4 Charters Competing to Run Troubled Washington Academy

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The D.C. Public Charter School Board is weighing proposals from four charter schools to assume the management of Washington Academy, a move designed to keep the financially strapped school from closing later this month.

The competitive process marks the first time that the charter board, an independent panel whose members are appointed by the mayor, has considered allowing existing charter schools to take over a school facing closure. It could portend how the board plans to use its increased oversight power gained through the mayoral takeover of the schools.

Hope Community, Howard Road Academy, Mary McLeod Bethune and William E. Doar Jr. have submitted proposals outlining why they are best suited to take on the academic and financial management of Washington Academy, which has 254 students in preschool to sixth grade.

Washington Academy, which opened three years ago, is running a deficit and has unpaid payroll taxes, board officials said. It operates two campuses in Southeast, paying roughly $25,000 in monthly rent for the two locations.

Board Chairman Thomas A. Nida said the board decided to go the competitive route because it has never faced a midyear school closure and was looking for a way for students and parents to face little disruption from a transition.

Nida said he has started to read the submissions, which came in Friday and are posted on the board's Web site. The board is accepting comments from parents on the proposals through today and will decide the school's fate in a public meeting tomorrow at the school's Jones Memorial Church location in Southeast.

"What I'm looking for is a quality program that is financially strong and that will minimize any upheaval for the kids concerned," Nida said of the proposals.

Hope Community, which opened in 2005 and has students from pre-kindergarten to seventh grade, said that it will create a parent transition team and that its teachers will take an extra hour a day to plan academic lessons if it is selected. Hope Community operates two campuses and has a management contract with Imagine, an education company.

Howard Road Academy, which has a management contract with the education company Mosaica, touted its ability to produce budget surpluses while offering an academic program for its kindergarten through seventh-grade students that was recently praised by State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist.

Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy has students in preschool through eighth grade, and its application noted the school's emphasis on language immersion and a focus on each individual child since opening in 2004.

In addition to its strong academic program for pre-kindergarten to 10th-grade students, William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, which met math and reading targets on last year's standardized tests, said it would offer dance, music and visual arts lessons to Washington Academy students.

The charter board previously closed three schools, and the transition for each -- Sasha Bruce, Southeast Academy and New School for Enterprise and Development -- took place during the summer.

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