The meeting lasted all of 13 minutes. The lone vote on the agenda was never in doubt. It was all smiles and handshakes after the D.C. Public Charter School Board voted to rescind a proposed closure of Community Academy, which serves more than 1,800 students on six campuses--five brick-and-mortar and one virtual.
But the mini-session ended weeks of behind-the-scenes scuffling between the board and Community Academy founder Kent Amos, a standoff that ultimately involved the mayor’s office and members of the D.C. Council.
The board’s focus was Community Academy’s Rand campus, a PS-5 school on Riggs Rd. NE, where just 25 percent of third graders were proficient or advanced in reading on the 2011 DC CAS. Rand scored only 19.5 percent on the charter board’s new performance management system, just inside the 20 percent threshold that can trigger closure proceedings.
The problem was that under D.C. law, the charter granted to Community Academy covers all its campuses, not just Rand. A revocation, officials said, would mean closing all six schools, including the Butler campus, a PS-5 on Thomas Circle NW. and a top tier school as rated by the board . In December, the board made it plain that it wanted Amos and his Community Academy board to close Rand on its own.
The threat of complete closure seemed iffy at best, especially since the board just granted a reprieve to IDEA, the Ward 7 middle and high school with a 14-year record of abysmal test scores. Nevertheless, it didn’t sit well with Amos, a fiercely proud and politically-connected former Xerox executive who has spent years working with at-risk youth, opening his home to scores of kids who needed support they weren’t getting from parents.
He was unhappy when the charter board sent an ambiguous letter to Rand parents over the Christmas holiday advising them at various points that the school was recommended for closure, that it might or might not actually close, and that they should attend the January charter expo to check out the options.
With Community Academy’s 15-year charter coming up for review next year, Amos asked that Rand be given the extra time to improve. He said he promised to close the school if it didn’t turn around by then. But the board persisted, and tensions escalated.
In February, Community Academy board voted to close Rand, but Amos and PCSB executive director Scott Pearson could not agree on the details. D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) and Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At -Large) both intervened. It also didn’t hurt that Amos retained political insider attorney Scott Bolden.
“I just want to make sure that all charter schools are treated fairly,” said Michael Brown, who grew up next door to Amos, and whose father, former Democratic National Committee chair and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, was a close friend of the Community Academy founder.
An 11th hour deal was brokered that allowed Amos, who leases the Rand building from D.C., to move students from his Amos II campus in Northwest, and retain up to 30 percent of students currently attending Rand as long as all staff are replaced.
“It’s been a lengthy and involved conversation we’ve had here in the last several weeks,” said charter board chairman Brian Jones at the hearing. He got no argument.