D.C.’s Hospitality High to convert from charter to traditional school

Leaders of Hospitality High, a D.C. charter school backed by some of the Washington area’s largest hotel companies, have decided to relinquish their charter to join the city’s traditional school system.

The unusual move — it is the first time a D.C. charter school has converted into a traditional school — allows Hospitality to avoid potential closure by the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which is responsible for approving new charters and closing those that underperform.

“Our choice to merge with D.C. Public Schools was in the best interest of our students and the commitment that we’ve made to the District of Columbia to expose them to the wonderful industry that is hospitality, which is the largest industry in the city,” said Hospitality board member Solomon Keene, president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C.

Hospitality’s board — a politically connected group including lobbyist David Wilmot and representatives from such hotel giants as Marriott International and Hilton — signed an agreement to join the school system in the 2015-16 school year. The board will operate an academy within the school system’s Columbia Heights Educational Campus, according to the agreement.

The parties have 90 days to work out a detailed transition plan, including what will happen to Hospitality’s building in the Logan Circle-U Street neighborhood.

“I’m very happy that DCPS is willing to help this school continue,” said Darren Woodruff, vice chairman of the city’s charter board, which voted Tuesday to accept Hospitality’s relinquishment of its charter. “I wish them success.”

During the 2014-15 school year, Hospitality will be managed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) under a little-known and little-used provision in city law. The school’s board will continue to be responsible for day-to-day operations.

“It’s no secret that the mayor is a big proponent of career and technical education,” said Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro. The District is “a city booming with amazing restaurants and some of the country’s finest hotels, and it only makes sense to continue having a hospitality program, whether it’s a charter or traditional school.”

About 200 students attend Hospitality, which aims to train students for careers in the industry while simultaneously preparing them for college. The school’s 15-year charter is to expire in September, and it appeared unlikely to meet the legal standard for renewal, charter board staff member Sarah Medway said Tuesday.

Medway said Hospitality had failed to meet its academic goals, citing standardized test scores below the city average: Thirty-five percent of its students were proficient in math last year and 31 percent were proficient in reading.

Hospitality officials said that they believed the school did meet its goals and that the school was targeted for closure before it was allowed its full due process.

The hospitality industry has contributed generously to the school. Marriott donated $500,000 to help buy Hospitality’s building, and Hilton invested $100,000 toward renovating a kitchen. Altogether, members of the city’s hotel association have contributed more than $1.4 million. “If you look back over the past several years, you’ll find that no other industry in Washington, D.C., has committed themselves to the education of their young people like the hotel industry,” Keene said. “It’s something we pride ourselves on.” Hospitality was founded in 1999 by a group of industry leaders including Emily Durso, who was then president of the hotel association. Durso resigned from the school’s board in 2011 to join the Gray administration, and she now heads the office responsible for redesigning the school system’s approach to middle and high schools.

Officials with the public school system said they have no concern about a conflict of interest since she is no longer directly involved in Hospitality. Hospitality’s board is now chaired by Durso’s cousin, Michael A. Durso, a longtime educator and president of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

The Public Charter School Board also voted Tuesday to allow Options Public Charter School, which is for at-risk youths and had faced closure for alleged fiscal mismanagement, to remain open through the end of next school year under the oversight of court-appointed receiver Josh Kern.

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