The D.C. Public Charter School Board voted unanimously Dec. 14 to begin proceedings to revoke the charter of Potomac Preparatory Public Charter School after it failed to meet a series of academic targets. The decision came despite angry pleas from school officials and parents, who complained that the school board wasn’t giving the school a fair chance to carry out a “turnaround” plan that they say they were forced to accept to stay open.
“Turnaround is not one year,” said Dr. Marian White-Hood, head of school at Potomac Prep, located in Ward 5. “It’s two or three years.”
The school’s troubles began last year, when it underwent a 10-year review that found the school – formerly Potomac Lighthouse PCS – had not met 17 of its 20 goals and academic achievement expectations, records show.
The school board voted in November 2014 to initiate revocation proceedings against the school but gave the school a chance to continue a “significant turnaround” based on certain conditions. Those conditions included moving the school closer to the middle of the pack among all public charter schools in reading and having 70 percent of its students achieve academic proficiency.
Instead, Potomac Prep wound up with lowest reading scores among charter schools in the district, a school board quality and accountability specialist said.
Maxine Swann, an educational consultant who spoke on behalf of Potomac Prep, said the school met the targets set out by the board if the performance of special education students is considered separately. An attorney that represents the school noted that request is “particularly relevant” since the school experienced a “300 percent growth” in special education students during the 2014-2015 school year.
According to a D.C. government website, 50 students – or 11.8 percent of enrollment – have special education needs.
Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, took exception to the school’s request to view its special education population separately – something he called a first in his four years on the job.
“I found it personally offensive that the school would ask us to disregard their special education students when looking at their results,” Pearson said. “That’s asking us to make an assumption that a student with a disability can’t succeed.”
Several parents and school officials said they felt the decision was a done deal and part of a bigger conspiracy to get another education entity to take over the school’s building at 4401 8th St., NE. They lamented that Pearson and other school board members were texting and talking to one another off the mic during the meeting. Pearson said school board members are “entitled to private conversations.”
“This is a monkey trial,” one parent shouted after the decision to begin revocation hearings.
Lloyd Royal, the parent of a Potomac Prep student for the last four years, said he has no confidence that the school board will be open and transparent in future proceedings regarding the school’s fate. “This was pre-planned,” he said.
Pearson said Potomac Prep officials agreed in 2014 to relinquish their charter if they failed to meet the agreed upon academic targets. Nicholette Smith-Bligen, chair of the board at Potomac Prep, said they agreed to do because it was the only way they could stay open.
“We agreed because we had 435 kids that would have been without a school,” Smith-Bligen said. “The idea was to keep the doors open and we can work from there, show the progress and we did that.” She said many students were several grades behind and made progress that is not reflected in the school’s test scores.
Potomac Prep has 15 days to request a public hearing about the board’s plans to revoke its charter.