Exclusive interview with Deborah Dantzler Williams, head of school, Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School

When I first entered this Ward 5 charter’s permanent home, the third space that it has occupied, the atmosphere seemed different from many of the other schools I have visited.  Children were everywhere.  The pupils were moving, and talking, and sitting, and eating.  The activity level was high.  Obviously contributing to my perception was that school had just let out and aftercare activities were starting.  But please take it from me; this was not the strict and orderly silence that has greeted me upon my arrival to several other classroom buildings.  I was immediately intrigued to know more about the educational approach of the adults leading these students.

I was soon greeted by Ms. Deborah Dantzler Williams, Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS’s head of school.  The first thing Ms. Williams did upon meeting me was to bring me to a board located in the school’s lobby containing pictures of the staff.  She is extremely proud of the diversity of the school’s team.  Ms. Williams explained that diversity is an intentional goal for the student body as well as for the employees.

Ms. Williams then filled me in regarding her past professional career.  She has over 30 years’ experience as a teacher and administrator in some of the Washington, D.C.’s finest private schools, including Beauvoir and Sidwell Friends.  Along the way she earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and Sociology from Howard University, a Master’s Degree in City/Urban Community and Regional Planning from the same school, and a Master’s of Organizational Leadership at the Teachers College of Columbia University.  She enjoyed all of her instructional experiences but wanted to have an impact in some of the schools that were instructing more typical D.C. students, such as those living in poverty.  An associate of hers went to work for a small 20-year-old nonprofit named The Center for Inspired Teaching and spoke to her about coming along.  The organization provides professional development, leadership training, and an Office of the State Superintendent approved teacher certification program specializing in placing the child at the center of all educational efforts.  Ms. Williams joined the group as its director for strategic partnerships.

The Center for Inspired Teaching provides a teacher residency that covers two years, the first year residents are placed in DCPS and public charter schools working directly with a Master Teacher, and the second year residents lead their own classrooms with the support of a mentor. When a school accepts a resident, the Center often encourages it to add another so that there is more synergy around the pedagogical philosophy utilized by Inspired Teaching.  A question that naturally arose out of the program was whether an entire school made up of Inspired Teaching-trained teachers would succeed.  Since Inspired Teaching is focused on a methodology around engagement, it was only natural that it would eventually seek to create its own school.  In 2010, the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School was chartered by the DC Public Charter School Board after the Center brought together a founding group.  Ms. Williams has been its head of school from the beginning.

Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS opened its doors with 137 students in seven classrooms from Pre-Kindergarten three to the third grade.  While it utilizes the Common Core Curriculum, it concentrates, according to Ms. Williams, “solely on the needs of the students by emphasizing wonder, experiment, and learning.”  There are now approximately 470 students, with about one thousand on its waiting list.  It is no secret why so many families want to send their kids here.  When looking at its results on the DC Public Charter School’s Performance Management Framework, the score has risen for each of the four years that it has been evaluated.  Since the 2016-to-2017 term it has been ranked as a Tier 1 institution.

But test scores are not the only reason for this school’s popularity.  Ms. Williams detailed, “We are committed to diversity and equity among our students.” As a demonstration school, Ms. Williams related, Inspired Teaching offers a progressive style of education based upon the following principles:

  • Children are inherently good and have an innate desire to learn
  • Every child can be successful in school
  • Children’s energy, unique talents, and individuality are assets, not obstacles.
  • Every student possesses the ability to think critically, learn and understand information, and solve complex problems
  • Every student should spend their time in school engaged primarily in these kinds of activities

The standards-based curriculum, the head of school informed me, is based upon the four “I’s” of Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity.  “You will hear kids’ voices when you come into the school,” Ms. Williams boasted.  “You will see them moving.  We believe that children need validation for who they are as individuals.  We show the students that they have power and we want them to invest it here in their education.  We want them to understand the benefit of the methods we are using to further their learning.” 

 Ms. Williams is especially proud of the teaching residents from the Center for Inspired Learning.  She says that the Inspired Teaching Charter School currently has eight residents that are paired with Master Teachers.  These residents also have a mentor based at The Center for Inspired Teaching.  The head of school detailed that after these residents are in the classroom for about six weeks, they gradually begin to pick up responsibilities delegated by the Master Teachers such as running the morning meetings.  Ms. Williams stated that there is a rigorous process in place for selection of those that want to become residents.  All are interviewed so that an understanding can be gained about their approach toward working with students.  For example, an interview question might be “tell us about an interaction with children that demonstrates your philosophy toward them?”

The Inspired Teaching head of school stated that there are currently 10 residents in the program, and approximately 65 who have completed the program and are still in the field teaching.  One particularly positive aspect of the residency is that after the teachers complete their two years of training they are eligible to earn a Master’s Degree from Trinity University

Ms. Williams remarked that at the school there are generally two classes per grade Pre-Kindergarten three through sixth grade, and  one class currently in the seventh and eighth grades.  You will typically find two adults, including a master teacher and a resident, in a class of 25 students.  But this is hardly the rule. “There may be other educators in the classroom depending upon the unique needs of the students,” Ms. Williams instructed.

Ms. Williams is a Washington native whose children were also educated in this city.  She and her husband live in the house she grew up in.  Her entire professional life has been dedicated to preparing the successive generations of children to be successful in this world.  The Inspired Teaching Head of School informed me that she is not through making improvements in the way kids are taught.  “We are still honing our craft,” Ms. Williams stated, “and therefore our team will continue to work hard to place our children at the center of what we do on a daily basis.”

Basis DC PCS should become a private school

News came over the weekend from the Washington Post’s Perry Stein regarding Basis DC PCS and it was not the good kind. From her story:

” One of the District’s highest-performing charter schools is under federal investigation amid allegations it more harshly disciplines African American students.”

The probe comes as a result of an incident last May, as reported by Ms. Stein, in which the school went on lock-down for over an hour after two black special needs seventh grade students were heard discussing shooting after school. The pupils were talking about playing basketball, but a teacher at the charter reported the issue to the police due to a fear that these kids were about to do something violent. The children were then interviewed by the police without their parents present.

One of these parents, Yumica Thompson, together with assistance from the Advocates for Justice and Education, has now brought a complaint to the United States Education Department regarding inequitable discipline of black students at Basis DC PCS.

Ms. Stein includes some highly disturbing statistics in her article about the Education Department inquiry:

“At BASIS DC, 13 percent of black students and 2 percent of white students received out-of-school suspensions, according to city data. Ten percent of Hispanic students received out-of-school suspensions. Five percent of black students and 4 percent of Hispanic students received in-school suspensions, compared with 2 percent of white students.”

I did some other demographic research about Basis using data from the DC Public Charter School Board. Across the charter sector, black enrollment is at approximately 75 percent while at Basis DC High School it is 36.6 percent. In charters in the nation’s capital white attendance is at about five percent while at the Basis High School this statistic is at 39.1 percent. Economically disadvantaged pupils make up 22.1 percent of the student population at Basis while for charters as a whole this number is over 70 percent. English Language Learners comprise approximately eight percent of charter student bodies while at Basis this statistic is at two percent. Finally, Basis High School has a special education enrollment of four and a half percent, while charters see about 12 percent of students requiring Individualized Education Plans.

In other words, Basis has been able to shape its student body in a manner that would increase the probability that its student would be able to meet the demands of the school’s rigorous academic curriculum. The Department of Education review will inform us as to whether one way that it achieved this goal was through discriminatory disciplinary actions.

However, the information presented here is not new. The misalignment of this charter’s population with the rest of the movement has been known for some time and was predicted here when the school applied to open in D.C. For example, below is what DC PCSB member Steve Bumbaugh stated when Basis sought to expand by opening an elementary school in 2016:

“He revealed that for the last three weeks he had been studying the student enrollment data at the charter and he frankly found the numbers to be ‘concerning.’  For example, he discovered that across the charter sector in D.C. 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged but at Basis this number is 17 percent.  Again, he observed, overall for charters 15 percent of pupils are classified as Special Education and at Basis this number is less than five percent.  Moreover, at Basis less than 10 percent of kids are found to be At Risk while for charters that statistic is 51 percent.  Finally, Mr. Bumbaugh explained that charters are characterized by  student populations that include 7 percent English Language Learners while at Basis this percentile is zero.”

The question is what comes next?

For example, will the DC Public Charter School continue to support Basis as a means of lifting the average academic performance of the sector as a whole? Or will it take the moral course and encourage Basis to incorporate as a private school?

Here is one innovative approach to solve this issue. Basis could become private and then demonstrate for all to see its determined commitment to educating kids living in poverty by accepting a majority of its student body through the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

I guess I can still dream.

D.C. charter school movement is suffering from the “sanction of the victim”

The concept was coined by philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand in her book “Atlas Shrugged.” It stands for “the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the ‘sin’ of creating values. ” Yesterday, after yet another article appeared describing the wilting of positive opinion regarding these alternative learning institutions, I realized that the term accurately describes what is now taking place regarding the reality of charter schools in the nation’s capital.

For if you were to ask community members for their take on charters most certainly they would mention a few characteristics. First, they would say that they are of uneven academic quality; some are good and others are bad. Second, people would state that it is almost impossible to get your child into one of the most desirable schools. Lastly, you would almost certainly hear the view that these are public institutions that are privately run.

The first two of these statements are certainly valid. However, look at the environment charter schools have had to operate in since they were first created by Congress over twenty years ago. Charter schools still cannot find facilities to house them. I don’t know how many readers have had the experience of serving on a charter board, but the fight to identify a location can become all encompassing. It is a tremendous time and energy drain that sucks the oxygen out of important priorities such as academics. We have put up with this situation for so long that it has become normal. Yet, it prevents us from being as high quality as we can be. As Ms. Rand described it, for the privilege of creating innovative schools for those children who are the most difficult to teach, we are being punished with the withholding of available buildings. This has gone on far too long and must immediately stop.

Besides having to search for a place to live, charters receive significantly less funding than the traditional schools. There is a FOCUS engineered lawsuit going through the courts, but who is knocking on the Mayor’s door demanding that this be fixed? Are we afraid to upset her? Is this the track record we want when fifty years from now we look back on charters as another failed educational fad? I can think of no better time than today to march down to the Wilson Building and demand to meet with Ms. Bowser on this issue.

One major impact of the shortage of facilities and unequal revenue is a curtailment of growth of the sector as a whole. Thousand-student wait-lists are not uncommon. But when leaders are asked what they are doing to resolve this issue as well as the others, they look away. Not part of the job we are told. Someone else will have to pick up the mantle.

So we go to work each day with the understanding that we say charter schools are public schools but knowing just under the surface that in our hearts we may not even believe this statement. This is because we have accepted the bromide that they are privately run. So let me try and get this right. Charter schools are nonprofits governed by volunteer boards of trustees that are made up of neighbors living among us. The body is responsible to the DC Public Charter School Board, a government entity whose members are nominated by the Mayor and approved by the City Council.

Without a complete rejection of playing the victim role I’m afraid nothing will change regarding the state of charters in Washington, D.C. In fact, I’m extremely disappointed to say, it will only get worse.

Washington Post writers warned of high D.C. charter school administrator salaries in 2015

Last Tuesday, former DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson reminded us through Facebook that almost exactly three years ago the Washington Post’s Emma Brown and Michael Allison Chandler called out certain local charter school leaders for salaries that exceeded hers while she was in office although they oversaw a much smaller population of students.

The article included this observation by Carrie Irwin, co-founder and chief executive officer of Charter Board Partners:

“Carrie Irvin . . . an organization that works to strengthen charter school boards, said that in her experience, many boards aren’t doing a good job evaluating and compensating leaders according to their ability to meet concrete goals, including student achievement goals.

‘We’re talking about allocating taxpayer money to hire and retain a leader who can ensure that kids are getting a great education, and that’s a really big decision,’ Irvin said. “That’s why it’s so important to have strong boards.’”

The piece talked about Friendship PCS’s board of directors setting its pay for then CEO Donald Hense through a compensation committee, a perfectly appropriate manner for setting his salary. When I was at Washington Latin PCS, the board looked at market rates when deciding the salary of its head of school.

Ms. Brown and Chandler go on to comment:

“Competition for strong leaders and the size of schools are two of many factors that drive decisions about executive compensation at charter schools, according to charter school board members. Boards also survey executive compensation at other charter school networks around the country or other local nonprofit groups for comparison.”

All of this seems like the right way to go. It is when schools operate outside of these parameters that they can get in trouble when salary decisions around senior leadership become public knowledge.

Individuals involved with charter schools in the nation’s capital love to talk about the wide areas of responsibility that they as part of their jobs that includes finances, personnel, curriculum, academic results, student and staff recruitment, and real estate. These people should be paid fairly for the work that they do which also includes extremely long hours behind their desks.

As D.C. Council education committee chairman David Grosso stated in the Post article, almost all charter schools reimburse their administrators appropriately for what they do. It is the outliers that I worry about concerning the future of our movement.

D.C. charters are losing the public relations battle

Of course, I’m not stating anything we don’t already know. The confluence of news reports about excessive administrative salaries, students scrambling to find new schools in the face of multiple charter revocations by the DC Public Charter School Board and other voluntary closures, and the charge of a lack of transparency have combined to place these institutions serving almost half of all public school students in a negative light. As I’ve written recently, the current atmosphere is feeding those who want to see charters eradicated from the face of the earth and who faithfully support our country’s declining labor unions.

However depressing the situation seems at the moment, there is a way out. After having lengthy conversations with three prominent members of our local charter school movement yesterday I believe the way forward is clear.

First, we need to support open meetings of our local charter school boards. This is a common sense approach which treats the families of our students with dignity and respect. The great majority of the business that takes place before these boards is mundane in nature, and having visitors offers the opportunity to showcase the great work being done at our schools.

Next, we need to oppose the call for individual schools to have to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. Charters have exceedingly small administrative staffs and, as Rick Cruz, the chair of the PCSB, pointed out in my recent conversation with him, they need to focus on things like “academics, safety, finances, facilities, personnel, and meeting their specific goals.” In addition, FOIA actually applies to federal government entities, which charter schools are not.  D.C. has its own Freedom of Information Act law which does not cover charter school boards.  However, the PCSB is required to respond to those seeking information under FOIA and it has a treasure trove of information that it gathers from the schools it oversees.

Moreover, as I also wrote about the other day, decisions made at the school level need to looked at under a microscope as if they will be the next trending topic on Twitter. This is something that is an inherent part of the job of receiving and spending public funds.

Then we should celebrate all of the accomplishments of this exciting sector. We should proudly talk about how we are closing the academic achievement gap in public education for the first time in our nation’s history. We should remind citizens of the absolute train-wreck that DCPS was before charters starting offering an alternative way to deliver education. We must point to the improvements in the traditional schools that would never have occurred without our presence. We should provide a list of students that without our lifeline would have ended up in jail or dead. Finally, we should exclaim that we are doing all of this with our hands tied behind our backs due to the struggle to secure permanent facilities and the fact that we receive about $100 million less in funding each year than the regular schools.

Finally, we need to talk about the unique charter bargain around quality. We need to remind our community that DCPS has never, and will not ever, close a school due to academic results. We believe with every cell in our bodies in the equation of autonomy with accountability. After all isn’t autonomy with accountability what life is all about? Let’s use the experience of charter schools to teach this crucial lesson to our children.

The D.C. charter board should make its schools adhere to the open meeting law

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein has an article published today questioning whether charter schools in the nation’s capital should increase their transparency by operating under open meeting laws and being subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The answer to the first part of this equation is simple. I agree that individual charter board meetings should be open to the public. When I was board chair at Washington Latin PCS and the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, parents would sometimes ask when they were allowed to attend our monthly meetings of the trustees. I would reply that these sessions were open to the public. Only rarely did someone other than a board member come, but my response diffused a situation that creates tension with parents when it appears that decisions are being made in secret. At Latin, we also published board meeting minutes on the school’s website.

The part about complying with FOIA requests is more difficult, simply because charters often do not have the administrative resources to be able to satisfy the inquiries. I would consider a proposal in which the DC Public Charter School Board assists schools in providing information, meeting certain criteria.

Scott Pearson stated in Ms. Stein’s article that the PCSB is always trying to increase the transparency of the sector, and I believe that is true. Currently, online visitors to the board’s dcpcsb.org can view school budgets, 990 forms, audits, and financial analysis of schools’ balance sheets.

Ms. Stein also included the opinion about this subject of Todd Ziebarth, the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s senior vice president for state advocacy. He “said the District is an anomaly and in most jurisdictions, the public can attend charter school board meetings — and request records from individual schools. “

Mr. Pearson remarked to the Post reporter that a revised version of the board’s proposed transparency policy will be presented at its February 25th meeting. This will be the same night that the consolidation of Cesar Chavez PCS’s campuses will be discussed. Should be an extremely interesting evening.

Cesar Chavez PCS is closing Chavez Prep

Yesterday afternoon Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy announced several changes to its network in the wake of lower than expected student enrollment. A letter from the school’s board of directors explains:

“The Board of Trustees, which includes a Chavez graduate, two current parents, our founder, and education, civic and business leaders, has spent more than a year analyzing city enrollment trends and school options, the operations and performance of the network, and the financial viability of operating three disconnected school buildings at a lower-than-planned student enrollment. In 2010, Chavez Schools secured $27.2 million in bonds, financing the purchase and renovation of our three school buildings. This bond structure was based on enrollment growing to 1,500 students, targeting a 2020 refinance. Today, with enrollment at only 956, the network must be reconfigured for the organization to meet its financial obligations and ensure continued viability.”

Chavez is therefore consolidating its Capitol Hill High School, housed in a location that it rents with a lease that concludes next year, with its Parkside High School campus, in a building that it owns. The Capitol Hill site currently enrolls 235 pupils on a site that holds more than 400 students. The relatively low number of students makes it difficult to offer a high school program. Chavez indicates that the majority of children that attend Capitol Hill live in Wards 7 and 8, so the new location will actually be closer to home. When I was on the board of the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, and the school was desperately looking for a place to open, we tried to obtain this facility but lost out to Chavez.

In December, 2017, The DC Public Charter School Board forced Chavez to begin the closing of its Parkside Middle School due to low academic performance. It therefore stopped accepting sixth grade students the following term and now instructs only seventh and eight graders. These scholars will graduate in 2020 and will then be able to join the CMO’s Parkside High School. Eventually, Chavez plans to rebuild its middle school at the Parkside campus.

One of Chavez’s goals regarding these changes is to create a truly first rate high school. Again, according to the board’s announcement:

“Investing in the Parkside campus will include: more Advanced Placement (AP) courses and advanced electives, more dual enrollment early college opportunities, more SAT preparation and support, a greater focus on college matching and alumni support, more public policy internships and policy curriculum offerings, more supports for students with special needs and for those learning English, and an even stronger athletic program than we already have. It also means building improvements, technology upgrades and greater support for teachers, staff and community.”

Consistent with focusing on developing a stellar high school program, Chavez also announced that it is shuttering its Chavez Prep Middle School location at the end of the current school year. Similar to the Capitol Hill campus, student enrollment is way under capacity with 238 kids in a building that seats 420. The number of pupils is down 34 percent since 2015 in a structure that a decade ago saw a $10.8 million dollar investment in improvements that is still being financed. But much more important than Chavez getting out of the middle school business is the fact that closing this school will terminate teachers’ union involvement in charters in the District.

As the only unionized charter, there were a lot of shenanigans taking place at Chavez Prep, including teachers protesting on the street and complaints to the National Labor Relations Board. After the staff voted to join the American Federation of Teachers in 2017, and following a series of exceptionally challenging negotiations, a collective bargaining agreement with management has never been finalized. I have consistently expressed the view that teacher union membership is inconsistent with the operational freedoms associated with running a charter school, and therefore have called for Chavez to close this property.

Christian Herr, the Chavez Prep teacher behind the unionization effort, stated that employees were crying after learning on Wednesday that the school was going out of business. I’m sure this is true. He is probably upset that he is losing further opportunities to interfere with the administration of the school. He remarked that the union will investigate this action.

All I can say is that I am tremendously proud of the moves by the Chavez board of directors for their efforts in protecting and strengthening the future of their school.  I also applaud the leadership of Josh Kern as head of the Tensquare Group that is currently leading an academic turnaround at this charter. Just as in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, when the book’s hero architect Howard Roark destroyed his housing complex for low-income residents when it wasn’t being built to his high-level specifications, in closing Chavez Prep Mr. Kern has taken a gigantic step in protecting the integrity of our local movement of innovative schools. Therefore, I now consider Mr. Kern the Howard Roark of the D.C. charter movement.

In addition, the news for me could not come at a better time. Next Wednesday I mark ten years of covering our city’s charter schools through my blog.

“I am the undertaker.” D.C. charter board’s COO on closing schools

In an exceptionally well written piece, Lenora Robinson-Mills, the chief operating officer for the DC Public Charter School Board, reflects on her role in working with schools whose charters have been revoked by her organization. She states:

“In the presenter’s scenario, where school closure is the death, the school community dies, and I am the undertaker. And the grief counselor. Part of my role at DC PCSB is to manage the wind-down of the school and support families in finding new schools once our Board makes that final decision. And, I was onboard with the presenter using the metaphors ‘death’ and ‘funeral’ to symbolize school closure (‘yes, we should give families time to grieve!’) until I remembered how it usually plays out in our city. I remembered why we’re pushing students and families to pick a new ‘parent’ so quickly: usually, the final closure decision by our Board happens very close to (and in some cases past) the My School DC common lottery application deadline. So to ensure the families of closed public charter schools have access to as many quality options as possible, we push… hard. We call, email, text, send snail mail, and host school fairs. We have the school make calls, send letters, emails, texts, send robocalls, and hold parent meetings. We listen to family concerns and considerations with empathy, and then we ask, beg, and plead with them to submit their lottery applications TODAY!”

Ms. Robinson-Mills openly grapples with the entire process around school closure. She mentions that a charter often does not inform their parents that it is in trouble before the decision is made by the board to close the doors. If the word got out early and families left, and then by some chance the school was allowed to keep operating, then it may not have sufficient revenue to keep going. She is talking about the inherent financial paradox of running a charter school. Newly approved institutions are required to sign leases on buildings when they do not know how many children will enroll. Add to this the fact that no charter opens with its full enrollment, almost all open with a couple of grades and then add a grade a year until they reach their ceiling, and you get just one sense about the difficulty of managing this business. Founders must complete an arduous application process, secure a facility, hire the staff, sign up the pupils, comply with a myriad of reporting requirements, and then after one year of grace, become accountable to a grade on the Performance Management Framework. You can see why I refer to these leaders as heroes.

The PCSB COO wishes that no school had to face closure. She yearns for a surgeon that could come in and medically repair the ill patient. Ms. Robinson-Mills knows this is not the role of authorizer. In D.C. we have TenSquare that can play the part of doctor but their fixes have recently been the subject of intense criticism. Attorney Stephen Marcus has gallantly tried to block the executioner from casting the final vote to end the existence of schools, however his argument that there is a bias built into the PMF against low-income children has now been firmly rejected.

All of this points to the tremendous differences between charters and traditional schools in this city. The fact that DCPS faces none of the challenges is a testament to charters that teach almost 44,000 students or 47 percent of all public school students in the District of Columbia. There are 123 schools run by 66 non-profit entities in the city. This is an unbelievable achievement.


Washington Post writers continue anti charter school tirade

The Washington Post’s education writer Valerie Strauss desperately wants all charter schools closed. Here’s what she wrote in a recent opinion piece:

“There are some wonderful charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, but the sector is rife with scandal, and critics charge that they are harming traditional public schools, which enroll most of America’s children.

What was once billed as a model for the improvement of traditionally governed public schools has become a troubled parallel system of privately managed schools with, in many places, patterns of waste, fraud and segregation.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Charters are public schools but they are not privately managed. In the District of Columbia each one is a non-profit governed by a board of directors made up of members of the community. The school itself is ultimately held accountable to the DC Public Charter School Board, a public body whose composition of individuals is selected by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the D.C. Council. All of those serving on a school board and the PCSB are unpaid volunteers.

Charter schools are not characterized by “waste, fraud, and segregation.” There have been just two cases of financial irregularities in the 20-year history of our local charters, and in both cases the schools were closed once the problems were identified and criminal charges were brought against those involved.

Today, Ms. Strauss, together with Perry Stein, continues to spread false claims about charters in a news story about The Future Family Enrichment Center, a home where Monument Academy PCS apparently sent three children and Friendship PCS sent one student on a temporary basis while arrangements were being made to meet their special education needs. The Enrichment Center was found not to have a business license. The charter board and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education are now investigating this business. I am confident that after this publicity no charter school will ever again utilize this vendor.

The article again spreads the inaccurate bromide about charters being privately run schools and it adds this one about the PCSB: “The board — which oversees dozens of charter schools in the city — grants schools autonomy to make financial decisions, meaning that contracts schools sign with outside vendors do not need to be approved by the board. “

In the aftermath of the problems around finances that were mentioned earlier the board increased its requirements around procurement contracts. You can read the policy here. In addition, in an tremendous effort to increase transparency around the use of public funds anyone can review the balance sheet and fiduciary health of any one of its institutions. Try dong that with a traditional public school.

But all of this is really besides the point. If you want to have an inspiring day skip work and go visit one of our city’s charter schools. There you will find heroes spending every bit of energy contained in their bodies to take kids living in poverty and close the academic achievement gap. As soon as you walk into one of these buildings the positive energy will make you feel like you have entered one of the most prestigious learning establishments in this country although it may be located in a store front, warehouse, or church basement. These schools are taking children who in the past have ended up in jail or would have been killed, and sending them to college.

Instead of writing highly misleading pieces, Ms. Strauss and Ms. Stein should take a trip to Monument Academy or any one of Friendship’s 13 campuses.

Transitions and consolidations at D.C. charter schools

Late Friday, I received a note from Aaron Cuny, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ingenuity Prep PCS, announcing that he was stepping down from his position at the school.  He wrote:

“After much deliberation, I’ve decided to transition from the role of Ingenuity Prep’s CEO.  After nearly 18 years of working in schools — including serving as the leader of this organization since we opened our doors in 2013 — I’ve come to the conclusion this transition is necessary for me to fulfill my commitments to my own family, one which will soon get a little bit bigger as my wife and I prepare for the birth of our first child later this month.”

Mr. Cuny, who I interviewed this past October, indicated that his co-founder and the school’s current chief operating officer Will Stoetzer will assume the interim CEO role.  Mr. Cuny added that he is not leaving the school entirely; after a paternity leave he will continue to serve Ingenuity Prep by assisting with special projects.

Board chair Peter Winik commented on the change:

“Having worked closely with Aaron for close to six years — since before the first students walked into Ingenuity Prep —  I have enormous affection and respect for Aaron. He cares deeply and passionately about the vision of the school: making certain that our kids receive the finest education possible. Over these past years, no one has worked harder at making that vision a reality than Aaron.  We’re proud of what the school has been able to achieve, and we all owe Aaron an enormous debt of gratitude for this.

Even as we are sad to see Aaron transition from the role of CEO, we are fortunate to be in a position to provide for stability and strong continued leadership in this transition.  As a former teacher with a masters in special education and as a co-founder of the school, Will Stoetzer has worked side-by-side with Aaron from the very beginning — crafting the vision for the school; engaging external partners, staff, families, and students; and executing with a high level of excellence his work as Chief Operating Officer.”

As I wrote following my conversation with Mr. Cuny, Ingenuity Prep has achieved much, especially in the area of academics.  The school would like to replicate but being ranked as Tier 2 on DC Public Charter’s School Board’s Performance Management Framework, it does not meet the criteria for expansion.  Over the last three years the charter’s PMF score has been gradually declining.

Then on Saturday at the annual EdFest event at the DC Armory, I ran into Patricia Brantley, the CEO of Friendship PCS.  She was only too excited to tell me that her school has filed an amendment with the charter board to takeover Ideal Academy PCS.  My sense of Ideal is that it has been a chronically low academically performing school for much of its existence since it was approved to open in 1999 under the old Board of Education.  The PCSB began revocation proceedings in 2011 against the school, which was allowed to stay open after it agreed to eliminate its high school.  In 2018, the pre-Kindergarten to eighth grade facility teaching approximately 279 students in Ward 4 ranked as a Tier 3, where it has generally scored over the last three years.  In all certainly the PCSB would have moved shortly to close this charter.

The conversion of this school to fall under the Friendship umbrella means that this will be the second charter consolidation to be considered at the charter board’s December meeting.  The other is the KIPP DC management of Somerset Prep PCS.