Last night the D.C. Public Charter School Board agreed to allow the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School to operate for another year with monitoring. My question is what the status of the school is at this time? No charter warning has ever been issued but since January of this year the school has been threatened with closure.
Moreover, the annoucement that there was going to be a public meeting of the PCSB came out at 2:00 p.m. yesterday. Yet, the special meeting was known about last week. Could we have been given more notice?
One more point. I have yet to hear any feedback regarding my proposal that the PCSB create a score card for new charter school applicants.
I guess I’m going to have to join this body to have my suggestions turned into reality.
Anyway in honor of WEDJ receiving a year’s grace I’ll reprint one of my favorite articles about the school by Nathan of the D.C. Education Blog (click on the D.C. Education Blog link to see pictures):
Last week fellow blogger Mark Lerner invited a few education minded bloggers and policy folks to take a tour of the William E. Doar, Jr., Public Charter School for the Performing Arts (WEDJ). Mark is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the school and has been actively involved with charter school in the District for some time. The tour was given on the morning of April 21st by Mark and Julie S. Doar-Sinkfield, the Executive Director of the school and the daughter of the school’s namesake. The tour was attended by Katie from A Constrained Vision and Krista Kafer, senior education policy analyst from the Heritage Foundation.
About the school
The William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts is a new charter school in its first year. It was chartered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board for the education of 3 year olds up to 12th grade. Currently the school has around 160 students from pre-kindergarten thru 5th grade with the plan, assuming no logistical problem, to expand upwards organically with its current student body (i.e. adding a new grade each year). Their mission statement reads:
Our mission is to provide college-prep academic and artistic learning opportunities that challenge students to reach their maximum intellectual, artistic, social, and emotional development as rapidly as their talents permit. We will fulfill this mission by the creation of programs for students, teachers and community members about arts education. We firmly believe that an ideal education is one that addresses the fact that students have multiple learning facilities, instructs students in a number of disciplines in the Renaissance tradition and challenges students to engage and relate to the world around them beyond an insular definition of community. Combining a multi-disciplinary arts program with the highest educational standards, the WEDJ Foundation is committed to preparing well-rounded, responsible young men and women.
As you can guess from the school’s name and mission statement the arts play an integral part of its curriculum. However, unlike some private art academies there are no prerequisites for attending the school. Students do not need to audition. By the laws governing charter schools students who apply are admitted. If there is an over subscription then students are picked via a lottery.
The school is located at 705 Edgewood Street, NE, which it recently moved into after spending the first few months in a temporary location close by. The current facilities were designed by the WEDJ administration to meet the unique needs of an arts focused school. The WEDJ Foundation entered into a business arrangement with Core Ventures over their permanent facilities where in Core Ventures purchased the building and leased space to WEDJ. The agreement includes both the option to buy any leased space and the ability to take on additional square feet in the building. The WEDJ Foundation liked the location for a couple of reasons, the first being that the original warehouse was relatively free of hazardous materials such as lead and asbestos, meaning less money needed to be spent on abatement / remediation. Secondly, the school is located close to two metro stops (Rhode Island and Brookland-CUA) as well as numerous bus lines. The WEDJ school wants to attract students from the whole city, not just its surrounding neighborhood, so easy access to public transportation is seen as a necessity
The WEDJ school day starts at 8:30 a.m. and runs through 4:00 p.m., up to six days a week, making both the school day and the school year longer than the DCPS standard. As mentioned above art is fundamental part of the school’s curriculum, ranking in importance up with what is traditionally thought of as core curriculum (reading, math, etc). Parental involvement is also required at the school.
Walking the Facilities
My first impression upon entering the school was Wow. The facilities themselves are very impressive. Not only are they bright, clean and in working condition (being less than six months old they had better be) but they’re also aesthetically pleasing.
The facility designs incorporates a lot of colors and curves, which makes for a very pleasing environment. As you can imagine this is 180 degrees from the average DCPS facility.
Classes were in session so we got a glimpse of the students’ activities.
The picture above is of younger students in the cafeteria / auditorium / all purpose room working on learning phonics (while having fun with shaving cream). All of the academic rooms had windows to let in natural light. Most of the art specific rooms were on the interior side of the building. These specialized rooms included an art studio,
a dance studio (currently being finalized), a music room,and a planned dark room. In stark contrast with some DCPS schools the bathrooms were functional, clean and well lit, as was the nurses station.
The tour was rounded off with a visit to the administrative area of the school which included a couple of small offices and the teachers’ lounge. Ms. Doar-Sinkfield pointed out a various design elements and the reasoning behind them (for instance no pendulum lights; they may look nice, but kids will find a way to swing off of them).
After the walking tour of the facilities Ms. Doar-Sinkfield and Mark sat down with us and fielded questions for about a half an hour. Some of the issues covered were the around the difficulty of starting a charter school (definitely not a cake walk, but probably appropriate since it weeds out those who have good intentions but not the complete skill set / financial backing to undertake starting and running a school) and the uniqueness of the business model, which results in extra work when dealing with lenders, etc.
Dealing with the DC government was also discussed. Interfacing with them seems frustrating at best. The bureaucracy is unwieldy and it doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes. For instance updated mailing addresses don’t appear to stay updated, payments wind their way through D.C. government. Politics also plays apart. Each year during budgeting talks there’s usually talk (or a resolution) of cutting charter school funding. However, with around one fifth of the DC non-private school population currently enrolled in charter schools that threat appears to be lessening. There are both formal and informal networks within which charter schools can find help. There is an online mail listserv where questions and ideas can be posed to other charter school staff / administration. There are also the D.C. Associated of Chartered Public Schools and FOCUS both advocates of D.C. charter schools. Charter schools are also looking to band together where scale makes sense; for instance obtaining insurance, book buying, employee benefits, etc.
Finally, while one of the largest challenges a charter school faces is you have to do everything yourself. Being part of a larger school system, in theory, removes the responsibility of such things as facility funding, book purchasing, the curriculum, etc. from the school level. With WEDJ the administration / Foundation is responsible for everything. The flip side of this, however, is the feedback loop is very tight and lessons learned get implemented. Mistakes get corrected very quickly and new initiatives can be implemented much more quickly. The school can be nimble. For example, WEDJ has done a great job of taking advantage of other, non-school resources. There are two facilities near by at the Greater MT Calvary Holy Church and Trinity College that the school uses, as well as educational program through the Kennedy Center.
Frankly, the tour of the William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts made me feel a lot better about the education prospects for the average D.C. child. It was refreshing to see kids in a safe, clean learning environment. Regardless of what causes DCPS’s problems the cold hard truth is it is a dysfunctional system. You can argue that DCPS is short changed financially, or that its mismanaged, or any other number of excuses, but it doesn’t change the fact that DCPS students continue to get the shaft. D.C. needs more successful charter schools where a kid can get a good education in a safe, clean environment. Parents need more successful charter schools so they can vote with their feet and take control of their kids’ education. And, paradoxically, DCPS need more successful charter schools, if only to show how schools can work.