Whoever replaces Scott Pearson at the DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) will sit at the helm of the government agency overseeing the schools attended by half of the District’s student population and determining whether those schools remain open.

In recent years, the charter board has made an effort to better attract District families, particularly those with special-needs accommodations, by allowing students to enroll in its more than 120 independently run schools through the My School DC lottery.

However, as some parents recently told charter board members and staff at a roundtable, more choices haven’t necessarily quelled the systemic forces affecting the quality of their child’s education.

“There have been steps to get more charter schools and make neighborhood schools better, and all of that is on the right track but it’s not fast enough. We have to be a bit more proactive in addressing the inequities,” said Yvette Selby, a mother of twins who attend Capital City Public Charter School in Northwest.

Selby expressed satisfaction with Capital City’s offerings, telling The Informer that her daughter scored high in her math classes with the supports put in place through her IEP. She also commended her son, an aspiring engineer taking honors classes and mulling a transfer to a school with a career-specific program.

To that point, Selby stressed that her children had to explore their interests outside of school.

“In the wards where you have parents making more money, they can do more through their parent-teacher associations,” said Selby, a Ward 5 resident and parent leader of Parents Amplifying Voices in Education.

“In other schools where you have at-risk students, they’re fighting for the basic needs of the schools,” Selby said. “The charter school board, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, DC Public Schools, OSSE, the D.C. Council, residents, and businesses need to be more assertive in addressing and resolving that issue.”

Room for Improvement

Selby and nearly a dozen other parents and community members participated in Saturday morning’s roundtable at Kipp DC College Preparatory in Northeast. This gathering counted as part of DCPCSB’s search for a new executive director.

In December, a month after Pearson announced his departure at the end of the academic year, the charter school board hosted a roundtable in Southeast at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School in December.

In the past few months, DCPCSB has collected online submissions and hosted meetings with charter school executive directors and CEOs, and parents who sit on charter school boards. Staff members told participants Saturday that their commentary would become part of a master document that will help the charter school board determine the qualities they should seek in a new executive director.

Candidates for executive director would likely have to address the areas of concern affecting parents in schools with parents outlined on Saturday, including greater transparency within DCPCSB and the individual charter schools.

Participants also spoke about the need for better engagement with immigrant families and those seeking the best execution of their child’s individualized education program (IEP).

An audit in October showed that enrollment in the District’s public charter schools dropped by less than 1 percent, while DC Public Schools student population surpassed 50,000 for the first time. Last year, a string of charter school closures, including that of Democracy Preparatory in Southeast, City Arts + Prep Public Charter School in Northeast, and Cesar Chavez Prep Middle School in Northwest, sparked discussion about alleged biases in DCPCSB’s evaluation of charter schools with a high concentration of nonwhite students.

By the time DCPCSB installs its new executive director, five new charter schools would have opened. Whether one of those schools, a new Eagle Academy campus, would find a home in a newly constructed building in the Fairlawn community of Southeast depends on the outcome of a February charter board meeting. These developments follow the charter board’s decision last school year to schedule National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter School’s closure at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.

In recent years, DCPCSB has caught the attention of D.C. Council members attempting to gain more insight into the affairs of the city’s public charter schools, all of which receive public funds based on enrollment figures. In April, all 13 council members introduced the School-Based Budgeting and Transparency Act, legislation that mandates the charter school board publicize the detailed budget and year-end expenditures for each public charter school.

By October, public witnesses discussed the bill in a public hearing and the Council Committee on Education had compiled a report touting the need for more uniformity in the way that school administrators openly engage families and the community.

The Uneven Scramble for Schools

Per DCPCSB Chair Rick Cruz, half of the District’s charter schools have achieved Tier 1 status, meaning that 60 percent of the student population has met high-performance standards.

Charter schools that shutter often do so after not meeting the conditions of their charter, which include a high standing on the Performance Management Framework, a tool that’s been criticized as disadvantageous of marginalized students and not indicative of their growth within an academic year.

Throughout much of the Jan. 11 roundtable, local parent Rostina Miller argued that charter school parents, especially those with special-needs children, find it difficult to access the information, programs and suitable professionals to carry out an IEP. She said those emotions often compel them to apply to some of the city’s highly rated charter schools in overwhelming numbers.

Such was the case for Miller, who enrolled her daughter into Washington Leadership Academy, a Tier 1 school in Northeast. Miller contends that her admission to the program didn’t come without face time with administrators.

“If you want your kids to go to school across Rock Creek Park, you better know someone,” said Miller, whose daughter, an 11th grader, also attended Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School in Northeast and DC International School in Northwest.

“I know a lot of parents who move to Wards 7 and 8 for the affordable housing, then they look at the schools and realize they have to drive to Wards 1, 2 and 3 for a quality education,” she said.

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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