D.C. charter board approves two new schools

The D.C. Public Charter School Board on Monday approved two new schools and rejected seven others, citing concerns such as inconsistent budgets and overly vague academic goals and curricula.

“We’re setting a tough, high bar,” said Chairman John H. “Skip” McKoy, speaking at the outset of the board’s evening meeting. “Running these schools is a really arduous task, and we’re getting a little bit better at spotting red lights — things that are signs to us that a proposal is not quite ready.”

The two schools that won approval — a Montessori elementary and an adult education program — are scheduled to open in fall 2014. Both successful applicants had been rejected in previous years and returned this year with stronger applications, board members said.

Academy of Hope is an existing nonprofit with a mission to help adults learn to read, earn general equivalency diplomas and build skills they need to get and keep a job. It operates two campuses in Wards 5 and 8 that rely largely on volunteer teachers and tutors. As a charter school, the academy will be able to hire full-time qualified teachers and use volunteers to bolster support services.

Board members said they were impressed with Academy of Hope’s record of making a difference for adults in need.

“When you walk in there, you see students really engaged. You see teachers really committed,” board member Emily Bloomfield said.

The school’s supporters erupted in applause when the board voted unanimously to grant it a charter. “That was a gauntlet,” said Lecester Johnson, Academy of Hope’s executive director.

The board also gave conditional approval to a proposal submitted by teachers who work in a Montessori program at the District’s Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, which is slated to close in June.

That new charter, Lee Montessori, will win full approval after it beefs up its curriculum for older students and wins certification from the Association Montessori Internationale. Its founders aim to open an elementary program in Ward 5 or Ward 7.

The board rejected an application for the proposed One World Public Charter School, whose organizers boasted strong connections with the elite Sidwell Friends School — including an executive director who recently retired as the principal of Sidwell’s lower school. Among other concerns, board members said the application hadmultiple grammatical and spelling errors and included far too little detail about plans for a promised ongoing relationship with Sidwell. The application also did not explain how the arts-focused school would integrate arts into daily lessons, board staff members said.

Nexus Academy, a “blended learning” high school that would combine online and face-to-face instruction, was rejected after board members expressed concern that the school’s schedule — four hours a day, four days a week — would not offer enough support for city students.

The board also denied applications from three alternative schools seeking to serve struggling and at-risk students, saying they did not offer details about how the schools would improve academic outcomes for such difficult-to-reach populations.

Crossway Community, which operates a Montessori charter school in Montgomery County, was turned down for not adequately describing how its program would work in the District. And board members said Nannie Helen Burroughs, a private school seeking to convert to a charter for financial reasons, did not show that its leaders possess the experience and ability to succeed.The board was unanimous in each of the nine decisions.

The board also voted unanimously earlier this year to allow Rocketship Education, a California-based nonprofit, to open as many as eight schools in the District serving more than 5,000 students. The first two Rocketship schools are slated to open in 2015.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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