Gates Foundation to provide $10 million in school vouchers for students in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 to attend college

Washington Post writers Mandy McLaren and Shira Stein reveal today that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide $10 million in school vouchers to increase the number of students from Washington D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 who attend college through the D.C. College Access Program.  D.C. CAP is the program started a couple of decades ago by former Washington Post publisher Donald Graham.  In January 2015, when Mr. Graham announced that he was stepping down from leading the nonprofit organization, the editors of the Post recognized him for his achievement:

“In 1999, fewer than 1 in 3 D.C. high school graduates enrolled in college, and a mere 15 percent went on to get a degree. Today, 62 percent of high school graduates enroll in college — on par with the national average — and 44 percent graduate. D.C. CAP is unique among college access programs in that every student — regardless of family circumstance or academic achievement — is eligible, but those who have benefited most are from low-income, minority, single-parent households. Many have been the first in their families to attend college.

Scholarship money alone could not have achieved this record. The program offers high school counseling, then helps college students register and stays with them as they adjust to higher ed. That other programs have adopted similar methods is further evidence of how Mr. Graham helped pioneer an idea into something with lasting significance. Not many other individuals have had such a positive impact on so many lives — and with so little self-congratulation.”

The money, to be paired with another $1 million from Monumental Sports & Entertainment and together with $7 million from D.C. CAP’s fundraising efforts, will allow scholarships to be awarded up to $25,000 for low-income children to attend college.  This does not include dollars allocated through the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, another initiative promoted by Mr. Graham, that provides tuition assistance for kids from D.C. to attend public universities across the country, private colleges in the nation’s capital, and historically black colleges.

The aim is to help about 600 scholars from eight schools that include Hart Middle School,  Kramer Middle School, Anacostia High School, Ballou High School, H.D. Woodson High School, Maya Angelou Public Charter School, Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School and Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School.  Ms. McLaren and Ms. Stein indicate that “program participants must also attend Saturday sessions throughout the year and a six-week summer academy, where they will receive extra support in math and ­English language arts and preparation for college entrance exams.”

This is the first time that the program will include middle school students, which is being accomplished with the help of the College Success Foundation, the group run by Herb Tillery.

There was some fear that when Mr. Graham stepped down from the helm of D.C. CAP that it would loose momentum.  But obviously, when you have someone like Ted Leonsis from Monumental Sports & Entertainment now in charge and a board of directors that includes Raul Fernandez, also from Monumental Sports, who is also the chairman of Fight for Children, together with Katherine and David Bradley, the founders of CityBridge Foundation, you know that the organization is in truly excellent hands.

The Post indicated that Ward 7 and 8 students and parents learned of the scholarships at a lunch yesterday.  A formal announcement about the Gates contribution will come today.

Breakthrough – The Movie

Last evening my wife Michele and I had the great privilege of heading over to the Columbia Heights Educational Campus auditorium to watch the first public showing of the film Breakthrough.  The event was co-sponsored by CityBridge Education and Stone Soup Films, the firm that produced the movie.  During the introduction we learned that Stone Soup is a Washington, D.C. company that develops all of its projects through the use of volunteers.  I would say this is just about the perfect organization to make a documentary that covers D.C.’s charter schools, a movement composed of hundreds of people contributing their time, money, and expertise for no financial remuneration.

The documentary follows three schools that were awarded $100,000 each through Citybridge’s “Breakthrough Schools: DC” challenge in 2014 to create new or redesigned transformational schools in the nation’s capital.  This was the initial year that these grants were made and Monument Academy PCS, Washington Leadership Academy PCS, and the Wheatley Education Campus were part of the first cohort of six winners.

So here’s the bottom line.  I basically watched the last 20 years of my life replayed before me on the big screen.  The audience saw Monument Academy, the first boarding school in the city for foster children, go through the amazingly complex struggle of securing a permanent facility.  The commercial spaces that were identified as possibilities all fall through and the charter is eventually awarded, with the help of Building Hope, a shuttered DCPS building, the former Gibbs School.  I went through similar hunts with Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy, the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (now City Arts and Prep PCS) and Washington Latin PCS.  But the structure was in such a poor physical condition that Monument must practically rebuild it from the ground up, a repeat of what Washington Latin went through at its own expense when it assumed the old Rudolph Elementary.

We get a first-hand look at a Monument Academy parent information session held at a public library, since this is before the school had its own location that would allow it to hold meetings of this type. The picture captures the exceptionally tough questions and comments by those considering sending their own offspring to this new school.   Michele and I witnessed exactly the same scenario when we were trying to convince parents to sent their kids to WEDJ.

Breakthrough took the large audience for a closeup view of the charter approval process for Washington Leadership Academy before the DC Public Charter School Board.  I remember this as if it was yesterday as I observed and wrote about Seth Andrew’s team making a confusing and unstructured presentation one year; only to be followed by a revised application 12 months later that perfectly reflected the exciting vision for this groundbreaking charter that won unanimous approval by the board to begin operating.

The film is an accurate portrayal so it does not have a completely happy ending.  The Wheatley Elementary School’s attempts to implement a blended learning approach based upon competency-based student assessments.  During its first year of implementation only three classrooms end up adopting this new approach which results in its dynamic instructional leader for this effort, Tanisha Dixon, leaving the school at the end of the term.  It brought back in my mind the high all of us associated William E. Doar experienced when in our first couple of years we met the Annual Yearly Progress goals under No Child Left Behind only to find much later the three founding women departing and the hiring of Ten Square consulting group to get the school back on track academically.

All of this brings me to my final impression of the film.  This heroic work that many of us in this town have been doing to finally close the achievement gap is really really hard.  Thank goodness we have CityBridge Education, with Katherine Bradley as the fountainhead and Mieka Wick as chief executive officer, to provide financial assistance and many other avenues of support as public school reform reaches an entirely new level.  The organization’s goal is to create 25 new or reconstituted schools in the next five years.  I can’t wait to see the sequel.

CityBridge Education to begin incubating new schools

The exciting news came out yesterday that the CityBridge Foundation, transitioning as of January 1, 2017 to become the nonprofit CityBridge Education, will begin incubating and creating new schools and revolutionizing already exciting ones in alliance with the traditional and charter school sectors.  The organization’s aggressive goal is to “redesign or launch 25 innovative public schools within five years” in Washington, D.C. with the mission of “advancing equity and opportunity for all children.”

CityBridge Foundation co-founder, president, and personal hero Katherine Bradley has turned to recently named chief executive officer Mieka Wick to lead this charge.  I’ve worked with Ms. Wick for years at the CityBridge Foundation and frankly with her in this new role I have no doubt that success is the only possible outcome.

The effort is a natural outgrowth of the work of the foundation.  It has been providing financial and other support to promising charter and DCPS schools since its creation in 1994.  A list of partner schools can be found here.  In fact, Ms. Bradley was co-chair of the search committee that led to Kaya Henderson becoming chancellor.  Since 2013, CityBridge has been managing the awarding of grants to new or redesigned schools as part of Breakthrough Schools: D.C. modeled after the national Next Generation Learning Challenges competition.

It is also a natural outcome of the fact that here in the nation’s capital after 20 years of public school reform only 25 percent of students are scoring as college or career ready on the PARCC standardized examination.

So how will the group’s efforts become a reality?  From Wednesday’s press release:

“CityBridge Education will find teachers, leaders, and school teams with the ideas and the drive to create new, better models of school. Educators will be connected to structured design work, portfolio management, networks of talent, and the significant resources needed to launch or transform schools. We will build a cross-sector (district and charter) cohort of educators, regularly sharing their experiences (successes, as well as failures) in order to speed adoption of promising practices and transformative ideas. Our work will serve these innovative educators, all united in the belief that school can deliver results that honor the talent and potential inherent in children.”

There is one fundamental principle that will guide these efforts, and that is best explained by Ms. Wick:

“Although we expect a real diversity of schools in our portfolio, there is one principle animating all our school creation work: Our unifying imperative is equity. For far too long, schoolchildren in D.C. and other urban areas have been subject to a “narrative of disinheritance”—the persistent inequities of experience, resources, and perceived worth, based on race, class, or story. Great schools can disrupt and redirect that narrative. When designed thoughtfully, schools can be places where students—regardless of race or socioeconomic status—are secure, valued, and can stretch for significant accomplishment; they are places where love and justice thrive. Equitable schools always deliver academic results, but they do so in a way that develops in students key habits of autonomy, mastery, and independent thought. Only then, with schools that foster authentic human agency, can we say we have achieved our goal of intentional equity.”

It’s going to be an extremely interesting 60 months.