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Posted at 08:35 PM ET, 02/29/2012

Charter board relents on IDEA closure, pushes to shutter Community Academy’s Rand campus

For a D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) that says it is committed to closing underperforming schools, Integrated Design Electronics Academy PCS (IDEA) looked like a prime candidate.

Reading proficiency at the Ward 7 middle and high school hasn’t broken 45 percent over the last decade and has declined over the last four years to just below 40 percent. Less than 60 percent of students re-enroll and just 48 percent of ninth-graders have credits that put them on track to graduate, according to charter board’s new performance data management system.The board voted tentatively in December to revoke IDEA’s charter.

But board members said IDEA officials put together a turnaround plan that changed their minds, one that called for the wholesale replacement of school leadership and a review of the teaching staff. It also probably didn’t hurt that IDEA retained as a consultant Thurgood Marshall Academy co-founder and former CEO Joshua Kern--who was also the charter board’s first choice last year to replace retiring executive director Josephine Baker. Kern pledged the assistance of Thurgood Marshall staff — who run one of the city’s top open enrollment high schools -- in sharing best practices with IDEA.

“IDEA gave us and extremely comprehensive turnaround plan that was worth taking a chance on,” said PCSB executive director Scott Pearson. “I think if the proposal had not been as substantial and comprehensive the board wouldn’t have had any trouble voting to close.”

The other proposed closure the board took up Monday evening was was a little stickier. In December it voted tentatively to revoke the charter of Community Academy, which serves more than 1,800 students in grades PS-8 on six campuses — five brick-and-mortar and one online. The Butler campus on Thomas Circle NW in Ward 2 received a top ranking in the board’s new performance system. But four of the other five (located in Wards 4 and 5) are in some form of corrective action or restructuring under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The board’s principal concern is the Rand campus, a PS-5 school in Ward 5, where only 25 percent of third graders were proficient or advanced in reading on the 2011 DC CAS. The school scored just 19.5 percent on the charter board’s performance system. Anything under 20 percent can trigger closure.

But under the law, a vote to revoke the charter would close all six campuses, including Butler. After several weeks of difficult behind the scenes discussion, the charter board apparently extracted an agreement from Community Academy to close Rand on its own. The charter board voted Monday evening to accept Community Academy’s decision to close Rand, which serves 339 students.

“I think after they thought through their options the [Community Academy] board thought this was in their best interest,” said charter board member Darren Woodruff.

Twelve charter schools have closed in the last three years. Seven voluntarily relinquished their charters. Five were closed by the board for academic or governance reasons.

By  |  08:35 PM ET, 02/29/2012

 
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