The D.C. Public Charter School Board has decided to allow Perry Street Prep’s elementary and middle school grades to continue operating but to close its high school, making Perry Street the latest in a string of charter schools to face sanctions for poor academic performance.
Perry Street Prep, founded in 1999 as Hyde Leadership Public Charter School, serves more than 900 students in preschool through 12th grade at its Northeast Washington campus.
The school has struggled to adhere to special-education laws, according to the charter board, which cited a “disturbingly high number of findings” of noncompliance by the city agency charged with monitoring services for children with special needs. Many of those violations have since been corrected, according to the charter board.
Perry Street Prep has also demonstrated problems with fiscal management, including failing to submit large contracts for the charter board’s review. And though its lower grades have met the school’s academic goals, its older students have struggled with attendance and with achievement on standardized tests: Fewer than 37 percent of Perry Street Prep high school students are proficient in reading, and just 41 percent are proficient in math.
“We understand all of this and accept it,” Cynthia Brown, chairman of Perry Street’s board, said Wednesday night. But the difficulty in building good high schools is an issue that extends beyond Perry Street, she said: “There’s a high school problem in Ward 5. As bad as our performance was, it was better than other high schools.”
The school’s executive director, Shadwick Jenkins, said Perry Street Prep has been committed to addressing past fiscal and special-education violations since new leadership took over two years ago.
“We understand that this is policy, that this is law,” Jenkins said. “We are very committed to moving forward and making sure no violations occur.”
The high school will stay open through the 2014-15 school year, but students currently in ninth grade and 10th grade will need to find another school to attend through graduation, an uprooting that upsets many parents.
“I’m not happy with the decision,” said Vanessa Woodard, whose daughter, a freshman, has attended Perry Street Prep since kindergarten. Woodard said her daughter has thrived there, and Woodward is concerned about finding another school that will be as safe, as nurturing and as academically challenging. “I don’t want her to be lost in transition,” she said.
Under D.C. law, the city charter board must review and decide whether to renew schools’ charters every 15 years. Perry Street Prep is one of seven schools up for that review this year. That list also includes Booker T. Washington, which the board voted last month to close for poor performance.
Two other charter schools, both large elementary schools east of the Anacostia River, are slated to close for poor performance at the end of the year. But each plans to stay open under new leadership. Both will be acquired by other operators who have promised to guarantee admission to current students, which the charter board and its staff hopes will minimize disruptions for children and their families.
Imagine Southeast has agreed to be taken over by Democracy Prep, a New York-based operator that recently won permission to run schools in the District.
And KIPP DC, one of the city’s largest and best-regarded charter school networks, will take over Arts and Technology Academy under an arrangement the charter board approved Wednesday night.
KIPP DC is known for starting and running high-performing schools but does not have experience turning around an existing school.
“It’s a new challenge for us,” said Chief Operating Officer Allison Fansler, who added that KIPP DC has been seeking ways to expand to meet the high demand for its schools.
ATA is known for its emphasis on the arts, and its leaders said that the way KIPP DC communicates its commitment to the arts will be important to families as they consider staying with the school. Fansler said that although KIPP DC’s schools are best known for academics, they also have strong daily arts programs.
KIPP DC will not accept new students through the lottery for the ATA campus next year and will instead serve only current ATA families there. The organization has committed to interviewing all ATA staff for positions but plans to bring in enough KIPP DC veterans to establish a strong culture, Fansler said.