“The overall agenda is still moving forward without a comprehensive plan explained to the public,” he said.
Henderson said this could be the first of many similar arrangements between D.C. public and charter schools. “We are in multiple conversations with a number of schools about very interesting partnerships,” she said.
But she pushed back against critics who say that she is hastening a transfer of power from the school system to fast-growing charters, which now enroll 43 percent of city students. Charter schools are not the sole answer to fixing education in the city, she said, but they can help.
“I’m interested in radically improving my neighborhood schools. Where I can’t do it fast enough or good enough but there are other people who can, I want to partner with them,” she said.
Achievement Prep’s mission is to serve children in low-income Southeast. It won permission this year from the charter board to absorb students from Septima Clark, a charter school slated to close in June.
“We are supportive of this kind of collaboration and we have full confidence in these two leaders,” said charter board spokeswoman Theola Labbé-DeBose.
Achievement Prep officials said they intend to retain their charter agreement with the D.C. Public Charter School Board. That agreement expires in 2023, suggesting that the charter board will continue to be responsible for overseeing the merged school’s academic performance, fiscal health and legal compliance.
The school system has not signed an agreement with Achievement Prep. The two sides have a thicket of issues to tackle, including how to deal with the rules and regulations that require charter schools to be open to children across the city.
“We’ve had real strong philosophical alignment, lots of talk about what we want to do for the District’s children,” Wright said. “We’ll just leave it up to lawyers to figure out how we get past the bureaucracy to make that happen.”
It is also not yet clear whether the school’s teachers will be subject to collective bargaining – a key difference between the unionized school system and non-unionized charters. “It’s up in the air,” said Washington Teachers Union President Nathan Saunders. “We’re pushing for it.”
Fewer than one in five Malcolm X students are proficient in reading and math, according to their scores on the city’s standardized tests. Meanwhile, at Achievement Prep — a middle school that serves children in the same part of town — 86 percent of children are proficient in math and 69 percent are proficient in reading.
Under the proposed partnership, the schools would share space at Green Elementary next year. Then they would merge into one K-8 school housed at the newly renovated Malcolm X and run by Achievement Prep.
Students and teachers at both schools were notified of the planned merger this week, and school leaders will ask for parent feedback at a community meeting scheduled for May 21.