Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, one of the District’s oldest and most prominent charter networks, announced Wednesday it will close two campuses — a move that affects the education of hundreds of students.
The decision by Chavez’s Board of Trustees signals challenges in the city’s charter sector and follows regulators acting to close three other schools in recent weeks.
Those three schools — Democracy Prep Congress Heights, City Arts and Prep and National Collegiate Preparatory — are expected to close by the end of the academic year because of low performance, although some of those schools are considering appealing regulators’ actions.
In all, more than 1,700 students at Chavez and the other schools could be left scrambling to find new schools next fall.
“Families are losing a school they trust and a place they are comfortable with,” said Christian Herr, a science teacher at Chavez Prep Middle in Columbia Heights, which will close this summer. “A place that has served their kids for a very long time is now going to be gone.”
Chavez Prep Middle, which serves 235 students, is the city’s only charter school where teachers organized a union.
Chavez’s board of trustees said the school’s three campuses have dwindling enrollment, forcing it to close two — the Columbia Heights middle school and the high school on Capitol Hill.
The Capitol Hill high school will merge with the remaining campus east of the Anacostia River.
The two high schools serve 570 students and can fit on a single campus, according to Emily Silberstein, chief executive of the Chavez charter network. That campus also has a middle school, which is in the process of closing grade by grade because of low academic performance.
But Silberstein said the charter network hopes to reopen a middle school on the campus.
“It’s a tough day but also a hopeful day for the future of Chavez, which is not disappearing because of these announcements,” Silberstein said. “We’re committed to providing a top-tier experience for all kids who want that college prep education focused on public policy.”
Two other schools in the city — Somerset Prep DC and Ideal Academy — faced potential closure for low performance but struck deals with big charter networks to operate them and keep them open. KIPP DC will run Somerset, and Friendship will operate Ideal.
Teachers at Chavez Prep Middle protested last year as they negotiated their first contract with school leaders, saying that the school was spending millions of dollars on consultants at the expense of students’ academics.
The school said the consulting firm was needed to help boost the lagging performance of students. Between 2017 and 2018, the middle school made gains on the assessment used to evaluate charter schools.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers — the union that represents Chavez Prep Middle teachers — said the closure of the school is a blow to teachers and families.
“In the long run, if the city wants to have good education options, they need to have teachers who are satisfied, and a union is the way to do it,” Weingarten said.