D.C. officials may close Imagine Southeast charter school for poor performance

January 11, 2013

District officials have taken the first step toward closing Imagine Southeast, a Ward 8 public charter school, citing its failure to meet academic achievement expectations and other goals set forth in its charter agreement.

“The students in the school are not being well served,” said Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which at its Thursday meeting voted to begin revoking Imagine Southeast’s charter.

The decision drew passionate objections from more than a hundred parents, students and school employees, who showed up to defend the school and plead that it be allowed to stay open.

“My children have wonderful teachers,” said Jaime Mills, the mother of two students at the school. “I’m scared if the school closes that they won’t have that attention, that they will get lost in another school.”

Other parents praised the school’s single-gender classes, saying that their children have thrived at Imagine Southeast after struggling elsewhere.

“We don’t see the deficiencies that you guys see,” said Yolanda Smith, vice president of the Parent Teacher Organization.

The board will hold a public hearing within 45 days before making a final decision. If it votes in favor of closure, Imagine Southeast would be shuttered this spring.

The city’s charter school board reviews each school’s performance every five years and can close any school that fails to meet agreed-upon expectations or violates laws. Since 2000, 28 charter schools have had their charters revoked or closed on their own.

Imagine Southeast serves more than 600 elementary and middle-school students. It opened in 2008 and has since failed to meet four of the five goals laid out in its charter agreement, according to charter board staff.

Among the problems cited was “dismally low” academic achievement, according to board staff.

Although students’ reading performance at Imagine Southeast has improved in the past two years, the proficiency rate on standardized tests is about 37 percent, below the city average of 46 percent, according to the revocation proposal.

The school’s math proficiency rate, 33 percent, is also lower than the city average of around 49 percent.

Attendance rates at Imagine are among the lowest in Ward 8, and reenrollment rates have never risen above 70 percent — a sign that parents are not satisfied with the school, according to the charter board.

Leaders of Imagine Southeast said they are well aware of the need for improvement and have already begun making changes. They said they were shocked to learn that the school is in danger of closing and that they deserve more time to show progress.

“We feel a little bit like the carpet’s being pulled out from under us in the middle of what’s going to take a little more time,” Matt Engel, vice chairman of Imagine Southeast’s board, said in an interview.

The city charter board also said that Imagine Southeast has violated several laws, including those governing the education of students with disabilities.

School leaders said they could not immediately comment on the allegations.

Imagine Southeast is part of a network operated by Arlington County-based Imagine Schools, a for-profit company that with an affiliate nonprofit operates about 70 schools in 12 states and the District, according to its Web site.

In the District, more than a dozen charter school campuses are ranked lower than Imagine Southeast, according to the charter board’s annual report cards, which grade schools on student academic growth and other measures. Pearson, the board’s executive director, said all schools can expect that their performance will be scrutinized as they come up for review.

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