problem that is preventing the expansion, replication, and creation of new campuses it is as if my words are falling on deaf ears.  When I point out that the funding inequity of charters compared to DCPS is hurting the quality of instruction, I get no response.  When I write that the charter school application process is too difficult to attract charter management organizations that are successful in other localities around the country, it is as if I’m bothering the DC PCSB.

Washington D.C. will never be a great city without great public schools.  Washington D.C. will never be a great city without great public schools. Washington D.C. will never be a great city without great public schools.

Now, perhaps someone will do something to fix this mess.