Washington, D.C. — Leaders of an embattled Afrocentric charter school fought back a school board effort to shut the school down and pleaded for a chance to build on the 10-year-old school’s legacy of success and to correct its errors.

“We are asking that you please do not revoke our charter,” Cheryl Journiette, board chair of the Kamit Institute for Magnificent Achievers (KIMA), told the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board Monday during a hearing to appeal the board’s June 21 decision to revoke the school’s charter status.

The hearing – held in the basement-level cafeteria of the Paul Public Charter School, on the 5800 block of Eighth St., N.W. – drew more than 200 parents, staff, current and former students, most of whom demonstrated their support for KIMA by wearing yellow T-shirts with the school name on the front and emblazoned with the words “I support Kamit Institute” on the back.

Supporters said it would be a tragedy and a shame to shutter the school, which they said has a track record of turning wayward students into college graduates.

“While I am a part of a generation where the pipeline from school to prison is a real phenomenon, KIMA has created a direct pipeline to college from its unwavering commitment to its students,” said KIMA alumni Jason Walker, a graduating senior at the University of Louisville who is majoring in Pan-African studies. Walker pleaded with the public charter school board to “reconsider the proposal to destroy my second home.”

The public school board’s decision to revoke KIMA’s charter came just three months after a Washington Post investigation found that KIMA and other District charter schools were skirting the city’s residency rules to get talented basketball players from Maryland on their teams in order to boost enrollment and elevate their profiles.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board subsequently concluded that KIMA had violated the residency rules and also come up short in keeping accurate student records and developing federally-required learning plans for its special education students – areas KIMA officials say they are addressing. The board also found that KIMA failed to fully implement its educational program and incorporate its Kamitic philosophy – which hails from what is commonly referred to as ancient Egypt – into its everyday academics.

Ur Aua H.R. EnKamit, executive director and founder of KIMA, said the school never formally agreed to incorporate Kamitic philosophy into its curriculum but had begun to do so anyway. Among other things, he said, Kamitic philosophy emphasizes principles of unity and peace, concepts he said students are taught to embody in order to become better learners.

Leroy Tompkins, KIMA’s newly-hired chief academic officer and former director of testing for the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, presented data that show while nationally only 57 percent of high school students graduate from college within six years, and 42 percent of African Americans do so, the six-year college completion rate for KIMA graduates is 60 percent – a statistic that drew applause.

However, after Tompkins presented data that show 94 percent of KIMA students graduate from high school, versus 83 percent for other public charter schools and 72 percent for district public schools, board Vice Chair John “Skip” McKoy questioned whether the figure represented 94 percent of KIMA’s seniors or its incoming freshmen.

When Tompkins said he didn’t know, McKoy said it was important to find out because calculating the graduation rate from seniors only does not take into account students who dropped out before senior year.

While school board officials questioned the school’s effectiveness in light of standardized test scores that put it in the bottom quartile of public charter schools, supporters noted that many of KIMA’s students come to the school with academic deficiencies.

“That’s an institutional problem,” said Saheter Cook, 25, a 2003 KIMA graduate and recent graduate in Pan-African studies and communications at the University of Louisville. “That’s not a Kamit problem.”

Only one speaker – Arthur McKee, director of the CityBridge Education initiative at CityBridge Foundation, a D.C.-based nonprofit that says it fights human suffering and inequality – urged the board to “hold fast” to its decision to revoke KIMA’s charter.

“Charter schools were born out of a hope that they would deliver superior education, not merely adequate,” said McKee, whose comments drew boos.

The public charter school board is expected to hold another hearing within 30 days to announce its decision on whether or not to grant KIMA’s appeal to regain its charter.

 

Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Special to the AFRO