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Search for New Charter School Board Exec Begins

As the search for D.C. Public Charter School Board’s next executive director gets underway, officials leading the process said they want to involve parents, teachers and other stakeholders to weigh in on the board’s final decision.

A public roundtable scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 12 at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School would allow community members to discuss the qualities of an executive director they’re seeking in the person replacing Scott Pearson, a former Obama administration official wrapping up his nine-year tenure at the end of this academic year.

“We’re looking for the best candidate from a lot of different perspectives,” said Rick Cruz, the board’s chair. “We want folks who have strong relevant experience with charter schools.”

Cruz and Vice Chair Saba Bireda are leading the executive director selection committee that’s collaborating with the search firm brought last month in the wake of Pearson’s announcement.

“We’ve had success over the last few years inviting community members for feedback,” Cruz said. “At our meeting at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School, we’re getting [participants] to work in small groups and think through what they think is important” in the selection process.

Under Pearson’s stewardship, the board expanded enrollment, particularly that of special-needs students, by consolidating its process with D.C. Public Schools under the annual school lottery. Within that same time period, Pearson has gone toe-to-toe with D.C. Council members pressing for more accountability and transparency from charter schools, privately-run institutions funded with taxpayer dollars.

At the end of the selection process, the board’s new executive director would enter a period of transition after which they will help facilitate the opening of five newly chartered schools in the 2020-2021 academic year. This spring, some schools will shutter as part of a charter revocation process initiated by the board for poor academic performance. Five charter schools, most of which were located in the eastern part of the city, didn’t reopen this year for similar reasons.

Currently, more than 120 charter schools operate in the District, with citywide student enrollment evenly split between the charter school system and D.C. Public Schools.

Cruz, a board member of five years, told The Informer that half of the city’s charter schools have maintained Tier 1 status, meaning that more than 60 percent of students enrolled meet standards of high performance. Even so, figures released earlier this year show a less-than-one-percent decrease in public charter school enrollment, the reasons for which haven’t quite been determined.

For D.C. resident Ismael Vazquez Sr., the decision to pull his youngest daughter out of Meridian Public Charter School last spring represented the complete erosion of trust that started with a teacher’s alleged verbal assault and bullying of her older siblings years prior. Efforts to hold administrators accountable fell on deaf ears, he said, particularly because of what he described as high teacher turnover.

“If you told me my child was acting up, I would try to get some understanding so when I speak to them, I can explain [the teacher’s] long-standing efforts,” Vazquez said. “At Meridian, there was never that connection. It was about my child being the best of the best, but they not having resources for her, [but] they did have the resources to discipline. When I showed up to the school, the people I wanted to press didn’t work there anymore. People were scared of what I was going to do, but I was only going to expect you to do your job.”

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