The District’s traditional public school system will operate the city’s only all-girls public school next year, taking over a charter school in Southeast Washington that had its license revoked for poor performance.
Excel Academy Public Charter School, with 700 students in preschool through eighth grade, will finish the semester as a charter school and reopen as a D.C. Public Schools campus at the start of the academic year.
It is unclear how many administrators and teachers will remain through the transition, but current students will be allowed to re-enroll.
“We are thrilled that Excel is joining the DCPS community,” Amanda Alexander, the interim D.C. schools chancellor, wrote in an email. “We’re working diligently to ensure the students will be able to remain in place for at least the next school year.”
The D.C. Public Charter School Board voted in January to strip Excel of its charter, saying that students were lagging behind their peers and that the school was showing scant evidence of improvement. The school’s fate remained in limbo after the vote, with school leaders needing to find a new operator if they wanted Excel to remain open.
While it is rare for the traditional public system to take over a charter school, it is not unprecedented. D.C. Public Schools assumed leadership of Petworth’s Community Academy Public Charter School — and renamed it Dorothy Height Elementary School — in 2015 after the charter board voted to close the school amid financial mismanagement.
The charter school board said its enrollment specialists have been meeting with Excel families, informing them they can participate in the citywide school lottery, enroll in their traditional neighborhood public school or remain at Excel. The lottery deadline was March 1.
Anacostia resident Sharese Clayton said she opted to send her two young daughters to Excel a few years ago because she was unimpressed with the traditional public school system. She was initially unsure she would keep them at Excel when she learned it would become part of the D.C. Public Schools system, but said she has decided to give it a chance.
“I wasn’t the biggest fan of the DCPS system,” Clayton said. “But after talking with the school and different people that represent both sides, we’re going to give it a chance and see how things go.”
Representatives of Excel Public Charter School declined to comment.
D.C. Public Schools opened its first all-male school, Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, in 2016. The American Civil Liberties Union slammed the city for operating a single-gender school, saying the school system was violating federal and city laws by excluding girls.
Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, executive director of the ACLU’s D.C. chapter, said the inclusion of an all-girls campus in the traditional school system does not change the organization’s stance on publicly funded single-gender schools.
Hopkins-Maxwell said she hopes families will consider legal action if the school system rejects their daughter from Ron Brown or their son from Excel.
“The issue still remains that segregated schools reinforce single-sex stereotypes and promote sexism,” Hopkins-Maxwell said.
Excel’s switch to a traditional public school comes at a time when the system is competing to keep families from turning to charters, which are publicly funded but privately run. As of October 2017, D.C. Public Schools counted 48,144 students compared with 43,393 in charter schools.
According to data released by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, enrollment in D.C. Public Schools dropped by 400 students between October 2016 and the following year, breaking six years of growth.
Excel Academy was founded 10 years ago, and its students, who largely come from low-income families, have struggled to match citywide averages on math and English standardized tests.
In the 2016-2017 school year, 9 percent of Excel students met or exceeded expectations in math, compared with 27 percent citywide. In English, 19 percent met or exceeded expectations, compared with 31 percent citywide.
Under District law, the D.C. Public Charter School Board must review a school’s charter to operate every five years to ensure it is meeting goals agreed to when it received permission to open.
Excel’s operating charter stipulates it must score 45 percent on the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s annual assessment of performance, which takes into account attendance, test scores, re-enrollment rates and more. But over the past five years, the school averaged 41 percent.
The charter school board said its staff members had met with Excel leaders during the past two years to prepare for the five-year review, but the school had not reached all of its targets.
“The longer girls are at Excel, the further they fall behind their peers in the city,” Saba Bireda, a member of the charter school board, said in January.