Word comes that the boards of directors of Septima Clark PCS and Achievement Prep PCS have decided to merge the two schools together. It is an extremely interesting move.
Septima Clark was the first, and is the only, all boys public school in the nation’s capital. The charter currently serves 229 students in grades pre-K3 through 6. It has also in its seven years of existence been characterized by extremely low academic proficiency rates. In 2012, the school scored 34.5 percent proficiency in math and 33.3 percent in reading. However, last year’s DC CASS scores revealed that the school was among all charters first in academic improvement and number three when grouped with all D.C. schools. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education designated Septima Clark as a Reward School in 2012 for the progress it had made. On the PCSB’s PMF Septima Clark is a low Tier 2 school. Last year it was graded in Tier 3.
During the 2011 to 2012 school year Septima Clark met only one of three accountability plan targets for student program and student achievement.
The school is located in Ward 8 but is without a permanent facility. It has moved three times due to the facility issue. The current lease is ending and another location has not been identified.
Achievement Prep is also located in Ward 8. It currently serves 315 students in grades 4 to 8. Achievement Prep is a Tier 1 school with a math proficiency rate in 2012 of 86.0 percent and a reading proficiency rate for the same year of 67.9 percent. The charter is one of the highest academically performing schools in D.C. The supporting documentation for the merger points out that over the last four years each grade of Achievement Prep has recorded proficiency rates more than double-digit over the city’s average.
One issue to consider regarding this plan is that the grades served by Achievement Prep do not currently align perfectly with those served by Septima Clark. Achievement Prep plans to expand its grades to include Kindergarten to 3rd in the 2014 to 2015 school year. This means, however, there will be nowhere for Septima Clark’s rising PK4 to go. This equates to 40 children. In addition, Achievement Prep will only accept the 6th grade class of Septima Clark into 7th grade if the pupils test adequately to be admitted to that grade. Students who fail to pass the exam or do not take the test will be offered space in the 6th grade. 11 pupils are impacted in this instance.
Another issue to consider is whether the proposed merger fits the needs of the Septima Clark’s families. Please remember that just recently a task force headed by PCSB Chairman Brian Jones decided correctly that there should not be a neighborhood preference when it comes to charters. One of the major justifications for this conclusion was that a neighborhood preference would force families to send their kids to schools with missions inconsistent with their desires. It appears hypocritical to now go ahead and transfer those who have consciously chosen a single gender learning environment to one that includes both boys and girls.
One last point I would like to make comes in the area of disclosure. Septima Clark engaged the services of Ten Square Consulting to assist with its strategic plan. Ten Square is owned by Josh Kern who is a member of the Achievement Prep board of directors. Don’t get me wrong, I am not implying at all that that there is a conflict of interest. I’m just saying that in the spirit of transparency I think this information should have been made a part of the supporting documentation.
The PCSB is holding a public hearing on the merger Tuesday, February 19th at the ARC from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. It should be a fascinating evening.