Charter School in Talks to Join Regular System
Hospitality High Official Cites Need for Space, Facilities

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hospitality High, a charter school that prides itself on preparing students for hotel and restaurant careers with hands-on training, doesn't have a teaching kitchen.

The school, which pays $24,000 a month to rent three floors of an office building in downtown Washington, buses its aspiring chefs to an Arlington nonprofit once a week for cooking classes. Sometimes they don't have a chance to taste the food they make, a student said.

After eight years of making do in a cramped location that also lacks a gym, cafeteria and storage space, the 179-student school could get what it has always wanted -- a real school building. But to get it, Hospitality would give up its charter school status to join the city school system. This would be the first time a D.C. charter school has become part of the regular D.C. school system, and experts say it could create a model for similar moves.

Voluntarily giving up a charter and joining a traditional public school system is rare, but it has happened in Colorado, Georgia and Ohio, generally because a charter school faced financial difficulties and wanted to avoid being shut down, said John Ayers, a spokesman for the National Association for Charter School Authorizers.

"Perhaps this is a glimpse of the future . . . in major cities, superintendents and school boards are beginning to see charters as having strategic value," Ayers said.

Hospitality's foundation is negotiating a deal with Superintendent Clifford B. Janey to move into underused space in Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in the Petworth section of Northwest Washington. The proposal calls for Hospitality to take up the entire third floor of Roosevelt and expand to 250 students. The D.C. Board of Education is scheduled to consider the proposal tomorrow.

Even though Hospitality would become part of the school system, it would retain its academic program, which has become known for its high graduation rate and the percentage of students going to college. The school would also keep its board of directors, hire the principal and teachers and continue to design and adjust its curriculum as it sees fit.

Roosevelt, which also offers hospitality training, would continue those classes, and the two schools would share the building's new commercial kitchen, bakery, cafe and simulated hotel lobby and front desk, all located in a renovated 9,000-square-foot wing. Currently Roosevelt has about 650 students enrolled, but it can hold almost twice that number, school officials said.

Hospitality officials said the decision was pragmatic.

"This is about a building, absolutely," said Emily Durso, president of the Hotel Association of Washington, the trade group that coordinates student internships and applied for the original charter.

"The school system has a building and space, and we have a great program," Durso said. "We're not going to change much of what we do. We're just doing it in a different place."

The school opened in 1999 as Marriott Hospitality High after school officials rejected the idea of starting a hospitality high school within the school system, said Durso, who was part of those conversations 15 years ago.

For years, Hospitality searched for a more suitable location, meeting with brokers, D.C. Council members and public school officials to seek access to empty school buildings. All of the locations either were too expensive, unavailable or lacking adequate space, Durso said.

Janey's master education plan, his blueprint for raising student achievement, calls for the creation of several specialty high schools, including one focused on hospitality and tourism. About 120 students at Roosevelt take hospitality classes, and they could choose to participate in the new program, said Robert Kight, the school system's director of career and technical education.

"This is a win-win for us," Kight said.

Hospitality High is a special case, said Robert Cane, executive director of the charter advocacy group Friends of Choice in Urban Schools. He said the arrangement highlights the difficulty charter schools encounter when applying to the school system for access to empty school buildings.

The school system considered several proposals from charter schools to lease or share space in six traditional schools that were closed last year, but none of those proposals was recommended by Janey to the school board for approval. By contrast, in November, the board authorized Janey to "take whatever steps are necessary" to open Hospitality as part of the school system in August 2007.

"If the charter school has something that DCPS wants, then DCPS finds the space," Cane said of the public school system. "But most charter schools don't have what DCPS wants; they just represent competition, and then all of a sudden, DCPS doesn't have any space."

Like all charter schools, Hospitality had to adopt the same graduation requirements as the school system, and students take citywide standardized tests. But Hospitality had flexibility to design elective courses around work experience that counts toward graduation.

In the past two years, Hospitality, in the Penn Quarter in Northwest, has had a 100 percent graduation rate and has sent more than 80 percent of its seniors to college, Durso said. Because the school has the strong support of the hotel industry, the students who didn't go on to college had job offers, Durso said.

Meanwhile, Hospitality continues to make do. On a recent day, 17 students had a lesson in answering hotel phones in a professional voice. The students practiced through role-playing, although they were without phones or a mock front desk.

"I try to make the lessons interactive," teacher Akoshia Yoba said, "since we don't have the actual equipment."

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