A local philanthropic group wants to revamp low-performing public schools and open others, 25 in all over the next five years.
There are 233 public schools in the District with 90,000 students, counting city and charter schools. But Mieka Wick, chief executive of CityBridge Education, said last week that there are not enough schools with “high-quality” seats where students are meeting or exceeding academic standards.
CityBridge plans to add more high-quality schools by giving educators up to $500,000 in cash and in-kind donations per school to open a new charter school or redesign an existing city or charter school.
The first wave of projects will include a computer-science charter school in Ward 7 and a charter school with Smithsonian museums as a central focus of the curriculum. The organization is also giving D.C. Public Schools money to revamp its alternative schools and redesign two elementary schools.
“We realized this is the work that the city needs,” Wick said.
CityBridge Education is a spinoff of the philanthropic group CityBridge Foundation, run by Katherine and David Bradley.
The foundation has given millions of dollars to education-overhaul efforts in the city, mainly to charter schools and groups including Teach for America. For the past three years, it has awarded grants to schools that are similar to those highlighted in the new announcement.
Wick said the foundation wanted to intensify that work, so it launched CityBridge Education, which will focus exclusively on opening or redesigning schools. Thirteen of the 25 school projects were announced in December.
“We are not trying to become a charter management organization like KIPP,” Wick said. “We are saying there are a bunch of ways of doing this, and we want to create the space for people to come with those visions.”
Katherine Bradley, the founding chair of CityBridge Education, said it’s often difficult for school principals to have time to step back and think about redesigning education when they are running a school.
“We can bring additional resources that would be really hard for a school to allocate to try some new things,” she said. “We’re not doing anything magic. We’re just creating the time and space that gives the kind of honored place to educators that they should have.”
Mashea Ashton is working to open Digital Pioneers Academy in Ward 7. The charter school will focus on building high-level computer-science skills for sixth- through 12th-grade students. Despite her years of experience in education, Ashton said, she would not have been able to open the school without the CityBridge grant.
Ashton said was able to test the idea for her school with a group of other educators and high school students through a CityBridge networking event.
“I got immediate feedback on some of things that I needed to do to make this vision a reality,” Ashton said.
The D.C. Public Charter School Board is reviewing the school’s application, and if it’s approved, Digital Pioneers plans to open in fall 2018.