Nicholette Smith-Bligen

Nicholette Smith-Bligen

Potomac Preparatory Public Charter School (Potomac Prep) has made great strides improving the academic outcomes of all of its students. Since the start of the 2013-14 school year, Potomac Prep’s student population has remained consistent – an average of 400 students yearly. Amid the schools one-year turnaround initiative and significant challenges to retain the school’s charter with the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB), Potomac Prep welcomed more than 200 new students to its learning community during the 2014-2015 school year.

As of SY 2015-2016, Potomac Prep has a total of 74 special education students, which is 17 percent of its total enrollment – a number that is *4.2 percent higher than the national average, when considering schools that do not exclusively serve special need students. Through improved identification and evaluation efforts, all students in need of special education services are provided with an appropriate program developed to meet their individual needs. The Potomac Prep learning community has continued to see double-digit growth in its special education population – in both the number of students and the level of services required by those students.

We contend that the astounding increase in our school’s special education population, particularly at a time when parents and families had an accurate and complete understanding of the school’s charter status but still chose to enroll their children at Potomac Prep, is a clear indication of the success of our turnaround plan. It is also indicative of the strong level of parent and stakeholder engagement and support Potomac Prep has been able to rally since improvements in the school’s academic platform, administrative team, and strengthened mission.

To infer that we want the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) Executive Director Scott Pearson to “discount scores” is baseless. Potomac Prep is undertaking a school turnaround initiative that highlights not just a local issue, but one that is indeed the nation’s plight – reaching, teaching and inspiring the most in-need students, regardless of their zip code, economic status, or standardized testing capabilities. At Potomac Prep, what we want the DCPCSB to understand is that our school purposefully recruits students from all Wards in the District of Columbia – with the goal of improving their educational outcomes as a result of the positive support, innovative scheduling, personalized attention, and academic mentoring that is provided at our school. Potomac Prep views the “at-risk” label as an “at-promise” proposition. Why? Because our work is guided by the understanding that we cannot shackle our students with unattainable academic bars that exclude the intersection of race and economics.

Our understanding of and dedication to the holistic needs of our students and families drives our work at Potomac Prep. We are seeing the academic and personal growth of all of our students, and we are also continuing to make phenomenal progress with our exceptional learners. Based on the disabilities of the students, we are particularly sensitive to their individual needs. Many of these students have shown significant growth because of our genuine focus on these needs – but not the kind of growth at the rate that was mandated. I find it personally offensive that DCPCBS or anyone else would believe that we would discount any student at Potomac Prep. Our personalized approach to learning moves beyond the franchise management strategies DCPSCB is seeking to absorb the city’s small independent schools. Our fight is truly against the gentrification of D.C.’s educational system through DCPCSB’s lackluster advocacy and feigned support of school’s like Potomac Prep. In truth, DCPCSB never created an environment in which our school, or for that matter our students, could thrive. This is the greatest travesty.

Nicholette Smith-Bligen, is a member of the Board of Directors for Potomac Preparatory Public Charter School. The D.C. Charter School Board will hold a hearing on whether or not the school should be shut down on Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. at 4401 8th Street, NE Washington, D.C. 20017.