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Some compelling charter applications at the PCSB's monthly meeting

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There were a number of positive signs for our local charter school movement at last night’s monthly meeting of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. The first was that for the first time the session was streamed live over the internet. I was able to catch some of the proceedings from my home computer and I must say that the technology worked perfectly. Congratulations to Chairman McKoy who explained to me last year that providing a live broadcast of the PCSB’s meetings was one of his goals as he assumed his new volunteer position.

The evening was all about hearing from applicants wanting to open new charters and, as I’ve mentioned in the past, the quality of the presentations have definitely improved over the years. Standouts from Tuesday include Monument Academy, a fifth through twelfth grade boarding school for children who have experienced, or will encounter, the foster care system. Leading the effort was past PCSB member Emily Bloomfield, who certainly knew how to push the Board’s hot button by promising to have a Tier 1 school year one. One interesting question posed by board member Sara Mead was how girls would continue to be enrolled at the school if they had given birth or were pregnant. Ms. Bloomfield did not have a ready answer to this inquiry, but her initial overview of the charter and answers to other questions were flawless. During the public comment period we learned that she has teamed with the Flamboyan Foundation and Turnaround for Children, two organizations that are doing great work for low income students here in the nation’s capital.

Another applicant who expressed key words at a key time was Washington Global. This proposed middle school of sixth through eighth graders would center its pedagogy on the International Middle Years Curriculum. Coming on the heels of the wildly popular book The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley, the applicants almost guaranteed that their students would excel at the PISA examination, although the test was not mentioned during the presentation. Expeditionary Learning would complement the course work. The fact that the founders wanted to provide a high academically performing school to under-served kids in my mind sealed the deal. Having over 30 people were in attendance wearing Washington Global tee shirts did not hurt matters.

Children’s Guild DC is a third school that should be approved. The Kindergarten through eighth grade charter’s purpose would be to serve children with special needs. The Children’s Guild has an eighty year history teaching this population of students. This is another applicant that wants to focus on helping those on the lower end of the economic scale with a goal of opening in Ward 7 with 450 pupils, 60 percent of whom would have an Individualized Education Program. The representatives of the school appeared confident, competent, and compassionate all at the same time.

Other candidates did not appear as strong. One World, the school that sought a charter last year but was turned down, appeared to be an unstructured conglomeration of instruction centered on artistic expression, concern for the environment, and solving the world’s social and economic problems. An underestimation of the first year’s rent expense contained in the application made it appear that the charter would have to raise $1 million in its planning year to survive financially, although the representatives denied this under questioning by PCSB executive director Scott Pearson.

A second less encouraging application was the one by Educare. This organization already runs a Head Start Program in the District’s Promise Neighborhood Initiative, and it would open a charter for Pre-Kindergarten three and four year olds with about 120 students. All seemed fine until Educare’s spokespersons explained that the school would share space, board members, and an executive director with the existing institution. Questions naturally arose about how fiscally all of this would be kept straight and whether lines of accountability would be clear. Here’s a tip for those coming before the PCSB. If your proposed charter sounds confusing when explained to others then it is time to go back to the drawing board.

Finally, we heard from the Washington Leadership Academy team. There were many characteristics to like about this proposed high school. It would focus on teaching civics and preparing kids for success in college. The founder is Seth Andrew, who created the high performing Democracy Prep Charter School that is coming to D.C. But there were other aspects of the application that were not so solid.

Washington Leadership wants to have a eleventh and twelfth grade residential program located on Capitol Hill. This part of the school would be opened first which drew concerns from the board that students would be asked to leave their existing high school rather late in the game. The academy of ninth and tenth graders would be located on a separate campus in a low income area, presumably Congress Heights. The notion of two sites, serving vastly different student populations, left the jam packed auditorium quiet. The order of starting the two portions of the school did not pass the sniff test.

During a meeting that went four and a half hours there were some extremely bright spots for those interested in improving public education in the District, and there were other concepts that should be revisited. Tonight is round two, beginning with a public hearing on Options Public Charter School.

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