D.C. charter school heroes come through in effort to save Monument Academy PCS

In a move that literally brought tears to my eyes and a shiver down my spine, Friendship PCS is making a gallant effort to takeover Monument Academy PCS. I had urged in a couple of recent articles for another charter to come to the rescue to allow this facility that serves some of the most at-risk students in our community to continue. Monument’s mission “is to provide students, particularly those who have had or might have contact with the foster care system, with the requisite academic, social, emotional, and life skills to be successful in college, career, and community, and to create an outstanding school that attracts, supports, and retains exceptional and caring people.”  Now it appears that my desperate hope may indeed become a reality.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss revealed last night that Friendship PCS is working to bring Monument Academy under the Friendship Education Foundation, the organization that runs its schools outside of Washington, D.C. including two in Baltimore and one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But Friendship is not making this effort on its own. It is getting exceptionally strong financial assistance from some of this area’s most prominent school choice advocacy groups. As the Post reports:

“The proposal states that education organizations have committed $700,000 to ensure the budget for the 2019-2020 academic year can support the school. Prominent education groups, including the Bainum, CityBridge and Flamboyan foundations, have committed to helping Monument, according to the proposal.”

Thank you Katherine Bradley.

This has been a particularly busy and prosperous year for Friendship under the exceptional leadership of chief executive officer Patricia Brantley. Already the charter has agreed to assume control of two failed schools, IDEAL Academy PCS and City Arts and Prep PCS, although with City Arts it is more of a situation of bringing parts of this school’s curriculum into its existing network. It has also expanded its on-line institute to high school grades.

Now, the biggest question for me is how Friendship is going to be treated by the DC Public Charter School Board once all these changes are approved. Does the CMO simply get one year of no grading on the Performance Management Framework for each of its new campuses? For all that it is doing to help the most vulnerable children in the nation’s capital, doesn’t it deserve more of a break? Shouldn’t it take steps to encourage other charters to take on the challenges and risks that Friendship is undertaking?

D.C. charter school movement awash in change

During the period that my wife and I were studying charter schools on Cape Cod, change after change was taking place at a breathtaking rate at home regarding our own charter network. As I re-enter my life here in the nation’s capital, please allow me to update you on many of the developments.

First, Ingenuity Prep PCS board chair Peter Winik announced in early June that Will Stoetzer has been named the school’s chief executive officer. Mr. Stoetzer, a co-founder of Ingenuity Prep along with Aaron Cuny, has been in the interim CEO role since December of last year when Mr. Cuny transitioned to the position of senior adviser. I interviewed Mr. Cuny last October. Mr. Winik wrote of the decision:

“The Board’s selection is the result of an inclusive interview process that evaluated Will against a set of qualities co-created by the Ingenuity Prep staff, families, and Board. Will participated in four separate interview panels of key stakeholders–school staff, leadership, families and Board members. The Board then reviewed the feedback from each panel to inform its decision. The Board is incredibly grateful to all panelists–their input was invaluable in the selection process.”

The Ward 8 charter has been anxious to offer its program to more students but has been unable to replicate because it is classified as a Tier 2 institution on the DC Public Charter Board’s Performance Management Framework tool. The last result in 2018 demonstrated that the school slipped in its quantitative score.

Next, the local charter world erupted in excitement because the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Mayor Bowser has released the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School in Southeast for other uses. The facility was shuttered in 2013 due to low student enrollment. Ms. Stein indicated that perhaps the structure will be turned over to a charter which would be the first empty DCPS classroom space that this Mayor has relinquished to the sector. I’m not so sure. Consider the language that the Post reporter in her article captures D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and Ms. Bowser using to describe the change:

“’Because D.C. Public Schools has determined that it does not need the school as a current or future school building, we are opening it up to see how we can make it something really special for the community in that location,’ Kihn said.”

“’We’ve heard it loud and clear from the community — it’s time to reactivate and develop the Ferebee-Hope site to breathe life back into this space and bring new opportunities to the neighborhood,’ Bowser said in a news release. ‘I’m committed to working hand-in-hand with residents on what they want to see at the site.’”

This is about as far as we can get from a strong blanket commitment from our city’s top education leaders to support the public schools that now educate 47 percent of all students in our city. The Mayor’s failure to immediately turn this school over to charters is against the law.

Here’s a warning: You may not want to continue reading. The news is about to get worse.

In May I detailed the trouble the Monument Academy PCS found itself in at the PCSB’s monthly meeting. A piece by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss captured the issues:

“Since the start of this school year, more than 1,800 safety incidents have been reported at the campus, including bullying, property destruction, physical altercations and sexual assault, according to the charter school board. Forty alleged incidents of sexual misconduct and four of sexual assault have been reported. And the charter school board said that on 17 occasions, students have been found to possess a weapon, which ranges from using a stapler in a dangerous manner to a knife.

Half of the school’s roughly 100 students have been suspended this academic year, according to the charter board.”

On June 5th, the Monument Academy board of directors voted to close the school at the end of this academic year. Charles Moore, the charter’s board chair, explained the reasons behind the move in a letter to the school’s community:

“First, we believe the likelihood of the Public Charter School Board renewing the charter in the upcoming review cycle was low, based on what we heard when board members met with PCSB staff and trustees on April 26. The core message was that when schools have not met their accountability goals, the only path to charter renewal would be having a clear, positive trajectory in student outcomes. Our own analysis of the performance showed that while there were pockets of success with student progress—in fact, many students saw tremendous gains—the aggregate results showed uneven gains and an unclear path to create faster growth in a short time frame. Second, despite the valiant work of our family engagement team, the board believed that our student recruitment numbers were behind the pace needed (based on the historical record) to reach our enrollment target of 120 students by the start of the school year.”

I am sure that the charter’s CEO and co-founder Emily Bloomfield is personally crushed regarding the situation, as she put all of her heart and soul into Monument Academy. In fact, I have never seen a more rapid denouement of a charter school. Just last year at a CityBridge Education forum, the staff of this school received accolades for the methods it has implemented for caring for children who have suffered Adverse Childhood Events.

In his letter, Mr. Moore explains that other charter operators have reached with offers of help. Let’s sincerely hope that one takes over this school of 100 disadvantaged students so that they can be offered the possibility of a bright future.

I was also notified by Golnar Abedin, the executive director and founder of Creative Minds PCS, that after eight years she is stepping down from her position. Here’s a portion of her note to her constituents:

“As a parent and an education professional, I founded Creative Minds International eight years ago with guidance and support from a small and passionate group of parents and co-founders, after discovering that DC public school lacked a meaningful arts-based, international curriculum that welcomed children of varying abilities and backgrounds. We presented a plan to the DC Public Charter School Board for a unique school that would be inclusive of all learners. We opened our doors in the fall of 2012 to 100 preschool to 2nd-grade students, in a small building on 16th Street. Today we welcome nearly 500 students, in prekindergarten through 8th grade, at our beautiful campus at the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

I could not be more proud of what we have built and accomplished together, with support from colleagues and our community. We became the first public charter school to achieve International Primary Curriculum accreditation, the first to secure a long-term lease in a beautiful, historic federal government building, and the first to succeed in providing high-quality opportunities in an international and arts-based program that is truly inclusive of all learners.”

I interviewed Dr. Abedin in 2018 and I was so impressed that it is a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I will not give away her story here. You will have to read the discussion. Let me just say that there is definitely a reason that the school has a 2,000 student wait list to gain admission.

Finally, at a period when charters are facing their greatest political struggles in their relatively short quarter of a century history, it appears that the support organization Friends of Choice in Urban Schools is undergoing a leadership change. I received a message from Irene Holtzman, its executive director for the last four years, that she is stepping down at the end of this month. No word yet on a successor. Apparently, Michael Musante, the group’s long-term government relations director, is also departing at the conclusion of June. I always thoroughly Ms. Holtzman’s highly energetic enthusiasm when I heard her speak at meetings.

Next time, I think I will simply stay in town.

Washington Post editorial on Bernie Sanders not worth the effort

Yesterday, the editors of the Washington Post printed a commentary attacking the stand Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has taken against charter schools. The headline grabbed tremendous attention and was perfectly framed. It is entitled, There’s nothing progressive about strangling charter schools. They wrote:

“’The proliferation of charter schools has disproportionately affected communities of color,’ wrote Mr. Sanders as part of his 10-point education plan this month.

Mr. Sanders is right about the outsize effects on minority communities — but those effects have been positive, not negative. Of the nearly 3.2 million public charter school students, 68 percent are students of color, with 26 percent of them African Americans. Studies indicate that students of color, students from low-income families and English-language learners enrolled in public charter schools make greater academic progress than their peers in traditional schools. Research from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that African American students in charter schools gained an additional 59 days of learning in math and 44 days in reading per year compared with their traditional school counterparts.”

I’m glad that the Post editorial board has proclaimed its opposition to Mr. Sander’s education policy prescriptions. However, I’ve stayed away from talking about his recent speech on the subject. I really do not want to give him the attention. His disparaging of charters that have benefited so many young people who have gone on to college but in the absence of their education would have ended up in prison or dead, proved all I need to know about this man. Here’s the bottom line.  Mr. Sanders cares much more about attracting liberal votes than he does about the people living in poverty he professes to want to help. The senator is clearly one of those individuals who is focused on the needs of adults instead of the kids. It is also obvious that he would sacrifice the future of all of the less fortunate among us for support from labor unions.

I’ve seen multiple comments on Twitter about the Post piece. Many of my friends and colleagues that support charters are cheering its publication. Others who wish to see these alternative schools disappear strongly disagree with the polemic. It doesn’t really matter. The battle lines have already been drawn. The only way that those of us who champion true reform can win is to get more and more families and students into these high-performing schools. We cannot be distracted from the negative rhetoric and the countless efforts to curtail our very existence. We need to takeover the public education system, and to do that we have to be relentless in our pursuit of excellence. When the government or other entities put roadblocks in front of us we must find ways around them.

I just finished reading “The Education of Eva Moskowitz, by the founder and chief executive officer of Success Academy PCS. In one section she points to the variance in standardized test scores between her charter network and those of the traditional New York City schools:

“Some people try to explain away our results by saying that we serve fewer poor and special needs kids than the nearby district schools. Consider Bronx 2. Eighty-eight percent of our students there were Title 1 (meaning poor); at the district school in the same building, PS 55, 96 percent were title 1 (8 percent more). Fourteen percent of our students had learning disabilities; at PS 55, 15 percent did (1 percent more). But while the differences between our students and PS 55’s were minuscule, the difference in results were huge: ninety-nine percent of our students were proficient in math compared to 15 percent at PS 55; 70 percent of our students were proficient in English compared to 7 percent at PS 55. Clearly an 8 percent difference in poverty and a 1 percent difference in special needs doesn’t explain an 84 percent difference in math proficiency and a 63 percent difference in English proficiency” (page 298).

We cannot back down. Educational malpractice has gone on far too long. Every student deserves a seat at a quality school. We have to keep fighting until this last civil rights struggle comes to a just and final conclusion.

Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS 2019 Shining Star Gala inspires

If you have troubling doubts about the future of our country based upon its youth then I have the perfect potent antidote. Do yourself an immense favor and buy a ticket to the next annual Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS Shining Star Gala. Last Thursday evening, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend this event, and I have to say that a smile has not left my face since I exited the Ward 8 high school.

Just meeting Mr. Lloyd, the leader of TMA’s English Department, made me feel like a better person. His 10th grade exploration was entitled “From Book Club to Classroom.” Students, stationed at various desks, were there to talk about works they had read that have now replaced the use of textbooks and form the sophomore course curriculum. There I met Kiyaari Wilson, who spent her middle school years at Meridian PCS. She had recently finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Ms. Wilson, speaking as if she had been presenting in front of the public for all of her life, explained to me that the 15 year-old boy in the book sees the world in a different way from ordinary people. She detailed that he does not think like you or I, and his facial expressions and emotions are incongruous to events taking place around him. Of course, Ms. Wilson is describing someone who is autistic, but as the student detailed when this book was written in 2004 the syndrome was not nearly as well understood as it is today. I don’t want to give away the story but I learned the plot is centered around love, trust, and truth; concepts that resonate deeply with Ms. Wilson.

It took me a few minutes to arrive at my next destination which was Ms. Alvaredo-Sieg’s Spanish class. In the hallway my eyes were drawn to the banners hanging from the ceiling that proclaimed facts about TMA such as “Thurgood Marshall Academy is among the highest achieving open-enrollment high schools in the District of Columbia,” and “100% of Thurgood Marshall Academy Graduates have been accepted to college since 2005.” Also, I was delayed by waiters and waitresses offering me scrumptious morsels of food.

Once I reached room 107 I met sophomore Amya Hudson, who attended middle school at Achievement Prep PCS. Her assignment had been to study one of two individuals who had fought for social justice. Since she was already familiar with Cesar Chavez, she instead decided to learn about Rigoberta Menchú, a 1992 Nobel Peace Prize awardee who had fought for the human rights of the indigenous people of Guatemala. Ms. Hudson detailed that Ms. Menchú became drawn to her cause after the brutal torture and murder of her mother and brother. Much of the student’s research had come from reading this hero’s book, I, Rigoberta Menchú.

My fate turned for the worse when I entered the Applied Integrated Science classroom and met two “physicians.” Dr. Hudgens, a freshman who last year went to Mary McLead Bethune PCS, was partnered with Dr. Jones, a sophomore, who attended a Maryland public school for the ninth grade. Based upon some inventive physical symptoms I described I was efficiently diagnosed as having adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD, a genetic disorder), and told that the organelle (cellular part, similar to an organ) responsible was peroxisomes.

I was relieved to end the focus on myself when I ran into Richard Pohlman, Thurgood Marshall’s executive director. Last November, Mr. Pohlman announced that after four years in his position this school year would be his last. Each time I come to Shining Stars I get tremendous joy out of watching Mr. Pohlman’s interactions with his scholars, and it was a bond with students that he spoke about when I asked him about his legacy. “It has been all about the people,” the head of TMA related. “Too often in our work you think everything is built around the effort of one individual. But this is not the case here. The success of Thurgood Marshall is the result of a series of many connections between human beings. You need some great adults who are supporting our great kids in allowing them to reach their full potential. It is then about maintaining this tradition. I’m so proud of the work being done every day in this building.”

It was then on to the SoapBox Speeches, which the evening’s professionally produced brochure explained are part of a program TMA students compete in each year organized by the Mikva Challenge. There attendees listened to Jayla Holdip, a government student, talk openly about the dilemma she finds herself in when she is trying to forcefully argue for societal change. Often, she observed, she is relegated to the category of “angry black woman.” She added that she is undeterred by the generalization being made of her.

I learned after hearing her talk that Ms. Holdip came to TMA from Basis PCS. She will be attending the University of Rochester in the fall where she will create her own major based around science, anthropology, and public policy. Eventually, her goal is to be a civil rights lawyer. Ms. Holdip has received a full-ride scholarship to college.

Once the classroom explorations were concluded, the guests moved to the school’s gymnasium for dessert. I had a chance to speak with Raymond Weeden, Jr., the gentleman who has been selected to become the school’s next executive director on July 1st. Mr. Weeden’s background includes serving as principal of DC Prep PCS’s Benning Elementary campus and then as the same school’s senior director of policy and community engagement. He was also previously the principal of Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy’s Parkside Middle School. Mr. Weeden expressed to me that for 16 years he has greatly appreciated the academic achievements being accomplished by Thurgood Marshall Academy and he is excited and honored to be a part of this community.

The evening concluded with the crowd hearing from Ms. Holdip for themselves. In an even more forceful tone and diction than I recalled from the classroom setting, she took the audience through her educational milestones, and expressed her strong gratitude and respect for every person in the school. I have a strong feeling that I have not heard the last from Ms. Holdip.

D.C. charter schools are as privately managed as DCPS

Another day, another accusation by education reporters in the nation’s capital that D.C. charter schools are privately managed. The line is used again and again by free-lancer Rachel Cohen, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, and WAMU’s Jenny Abamu. Perhaps these individuals believe that if they keep repeating it over and over again it will become the truth. Let’s take a closer look at what is really going on.

Each charter school is a nonprofit corporation that is governed by a volunteer board of directors. This board is comprised of two parents of current students at the school plus other professionals. The directors, who are elected by the other board members, are often lawyers, bankers, education specialists, and experts in organizational management. In other words they possess skills that can benefit and support the head of the school. Half of the trustees must live in the District of Columbia. So you can see that charters are run by the community: by people who live and work near the families that decide to send their children to a particular school.

When it comes to DCPS however, there are no boards of directors. The principal reports to the Chancellor. Therefore, while parents at a charter can appeal to its board if they have a concern at a school, there is no equivalent in the traditional system. There is an elected State Board of Education, but this body is a policy-making group that does not have responsibilities over individual facilities.

Charter schools ultimately report to the DC Public Charter School Board. Its volunteer members are nominated by the Mayor and confirmed by the council. As has been pointed out many times recently, the PCSB is a governmental entity that must comply with open meeting and FOIA laws.

DCPS is run by the Chancellor who is appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the DC Council. So the two sectors almost mirror each other in the manner in which elected representatives have influence over their schools. One important difference, however, is that the Mayor and Council have a limited role in deciding the rules under which charters operate. which is restricted to the areas of the health and safety of students, and funding. In addition, the PCSB has much less control over the schools it oversees compared to the Chancellor, although some of my charter friends would argue that this contrast has greatly narrowed over the years.

But while there are similarities between the reporting relationship of charters and DCPS, the two could not be more different when it comes to their inherent natures. DCPS is composed of neighborhood schools, while charters are schools of choice. This structural variance is central to the education of our kids, especially in the inner city.

Traditional schools are bureaucratic entities in which the employees are responsible to the hierarchy. The organizational chart creates its own incentives for the way people behave. The result, sadly, is staff that can become more focused on pleasing the person above them in authority rather than concentrating on the needs of the young person in front of them on a daily basis.

Charters operate in an educational marketplace. The number of students going to these schools determine its revenue since money follows the child. School choice becomes a powerful force in directing adults to try and satisfy the pedagogical needs of their pupils.

While DCPS also receives its funding based on the number of students that attend a school, there is not nearly as close a connection as with charters since neighborhood schools often have a captive audience of attendees.

It is the essence of school choice that has driven our local charters to be able to close the academic achievement gap. Many of them located in Wards 7 and 8 score as high as students attending classrooms in Ward 3. Instead of the attacks that have been leveled at charter schools lately, we need to honor their success. They receive a lower level of per pupil funding than the regular schools, about two thousand dollars less per child each year, and they face an intractable facility shortage that no one has been able to solve.

For what charter schools have been able to accomplish under these circumstances they should and must be celebrated. Every year, month, day, hour, minute, and second.

D.C. charter school student wait list keeps getting worse

The DC Public Charter School Board released data yesterday regarding the student wait lists for the 2019-to-2020 term and you can just hear the frustration being emitted from the mouths of parents. I guess all you really have to read is the first sentence of the announcement to get a complete sense of the problem:

“There are 11,861 individual students on the My School DC lottery waitlists to attend one or more PK-12 public charter schools in SY2019-20, a 4.8% increase over last year’s 11,317 students and a 22.2% increase from the 9,703 students in SY2017-18.”

The board also pointed out that 67 percent of those on wait lists are for Performance Management Framework Tier 1 schools. It adds that 40 percent of open spaces are in Tier 1 schools. There is especially strong demand for Pre-Kindergarten to Kindergarten and the sixth grade. Dual-language charters are especially popular.

One student may appear on multiple wait lists.

Some of the schools with the largest wait lists and the number of students include Creative Minds International PCS, 1,030; DC Bilingual PCS, 1,403; District of Columbia International School, 1,565; Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS – Brookland campus, 1,722; Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS, 1,218; Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS, 1,069; Mundo Verde PCS, 1,412; Two Rivers PCS – 4th Street campus, 1,659, Washington Latin PCS – middle school, 1,254, and Washington Yu Ying PCS, 1,168.

The wait list to get into a DCPS school is 9,437.

Even if the charters with significant wait lists wanted to expand or replicate there is absolutely nowhere for them to go. Commercial space, although exorbitantly expensive to rent, is not even available. Many DCPS facilities sit empty and a great number are grossly underutilized. Yet, the people we elect to represent us are doing nothing about this issue. Instead, they spend hours and hours in furious debate over what information a charter school must include on their website.

Good news from D.C.’s charter school movement

Let’s take a short break from talk of school closures, teachers’ unions, and transparency legislation to highlight a couple of good developments in D.C.’s charter landscape. First, last Friday the Washington Post’s Thomas Heath wrote a beautiful profile of Eagle Academy PCS’s Royston Maxwell Lyttle, principal of its Congress Heights campus. Mr. Heath wrote:

“His uniform is pure Wall Street: loafers, dress pants and crisp-collar shirt topped off with his signature bow tie.

‘It’s being there,’ said Lyttle, as he strolled through the school, which is 98 percent African American, on a sunny spring morning. ‘Being visible, knowing their names, learning handshakes, talking about better choices.’

His job is as much visual as it is verbal. ‘I am always in shirt and tie, trying to get them to ‘visualize yourself.’ When you see someone in shirt and bow tie, you see this person in a wonderful job.’

Lyttle takes students to World Wrestling Entertainment matches, makes connections and builds trust, trying to get them to relax and enjoy themselves. He hosts lunches in the cafeteria, a chance to mentor or just listen.

‘Students cannot learn if they are not socially and emotionally there,’ Lyttle said.”

The Post reporter has this to say about the challenges Mr. Lyttle faces at his school:

“Eagle Academy grapples with intractable problems in American society and illuminates the effects of the uneven distribution of wealth. Its student body — ages 3 to 9 — is from Congress Heights, one of the city’s poorest areas. Ninety-two students, or 14 percent of Eagle’s enrollment, live in homeless shelters. Sixty-four percent live in single-parent households. Twenty-two percent, or 152 children, receive special education. Some need counseling for years.”

The charter received a jolt last November when the annual Performance Management Framework results were released. For 2018, the Congress Heights location fell to a Tier 3 ranking. So the school jumped into action. According to Mr. Health, the big drop in test scores led to the firing of 26 teachers, who were replaced with 18 new ones.”

I think the world of Mr. Joe Smith, the CEO/CFO of Eagle Academy. He would never allow this score to stand. He cares about the children too much for this to happen.

In other news, Washington Latin PCS has announced that it is going to replicate. Beginning next year it will open a new school that will start with the fifth grade that will eventually go up to twelfth. Other details about the expansion are extremely limited. For the 2018-to-2019 school year Washington Latin had a wait list of almost 1,600 children. Leaders at the school apparently feel like they have a moral obligation to be able to accept more students. How many other charters with excessively large wait lists feel the same way?

Exclusive interview with Wendy Edwards, executive director Early Childhood Academy PCS

I had the great pleasure recently of visiting Early Childhood Academy PCS and sitting down for a conversation with the school’s executive director Wendy Edwards.  Ms. Edwards explained that ECA started in 2005.  She informed me that the Ward 8 charter is currently leasing space in two different small community centers with two different landlords.  One was built by former D.C. City Councilmember H.R. Crawford and is now managed by his son.  The Walter Washington Estates is located behind the school.  Ms. Edwards detailed that both locations of the school were opened simultaneously.  She recounted that the charter began with 110 students in grades pre-Kindergarten three and pre-Kindergarten four. The school has added a grade a year and now goes up to the third grade.  Approximately 254 students are currently enrolled at Early Childhood Academy PCS; one hundred percent of the children qualify for free or reduced meals.

This was the perfect time to pay a visit to ECA since the charter is currently building a brand-new permanent facility.  It is a fantastic story.  The Menkiti Group, a developer located in the Brookland community of Northeast D.C., purchased the long-vacant Johenning Baptist Church so that ECA could have a permanent home.  The situation reminds me of the Ezra Company that acquired abandoned warehouses at 705 and 707 Edgewood Street, N.E., so that the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts and D.C. Prep PCS, respectively, could operate at these locations.  Ms. Edwards wanted me to know that Karl Jentoft of TenSquare Consulting, was a tremendous help in securing the $19 million dollars in loans, including New Market Tax Credits, to secure this property and construct an addition.  She is also grateful for the great support from CityFirst and Chase National Banks.  The property will be a 38,000-square-foot facility and hold 300 students.  Since the new headquarters is located directly next door to one of the current classroom buildings, Ms. Edwards and I were able to take a walk over to observe the progress.  It is extremely impressive.  The new school, which ECA will own, will open this summer.

On our way back from the construction site I asked Ms. Edwards about the difficulties of teaching children living in poverty.  “Yes,” the head of ECA replied, “it definitely brings its own challenges.  If you are not able to tap into the social and emotional needs of the child, you will not get anywhere academically.  Many of these children have high ACE (Adverse Childhood Event) scores.  You must have a holistic approach with them.  Our staff has received Positive Behavior Facilitation training developed by Dr. Edna Olive.  But here is the bottom line.  It is your relationship with the child that dictates your bond with the child.  Your values and convictions drive the connection.  You have to be cognizant of who you are and your belief system.  If you don’t accept that these kids can learn like any other child, then it is not going to work.”

I then wanted to know more about Ms. Edwards.  “I came from DCPS beginning in 1978,” Ms. Edwards detailed.  “I’ve played a variety of roles.  I was an elementary school teacher, a special education coordinator, and an assistant principal.  I concluded my time with DCPS as the assistant principal of Raymond Elementary School in Northwest D.C.  In 2005, I learned that Early Childhood Academy had just been chartered and was seeking a head of school. I was hired as the founding principal.  The charter was actually opened by the Nation’s Capital Child and Family Development Center (NCCFD). At that time, NCCFD operated several Head Start programs throughout the city. We parted ways in 2007.  In 2010 I became the executive director and Thann Ingraham was promoted to principal.  I never thought that I would leave DCPS, but this opportunity has been absolutely perfect for me.” 

Our discussion then turned to learning from Ms. Edwards what her greatest challenge was once she transitioned into the executive director role.

“The biggest challenge,” Ms. Edwards answered without hesitation, “was comprehending that each charter school is a self-contained small business.  We had to be respectful of the public money we received and utilize it appropriately.  There were so many decisions to be made, it was really unbelievable.  I absolutely love the autonomy.” 

When I asked Ms. Edwards about her greatest accomplishment, she was also ready with a response.  “My greatest satisfaction,” the head of Early Childhood stated, “has been building a strong administrative team.  Most of these individuals have been with me for a decade; our current principal has been at ECA since we opened in 2005.”  Ms. Edwards added, “I’m confident this is why our school has been ranked as Tier 1 the last several years.  We have grown from where we were in 2005 but we have also had a lot of leadership stability.  The message has not changed over this period.  We want to provide developmentally appropriate models for our children.  Our goal is to teach the whole child.  Toward that end we want to attract teachers who have passion, compassion, and are smart.  We will then support them in continuing to mature and develop as instructors.”

I then requested of Ms. Edwards to provide me with other reasons for her school’s success.  “We talk about values a lot with the staff and with the children,” Ms. Edwards asserted.  “We know that you cannot talk about positive values if you do not display them.  The kids will pick up on this fact.  Kindness, respect, being able to politely express differences, these are hard lessons for our kids.  Our students don’t always come from neighborhoods where people talk things out instead of acting things out.”

“One of our efforts,” the ECA executive director opined, “is that we want our pupils to be in school.  Toward that end we provide free breakfast, free lunch, and a free snack for aftercare for all of our students.  Some of our parents didn’t grasp at first that their children needed to be here every day, especially in pre-Kindergarten.  For some parents, education did not serve them very well, so they don’t understand the importance of a good education for their children.  We are dealing with a very transient population.  About 45 of our families are homeless.  Others will change residences from the District to Maryland and back to the District again.”

Ms. Edwards revealed that the staff at the school will do whatever they can for the students.  “We have school uniforms,” Ms. Edwards remarked.  “But if the children come in without them we will provide them.  We also buy them for some families.”

Early Childhood Academy has two teachers for each classroom that range from a low of 13 children in a pre-Kindergarten class to 28 students per classroom in the third grade.  Differentiated learning is applied to all grade levels, according to Ms. Edwards.  “There is whole group and small group instruction in both reading and math,” the executive director offered.  “Every day between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. the Response to Intervention period is implemented in all classrooms, during which time most students complete activities reinforcing previously taught standards, while struggling students are provided with targeted instruction.”

In other words, according to Ms. Edwards, “when you work at Early Childhood Academy, you are sort of all in.”

D.C. public charter board staff goes along with changes at Chavez PCS; chastising the way it was done

Tonight the DC Public Charter School Board is scheduled to take a final vote on the proposal by Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy to close its Capitol Hill High School and Prep Middle School campuses and consolidate its students at its Parkside High School location. The current Parkside Middle School will close at the end of next year due to low academic performance. The highly controversial move would eliminate the only unionized charter school in the District when Chavez Prep closes its doors.

The PCSB staff is in support of the decision by the school’s board of directors. They write:

• “It is within the school’s exclusive control to close campuses provided the school’s enrollment ceiling is commensurately reduced.

• It is within the school’s exclusive control to reconfigure campuses provided it remains within its enrollment ceiling and serves grades for which the local education agency (LEA) has been approved to serve.

• The amendments to the charter are technical and conforming changes that ensure the school’s charter reflects actions taken by the school that are within its exclusive control.”

While the charter has the authority to make these changes, the PCSB is not too happy about the way it has been carried out. It takes note of the public testimony against the campus consolidation and closures, and makes the following recommendation:

“As noted in the testimony, and further described below, the Cesar Chavez PCS board’s decision was made late and without any opportunity for community input. While this is within the school’s prerogative, the DC PCSB Board may wish to express through a resolution its disapproval of the manner in which the decision was taken, while taking note of the extraordinary time and effort invested by the school’s volunteer board as it sought alternatives to insolvency.” The staff continues:

“The LEA faces financial challenges, as further described later in this memo. The campus closure and reconfiguration decisions and communications were very close to the My School DC lottery deadlines of February 1, 2019 for high school applicants and March 1, 2019 for PK-8 applicants. This timing was difficult for families, as they were forced to evaluate other school options and make decisions for a new school in a minimal time frame. However, rising 9th, 10th, 11th and 12 grade students from both Chavez Prep and Capitol Hill are allowed to re-enroll directly into Parkside, rather than enter the lottery. DC PCSB enrollment specialists began working with families at both campuses on January 25, 2019.”

The proposed charter amendment that will be considered this evening includes an enrollment ceiling decrease from 947 to 847 students. It would also allow Chavez to re-open a middle school at the Parkside location beginning with the 2020-to-2021 school term, starting with the sixth grade only for that year.

In response to questions late last month from Ward 1 D.C. Coucilmember Brianne Nadeau about the lack of transparency and whether Chavez Prep could stay open another year to seek an alternative to closure, PCSB executive director Scott Pearson wrote back:

“We asked the board about the option of keeping Parkside Middle open for an additional year and were told that the school’s dire financial condition, caused by high debt and low enrollment, would not permit this option. We also asked about the reasons for the last minute decision and the lack of transparency around the making of this decision. The school’s board replied that they had been in difficult negotiations up to the final hour with the school’s bondholders over the school’s risk of default, and pursued every possible avenue to avoid foreclosure on the entire LEA. The school’s board reported that they were reluctant to make these deliberations public given the destabilization of enrollment and staff that they feared would occur as a result.”

The Chavez board has made the right decision in order to protect the future existence of the school. This charter management organization has been having academic difficulties for years and is now at risk of defaulting on its loans. It appears that it expanded too fast without first developing a deep bench of leadership capacity, a pattern we have unfortunately seen repeated many times within our sector.

Friendship PCS to takeover WEDJ PCS

Three sources confirmed yesterday that Friendship PCS will be taking over City Arts and Prep PCS in the fall. The former William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (WEDJ), City Arts lost its charter last December when it failed to meet its Performance Management Framework target after demonstrating a weak academic track record for years. As a founding board member of the school and its chair for four years, I watched as a charter that started with so much promise fell apart not only in the classroom but also at the management level. This is definitely an institution with nine lives as it traveled a path that began initially with it being led by Mr. Doar’s daughter Julie, to an engagement with TenSquare Consulting, and even included a stint with John Goldman as its executive director, the gentleman who went on to work for the DC Public Charter School Board until he ran into trouble over blog posts written under an alias. Its recent history included the most vigorous defense yet by the legal team of the Stephen Marcus firm, with a claim of bias of the PMF against at-risk children, and it was in fact Mr. Marcus who negotiated the initial lease for its Edgewood N.E. location with Fred Ezra of the Ezra Company. At one point the school operated on two campuses and included a high school, teaching as many as 660 students. The current elementary and middle school has about 430 pupils.

It appears that the focus on the arts will be maintained at the new Friendship location. Let’s hope that the school is also able to keep its current highly impressive executive director Lanette Dailey-Reese.

The move by Friendship demonstrates for all to see the stamp that its dynamic and kind chief executive officer Patricia Brantley plans to place on the charter management organization. It was also this year that Friendship agreed to takeover IDEAL Academy PCS beginning next term, adding about 300 students to the 4,200 it already instructs. Five out of its current 12 campuses are ranked as Tier 1 on the PMF, the most in its history. Therefore, the recent moves are making the future strategic direction of Friendship clear. It will continue to expand in the belief that bringing more children under its umbrella will greatly improve the quality of a public education in the nation’s capital.

I’m sure Donald Hense is smiling right now.