Two community-based public charter schools are challenging their proposed closures by the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) on the basis of process and fairness.

Nia Community Public Charter School (Nia CPCS) and Ideal Academy Public Charter School (Ideal APCS) were cited by PCSB on March 30 for failure to meet the goals and student academic achievement expectations set forth in the charters. Both schools were also cited for failure to design and implement the educational program described in their applications.

Additionally, the board claimed that Nia failed to submit an annual report in compliance with the School Reform Act and Ideal allegedly failed to comply with all federal requirements related to educating English language learners.

Management and supporters at both schools claim the board’s process is not fair when almost a dozen or more schools fall into the same category but are not being slated for closure. “In fact, I was quite surprised when the announcement was made by the board that a school with consistently lower scores than Ideal was being recertified,” said Paulette Bell-Iman, founder of Ideal APCS. “The board’s process is not equal or fair.

“Over the years, if you look at the schools being targeted by the charter board for closure you will notice a focus to close community-based schools because most have little resources to fight back,” Bell-Iman continued. “The board does not challenge schools that do poorly that are owned and operated by corporations or businesses with a wide-range of resources.”

According to the Friends of Choice in Urban Schools’ (FOCUS) website, almost a dozen other schools including Hope PCS, Hospitality PCS, Howard Road PCS, Hyde PCS, Friendship PCS – Chamberlain Campus also fell under the 50 percent efficiency in reading and math for 2010. However, these schools were not cited for closure.

“Revocation is at the discretion of staff and proposals are made by staff to the board members. There is no official policy that governs the selection of schools for potential revocation. It is strictly based on the decision of staff,” said Martina James, a former program officer of the chartering board.

Audrey Williams, public affairs manager for the Public Charter School Board, wrote in a statement to the AFRO on April 4, “Pursuant to the authority granted to it in the School Reform Act (SRA), the PCSB regularly monitors each public charter school to determine if it (1) has committed a violation of applicable law or the terms and standards outlined in the individual charter agreement negotiated with the school, (2) has failed to meet the goals and student academic achievement expectations set forth in the school’s individual charter agreement, and/or (3) is fiscally mis-managed.”

Williams continued, “Based on these determinations, which are unique to each charter school’s operations, the Board uses its discretion as an expert body to propose revocation of schools that violate the law or terms and standards outlined in their charter agreements or that fail to meet the goals and student academic expectations set forth in their charter agreements. Note that the Board, under the SRA, has a duty to propose revocation of charter schools that are fiscally mis-managed.”

Washington Teachers Union President Nathan Saunders said targeting Nia and IDEAL was unfair. “The entire group of failed public charter schools should be addressed, not just two of them,” he said.

In 2006, Nia Community Public Charter school founders proposed a program that would infuse culturally relevant teaching practices in its program. The school’s founders envisioned a school that had an “Afro-centric” approach.

In the face of closure, Nia leaders assert that traditional perspectives for charter school evaluations are the greatest barriers to change and progress. Martina James, the executive director of Nia CPCS, said the process has not been fair – nor has the board been supportive of efforts to improve.

At Nia, the school’s board of trustees hired its own technical assistants, she said. “PCSB staff has not acknowledged the effort of the trustees to solicit experienced professionals the PCSB denied the opportunity for consultants to participate in the SY2009-2010 review to provide insight on the state of affairs at the school.”

Both schools claimed there was no technical support given to the school by PCSB or any other entity.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO