Last evening I attended the D.C. Public Charter School Board's public hearing on the proposed merger of Septima Clark PCS with Achievement Preparatory Academy PCS. I must say I was impressed by Septima Clark's board chair James Costan. He presented a lawyers line of rational reasoning to show that the joining of his school with Achievement Prep was the only logical course of action.
All was going exceedingly smooth until PCSB member Don Soifer asked Mr. Costan why the whole decision making process looked to the parents and community as if it was done in secret behind closed doors. The overflow room packed with Septima Clark PCS supporters erupted with applause.
Mr. Costan explained that until a final determination was made by his board it would have put the school in an even worse situation if word had come out about a possible merger. Talk of joining Achievement Prep, he asserted, would have led to further teacher and student departures from Septima Clark. In essence it would have made an unstable situation even more unstable. But after listening to the parents' testimony I don't think this is the case.
What was clear from their consistent words was that they were completely caught off guard. They were not aware of the three options Mr. Kern in his consulting role had been asked to consider, namely whether to hire a turnaround specialist, merge the charter with another institution, or continue on the present path.
The conversation started me thinking about the never ending question of what boards should tell parents or similarly what managers should tell employees. The emphasis ethically should always be on being as open as possible, but when it comes to highly sensitive matters you don't want to scare people with suggestions that are only a possibility.
This is where I think the Septima Board stumbled. If they had truly fully explored the three possible future options and found only one plausible then this is when you go to your constituents. You do not wait until you must inform stakeholders because you are about to file a charter amendment.
I came away from the meeting feeling that the Septima Clark board had let down their school. First, it was obvious that the parents, teachers, and staff never understood that the trustees were convinced something drastic needed to be done about the charter's future direction. I don’t think those associated with the school realized their lease for space was ending and there was nowhere to go. They certainly did not know that three options had been explored, and the unique role Mr. Kern played in investigating these choices. Finally, they did not learn soon enough about the path on which the board was taking the school.
This all started by the board's inability to secure Septima Clark's permanent facility. As we have seen many times in the past the facility issue can kill a charter. They have had to move three times in their short history. So now we have our answer and pending a decision by the PCSB soon there will no longer be an all male public school in the nation's capital.