Exclusive interview with Lea Crusey, chair DC Public Charter School Board

I had the honor of meeting recently for an interview with Ms. Lea Crusey, recently elected chair of the DC Public Charter School Board.  Ms. Crusey got started right away.  “It has been an extremely busy time.  I am visiting as many schools as I can to see classrooms, students interacting with their teachers and more.”

I wanted to learn about Ms. Crusey’s professional background.  “I grew up with parents who were VISTA volunteers in 1969.  They taught me the importance of participatory democracy.  I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey and remember speaking at a school board meeting making an argument in opposition to a charter school application.” 

After receiving her bachelor’s degree at Claremont McKenna College, the PCSB chair began her career as a fourth through eighth grade teacher through Teach for America, following in the professional footsteps of her paternal grandmother and her own mom.  In fact, it was her own mother’s work teaching English as a Second Language at the local YMCA at night that made her realize that there were numerous children whose needs were not being met by traditional public schools.  After completing graduate school at the University of Chicago and working for a few years in transportation, she joined Michelle Rhee’s organization StudentFirst.  She found her work there fascinating, as she enhanced her upbringing in participatory democracy by attempting to advance public school reform to places like Jefferson City, Missouri and Des Moines, Iowa.  This was during the heyday of the Race to the Top competition run by the U.S. Department of Education.  One of her proudest achievements during this period was her contribution to the creation of the Missouri state-wide charter authorizing body.

After about two and a half years at StudentsFirst, a position as Deputy Director with Democrats for Education Reform brought her to D.C. working under Joe Williams, who was based in New York City.  After more than two years at DFER, she moved over to the U.S. Education Department as a senior policy advisor toward the end of President Obama’s Administration.  As is evident from Ms. Crusey’s resume, she is more than qualified to assume the position of chair of the DC Public Charter School Board.

I wanted Ms. Crusey’s opinion as to how well she thought the PCSB was operating.  She answered without hesitation.  “The DC charter board is the most effective charter authorizer in the country.  I have been on the board for four years.  Last year we released our three-year Strategic Roadmap.  We also managed the process around the recruitment and selection of our new excellent executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis, and I am extremely proud of how it worked out.  We have an amazing opportunity now to fulfil the Board’s vision, which is to ensure that “every D.C. student receives a quality education that makes them feel valued and prepares them for lifelong learning, fulfilling careers, and economic security.”

I brought up the fact that the PCSB has begun the process of revising the Performance Management Framework.  I asked the leader of the charter board what the intended outcome of this review would be.  “The goal,” Ms. Crusey detailed, “is to allow our oversight body to have good information to evaluate the quality of our schools.  Having a summary rating for a charter is important, however, now that there are very few Tier 3 schools remaining, there are a number of Tier 2 institutions.  We want to understand how we can move the needle.  Our concern had been mostly around the middle school framework that relied heavily on standardized test scores.  Staff has worked hard to account for demographic and socio-economic differences in the student bodies between charters.  One aim for the final accountability tool is to be able to disaggregate student population measures.  Our belief is that if a school is able to create great gains with a hard to reach student population, then we should celebrate this amazing accomplishment.”

I then inquired about new members being added to the PCSB as there are now only four [as of the time of our interview].  Ms. Crusey informed me that shortly Shantelle Wright, known primarily as the founder and CEO of Achievement Prep PCS; Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan, executive director of D.C. Reading Partners and former exectuvie director of Democracy Prep PCS and Imagine Southeast PCS; and Nick Rodriguez, CEO of Delivery Associates, will be joining the board in July bringing the body back up to its full complement of seven officers.  “There is a lot going on,” Ms. Crusey added.

The PCSB last year paused the new school application process for a year as well as enrollment increases.  I asked the chair the purpose behind these moves.  “The questions around where the Performance Management Framework lands, how many tiers we end up with, the way that we define excellent schools, are at the heart of what we do.  We have a broad range of student achievement coming out of the pandemic.  We acknowledge that there are gaps around the academic offerings at different schools.  Our mission around equity means that we need to address the unique needs of all students.  We are now addressing how we approve new schools and allow others to grow in light of our revised framework of how we evaluate quality.  Simultaneously, D.C.’s population growth is uncertain.  We need to understand how these shifts are impacting the delivery of public education.”

Ms. Crusey then became philosophical, allowing her passion for her life’s work to shine through.  “It would be easy to think that the actions this board has taken are politically based,” the PCSB chair asserted, “however, everything we do in our work is determined by data.  Our principal mission is to serve children.  We need to be realistic about what the future looks like and how to meet those needs.  I’m extremely excited to see the outcome of our efforts.  How will the new accountability framework help drive quality?  We need to have equitable access to schools.  There must be sufficient capacity.  We are wrapping up community conversations and focus groups that will inform the revisions we make to the charter evaluation tool.  Soon we will be onboarding new board members.  We want to have a cohesive group that successfully continues the implementation of the Strategic Roadmap and the new accountability tool.  We understand that D.C. public charter schools are a place where every student thrives and prospers, especially those furthest away from opportunity.”

I noticed that during the June monthly meeting that the board was now considering allowing schools to offer a virtual option.  I asked why this choice for families had not been offered earlier.  Ms. Crusey responded, “We needed to get some clarity from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education on virtual attendance.  All schools are eligible to apply.  There are significant operational challenges to teaching online.  We are supporting Dr. Walker-Davis’s leadership in this area.”

Finally, I wanted to know how the PCSB was doing during this phase of the pandemic.  “We are making strong advances,” Ms. Crusey informed me.  “Staff is coming into the office a couple of days a week.  We are making plans to once again hold our monthly meetings in person.  I just have to say that Dr. Walker-Davis has done an amazing job transitioning into her job during Covid and bringing fresh new talent to the charter board staff.”

Rick Cruz’s term ends on D.C. charter board

I was especially eager to tune into last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board. I had seen the social media announcements that three new members would be joining the board at this session. The charter board had been down to three directors for over six months and people were wondering if Mayor Muriel Bowser would ever submit nominations for replacements. The new additions are Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan, executive director of Reading Partners and former executive director of Democracy Prep PCS and Imagine Southeast PCS; Nick Rodriquez, CEO of Delivery Associates; and Shantelle Wright, who needs no introduction.

While DC PCSB executive director Michelle Walker-Davis expressed a couple of times Monday evening about how happy she was to have a full complement of board members, it was announced by chair Lea Crusey that this was the last meeting for Rick Cruz.

This previously undisclosed news then resulted in a roundtable of compliments for Mr. Cruz’s volunteer work over eight years at the charter board by Dr. Walker-Davis and all of the other members of the PCSB. The accolades are well deserved. Mr. Cruz’s tenure on the board, which included two years as chair, was characterized by the same steady leadership and respect for others that defined the leadership of previous individuals who have had this position including Tom Nida, Skip McCoy, Brian Jones, and Darrin Woodruff. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Cruz a couple of times when he headed the board and found him to be approachable and kind. I also had the chance to talk to him when he was chief executive officer DC Prep PCS. He is one of only two people I have had conversations with who have held two important roles in our local charter movement. The other is Josh Kern, who I interviewed as founder and managing partner of TenSquare Consulting and as co-founder and executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School.

Mr. Cruz thanked everyone for their kinds words. He remarked that he found his efforts on the board to be the most important role he has played. He then added that he felt that the board had accomplished much during his time of service but that there was much more to be done. I could not agree more. Here is my list:

  1. Solve the charter school permanent facility issues. The pandemic has provided an excellent opportunity to set aside commercial real estate for use by charters,
  2. Increase the number of charters by having the DC PCSB rapidly approve school replications and expansions, and significantly raise the number of new schools approved to open. The greater the number of families who send their children to charters, the more advocates for our sector we have,
  3. Settle once and for all funding inequities between charters and DCPS. The newly planned update to the Adequacy Study should play a key role here, and
  4. Close the academic achievement gap. The board can play a tremendous part here. Expand those schools that have figured out how to get this done. Close those that are not doing their part. This includes DCPS sites.

The fact that the level of learning between affluent and low income kids continues to demonstrate a wide gulf of difference after hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent for school reform in the nation’s capital should make our blood boil. Morally, we cannot sit back and do nothing. Do not blow it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is probably when tears started flowing down my face.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Public school reform advocates should vote for Muriel Bowser for D.C. Mayor

I have to admit that Robert White Jr.’s comments on public education scare me. As WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle pointed out, when the Mayoral candidate was asked during a May 4, 2022 debate as to whether schools should remain under the control of the city’s chief executive, he apparently answered in this way:

“We need a mayor who’s not just going to go to the easy talking points, but who’s going to get in the details. And this mayor has not gotten into the details. And that’s why she doesn’t have a clear understanding of why so many students are leaving our schools. Right now, 30% of elementary school students leave D.C. Public Schools before middle school. There is an urgent problem, and we need a mayor with a sense of urgency on public education.”

Mr. White’s vague answer on this critical issue brought a strong response from current Mayor Muriel Bowser, according to the WAMU reporter:

“D.C. residents want a mayor they can trust. And if your answer shifts depending on which way the wind blows, they can’t trust you with their kids. And the most important thing you have to do as mayor is provide mayoral leadership of the schools. I think it is a seminal issue in this race. And I think what we’ve heard are councilmembers who are equivocating and waffling. I’m straight forward.”

For close observers of the education scene in the nation’s capital, the unified opinion is that we cannot move backward to the time when the D.C. Board of Education ran the public schools. Going to a public school was dangerous then, and there was a distinct lack of pedagogy going on in the classrooms. The buildings were crumbling literally and figuratively. We just cannot allow this to happen after so much progress.

Mayor Bowser has been a supporter of public education reform but has not been as strong as charter school advocates have desired. She has consistently annually raised the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, the baseline money allocated each year to teach a student, but has lagged in her willingness to also increase the per pupil facility allotment. The most glaring weakness of her Administration has been the unwillingness to turn over surplus DCPS facilities to charter schools. While recent previous Mayors Adrien Fenty and Vincent Gray have given buildings in the double digits, I believe that Ms. Bowser has relinquished two. Her almost total avoidance of following the law when it comes to these structures resulted in an End The List Campaign in 2019 that mobilized the charter school community in an effort to force her to do the right thing.

The Mayor has also put pressure on the DC Public Charter School Board not to approve new schools. This is an area where the board has to find a way to stand up to her. Finally, she has been exceedingly slow to nominate replacement members to the PCSB.

Ms. Bowser has also been a steadfast supporter of continued operation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school scholarship plan for low income children living in D.C. A 2017 letter from D.C. Chairman Mendelson to the U.S. Congress to bring an end to the vouchers was opposed by the Mayor, and interestingly, was not signed by Councilmember Robert White.

There is one aspect of Mr. White’s proposed education program with which I strongly agree. I have advocated, as he is doing now, that the Office of the State Superintendent should be independent of the Mayor. I think OSSE should be separated from political pressure. However, although we agree on this one concept, I do not believe that education reform would be in steady hands if he won the upcoming election. Despite her failings in the area of public education which I have documented, Muriel Bowser is my choice for Mayor.

DC Charter School Alliance names Hall of Fame members: where is Patricia Brantley?

As part of Charter School Week, over the past few days the DC Charter School Alliance has been announcing additions to the Charter School Hall of Fame. First created by Friends of Choice In Urban Schools back in 2016, the Hall of Fame was formed “to recognize the key individuals whose contributions have helped shape DC’s thriving charter sector.” If ever there was someone that needed to be added to this esteemed group it is Patricia Brantley, the chief executive officer of Friendship PCS. Here are just a few sentences from Ms. Brantley’s biography on the Friendship website:

“Patricia oversees all operations at Friendship, has secured more $95 million in public and private funding, effected cohesion among the 12 campuses, and established the Friendship Teaching Institute as a model of professional development. She spearheaded the takeover of Washington’s first multi-campus charter management group, ensuring that hundreds of children could remain in their school of choice.”

Ms. Brantley moved up to CEO at Friendship after serving as its chief operating officer. Here’s what I wrote about that tenure when I interviewed her six years ago:

“Her accomplishments during her dozen years at the charter school as chief operating officer include transforming Collegiate Academy to create a school with college-level courses.  She arrived in September and by January she had brought Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement courses to the campus.   She led the development of teacher quality initiatives that includes Fellows, Professors, and Master teachers.  Ms. Brantley also supports the development of school leaders by encouraging their attendance at Relay, a leadership training program.  During her tenure, she expanded Friendship to include Southeast Academy, Technology Prep, Friendship Online, and Armstrong campuses.”

As I have watched her work, I see Ms. Brantley as a savior to D.C.’s charter school movement. When charters get in trouble and are fighting for their existence, Ms. Brantley comes to their rescue, like a superhero swooping in at the last minute to challenge evil. It started with the takeover at Community Academy PCS, proceeded to Ideal PCS, and most recently expanding Friendship’s online school to medically fragile students desperately needing a virtual option. When the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (City Arts and Prep PCS) was closed by the DC Public Charter School Board, she brought its program into Armstrong PCS. After multiple safety issues came to light at Monument Academy PCS, and it appeared that the most vulnerable children in the nation’s capital would literally lose their homes, she engineered a takeover by the Friendship Foundation. Finally, after the PCSB could not see past fear from Mayor Muriel Bowser to open Capital Experience Lab, a new middle and high school charter, Ms. Brantley brought the exciting pedagogical approach to learning into Blow Pierce PCS. She had been serving on its board of directors. Ms. Brantley sets the blazing example of what true leadership looks like.

Actually, when the DC Charter School Alliance started to announce their inductees into the Charter School Hall of Fame, Ms. Brantley’s name should have been first.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donates $200 million to charter schools

A couple of days ago Cayla Bamberger of the New York Post revealed that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg granted two charter networks, Success Academy PCS and Harlem Children’s Zone PCS, $100 million each in order to help them grow to accept more students. The money is only the beginning of Mr. Bloomberg’s investment in these alternative schools. His goal is to spend $750 million nationwide. The former Mayor told the Post:

“I don’t know that 30 years from now, when they don’t have the kind of life that we’d want for them you can explain to them what happened and why we were asleep at the switch.”

My point exactly. The pandemic has created a magnificent opportunity for charters. I do not understand why pro-charter organizations are not buying up vacant office buildings to house schools. I’m sure there are great deals to be had in the current marketplace. Is there no one in D.C. who will be embarrassed in 30 years that they did not act when they had the chance?

The DC Public Charter School is currently on a year-long pause for considering new schools and the expansion on existing ones. This needs to end now with the result being that it is simpler for new charters to open and easier to add more seats for those that are already operating.

I found interesting that the Washington Post’s Perry Stein found the need in her recent story about D.C. middle schools to talk about Mayor Bowser’s view of the expansion of the charter sector. The reporter wrote:

“While charter schools are independent, the mayor can have a role in shaping the sector and the Bowser administration has been considered charter-friendly. Bowser appoints the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which authorizes which charter schools can open and which must close for low-performance. She said she speaks with all her appointees about the need to approve only charters that address an unmet need in the city.”

Ms. Stein contradicts herself. She claims that charters are independent yet simultaneously points out that they are overseen by the PCSB whose members are selected by the Mayor. But this is slightly off topic. I just love the quote that Ms. Stein includes in the article from past charter board chair Rick Cruz regarding the growth of charters while many DCPS school are under enrolled.

“It means little to us and even less to many D.C. families to hear that there are thousands of seats in many schools that boast poor academic results.”

Right on! It is now time to wake up from our Covid-19 lull. Come on Mr. Bloomberg, District charters are ready to accept your cash. Who else is out there that wants to pitch in?

Shantelle Wright joining D.C. Public Charter School Board

Charter school watchers in the nation’s capital have been puzzled by the lack of nominations to the DC Public Charter School Board by Mayor Muriel Bowser. The board is down to three out of seven members, with Rick Cruz’s term coming to an end. Well, it appears that the six-month wait for names to be announced is finally over. The board revealed the other day that there are three people up for D.C. Council confirmation.

The most shocking individual on the list is none other than Shantelle Wright. Ms. Wright is of course well known to the local movement. She is the founder and previously long-term chief executive officer of Achievement Prep PCS. During her tenure at Achievement Prep, it was common for Ms. Wright to offer highly emotionally charged comments critical of the PCSB, especially in regard to the views of former executive director Scott Pearson. She has been part of a segment of charter school stakeholders, best represented by attorney Stephen Marcus, that believe that the Performance Management Framework which is used to grade charters in Washington, D.C., is biased against at-risk children. Achievement Prep serves a large proportion of students living in poverty.

However, as I reported in April, 2018, at an event marking the first ten years of operation of Achievement Prep, Ms. Wright seemed to have a change of heart. Here are my observations:

“In her speech, Ms. Wright admitted that mistakes at the school had been made and that most recently it has not been serving the children of Ward 8 according to its mission ‘to prepare students to excel as high-achieving scholars and leaders in high school, college, and beyond.’  She explained that Achievement Prep had grown too fast, an expansion that has resulted in the school’s Wahler Place elementary, serving pupils in pre-Kindergarten three to third grade, being ranked Tier 3 school on the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework for the last two years. Its Wahler Place Middle school, enrolling grades four through eight, has earned a grade as barely a Tier 2 facility over the same time period.  In 2013 and 2014 this campus’ quality school report placed it at Tier 1.  During the November meeting of the DC PCSB, the elementary school campus was given strict PMF targets it will have to meet in coming years or it will be closed.”

Achievement Prep closed the Wahler Place Middle School at the end of the 2019-to-2020 school year. This facility was taken over by Friendship PCS.

During the same ceremony, Mr. Pearson expressed his admiration for Ms. Wright:

“In comments that were especially animated for my friend, he related that during the many tense confrontations he has had with her over the years regarding differences of opinion, he has always loved the persona of Ms. Wright.”

It will be fascinating to see the direction that the PMF takes with Ms. Wright on the board. The DC PCSB has announced that the PMF is in the process of being revised.

Others nominated to the board include Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan, who was once executive director of the now shuttered Democracy Prep PCS and who is now executive director of Reading Partners, a group working to increase literacy, and Nick Rodriquez, CEO at Delivery Associates who once served on the California Board of Education. Both individuals have extensive experience trying to close the academic achievement gap and therefore will be easily approved by the Council. Current PCSB chair Lea Crusey has also been re-nominated.

You can read current PCSB executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis’s testimony in favor of these nominations here. I now cannot wait to once again tune into the monthly PCSB meetings. I promise, they will not be boring.

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Mayor Bowser quietly transfers closed Wilkinson Elementary to DC Prep PCS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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