Shannon Hodge moves from DC Charter School Alliance to KIPP DC

Last January, when Allison Fansler announced that she was stepping down as president of KIPP DC PCS I was shocked. After observing her in action with KIPP DC CEO Susan Schaeffler I thought that this was a perfectly matched professional team that would work together in perfect synchronization until they both transitioned to retirement. Ms. Fansler has spent 16 years at KIPP and in her disclosure of her pending departure stated that she made the decision to leave her position in 2019. The KIPP president said at the time that she joined the charter school network when it had two middle schools in 2007. KIPP DC now teaches over 7,000 students in 20 schools on 8 campuses.

KIPP performed a nationwide search for a replacement to Ms. Fansler but it turned out in the end to be an unnecessary exercise. The individual selected to be the next president is none other than Shannon Hodge, the current founding executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance. This is an outstanding selection.

Actually, I do not think being the head of the Alliance was the perfect role for Ms. Hodge. Although I applauded the choice, mentioning in 2020 that I consistently appreciated Ms. Hodge’s frequent testimony on front of the D.C. Council, I did not find her ubiquitous requests for additional funding to be her strong suit. I see Ms. Hodge more as a soldier fully enjoined in the battle to provide an exemplary education to those society has pushed away even from the margins. She is the paratrooper flying in to rescue Options PCS and then continuing her work with Kingsman Academy PCS. All with a smile on her face. I interviewed Ms. Hodge in 2017.

At a moment like this it is especially fitting to thank Josh Kern, the cofounder of Tensquare Consulting, who recognized the star potential in Ms. Hodge when he enlisted her help as the court-appointed receiver during the terribly tough days of the Options charter school debacle.

Yesterday’s broadcast of Ms. Hodge’s job change was carefully coordinated between the Alliance and KIPP DC, with both organizations sending out social media messages of the change within minutes of each other. However, the orchestration was not perfect as the news from the Alliance states that Ms. Hodge will be with them through October, while the KIPP release says that she is joining them in mid-August. The message from the Alliance reveals that Ariel Johnson, the group’s prior chief of staff, will become the interim successor to Ms. Hodge.

Making the impossible, possible at The Children’s Guild Public Charter School

I have to say it has been years since I have become so emotional during a visit to a charter school.  But there I was in the highly hospitable company of The Children’s Guild PCS principal Bryan Daniels, and Kathy Lane, chief education officer, listening to the story behind the school’s founding.  “Scott Pearson [past executive director of the DC PCSB] was not sure the board was open to another charter school in the district,” Mr. Daniels recalled, “but then we explained to him that our goal was to serve a student body of which fifty percent have disabilities, and his eyes lit up.”  As Mr. Daniels detailed, The Children’s Guild began operating in 2015 with 385 students in grades Kindergarten through eight, and get this, the charter opened with all grade levels at once.  This was definitely not the norm of a charter starting with a couple of grade levels and gradually adding additional classes to meet its enrollment target.  

“The first year was really tough,” Mr. Daniels explained.  “We had all of these children, half of which did have special needs.  We bus in all of our scholars, who come from each of the city’s eight wards, but mostly from 7 and 8.  OSSE was on-site, since they send ten to twelve buses a day, the charter board was here, and it was not going well.  We really thought we were going to have to re-evaluate what we were doing.  But we figured it out.  By the end of the first year, the PCSB was singing our praises.”

Ms. Lane revealed that the school’s parent organization, The Children’s Guild, has been around since 1953.  According to the group’s website it was founded by “Dr. Leo Kanner, father of child psychiatry and the discoverer of childhood autism; Dr. Matthew Debuskey, pediatrician; and Sadie Dashew Ginsberg, prominent child advocate.” The Children’s Guild, as specified by Ms. Lane, operates three charter schools, a preschool,  and three non-public schools in Maryland.  A common characteristic of The Children’s Guild schools, Mr. Daniels mentioned, is their provision of wraparound services, such as foster care, mental health care, psychiatry, trauma related services, and services for children and youth with autism and their families.  The Children’s Guild PCS is evaluated by PCSB on an alternative accountability framework due to the volume of students with disabilities served.  Mr. Daniels related that the charter was created to accept the students who were often unsuccessful in more traditional settings.

The school’s mission is to “use the philosophy of Transformation Education to prepare special needs and general education students for college, career readiness, and citizenship in their community by developing their critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills, self-discipline and a commitment to serve a cause larger than themselves.”  Mr. Daniels offered that this is accomplished by providing both an inclusionary model in a general education setting and through self-contained classrooms led by teachers with the support of dedicated aides.  “Our aim with the self-contained setting is to be much more therapeutic and allow these students to attend school with their siblings who may not require the same level of instruction,” Mr. Daniels said.  “The goal is to transition the self-contained students to a less separated environment.”

When I asked how the school can manage students with such variations in learning ability, most with their own Individualized Education Plan, the two leaders simultaneously looked me in the eyes with smiles on their faces and practically recited in union, “at the Children’s Guild we are here to make the impossible, possible.”

This is probably when tears started flowing down my face.  

The school sits off Bladensburg Road, N.E., in Ward 5.  The rented building is large for the school’s post-peak of the pandemic enrollment of 215 students.  The charter’s current enrollment ceiling is 450 pupils.  There are specialized rooms for social workers; physical, occupational, speech therapy; and some just so kids can expend their energy.  Colorful murals adorn all of the hallways and common spaces, making the walls come alive, infusing optimism as you traverse the structure.  The Children’s Guild’s work is centered around an organizational philosophy called Transformation Education (TranZed).  The model has eight pillars that include:

  • Value-Infused Culture,
  • Focus on Well-Being,
  • Enriched Environments and Experiences,
  • Brain Literacy,
  • Behavior Motivation Continuum,
  • Arts Enhancement,
  • Community Influence, and
  • Ownership Mindset

There seems to be no bounds to the depth of the program at The Children’s Guild.  Beside TranZed, Ms. Lane handed me her Culture Card, and its printed material includes the purpose of the school, seven Foundational Beliefs, and sixteen Workplace Expectations.  Among the expectations are, Number 6:  “Own it!,” Number 7:  “Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk,” and my personal favorite, Number 16:  “Make the Covert, Overt.”  I have a feeling that Mr. Daniels also especially liked this one as he repeated it to me several times throughout our conversation.  “We hold daily Culture Card meetings across all schools, programs and the corporate office each morning specially designed to focus on a discussion around each one of the expectations,” Ms. Lane commented.  I can tell by the worn nature of her card that the information contained within did not lack from being referenced.

The school’s principal spoke about the need for another location.  “There is ample room here but there is almost no area for parking, a lack of green space, and it is isolated from other parts of the city,” Mr. Daniels remarked. 

Mr. Daniels pointed out that the charter is now ready to “re-boot and grow.  Many families,” the principal asserted, “especially those living in Wards 7 and 8, did not want their children traveling very far during the pandemic.  This meant literally meeting the children where they were.  Teachers joined students in community centers, recreation centers, and libraries.  They volunteered to bring food to pupils’ homes. We created our own Meals on Wheels program. Each scholar was provided with a Chromebook and hotspot.  When kids did return, we established a hybrid model.”  The outcome of these heroic efforts of the leadership and teachers at the school cannot be underestimated.  “We have seen a 50 percent growth in academic achievement above grade level over the past two years,” Mr. Daniels asserted, “this included quantifiably a 60 to 65 percent increase in math and English language arts.”

It takes a special staff to reach this level of instruction and Mr. Daniels and Ms. Lane smiled most brightly when talking about the employees.  “Our teachers are 95 percent African American,” Mr. Daniels noted, “with 25 percent of them being males.  One hundred percent of our student body qualifies for Free or Reduced Meals.”

Professional development plays a significant role at The Children’s Guild in order to effectively work with D.C.’s most at-risk children.  “Continuing education for teachers occurs each week on Wednesdays and for two weeks before the school year starts.  The preparation includes in-depth training for working with students impacted by trauma,” Mr. Daniels remarked.

“Our enrollment used to include a homeless population of 25 percent,” Ms. Lane intoned, “but then during the pandemic, most members of this group unfortunately seem to have disappeared, despite our efforts to locate them.”

The principal is proud of what The Children’s Guild has been able to establish during its relatively short history.  “We are a place of love and comfort,” Mr. Daniels intoned.  “We once had a child who ran away from home.  She ended up on our doorstep because she felt safe here.”

Mr. Daniels and Ms. Lane have big plans for the future of The Children’s Guild.  Besides identifying a new facility, they would like to increase the quality of their offerings of drama, instrumental music, vocal music, and visual arts.  “We would eventually like to be a feeder school for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts,” Mr. Daniel asserted.  “In addition, perhaps one day we will even offer pre-school.”

With Mr. Daniel and Ms. Lane at the helm of The Children’s Guild, I came away from my visit to the Children’s Guild thoroughly believing that the sky is the limit.

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Elementary Campus’s Dominique Foster is D.C.’s Teacher of the Year

I received the following press release yesterday from Patricia Brantley, Chief Executive Officer Friendship Public Charter School:

Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser presented Dominique Foster, a pre-K teacher at Friendship Public Charter School (PCS) – Blow Pierce Elementary with the 2022 DC Teacher of the Year Award. The Mayor was joined by Acting State Superintendent Christina Grant and Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Elementary students and staff to surprise Ms. Foster with the award. The prestigious honor, which comes with a $7,500 prize, is awarded annually to a DC Public School or public charter school teacher who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to student achievement.


“Washington, DC has the strongest universal pre-K program in the nation, and it’s because of creative and passionate teachers like Ms. Foster who help our young people become curious learners,” said Mayor Bowser. “Thank you, Ms. Foster, for all you have done for your students and school community. Now, we’ll be cheering you on for 2022 National Teacher of the Year!”


In addition to receiving this honor, Foster is now in the running for the National Teacher of the Year Award<https://ntoy.ccsso.org/>, which is run by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). She will also receive an additional $2,500 to support travel to national conferences, workshops, and other professional development opportunities during her one-year term as 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.


“Throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, Ms. Foster provided a high level of instruction and robust educational experiences during distance learning. When field trips weren’t possible, she brought the community to her virtual classroom, inviting special guests to share their lives and experiences with her young learners,” said Acting State Superintendent Christina Grant. “It’s so important that we honor teachers like Ms. Foster who go above and beyond their call of duty. Congratulations, Ms. Foster, for the well-deserved honor of being named 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.”


The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) also awarded $1,500 to two other 2022 DC Teacher of the Year finalists: Dr. Takeisha Wilson, a fourth grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at Shepherd Elementary School, and Rickita Perry Taylor, who teaches medically fragile students and students with profound disabilities in grades K-2 at Turner Elementary School.


Foster has been teaching for 13 years, six of which have been at Friendship PCS Blow Pierce. She earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from Xavier University and is currently working on a master’s degree in Montessori Education at Xavier. She has extensive training and experience in Montessori, Reggio Emilia, International Baccalaureate and Creative Curriculum approaches to learning and pulls from each to create an engaging and inclusive classroom learning environment for children of all backgrounds.


Foster began her career at Howard Road Academy Public Charter School in Ward 8, and has held kindergarten teaching positions during the school year and summer at two other Friendship PCS campuses: Woodridge International Campus and Southeast Campus. Foster also supports developing and maintaining a positive school climate through several Friendship PCS leadership roles, including a new educator mentoring program, the annual Friendship Blow Pierce Women’s Expo, a yoga instruction program, and tutoring for young learners and the school’s Early Childhood Graduation program.


“I enthusiastically congratulate Dominique Foster on this accomplishment,” said DC Public Charter School Executive Director Michelle J. Walker-Davis. “Ms. Foster makes learning an experience and believes her students, no matter how young, should have choice and voice in their learning environment. She lives and teaches by that philosophy every day which she is why she is the 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.”


Foster also has participated on committees and teams focused on the charter network’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including virtual learning and the school’s reopening plan. She considers the virtual learning experience during the 2020-21 school year one of the highlights of her teaching career. While she initially considered teaching Pre-K students through a computer screen a “formidable task,” Foster said the experience quickly evolved into “a life-changing experience we, as a class community, will cherish forever.”


This inclusive class community, Foster noted, involved parents, siblings and even neighbors who offered support, guidance, and encouragement during distance learning lessons that combined hands-on learning, family involvement and real-world connections to engage students of all backgrounds and abilities.


“Family involvement allowed learning to extend beyond the virtual classroom, as parents became active participants and even co-teachers in the daily lessons. Time spent in the virtual classroom space was limited but maximized, as each lesson and activity allowed for cross-curriculum integration,” Foster explained in her DC Teacher of the Year application. “My belief in making learning an experience transcended the traditional classroom setting and we discovered how to bring joy into learning on a virtual platform.”


For more information on the DC Teacher of the Year program, visit the OSSE website<https://osse.dc.gov/service/district-columbia-teacher-year>.

https://www.localdvm.com/news/washington-dc/2022-dc-teacher-of-the-year-announced-during-surprise-celebration/

Mayor Bowser quietly transfers closed Wilkinson Elementary to DC Prep PCS

A search yesterday of legislation before the D.C. Council revealed that Mayor Muriel Bowser has granted DC Prep PCS the right to lease DCPS’s former Wilkinson Elementary School in Ward 8 that was closed in 2009. The Council was scheduled to approve the transfer on Tuesday. The move by Ms. Bowser solves a major facility problem that for about three years has plagued the school founded by Emily Lawson in 2003. The approximately 146,000 square foot building will house DC Prep’s Anacostia elementary and middle schools.

Remember that back in 2019, shortly before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, DC Prep had purchased a property on Frankford Street S.E. for its Anacostia Middle School. The acquisition brought a public outcry at that year’s November meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board during which multiple community members testified that the charter had failed to inform them of its intention to open at this site. DC Prep had also leased space in the Birney Building and was hoping to take over this facility since the former Excel PCS was using this property, its rental agreement with Building Pathways was coming to an end, and it had converted to become a traditional school after being closed by the charter board. The Birney Building at the time was designated as a site for charters through an arrangement between Building Pathways and the D.C. Department of General Services.

Fast forward to May 2021 in one of the peaks in the public emergency, when Ms. Bowser took time to provide a facility update as part of a discussion around her upcoming budget proposal. As reported by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein:

“She plans to move the new Bard High School Early College to a permanent location in 2023 at the original Malcolm X Elementary — a shuttered campus in Southeast Washington — and allocate $80 million to the facility. The closed Spingarn High School in Northeast Washington would be home to the D.C. Infrastructure Academy. Excel Academy Public School will remain permanently at its current location at the old Birney building in Southeast Washington, which the city owns but has been leasing to charters. Bowser’s proposal would give charter school operators the option to lease the closed Wilkinson Elementary in Southeast Washington by 2024.”

The news that Wilkinson was being offered to charters represented only the second time in her tenure as Mayor that Ms. Bowser has turned a surplus DCPS building over to the alternative sector. In addition, the decision regarding the Birney Building was a blow to DC Prep. However, now we know that in the end the situation turned out exceedingly well for the charter school.

Anti-charter blogger Valerie Jablow has a lot to say about the apparent secretive nature of the awarding of Wilkinson to DC Prep. I have to say she has a point. There was no public announcement of the decision and it is not known if any other school bid for this property. The charter’s September 21, 2021 board meeting lists as an agenda item “AMC,” and then in the minutes of the session there is a discussion and vote on securing the new location but the name of the building is omitted. This is not exactly in the spirit of the Open Meetings law. As a movement we have got to do better than this.

Is Mayor Bowser trying to shutdown D.C.’s public charter school board?

These are certainly strange times for the District of Columbia’s charter school movement. As I pointed out toward the end of last month, there are now three vacancies on the DC Public Charter School Board. Saba Bireda stepped down in September and Naomi Shelton’s term concluded in August. There is still no nominee from Mayor Muriel Bowser to replace Steve Bumbaugh, a position that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wondered about during a hearing in June.

Then a bombshell landed when Mr. Bumbaugh wrote a recent editorial promoted by anti-charter Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss in which he calls into question the very existence of the alternative sector that now educates 46 percent of all public school students, numbering approximately 46,500, in the nation’s capital.

“The District must rethink its charter schools,” Mr. Bumbaugh asserted.

The timing of the column is curious as the writer goes on to mention that two more representatives of the PCSB will see their volunteer service come to an end in the coming year. This would leave only two of seven slots filled. If there is to be continuity regarding this organization, then members really should be added now.

Perhaps there is a reason for Ms. Bowser’s delay. The Washington Post’s Perry Stein is fond of stating that charter schools are public entities that are privately run. For years, the charter board has been criticized by those who oppose the sector as not being responsible to the citizenry. As the Mayor contemplates a run for a third term it is possible that she would like to take an action to quell these concerns. One move I could imagine her making is to fold responsibility for the city’s charters under the State Board of Education.

This is not so farfetched. The board was the original authorizer of charters in the District. They got out of the charter business at the same time that the Mayor took over control of the regular schools. One way for the Mayor to exert authority over these freewheeling charters is to group them with DCPS under one governing body. It would essentially put all 95,000 pupils under her purview.

We have a former member of the charter board stating that the 25 year experiment in school reform needs to be re-imagined. Scott Pearson’s replacement, Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis, has placed a twelve month pause on the approval of new schools and the grade level expansion of existing classrooms. Ms. Bowser is dictating the COVID response for both sectors. Now the Council has exceeded its powers in passing a law expanding virtual learning in charters.

From where I am sitting, it appears that the PCSB is coming to an end.

Number of D.C. students permitted to learn virtually now in charter school’s court

Yesterday, the D.C. Council went ahead and unanimously passed emergency legislation expanding the number of students permitted to take classes through distance learning, but the number was far less than Chairman Mendelson had in mind when he proposed the bill. As the Washington Post’s Perry Stein informed us on Tuesday, only an additional two hundred elementary school pupils and one hundred fifty middle school students will be able to participate “if their doctors recommend they stay at home or if they live with a relative who is at high risk for a severe case of the coronavirus.”

Those eligible will join approximately 285 DCPS scholars who are currently learning virtually.

The reason for the small incremental increase, according to Ms. Stein, was due to pressure from Mayor Bowser’s administration pointing to higher costs associated with allowing more children to be taught outside of the classroom. As I mentioned previously, the Council’s rule is that emergency legislation cannot include a rise in expenditures.

The act includes an extremely interesting caveat for charters. As stated in the Post story, “charter networks have more leeway, with the council saying each can decide how many eligible virtual learners to accommodate, though each network must cap it at no less than 3 percent of its student body.”

Actually, the situation has not changed for this sector over the past twenty-four hours. Do the DC PCSB, DC Charter School Alliance, and the sixty eight schools on one hundred thirty three campuses as independent local education agencies, fall in line blindly to the dictates of the Council, or do they legitimately take matters into their own hands in deciding how many students have to be in their buildings?

You already know my opinion as to the way things will play out. Stay with me as we watch events unfold.

D.C. Council set to battle with charter schools; my guess is that charters blink

When Scott Pearson was executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board and he testified in front of the D.C. Council, he had polite and respectful conversations with Education Committee Chairman David Grosso. However, there were a few occasions when conflict arose, especially when Mr. Grosso asked Mr. Pearson for an explanation regarding why charters were not complying with a particular law. Mr. Pearson had to clarify that in reference to the matter under discussion it was the charter sector’s view that the Council lacked jurisdiction.

Last Friday, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is planning on introducing emergency legislation that would increase the number of students eligible for virtual instruction from home. She wrote:

“Under the legislation, which was still being modified Friday, students under12 who are ineligible for a coronavirus vaccine would be allowed to stay home if they live with someone who is immunocompromised.

It would also allow any student to participate in virtual learning if their doctors recommend that they remain home because they have a health condition that would put them at higher risk for complications if they contract the virus. The virtual learning plan would also apply to both the traditional public and charter sectors, according to a draft bill.”

Now here is the problem. The Council lacks authority to mandate that charter schools provide on-line classes. While there is no debate that the city’s representatives can legislate charters regarding issues of health and safety, not in the broadest interpretation of this criteria would it be acceptable for the legislative body to encroach on the autonomy of the alternative school sector regarding distance learning.

Mayor Muriel Bowser reacted immediately and unequivocally when she heard about Mr. Mendelson’s plan. Ms. Stein says she expressed her viewpoint in a letter to the Council. She wrote:

“It is therefore of paramount importance that we do not disrupt our hard-won, in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who are in dire need of consistent and quality instruction and socialization. As such, I am very troubled and angered by any legislation that aims to disrupt learning or that will tax and burden our schools.”

While the Mayor is strongly defending her authority to manage DCPS, charters are not so bold. The Post states that DC Charter School Alliance founding executive director Shannon Hodge responded to the news about the emergency act this way:

“The legislation reflects concerns from parents and that there are a ‘significant’ number of students who have completed enrollment paperwork but have not attended school, suggesting they could be staying home for coronavirus-related reasons.”

The comment is especially ironic because charters were apparently directed by PCSB staff not to offer on-line classes. One leader of a prominent network of schools told me recently the organization was dissuaded from filing a charter amendment to provide virtual instruction after being informed that it would be denied. The feeling was this decision was coming out of fear of interfering with Ms. Bowser’s muscular push to have all kids back in the classroom.

If I had to conjecture, I would say that the PCSB and Alliance will roll over and acquiesce to the Council’s directive.

Complicating the passage of the Council Chairman’s bill is the requirement that emergency legislation cannot increase costs. The Mayor has already insinuated that the new law comes with a price tag.

There is one additional portion of the act which is worth noting, as Ms. Perry details:

“The bill also would allow students to receive excused absences if they remain home for pandemic-related reasons. Parents testified at a D.C. Council hearing last month that if one of their children was quarantined and they kept another child home, which the city does not recommend, the sibling would accrue unexcused absences. Too many could lead to a call, and a possible neglect investigation, from the Child and Family Services Agency.”

The Council is set to vote on the measure today. It takes nine councilmembers to pass emergency legislation.

Former D.C. charter board member Steve Bumbaugh’s injudicious editorial

I had the weekend to ponder Steve Bumbaugh’s polemic attack on D.C.’s charter school movement and I must admit that I am baffled. Mr. Bumbaugh described his tour of a Ward 8 charter school in 2017 when he served on the DC Public Charter School Board that left him “saddened, even defeated.” He wrote:

“When I entered the school for my scheduled visit, I was greeted by one of the founders, a 30-something man with energy and charm. He was joined by the school’s board chair, a distinguished senior partner from one of D.C.’s blue-chip law firms.”

Mr. Bumbaugh recalled he had been to this location before. “I remember visiting 25 years ago when it was part of the D.C. public school system,” he asserted. “That school was closed in 2009 — one of dozens closed in the last 15 years — and now several charter schools occupy the campus.”

From his descriptions it is clear that Mr. Bumbaugh is detailing his time at Ingenuity Prep PCS. He most certainly was hosted by then chief executive officer Aaron Cuny and board chair Peter Winick. Mr. Winick recently retired from the international law firm Latham & Watkins LLP. The charter operates out of the former PR Harris Educational Center that was closed in 2009 that also now houses a branch of the University of the District of Columbia. The National Collegiate Preparatory Academy PCS was also operating there before its charter was revoked.

I wrote last week that Mr. Bumbaugh in his piece chronicled a charter school sector I do not recognize. Now I realize that his account of the charter school is divorced from reality. I know because I too traveled to Ingenuity Prep. I interviewed Mr. Cuny almost exactly twelve months after Mr. Bumbaugh came to the facility. In his Washington Post column, as reprinted by reporter Valerie Strauss, Mr. Bumbaugh said he saw children treated as if they were incarcerated:

“I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?”

I spent only a short period with Mr. Cuny. But I remember coming away from my conversation astonishingly blown away by his sincere desire to provide a high quality educational option for children who had been neglected by the educational establishment. As for Mr. Winick, who I have known for years, I can tell you with absolute certainty that he cares with every part of his being for the disadvantaged children his school serves.

I am frankly trying to understand what this school did to deserve such an onslaught by Mr. Bumbaugh. Ingenuity Prep was founded by Mr. Cuny, who is no longer associated with the charter, and Mr. Will Stoetzer, the current CEO. They did not have to start the school. They had been colleagues at D.C. Bilingual PCS. Anyone who has a first-hand knowledge of what it takes to open a charter in the nation’s capital, especially in Anacostia, understands that the challenges are not for the faint of heart. It is an act of pure bravery. Here’s what I recorded back in 2018 when I spoke to Mr. Cuny:

 “’Our belief from the beginning was that all D.C. families deserve accessible, quality school options,’ the Ingenuity Prep CEO explained, ‘and for too many families, especially those in Wards 7 and 8, this opportunity does not exist. We felt a moral obligation to help build something that would give families another choice.’ Around the time that Mr. Cuny and his co-founder, Will Stoetzer, the school’s chief operating officer, were writing their charter application, the Illinois Facility Fund study was released. The report analyzed, across 39 neighborhood clusters in Washington, D.C., the gap between the density of students in those neighborhood clusters and the supply of high performing schools. Mr. Cuny and Mr. Stoetzer identified the neighborhood where there was the greatest gap between the number of students and the number of quality school seats available to families.”

Ingenuity Prep opened in 2013. Five years later the charter was posting some of the most impressive academic results in the city. Here are some examples:

  • Ingenuity Prep’s students’ combined English Language Arts and Math scores ranked in the 74th percentile of all D.C. district and public charter schools, outperforming a range of higher-income schools across the city,
  • Students’ combined scores ranked 2nd of 36 schools in the Ward 8,
  • Of D.C. schools where the tested student population had an “at-risk” (or high-poverty) rate of 50% or greater, Ingenuity Prep’s students ranked near the top: 7th of 113 schools.
  • For the second year in a row, no school in the city with a higher “at-risk” (or high-poverty) rate had better combined English Language Arts and Math scores.
  • Students’ gains from the 2016-17 school year in English Language Arts ranked at the 92nd percentile of all district and public charter schools, and
  • Of new charter organizations opened by D.C.’s public charter school board in the past 10 years, Ingenuity Prep ranks in the top 10 and is the only such school located in Southeast D.C.

I have a more fundamental issue with the comments by the former PCSB member. Mr. Bumbaugh was part of the board from 2015 to 2021. If he had such grave concerns regarding the pedagogy at Ingenuity Prep I certainly did not hear them, and keep in mind that I watch every one of the charter board’s monthly meetings. Even more bewildering is his lack of participation when a few disgruntled former employees used numerous PCSB meeting open comment periods to accuse the charter of malpractice when it came to teaching special education students.

No, I think there is something going else going on here. However, I will not speculate about Mr. Bumbaugh’s motivations. What I do know for certain is that if you want to see first-hand a charter school that has figured out how to close the academic achievement gap that has bewildered educators for decades, then get yourself over to Ingenuity Prep.

 

Steve Bumbaugh describes a local D.C. charter movement that does not exist

I always respected Steve Bumbaugh’s contributions when he served on the DC Public Charter School Board. His passionate concern was always for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, the very students that the charter movement was established to serve. The fact is that when charter schools first arrived on the scene in Washington, D.C., the main reason that parents sent their offspring to one was for safety. It was probably a much better decision for poor families to keep their kids at home in 1996 for there was very little education going on in the traditional school system. DCPS was characterized by physically deteriorating classrooms and educational malpractice from the lectern.

In a column by Mr. Bumbaugh printed by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, he describes an unnamed no-excuses charter school that four years ago he observed treating children like prisoners. He wrote:

“I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?”

I have personally visited many charters in Wards 7 and 8 and I have never seen an environment like the one he describes.

The opinion piece goes on to call for representation on the governing body of the DC PCSB to mirror the low-income student bodies that charters admit. From the article:

“In the District, 80 percent of families attending charters are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but the charter school board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty. Why not adjust the PCSB’s contours to reflect the communities in which these schools are located instead of incessantly asking poor Black people to acclimate?”

The DC PCSB has done one thing consistently well since its founding twenty five years ago. It has focused on quality, allowing good schools to grow and replicate while closing those where academic progress has not been met. This mission has remained true no matter the racial and socioeconomic makeup of its members. I would hate to do anything that would disrupt this tradition.

But Mr. Bumbaugh does bring up a crucial point. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on this alternative sector, standardized test scores are not better for Black children compared to the regular schools. It is something I’ve noticed and written about for years.

The problem is due to a tremendous contradiction that exists in our local movement. Charter schools were designed to be fountains of innovation in teaching students that in the past were not well served by regular schools, and yet they are held beginning in their second year to high standards as measured by the Performance Management Framework. I would imagine it is extremely difficult to try something new when faced with the real possibility of closure. This is the reason that with time more and more charters resemble the schools for which they were meant to be an alternative.

Unfortunately, after writing about and supporting charters for over a decade I do not have a solution to this dilemma. However, I do know one thing. If you spend time in any of our charters your eyes will almost certainly tear up with joy due to the care and passion and energy being put forth by those doing the work.

Washington D.C. should offer virtual school instruction this fall

Yesterday, WTOP revealed that all Prince George’s public school parents who want to enroll their Kindergarten through six grade students in virtual learning will be able to do so. This program will be in effect until a Covid-19 vaccine is available for children under twelve years old. It makes sense.

There are still details we do not understand about this virus. My wife Michele and I vacationed in Provincetown, Massachusetts right before Independence Day. No one was wearing masks and social distancing was not being practiced. However, I’m confident that one hundred percent of the people walking on Commercial Street were vaccinated. Approximately, one thousand people contracted the virus that weekend, some needing to be hospitalized. I listened to one individual who became ill state that he had experienced the worse forty-eight hours of his life.

Also Wednesday, the DC State Board of Education sent a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser requesting that a virtual option be granted for pupils. In rationally spelled out arguments the board requests Ms. Bowser to also relax attendance rules, allow waivers for in-person learning to include one for household members who have a health exemption, end referrals of student absences due to Covid to the Child and Family Services Agency, increase weekly Covid testing to all students and staff from the current policy of ten percent of unvaccinated individuals, add a requirement that all staff and students older than sixteen be required to be vaccinated according to CDC guidelines, and increase resources for mental heath care and treatment. In addition, the communication includes a request that the Mayor issue a new public health emergency so that the city pays for Covid testing, and reverse the mandate that prevents school nurses from caring for students and staff that may have contracted the disease. These recommendations are completely logical to me.

The critical factor is that charter schools may decide on their own to again offer online classrooms. The DC Public Charter School Board can begin today approving amendments from schools that request them to make this a reality. I spoke to one prominent charter leader recently who explained that the school had been encouraged to apply for a virtual teaching amendment only to later be told that the request would be denied. I will not conjecture here about the reason behind the reversal.

CNN reports today that over one hundred thousand people are now hospitalized in the United States, more than double this time last year. From the article:

“With no vaccines available to children under 12 and school starting up across the country, experts are concerned about the growing number of infections among children. Texas Children’s Hospital is seeing an unprecedented surge of coronavirus cases, with a record number of kids being hospitalized for the virus, and children are showing up sicker than before, Dr. Jim Versalovic, interim pediatrician in chief at the Houston-based hospital system told CNN Wednesday.”

Many in our community have first-hand experience with the devastating impact of Covid-19. The impact has been particularly bleak for the Black community, where eighty percent of Covid deaths occurred. It is the prudent and dignified action to take to offer these families a virtual learning option.