Excel Academy Public School has long attracted parents, teachers and community members who espoused a commitment to shaping the minds of elementary and middle school-aged girls and maintaining a level of rigor that prepared them for high school and beyond.
However, since the appointment of Shaunte Daniel as interim principal, some parents have wavered on that commitment, even pulling their children out of Excel Academy with what has been described as Daniel’s disregard for the culture of excellence her predecessor instilled.
In the wake of an announcement that D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) chose Daniel to permanently run the all-girls school next academic year, those feelings have only intensified among some parents, including Shakia Darden who’s considering transferring her daughter to another school.
“Students lost respect for administrators in the school,” said Darden, a Ward 8 resident and parent of a student who just completed fourth grade at Excel Academy.
Darden’s daughter has been enrolled at Excel Academy since pre-kindergarten, long before its 2018 transition from a public charter to public school. Darden said she respected former principal Tenia Pritchard’s penchant for including parents, fostering a sense of community and maintaining high standards.
With Daniel, Darden said she saw aspects of what she loved about Excel Academy go out of the window, particularly the dress code that requires students to wear uniform shirts and slacks specific to their grade level.
Over the next few months, Darden would learn of other changes that perturbed her, including Daniel’s alleged dissolution of the parent-teachers association.
“Principal Daniel didn’t introduce herself to parents,” Darden said. “I found out who she was by googling her name. I didn’t meet her until the end of the school when I received a phone call [telling me] my daughter was a close COVID contact. The only reason I met Principal Daniel was because I was going off and she had to calm me down.”
Daniel, a DCPS employee since 2011, previously served as interim principal at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Northwest and as assistant principal at both Stanton Elementary School in Southeast and Langley Elementary in Northeast.
Toward the end of the 2021-2022 academic year while serving as Excel Academy’s interim principal, Daniel counted among the finalists in the selection process for Excel Academy’s principal. Community members familiar with the process said the selection committee heavily favored other candidates despite their experience as assistant principals.
News of Daniel’s appointment on June 17 drew the ire of those who had not only grown disillusioned with her leadership throughout the school year but anticipated an inclusive and transparent selection process.
Neither Daniel nor DCPS Cluster 2 Instructional Superintendent Mary Ann Stinson returned phone calls about the selection process and events of the 2021-2022 academic year.
This year, District public school principals have been making their exit at various institutions, including Phelps ACE High School and McKinley Middle/McKinley Technology High School. At times, community members have described the principal selection process for those schools as being clouded in mystery. While no vacancies have been reported for principal positions as of June 21, a dozen assistant principal and dean of student vacancies remain at elementary, middle and high schools, according to documents obtained by The Informer.
In the wake of the announcement that Daniel would permanently serve as principal, Stinson, in communication with an Excel Academy teacher, encouraged the teacher and their colleagues to support Daniel. For this teacher and others, doing so at times seems easier said than done, especially as they continue to feel a sense of powerlessness.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to teach at Excel Academy [and] it’s just as important for those who have chosen to stay,” the teacher said. “Hearing that Principal Daniel will return made people get their resumes ready. There are even some who were here through the transition to charter to public who are pulling out. They don’t like what’s happening.”