D.C. charter support organizations need to buy up empty buildings for future classrooms

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major negative impact on the commercial real estate market in the District of Columbia, hitting especially hard the downtown area as explained by the Washington Post’s Emily Davies and Michael Brice-Saddler in a recent article:

“The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the vacancy rate in the central business district, forcing city leaders to consider drastic alternatives to fill unused office space. They’ve focused on attracting university researchers and medical professionals. Some are even pushing to convert commercial buildings into residences.”

The recent trend has continued a pattern seen before the virus interrupted American society. According to the Post:

“The question of whether the 9-to-5 ethos of downtown Washington will return after a year of mostly virtual work looms large as the city looks toward recovery from the pandemic. The mass exodus to makeshift home offices has led many businesses to reconsider whether they need large and expensive offices. The trend is exacerbating the emptying of downtown as organizations were already downsizing office space in the city’s core and some were moving to cheaper, newer buildings in the region before the pandemic.”

The glut of empty office space creates a tremendous opportunity for the District’s charter schools, which faced an intractable facility shortage as late as the beginning of 2020. The problem led to the creation of the End The List campaign that sought the release of surplus DCPS properties to charters as a way to end an 11,000 student wait list to gain admission to schools.

Now that properties are available and landlords are seeking alternative uses to office space, it is up to D.C.’s charter support organizations to buy these buildings so that new charters will have homes or as a method to provide existing charters places to expand and replicate.

I’m thinking that the logical group to take this bold move is Building Hope. But others can play this part operating on their own or in cooperation with others. I’m thinking of the DC PCSB, Education Forward, and CityBridge Education getting into the act. Perhaps the Walton Foundation can join the effort.

In 2019, I took a tour of Chicago’s Noble Public Charter School Muchin College Prep campus that is located next to the Loop, a couple of blocks from the Art Institute. It is in a high-rise office tower. You might think that it was strange entering such a structure to visit a school but once inside it appeared no different than other classroom buildings. I have to say that it was exciting to be in this busy area of town intermingled with business people. It provides a great example of what kids can aspire to become later in life.

The same experience can be replicated for students in the nation’s capital. The Post article adds,

“D.C. business owners who for decades have thrived with corporate life downtown are desperate for customers to return.”

The time to act is now.

DC Education Equity Fund raises $1.1 million to support distance learning

Yesterday was the first day for distance learning for D.C.’s traditional schools. It also marked an announcement by Mayor Muriel Bowser that Education Forward DC, in collaboration with the DC Public Education Fund, has created at the Greater Washington Community Foundation the DC Education Equity Fund. The goals of the fund are:

  • Ensuring students’ basic needs are being met so they are ready to learn
  • Providing students with internet and device access
  • Support for students to have a successful transition when school buildings reopen with additional learning resources

The Education Equity Fund’s website states that “Education Forward DC will pay for all donation processing costs so that 100% of funds raised will go to organizations directly serving DC students and families.”

Ms. Bowser revealed that $1.1 million dollars have already been raised in this effort. The money will support all public school students including those enrolled in charters and DCPS. The public can contribute to the fund here. Below are some examples of what the donations can do:

  • $50 buys a wifi hotspot for a family without internet connectivity
  • $250 buys a device—a Chromebook, for example—for a student in need
  • $5,000 buys a classroom set of devices for students

Contributors include:

  • A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation
  • CityBridge Education
  • CityBridge Foundation
  • The City Fund
  • Terry and Lindsay Eakin
  • Education Forward DC
  • The Lois and Richard England Family Foundation
  • The Andrew and Julie Klingenstein Family Fund
  • Joseph E. Robert Jr. Charitable Trust, G. David Fensterheim, Trustee

All are heroes. As the Mayor remarked on Tuesday:

“We are grateful for everyone in our community who is stepping up during these unprecedented times – students, families, and community partners. We will be learning together, and we will get through this together.”

Yes we will. Again, from the new organization’s website:

“The District and the nation are facing unprecedented challenges due to the current public health emergency. Public schools in the District of Columbia have transitioned to a modified operating status to support the District’s efforts to mitigate the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Beginning Tuesday, March 24, schools launched distance learning; during this time, students will learn from a combination of online lessons, printed materials, and virtual check-ins with teachers.

While distance learning is new for most families, for many in our community it also means immediate challenges to ensure digital equity. Today, there is an urgent need to ensure that all DC students – especially those furthest from opportunity – are provided the resources and support they need to continue their education.”

D.C. SCORES’ One Night One Goal Gala

I was on the telephone recently with my hero Keith Gordon, the president and chief executive officer of Fight for Children.  We were discussing his organization’s updated strategic plan which centers on “providing at-risk children in Washington, DC with access to high quality youth sports opportunities.”  He explained to me that as a result of  kids being engaged in strong athletic programs they are active, develop socially and emotionally, perform better academically in school, and are prepared for future success.  When I asked Mr. Gordon to provide me with an example of a non-profit in the city that is now doing this well he pointed to D.C. SCORES.

A few weeks after our conversation an invitation arrived for the One Night One Goal Gala being held by D.C. SCORES on October 4th from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Audi Field.  For those of you, like me, who are not familiar with this group, D.C. SCORES runs a public soccer league in the nation’s capital for elementary and middle school students in the fall and spring.  The sports program incorporates poetry, in which students learn to write and perform and which culminates in a Poetry Slam, and a 12-week service learning project aimed at improving the local community.  From information on its website I can see that many of the coaches, who come primarily from the schools involved in the soccer teams, become mentors to the participating children.

Begun in 1994, it now reaches 12 cities in the United States in Canada through its affiliate America SCORES.

Here is how D.C. SCORES describes the upcoming celebration:

“Guests attending One Night One Goal will mingle in Audi Field’s EagleBank Club and VIP suites, take photos on the bench, and even tour the team’s locker room.  The auction will feature additional unique experiences, including a lease for an Audi R8, a broadcast booth visit with Dave Johnson (who will also host the auction), a gallery tour and original painting by D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen, an opportunity to be a producer and featured in an upcoming soccer movie, an owner’s box game-day experience with D.C. United owner Jason Levien, and more.  The event will be deeply interactive, with entertainment including contests, photo booths, a DJ, performances from DC SCORES’ poet-athletes, FIFA games with D.C. United stars, and more.  DC SCORES Executive Director Bethany Rubin Henderson said, “DC SCORES is all about fun.  We don’t do boring buttoned-up galas.  This event will bring together the District to party and enjoy Audi Field, while benefitting our 3,000 poet-athletes – but most of all, it will be fun!”

A couple of other details about this evening caught my attention.  Food and drink will be offered by Chef Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup.  In addition, on the host committee is another of my heroes, Katherine Bradley, the founding chair of CityBridge Education.

It appears like this will be a spectacular evening at the brand-new home of D.C. United.



Mieka Wick stepping down as CityBridge Education CEO

In a beautifully poetic note Katherine Bradley, co-founder of the CityBridge Foundation and executive chair of CityBridge Education, announces that Mieka Wick is leaving her position as chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization.  The following letter is reprinted with Mrs. Bradley’s permission.

June 28, 2018

Dear CityBridge Colleagues and Friends,

Although the core of my message is not news for most of you, this writing may bring surprise for some. So I thought I would start with the headline: After ten wonderful years as my partner and colleague at CityBridge, Mieka Wick will be departing at the end of June. She leaves us without having fixed a next destination, instead hoping to explore multiple pathways for her future life and professional contribution. Leadership departures are never easy, but this one deserves an unusual moment of gratitude, as the CityBridge team and I thank Mieka for the exceptional decade we have had together. Mieka has been nothing short of a treasure—as a person of deep warmth and compassion, and as a critical leader through the growth and development of CityBridge.

Eleven years ago this summer, I hired Mieka Wick based on one, fateful phone conversation. She was considering a move to Washington with her husband David and her newborn, Annabelle. (Sam Wick arrived a few years later.) It was time for her to be back in her hometown, closer to her family. She had built the donor relations practice area at New Profit in Boston and was looking for some way to continue that special blend of education and philanthropy. I was looking for someone to be my close partner in building what we have come to call our Stewardship Network—a collection of leaders in philanthropy, business, and civic life who, together, could ensure that the education reform platform being built in Washington would remain resilient and strong. I had seen glimmers of similar networks in other cities, and my hunch was that CityBridge could help create the “glue” that would allow Washington, D.C. to avoid the political whiplash plaguing education reform efforts in other cities.

Mieka joined us in September 2007. Together, she and I met with countless local leaders and champions, and our Stewardship Network thrived. In December 2010, I asked her to take on the role of CityBridge executive director, and to my delight and good fortune, she accepted. In January 2017, we launched a new venture, CityBridge Education, entirely focused on the incubation of innovative school models and the redesign of existing schools. Mieka became CEO of that enterprise, which is now finishing a first (successful) full fiscal year as a public charity.

She leaves us now in order to have the time and space to craft a whole new chapter—tethered surely to the non-profit purposes that have animated her career, namely, work that allows children, families, and individuals to thrive. We know that whatever she touches—whichever lucky entity it is she creates or attaches to next—will have the full magic of the Mieka Wick we have all known and loved.

After a decade of close partnership, there are hundreds of moments and images I could turn to, to sum up her unique gifts: moments when I have had the privilege of watching her masterfully present our work to individuals or to large audiences; and many moments of triumph—schools succeeding, programs launched, partnerships formed. Her most profound impact, however, is not in any tally of external achievement, as significant as that success is. Instead, her deepest impact is on all of us, her close-in colleagues at CityBridge and her wider network of stewards and friends. Mieka is an individual of unsurpassed warmth and positive energy, compassion and delight. As with any human endeavor, it is these moments—the friendships, alliances, and loyalties we build—that most endure. And in that sense, Mieka Wick will never really leave us. Sometimes, long after an individual has moved on, a trace of them remains in the air, like the scent of a signature perfume, lingering and distinct. Mieka’s signature—that thing that will linger in the air at CityBridge—is her deep humanity and the care, warmth and affirmation she consistently brought to others. Hers has been a presence of love, and CityBridge has been immeasurably blessed by it.

Although we hope to have news on the appointment of her successor by early in the fall, I will save all of those practical points for future writing. Mieka’s personal email is: mieka.wick@gmail.com. I know she will want to stay in touch with the friends and colleagues she has from CityBridge. For today’s writing, however, my purpose is simply to say: Thank you, Mieka Wick.

With best wishes,

Katherine Bradley
Executive Chair
CityBridge Education

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.