D.C. officials recommend closure of Booker T. Washington Charter School for Technical Arts

Supporters of the Booker T. Washington Public Charter School for Technical Arts showed up in droves Tuesday night for a public hearing on whether the 15-year-old school should be allowed to continue operating.

Staff for the D.C. Public Charter School Board have recommended closing Booker T. Washington, which operates both a high school and an adult education program in Northwest Washington’s U Street corridor, at the end of this year.

They argue that Booker T. Washington — which emphasizes job training in the construction trades — has failed to deliver on the goals set forth in its charter agreement, including ensuring that students earn an industry certification and develop their ability to work as a member of a team.

In addition, academic performance at the high school is both poor and declining, with 17.5 percent proficiency rates in both math and reading.

But Booker T. Washington staff, students and alumni said Tuesday night that the school gives troubled teens and adults a rare and much-needed opportunity to turn their lives around. The school can’t be fairly judged by the usual measures because of the population it serves, they said.

“What do you do with a 16-year-old man-child who is in ninth grade and reading at the fourth grade level?” said Executive Director Edward Pinkard. “We have a place for him here at Booker T. Washington. We feel if we can keep him here past tenth grade, we have a chance.”

Pinkard told the charter board that the school accepts students whenever they show up, even if the student arrives too late in the year to draw public funding. “I know what the data are — I see them every day,” said Pinkard said of the poor achievement and attendance rates. “I also know where our young black boys end up, and our mission here is to give them some upward mobility.”

Several alumni testified that the school had helped them change their lives. One man said that he arrived at Booker T. Washington’s doorstep after a period of incarceration and learned the skills he needed to get a job.

“Now I am a supervisor” and just finished overseeing the painting of the new O Street Market, he said.

Staff for the charter board said the school had provided documentation for only a handful of students receiving state licensure or industry-recognized trade certifications.

Charter schools in the District operate under agreements that expire after 15 years and must be renewed for the school to continue operating. Booker T. Washington is one of seven schools up for renewal this year.

The law requires the charter board to deny renewal if a school has failed to meet the goals set out it in its original agreement.

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