In June, nearly 700 students at SouthEast Academy of Scholastic Excellence were sent scrambling after the public charter school was ordered closed because it had failed to meet academic targets for five years.
But yesterday, the fourth day of the new school year, classes were held as usual on the campus. The facility has reopened as the Friendship Southeast Elementary Academy, one of five charter schools that the Friendship organization runs in the city.
Officials said it was the first time that a D.C. charter school facility, after being shuttered, was taken over immediately by another charter school organization. Charter school advocates said it reflects both the high demand for charter school slots among city parents and the shortage of sites for such schools.
Friendship officials received permission in July from the D.C. Public Charter School Board to open a school on the site. In about 40 days, they enrolled 368 students in kindergarten through sixth grade -- eliminating grades 7 and 8 -- and completed $500,000 worth of renovations. About 15 of the old school's teachers were retained, and 20 new teachers were hired.
The takeover ensured a seamless transition for the 180 students who opted to stay at the campus.
"I was mad that the school was closing. I'd have to find new friends," said sixth-grader Maurice Brown, 11. But, he added, "most of my friends came back -- everybody in my class."
The board, one of two agencies that regulates charter schools in the city, revoked the charter of the six-year-old SouthEast Academy for repeatedly failing to meet academic benchmarks. The board said, for example, that the school had not met its goal of raising the math and reading scores of 10 percent of its students from the basic to the proficient level on the Stanford 9 standardized test.
Board officials said they approved Friendship's application to reopen the school because of the organization's record in the city. Friendship enrolls about 4,000 students and employs 500 teachers and other staff members at its five campuses.
The Friendship charter school organization was established in 1998 by Friendship House, a social service agency in Southeast Washington. The organization also operates an elementary school in Southeast and an elementary, a middle and a high school in Northeast.
"They have expanded their existing campuses successfully," said Tom Nida, chairman of the charter school board. "They have the capacity to take on something bigger and better."
Friendship's high school -- Friendship-Edison Collegiate Academy (Woodson Campus) -- was listed last month as "in need of improvement" because African American and low-income students failed to make adequate yearly progress in reading under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The other Friendship campuses met their required benchmarks.
Friendship runs the other four campuses in partnership with the for-profit Edison Schools Inc., with Edison providing the curriculum and helping to manage the schools.
But Edison is not involved in the new Friendship school, said Donald L. Hense, chairman of the Friendship board.
"We have matured and have our own capability," Hense said. "We have put together a number of reading and math programs based on best practices."
They also have introduced Saturday classes to help lift low-performing students to grade level quickly.
"We are serious about turning this school around," Hense said.