For 12 years, Hyde Leadership Public Charter School has infused its academic program with “character education,” stressing attributes such as humility, conscience and honesty. But when school officials came to the D.C. Public Charter School Board Monday night with a proposal to re-focus Hyde’s mission, their fidelity to those principles was challenged by parents and at least two board members.
The board voted 5-2 to approve a messy divorce--a decision by Hyde Leadership PCS to end a 12-year affiliation with its founder, Joseph Gauld, a former math teacher whose Maine-based group of schools emphasize character education and family renewal. Hyde Leadership officials told the charter school board that those ideas will remain a part of the pre-K-12 school, but that they wanted to re-focus its mission on academic rigor and college preparation. The school will be re-named Perry Street Preparatory, reflecting the address at its newly-renovated building, the former DCPS Taft Vocational Center on Perry Street N.E.
DC CAS scores, at the school, which serves more than 700 students, have not been good. Reading proficiency was 36 percent in 2010; math was 40 percent. Jo Ann Cason, Hyde’s head of school, told the board that fewer than 20 percent of alumni have graduated college, a reflection of the school’s emphasis on college eligibility rather than college readiness.
“This is simply unacceptable,” Cason said.
Money was also a factor in the split. Hyde Leadership’s board of trustees wanted out from under what it said was $233,000 a year in consulting fees and other payments to Gauld’s Hyde Foundation.
But a group of parents assailed the trustees’ decision, which they said was presented to them this spring as a done deal, without any opportunity for discussion. They said the character development piece of the program, which includes activities that help students confront negative attitudes and poor decision making, was a major reason they were drawn to Hyde.
“I don’t understand how this decision can be made without us at the table,” said Traci Felder, who added that she and most other parents made their decision to re-enroll without knowing about the shift in mission.
Eileen Harrington, a member of the board of trustees, said the decisions that led to the split with the Hyde Foundation went to “our fiduciary responsibilities and were not ones of the sort you put out for a vote.”
Gauld, who opened his first school in 1966, said the split culminated a long dispute over the quality of the school. In an interview after the hearing, he said that he had delivered an “ultimatum” to the trustees, demanding that they submit to an in-depth evaluation by the Hyde Foundation or risk losing the Hyde name.
Charter board vice chairman Skip McKoy said the lack of transparency on the part of the trustees concerned him, and that what he saw was “not an open and honest process.”
But board member Will Marshall, reflecting the majority view, said the board was there to judge academic results, not process. The board voted 5-2 to approve the change in the school’s charter, with McKoy and Darren Woodruff opposing.