A charter school that serves high school dropouts and other at-risk students is in jeopardy after the D.C. Public Charter School Board determined that it has failed to meet many of its academic goals.
The Latin American Youth Center Career Academy opened in 2012 to help students who had previously left school get their GED and go to college or get a job. The school also enrolled students who had a high school diploma to put them on a path to college or training for a medical or tech field job.
The charter board is required to evaluate a school’s performance after five years. Board Executive Director Scott Pearson and his staff determined that more than two-thirds of the 770 students enrolled at the school since 2012 were not on a track to earn a GED or receive college or career training.
Of the 119 students who could have earned a GED, 20 percent earned one. Of the 42 students on a plan to start a medical assistant career, none earned certification, according to board staff.
Pearson recommended that the board revoke the school’s charter and shut it down “based on the school’s performance over the previous four years, along with its poor data management, and most significantly, its failure to meet its goals and mission for the majority its students.”
The charter board’s seven members will decide if it will shut the school down in early May. If it revokes the charter, the school would shut down in June.
Charter revocations are not a rarity in the District. Since 1996, about two dozen schools have had their charters revoked, forcing them to shut down. The charter board said more than half of the closures have happened since 2012, when Pearson joined the board and put a stronger focus on school quality.
The board evaluates schools based on a set of academic goals, such as test scores or graduation rates, that are laid out when a school opens. Some of the closed schools had mismanaged funds. Others fell short of academic goals. The board voted to shut down Potomac Prep in February 2016 because it did not meet performance targets.
The school’s staff said that the board is treating the school unfairly. They said that they work with a unique group of students, mostly from 16 to 24 years old, who have experienced trauma and have not performed well in other schools. Many deal with homelessness, said school Executive Director Nicole Hanrahan.
When the school opened in 2012, the educators expected most of their students would have the literacy skills necessary for a career pathway, but most of the students, even those with a high school diploma, are reading at a sixth grade level, according to Hanrahan.
“I would say it has been the biggest barrier,” Hanrahan said. “The 500 kids that they say we don’t do anything for, we are providing those kids with an opportunity to build literacy skills that will help them in their lives or get them closer to going to college.”
The school and the board cannot agree on how well the school is serving its students.
The charter board said that the school met one of its seven academic goals. But the school said it met all seven.
They disagree because the charter board and the school are measuring the school’s performance in different ways. For example, the school claims that it met its goal of providing students with a GED because more of its students earned a GED compared with other adult education charters. The charter board said it was not appropriate for the school to compare itself to other schools.
“The only way to create thoughtful benchmarks is to compare us to other schools or use research and best practices to create benchmarks that are appropriate for this population,” Hanrahan said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Before the school was told it could be shut down, it won a $500,000 grant to come up with academic goals that reflect the challenges of working with at-risk students. CityBridge Education, a spinoff of the philanthropic group CityBridge Foundation, awarded the grant as part of its Breakthrough Schools initiative.
“CityBridge respects the decision of the PCSB as our city’s charter authorizer. We ultimately want to ensure that all of D.C.’s students — especially the most marginalized — can attend a high-quality school,” said Mieka Wick, chief executive of CityBridge Education. “With that goal in mind, we will continue to invest in schools that serve students like those at LAYC.”