Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss on Arne Duncan

President Obama’s first education secretary Arne Duncan has written a book entitled How Schools Work, and last Sunday he talked about his work at Politics and Prose. My wife and I would have liked to be there but my grandson Oliver turned five years old and we were instead grateful to be at his ice skating birthday party watching his one year old brother Emmett.

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss was in attendance, and as would be expected had much to complain about concerning his remarks. She was never a fan of Mr. Duncan because he advocated policies when he was in office with which she strenuously disagrees such as the expansion of the number of charter schools, tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, and use of the Common Core curriculum. But there was one paragraph in her article about his work as United States Education Secretary that really caught my attention.

“What he didn’t do, which some in the education world argue is the most important thing he could have attacked, is this: attempt to change the way the United States funds its public schools. School districts rely in large part on property taxes, which guarantees that poor communities have schools with fewer resources. Federal funding aimed at closing the gap doesn’t come close, and, so, in this country, standardized test scores tell us only where a child lives, making reforms that place high stakes on the scores nonsensical.”

It is tragically true that in 2018 for far too many students standardized test scores tell us only where a child lives. But a policy that dramatically changes this equation, private school vouchers, is attacked at every opportunity by Ms. Strauss and Mr. Duncan. When he served in Mr. Obama’s cabinet, Mr. Duncan took every step at his disposal to shutdown D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school voucher plan created by Congress for kids living in poverty. He so restricted the number of families that could participate that instead of continuing to administer the awards, Joseph E. Robert, Jr. closed the Washington Scholarship Fund, the organization he had founded to provide private school tuition for low-income scholars. Here is the letter Mr. Robert sent to Mr. Duncan in 2009 about his decision.

This is what I would have asked him about if I could have attended the book forum. I would have wanted to know how he could sleep at night knowing that while his children received a high quality education, be personally blocked hundreds of young people without means from the same chance.

D.C.’s local charter school movement needs to learn from Democracy Prep

In nearly a decade of writing about charters in the nation’s capital, I have never seen a decision by a school like the one revealed by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein last week.  Here is Democracy Prep PCS, a stellar charter network with facilities in six cities, deciding before the new school year had even begun that it would shutter its classrooms here in Washington, D.C. at the end of the term.  It has announced it will find another operator for the site.  Here’s how the school’s website describes its track record:

“Founded in 2005 and opening our first school in 2006, Democracy Prep set out to prove what is possible for public education in America. Our flagship school, Democracy Prep Charter Middle School, first opened its doors in August 2006. By 2009, DPCS became the highest performing school in Central Harlem and was ranked the number one public middle school in New York City.

Democracy Prep Public Schools currently operates 22 high-performing schools and one program in New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Baton Rouge, and Las Vegas educating 6,500 citizen-scholars. The incredible growth of the scholars is possible through the tireless and dedicated work of the educators who make up our DREAM Team.

By proving that students, regardless of what ZIP code they are born into, can perform at high academic levels, we seek to transform not only the lives of the students at Democracy Prep but also the expectation of what public schools can achieve.”

I guess there is an exemption for closing the achievement gap if the zip code is in Washington, D.C.  But this is absurd.  This is not the way charter schools operate.

What has happened to the can-do, beat-the-odds no matter what is thrown at us, attitude that has characterized this movement since its inception more than twenty years ago?  It was perfectly captured this year in the efforts of Washington Math Science and Technology PCS that fought with all its might to stay open despite intractable financial difficulties.  It is the fortitude that is found in any of the city’s charters that has been successful in securing a permanent facility.  It is the guts and bravery of the heroic individuals who believe they can start a school from nothing and hire the staff, design the curriculum, recruit the families, and balance a budget as part of the start-up business that a charter school represents.

So if Democracy Prep is really going to throw in the towel, we really have to understand the reason.  We need to know because we cannot let it spread to other institutions.  We need to stamp it out like we would a racial slur or the words of someone who defends the status quo in public education as the best that we can do.  We cannot let it infect people who believe with every cell in their bodies that today is going to be a better day than the one before it.

I only ask one thing of Democracy Prep.  Please don’t let the entire school school year go by before you select another operator.  Make that choice immediately so we don’t have to be tortured watching the slow demise of a school with a proud and distinguished history.  Get out of town now.  Its bad enough you are going to abandon over 650 children living in poverty, but I urge you not to let this tragedy linger in our minds like some plague that has been foisted upon the citizens of our city.

Am I upset?  You bet I am.  The move by Democracy Prep is a direct shot at the bright optimism of all of us that fight around the clock to improve the lives of others who in the past have been told in no uncertain terms that they are not important.  At the end of the day, it is often only the optimism that we have left.


Washington Latin should take over Democracy Prep

Extremely interesting news came last Friday from the Washington Post’s Perry Stein that Democracy Prep PCS has decided that following the coming 2018-to-2019 school year it will close its D.C. campus and turn the school over to another operator.

The decision speaks to the power of the high stakes reviews being conducted by the DC Public Charter School Board.  Democracy Prep opened during the 2014-to-2015 term and therefore was about to face its five year review.  The problem is that academic performance at the charter is on the decline with Democracy Prep scoring as a low Tier 2 facility on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework a couple of years ago and during 2017-to-2018 fell to a Tier 3.  The charter educates approximately 658 students in Ward 8 and, as Ms. Stein points out, even though it is poor performing, it has a wait list of 111 pupils.  Almost all of its scholars qualify for free or reduced priced meals.  Ms. Stein quotes Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC PCSB, as commenting on the situation at the charter, “Performance at the school needs to improve, and it’s important that Democracy Prep is now taking the step to find a quality operator for the school,”

It seems like only yesterday that I attended the charter board meeting during which the application for Democracy Prep was considered.  It was held at Carlos Rosario’s International PCS’s Harvard Street campus and there was a sea of children in the audience all wearing Democracy Prep tee shirts.  The charter came from New York City, where it has a strong reputation for closing the academic achievement gap between affluent and poor children.  Here in the nation’s capital it took over Imagine Southeast PCS after that school struggled to produce good classroom results.  The Post reporter reveals that an email to parents from Democracy Prep national chief executive Katie Duffy and local board chair Jennifer Wider, stated “Four years ago, we promised Ward 8 a school in which scholars would thrive academically and socio-emotionally. . . Ultimately, we have not been able to deliver on that promise.”

I am confident that the usual well-regarded charter management organizations will be in the mix to take over the school, such as DC Prep PCS, Friendship PCS, and KIPP DC.  But how about something different this time?

During the six years I served on the Washington Latin PCS board of directors, strengthening student diversity was always on the mind of the governors and the staff, although it is one of the most racially inclusive charters in the city.  I remember the occasional suggestions I made as chair to long-time head Martha Cutts during which I kicked around ideas for replication of this Tier 1 middle and high school.  These were extremely preliminary suggestions that were never acted upon.  One particularly fascinating and exciting concept I thought about was the notion of bringing the success of this school to Anacostia.  Since Latin begins at the fifth grade, I even considered the possibility of opening a pre-Kindergarten-three to fourth grade campus there that would become a feeder school to the Northwest location.  If I remember correctly, the current leader of Washington Latin, Peter Anderson, has a background leading a school with a large population of students from low-income households.

Perhaps Washington Latin expanding to include the current Democracy Prep campus is an idea whose time has come.




Excel as traditonal school highlights financial differences of charter sector

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reports today that in a couple of weeks Excel Academy Public School will reopen as part of DCPS after the decision was made last January by the DC Public Charter School Board to close the school this past June.  Remember that both KIPP DC and Friendship PCS were interested in taking over this institution but the leadership of Excel decided that it would rather have it join the traditional school system.

During the 2017-to-2018 school year the all-girls Excel enrolled approximately 643 students in grades pre-Kindergarten three to eight.  So far about 300 students have signed up to attend the new school, which represents a decline of 53 percent.  It will apparently stay in the building that housed Excel as a charter.   Ms. Stein writes:

“The first day of school is in two weeks, and the staff at Excel Academy in Southeast Washington needs to make sure everything is just right. Teachers crammed preschool classrooms with colorful books, plush seating and games. Maintenance workers tidied the school garden, pruning the sunflowers and picking the ripe vegetables.”

According to PCSB records, last term Excel had total occupancy expenses of $2,125,421 that included $2,061,316 in rent.  It used a facility allotment of $2,234,910 to cover the lease, providing the school with about a $110,000 surplus in this cost category.

The bottom line is that with enrollment dropping by more than half, a charter school would never be able to afford to stay in the same facility.  The only choice a charter would have would be to subsidize the lease with the per pupil dollars provided to administer the school, which in this case would be so large a number that this would prove impossible.  Teacher and other staff salaries could never be met under this scenario.  As a matter of fact, with this much of a reduction in the size of the student body, I’m sure that the per pupil dollars for instruction under DCPS do not cover personnel costs.  Therefore, the only option that this school would have is to close.

The reason that all of this financial analysis is critically important is that market forces have been relied upon for more than 20 years in the nation’s capital to drive improvement in public education.  Since the first charter opened here money has followed the child.  It was the mass exodus of families from DCPS that finally put sufficient fiscal pressure on the system to improve.  Now, with the incorporation of Excel into DCPS with simultaneous subsidy of the rent expense, we are seeing a distortion of the market which will end up harming our kids.

Excel was an extremely low academically performing school when it was a charter.  That’s why it was shuttered by the PCSB.  Allowing this school to continue to operate while running a substantial financial deficit works directly against the concept of school choice created by economist Milton Friedman.  He stated that when revenue became linked to enrollment good schools would prosper and grow while poor ones would run out of dollars and close.  With the acceptance of Excel as a regular school, DCPS is harming the cause.


Donald Hense guest commentary: Creating a College-Ready, Career-Success Culture

The following is a guest commentary by Donald Hense, founder and chairman of Friendship Public Charter School.

This summer, while I watched the latest graduates of Friendship Public Charter School’s two high schools, Collegiate Academy and Technology Preparatory Academy, take the stage to receive their diplomas, I reflected on how far the public charter school I founded has come.

It is worth remembering that, prior to the subsequent challenging and rewarding years, Friendship’s first two campuses opened their doors at a bleak time for the District of Columbia’s traditional public school system. More than half the students dropped out of a system that had effectively abandoned the children of its most disadvantaged neighborhoods to the many economic and social ills that plagued them. Students endured substandard schooling in unsafe environments and often dilapidated buildings, with devastating consequences that could last a lifetime.

Into this public policy disaster, which took such a toll on individuals and whole communities, Friendship arrived as a pioneer among the public charter schools that now educate nearly half of all D.C. public school students. The D.C. School Reform Act allowed charter schools to apply to provide tuition-free public education to District-resident students on a first-come, first-served basis. Publicly funded but operated independently of D.C. Public Schools, charters could design and develop their own educational programs while being accountable for improved student performance, unlike the then status-quo.

Friendship Collegiate Academy, which welcomed its first students at the turn of the new century, had a 90.3 percent on-time—within four years—graduation rate from 2012 to 2017. To place this in context, the D.C. charter high school rate is 73 percent, and 42 percent of DCPS students are currently deemed “on track” to graduate on time.
Collegiate also has 100 percent college-acceptance, accepted to colleges and universities such as Columbia, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Morehouse, Spelman, UCLA, UNC Chapel Hill, University of Maryland at College Park, University of Chicago, University of Virginia, The College of William and Mary, Emory, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, The George Washington University, Howard, Bucknell University, Lafayette College, University of Rochester, University of Wisconsin at Madison, UC Davis, Northeastern, Tufts, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan and others.

The Friendship flagship charter high school graduated one-fifth of all D.C. public charter school students between 2012 and 2017; and in D.C.’s Ward Seven, where the campus is located, the school accounted for nearly 40 percent of all DCPS and charter high school graduates.

This success is the product of a college-going culture that prepares children for the rigors of a college education, providing high standards in a caring and supportive environment. Key to this is the value added by Advanced Placement courses. The 17 AP courses that are authorized by the College Board at Collegiate Academy require much more academic rigor than citywide standardized tests while providing students with experience of college-level work and the opportunity to earn college credits in high school.

Ten years ago, Collegiate Academy was one of three high schools nationwide to be awarded the AP Inspiration Award by the College Board in recognition of its strong college readiness programs. In addition, Collegiate Academy was the first District of Columbia public high school to offer an Early College program in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Since then, more than 4,500 students have taken AP and college courses, with nearly 5,000 transferable college credits earned.

To further increase student success in AP and college courses, the College Board recently selected Friendship Collegiate Academy as the only DC high school, and one of 100 schools nationwide, to offer the pre-AP Program. This upcoming fall, all ninth-grade students will take four pre-AP courses in English, math, science and social studies, in addition to pre-AP in visual arts, dance and music.

Similar college-ready opportunities are available at Friendship’s Technology Preparatory Academy, located in D.C.’s Ward Eight, in a state-of-the-art $19 million multi-resourced, LEED-designated facility opened four years ago. Tech Prep had its first graduating class three years ago and provides multiple opportunities for students to develop the STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—skills required for success in tomorrow’s global, green economy.

Obviously, college preparation is of little value if students lack the financial and emotional supports to take advantage of this opportunity. Friendship has stepped up to the plate with mentoring for college applications; summer internships for college students; “posse” cohorts of students attending the same colleges; summer college experience for high school students; and socio-emotional care from pre-Kindergarten onward.

Since 2012, Collegiate and Tech Prep have competed for the highly-prized D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education Scholars Program and attended summer college programs at Barnard, Brown, Boston University, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Emory, Harvard, Smith College, Stanford and Syracuse. These selective summer college programs at top-ranked universities across the country provide early exposure to college-level academics, the skill of navigating a college environment, and often the opportunity to earn college credit.

This early experience of college life combined with taking AP and college-level courses have helped students earn highly-competitive scholarships such as Posse, Gates Millennium, Trachtenberg, Presidential Scholarships, Milken, Torch, and numerous other merit-based grants and scholarships.

Friendship students also have been extraordinarily successful at securing D.C. Achievers Scholarships, which fund up to $50,000 toward college costs. From 2007 to 2017, Collegiate Academy students were awarded 36 percent of all such scholarships in the District, receiving nearly $45 million in total scholarship funds. This College Success Foundation program, led by Herb Tillery and funded by the Gates Foundation, awards scholarships that are a mix of college readiness, mentoring and support, and provide financial aid for scholars from low-income families, which are three in four families of D.C. students.

College preparation also is enhanced by the partnerships that Friendship has established with the University of Maryland at College Park, Arizona State University, Granite State College in New Hampshire and others. Here again, the preparation provided by AP and college courses prove their worth as students study close to 10 hours each week at college-level, thereby increasing college readiness and jump-starting college and their career by earning college credits on college campuses and online.

While data confirms the academic accomplishments of Friendship students and the opportunities that await future generations, perhaps the most rewarding aspect is to observe the achievements of individual students who are now alumni of this college-going culture.

In this regard, I think of Percee Goings, a Columbia University graduate, now working with a technology company in New York City; Daniel Spruill, Princeton Class of 2018 who is contemplating many job offers and a tech start-up opportunity; Kianna Murphy, who is studying for her PhD in English at the University of Pennsylvania and will begin teaching there in the fall; and Jay Cammon, who is a University of Pennsylvania student. I think of their fellow alumni, Posse scholars and college graduates Kirk Murphy and Brandon Irack-Edelin, who have established a scholarship program for upcoming Friendship students.

In all of this, I am reminded of the lifeline that creating a culture where students graduate college-ready provides, profoundly benefiting them and all of us.

Darren Woodruff receives Exceptional Service Award

Last week at the July monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, past chairman Dr. Darren Woodruff received the organization’s Exceptional Service Award.  This was Dr. Woodruff’s last meeting as his term has come to an end.  He has served on the DC PCSB for ten years in the role of board member, vice chairman and chairman.  While he was head of the board, I interviewed Dr. Woodruff on three separate occasions.  I found him to be exceptionally kind, transparent, and passionately enthusiastic about a charter school movement that now teaches 43,340 pupils or 47.5 percent of all public school students in the nation’s capital.  The following are the remarks that Scott Pearson, DC PCSB executive director, offered when presenting Dr. Woodruff with his award.

DC PCSB’s award for exceptional service recognizes individuals who through volunteer effort, have made substantial contributions over a sustained period of time to DC PCSB, and by doing so, have made it possible for students in the District of Columbia to access quality educational choices.

In recognition of and appreciation for his significant contributions to DC PCSB, we present Darren, with our highest award.  Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine an individual more deserving of this award.  Darren served as Vice Chairman of the board from 2013 – 2015 and chairman of the Board from 2015 – 2018 and contributed 10 years of tireless service to the Board.

Darren’s impact on this board has been profound.  Since Darren joined the Board, public charter school enrollment has grown from 25,732 students to 43,340 students.  More importantly, overall public school enrollment has climbed by 20,400 students.  Indeed, the turnaround of a 50-year slide in enrollment almost perfectly coincides with Darren’s arrival on this board.  There is no question in my mind that he deserves some of the credit for this.

But more than numbers, Darren was committed to quality.  Darren brought to this board the perspective and personal commitment that comes from having children in our schools.  He knew what he expected for his children, and wanted nothing less for all of the families of Washington DC.   It was during Darren’s tenure that we launched the performance management framework, raising the bar for quality.  And Darren never flinched from closing low-performing schools when necessary, the toughest but most essential role of an authorizer.

Darren’s legacy on this board will always be centered on his commitment to equity. Bringing his research and professional background in special education and the impact of poverty on school-age children, Darren led this board to redouble its focus on disparities in performance and discipline rates along race and income lines.  With expulsions down 80% and suspensions down by half, the DC charter sector is a considerably more humane and inclusive place thanks to Darren.

Finally, board service is a lot more than attending these monthly meetings.  Staff is constantly asking board members to meet with school leaders, attend graduations, represent us at events.  Darren always said yes.  He worked incredibly hard for this Board and the schools and students we represent.   And he always did that work with a personal gentleness that was a model for us all.  In ten years of difficult, contentious issues, Darren never raised his voice, never showed rancor, and treated all with respect.  We couldn’t have asked for more in a board member.

D.C. Mayor Bowser does right thing on education; much more to do

Last Friday, Fenit Nirappil of the Washington Post revealed that Mayor Bowser utilized her first veto to reject D.C. Council-approved legislation permitting this year’s chronically absent high school seniors to receive diplomas.  The act would have also allowed students who missed significant portions of the term to be socially promoted to the next grade.  Her move should be applauded but is not all together surprising since it came in the aftermath of the following comments about the bill from interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith as quoted by the Post’s Perry Stein:

“This emergency legislation undermines [the school system’s] efforts and sends a troubling message about the importance of school attendance, suggesting that students need a waiver to excuse absences.  We will continue to stress the importance of attendance because every day counts.”

The Council passed the law early last month by a vote of 12 to 1.  Shockingly, one of the sponsors was David Grosso, the chairman of the Council’s education committee.  What a stunning sad example for our kids.  It would have excused students who missed more than 30 days of class but who were otherwise in academically satisfactory standing.  Mr. Nirappil explains that the measure would have increased the graduation grand total by 26 pupils.

The Council could override Ms. Bowser’s veto but this course is not likely since the body is out for summer recess until September.  Mr. Nirappil points out that it is not clear at this point that there are nine representatives who would vote to reverse her decision.

Now that the Mayor has taken this bold step, it is time she corrects some other deficiencies currently present in the city’s education landscape.

First, the chief executive needs to ensure equitable funding between charter schools and DCPS.  Its way past time that the playing field between these two sectors is made equitable to the tune of $100 million a year that the traditional schools receive that charters do not.

In addition, Mayor Bowser must immediately turn all surplus DCPS buildings over to charters.  Charter leaders and parents are desperate for a way to reduce the wait list of over 11,000 children wanting urgently to get into one of these institutions that now educate 47.5 percent of all public school students.

Lastly, she needs to hire a new Chancellor that understands and accepts the power that school choice has exerted in the nation’s capital to provide its children with a high quality alternative to the regular schools and to incentivize DCPS to improve.  Perhaps the new head of DCPS can work with the DC Public Charter School Board to create a charter and traditional school compact that would guarantee a permanent home for any charter that needs one.




Washington City Paper is attempting to shutter Cesar Chavez Public Charter School

Last Friday, Washington City Paper published its third recent article highly sympathetic to the demands of the American Federation of Teacher’s union that last summer was voted in at the Chavez Prep Middle School, and the second in which it blames problems at the charter on the TenSquare consulting group. From the piece:

“In its latest complaint, the union alleges that the charter network and TenSquare have illegally changed the school’s calendar for the 2018-19 school year in ways that affect terms of employment, have bargained in bad-faith (referred to as ‘surface bargaining’), and have walked out of a bargaining session before its scheduled end time, ‘thereby disregarding their bargaining obligation under the [National Labor Relations] Act.’ . . . In late April, Chavez Prep teachers staged two outdoor demonstrations to protest their charter’s TenSquare contract. The educators objected to their school paying the company $138,000 every month while also claiming to be unable to afford filling vacant teacher positions.”

Here is a “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” story if there ever was one. While Chavez chief executive officer Emily Silberstein reflects to City Paper that “the union is seeking to minimize the number of days its members work, and we are trying to maximize the number of days our scholars learn,” the DC Public Charter School Board has its eyes fixed directly on academic performance at the school. Here is what it said at the charter’s twenty-year review last December, and please pay close attention to its findings regarding Chavez Prep:

“Chavez PCS is a multi-campus local education agency (LEA) that adopted the Performance Management Framework (PMF) as its goals and student achievement expectations. Pursuant to the school’s Charter and Charter Agreement, Chavez PCS did not meet its goals and student achievement expectations. The Capitol Hill, Chavez Prep, and Parkside High School campuses had average PMF scores above 50%, which is the minimum required by the school’s Charter Agreement. However, two of these campuses, Capitol Hill and Chavez Prep, have experienced significant declines in almost every metric over the past two years and cannot continue with current performance levels. Additionally, the Parkside Middle campus scored below the 50% threshold, with an average PMF score of 40.5%. The school’s Charter Agreement requires every campus to earn an average PMF score equal to or above 50%. Therefore, the entire LEA has failed to meet the PMF goal.”

The charter board did not take these results lightly, as should be the case when it comes to the extraordinary responsibility of educating our children. It therefore adopted some exceedingly serious action steps:

  • The Parkside Middle campus will close one grade at a time, starting with sixth
    grade prior to SY 2018-19, seventh grade prior to SY 2019-20, and eighth
    grade by the start of SY 2020-21. During this time, the school will not be able
    to admit new students to its middle school grades and will reduce its enrollment ceiling each year by 100 students, ultimately resulting in a maximum enrollment ceiling of 1,320.
  • If the Capitol Hill campus receives a PMF score of below 40 in 2017-18, below
    45 in 2018-19, or below 50 in 2019-20 the campus will close at the end of the
    year following the year the school failed to achieve the target, with a
    commensurate decrease in the school’s enrollment ceiling.
  • If the Chavez Prep campus receives a PMF score of below 40 in 2017-18,
    below 45 in 2018-19, or below 50 in 2019-20 the campus will close at the end
    of the year following the year the school failed to achieve the target, with a
    commensurate decrease in the school’s enrollment ceiling.
  • The internal control environment at Chavez PCS must be strengthened to ensure compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and DC PCSB requirements, including compliance with DC PCSB’s Contract Submission Policy. To do so, the school must draft and submit a financial corrective action plan, subject to the DC PCSB Board’s approval.

In other words, due its inability to reach its scholastic targets, the board closed one of four Chavez campuses and has its sights on ending the operation of another two. This is a crisis for this charter school. Its current state of affairs is about as opposite as you can get from the enthralling, optimistic high-spirited vision provided by founder Irasema Salcido that was ever-present when I first joined her in 1999 trying to advance the organization’s mission of creating the next generation of our city’s leaders.

City Paper can of course continue to write again and again in support of Chavez Prep teachers whining to the National Labor Relations Board, and attack the group hired to turn the school’s dire situation around. But if the union prevails and the contract with TenSquare ends, the final result, tragically, may be empty buildings.

D.C. Mayor Bowser wrangles with Congress over surplus DCPS facilities

Coming shortly before the excellent editorial that appeared in last Sunday’s Washington Post by District of Columbia International Public Charter School’s executive director Mary Schaffner that bemoans the loss of five vacant DCPS facilities for use by charters, was a squabble between D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Senator Ron Johnson over space for the sector that now educates 47 percent of all public school students in the nation’s capital.  Senator Johnson sent a letter to Ms. Bowser on May 31, 2018 under his authority as chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which is responsible for oversight of the city’s operations.  He wrote:

“Under D.C. law, public charter schools have a right of first offer to purchase, lease, or otherwise use excess school facilities.  This right provides D.C. public charter schools with access to surplus school buildings while allowing the traditional public school system to generate additional revenue.

Although leasing excess school facilities is beneficial to both charter schools and traditional schools, ten percent of D.C. school facilities were vacant or ‘significantly underused’ as of July 2017.  Meanwhile, waiting lists at D.C. charter schools have increased across all charter schools and totaled 28,698 students – an increase of 27.2% from the 2016-2017 waitlist total of 20,880.”

The letter concludes with a request for a list of all surplus and underutilized DCPS buildings and the names of schools that have been turned over to charters during her time in office.

On June 14, 2018, Mayor Bowser responds and answers the two questions in this manner:

“Thank you for your May 31, 2018 letter regarding the District of Columbia’s management of vacant or significantly underutilized public school facilities.  As you noted, District of Columbia law gives public charter schools the right of first offer when school facilities are designated as excess.  However, the law does not require the District to designate every vacant or underutilized school as excess.  Rather, my administration evaluates both the short and long-term needs of a growing school system when determining facility designations.

The population of the District of Columbia declined for several decades but starting in 2010 our population began to grow -recently surpassing 700,000- and so too did student enrollment in the District of Columbia Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools.  Since Fiscal Year 2015, my administration has provided public charter schools over $500 million for school facilities through the per pupil facility allotment, and has awarded over $13 million to high-performing public charter schools through ‘Scholarships for Opportunities and Results’ (SOAR) facilities grant funding.

During my tenure, we have converted three facilities to public charter use; these schools now serve approximately 2,000 public charter school students.  We also established the Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force in August 2015, to increase dialog and coordination between DCPS and our public charter schools, especially with respect to the opening, closing, and siting of school facilities.  My administration will also be completing a Public Education Master Facilities Plan (MFP) this year.  The MFP will identify schools that are currently underutilized or overcrowded and provide recommendations on how to address these imbalances as well as identify potential gaps between future facility needs and anticipated public school enrollment growth.  Additionally, to address overutilization, the District’s FY 19-24 Capital Improvement Plan includes $40 million to add permanent classroom capacity at two of DCPS’s most over-utilized schools.”

Ms. Bowser includes with her letter a spreadsheet of vacant and “significantly underused” DCPS facilities.

In consulting with Friends of Choice in Urban Schools regarding the mayor’s response, it appears that several of her statements are not perfectly accurate.

First, it is true as Ms. Bowser states that under the law every vacant building need not be deemed a surplus property.  However, the law was intended as a method of making these sites available to charter schools.  Simply holding them without explanation means she is restricting access to quality school seats to children living in the District of Columbia.

In addition, the Bowser Administration has really not “awarded over $13 million to high-performing public charter schools through ‘Scholarships for Opportunities and Results’ (SOAR) facilities grant funding.”  These dollars are provided at the federal level and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education then grants them to public charter schools.  Going forward, the awards will be given to each charter school based upon a per pupil allotment.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the Mayor has not turned over three former DCPS buildings to charters.  In fact, the conversions she included in her letter to Senator Johnson had taken place years earlier and these buildings were already being utilized by the sector.

Specifically, M.C. Terrell-McGogney Elementary School, as the Washington Post’s Emma Brown reported, was turned over to Somerset PCS in 2013 under Mayor Gray through Building Hope’s Charter School Incubator Initiative.  In 2016, Mayor Bowser renewed the incubator lease.  The William B. Keene Elementary School was awarded to Dorothy I. Height Community Academy in 2008.  After Community Academy was shuttered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 2013 the site was transferred to DC Bilingual PCS.  Finally, the P.R. Harris Educational Center has been the home to National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High School and Ingenuity Prep PCS again as part of the Charter School Incubator project.  Ms. Bowser renewed the lease for this space in 2016.

In fact, there have been no vacant or underutilized DCPS buildings turned over to charters to date since Muriel Bowser came into office in 2015.





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