D.C. charter school fights to stay open


FIGHTING BACK- Students at Potomac Prep Public Charter School speak at a hearing in support of keeping the school open.

By Moriah Costa | Watchdog.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — About 300 students, parents and teachers rallied at Potomac Prep Public Charter School on Wednesday night to voice their opposition to the school being closed.

“Please don’t close my school,” Amelia Richardson, a sixth grader at Potomac Prep, pleaded with D.C. Public Charter School Board members. “It’s way better than my last school.”

On Nov. 17, the D.C. Public Charter School Board voted to begin the process of revoking the school’s charter for failing to meet its benchmarks. The public hearing, which the school requested, was part of that process.

School officials argue that changes within the past year, including ending the contract with its management company and hiring a new principal, have put the school on track to meet those standards.

The school, which focuses on an arts infused program, serves 425 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. It also serves about 19 special needs children.

According to the board’s 10-year review of the charter, the school only met one of its 20 stated goals and academic expectations. The board noted the school had not broken any laws or mismanaged its funds.

Despite this, the school was upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in the board’s performance assessment for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Sarah Medway, a board staff member in charge of managing the review process, said recent staff visits to classrooms were promising.

“What we observed was promising and different from what we’ve seen in years past,” she said.

Marian White-Hood, the school’s new principal, urged the board to reconsider its decision and give the school more time to meet its goals.

“We have instituted a turnaround plan and it’s a living document that will continue to grow and will be a model for the city,” she said. “I hope that you will allow us to continue implementing the plan and I hope that you will allow us to make a mark on Washington, D.C., as a school (and) a charter board of education who believes in the little schools.”

No charter school in D.C. has ever successfully appealed its charter revocation. Since 1996, 16 schools had their charter revoked.

White-Hood joined the school six months ago and teachers testified at the hearing in support of her open-door policy and rigorous standards.

School staff said there was plenty of low morale and teacher turnover when the school was managed by charter operator Lighthouse Academies, but that ended when its contract with the organization was terminated in June.

In a video supporters played at the hearing, students spoke about how much they loved the school and how much it helped them academically and socially.

“If you shut down the school, you shut down my life,” one student said on the video. “This school has been helping me to change.”

The board will vote on whether or not to keep the school open at a public meeting Monday night.