Today, there will be a grand opening for the new Washington Latin Public Charter School on Second Street, N.W. I’m sure it will be an elegant celebration as ceremonies at this school traditionally are; however my own personal commemoration took place last Friday evening.
On that night 10,000 charter school students, staff, and supporters gathered at Nationals Park to mark the tenth anniversary of Building Hope’s founding. The first thing you noticed upon arriving at the venue was the purple tee shirts. Everywhere you looked were kids and adults sporting attire with the words “Next stop, college” on the front and “We are D.C.’s future” on the back. A classy and clever addition to the wardrobe for students was the furnishing of snack bags equipped with pizza, water, and chips.
It was then off with my wife Michele to our suite to view the festivities. How perfectly appropriate that they started with the Washington Latin PCS chorus performing an exquisite rendition of our national anthem. Building Hope’s President Joe Bruno then threw out the first pitch. Just in case anyone was thinking of asking, I will refute for eternity that the ball actually hit the ground before reaching home base.
The next event brought tears to my eyes. Nine designated outstanding charter school students ran out onto the field to take their positions as if they were facing the team at bat. The Washington National’s players then jogged over to replace them, shaking each child’s hand and introducing themselves in the process. What a thrill it must have been to these young individuals.
As the game began my wife and I caught up with Brian Tracey, a Bank of America community development lending and investments executive with whom Building Hope has worked for years on charter school facility projects. In fact, he was the key in Washington Latin obtaining the loan and New Market tax credit financing for our approximately $20 million Rudolph Elementary renovation project. Michele asked him how he originally began working with this sector.
“Thirteen years ago three of us came up with the idea that we could help charters gain financing to build or renovate permanent facilities,” Mr. Tracey revealed. “Almost no one was doing this at this time. The notion came from our experience with affordable housing,” he explained. “The financial model for building these homes is based upon the subsidies from the tenants that occupy the space. In reality, this is almost identical to the facility allotment that is tied to the number of students a school enrolls.”
I asked Mr. Tracey if a financial loan to a charter school has ever gone bad. He was eager to answer this question. “We have done over $500 million in commitments to charter schools over time,” Mr. Tracey remarked. “Not only has not one loan ever been in default, but there has never been as much as one late payment.”
As the stands became full we circulated with more of the guests. Early on we ran into Building Hope’s Paul Lelick and Tom Porter. This was another purely serendipitous encounter because over the last twenty four months I have spent numerous hours with these gentlemen as they expertly guided our team in successfully going through the arduous process of identifying the future home for Washington Latin PCS, securing the Second Street, N.W., location, and renovating a 75,000 foot former school.
Tonight, I again adhered to their direction. The two had many people to greet and so we followed them on a rapid pace throughout National’s Park. They took us to rooms I never knew existed, where we rapidly shook the hands of clearly elated individuals, quickly sampled the bountiful refreshments, and then moved on as if choreographed to the next location.
The highlight of stadium tour was a stop at the Lexus Presidents Club. We were sitting right behind home base almost as close to the players as the umpire positioned by the catcher. We relaxed for awhile under the stars on a crisp clear September nightfall as the Nationals were able to build a seven to zero lead over the Miami Marlins. The team would eventually go on to shutout the visiting team with a total of eight runs.
It was an apropos end of an excellent evening and to a highly rewarding journey that now has 642 of the District of Columbia’s future leaders in classrooms they can now call their own.