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Thursday, October 24, 2013

DC Public Charter School Teacher Kena Allison Surprised with Milken Educator Award

During a school-wide assembly to commend Thurgood Marshall Academy’s distinction as a top performing “Reward School,” Kena Allison, a physics teacher and instructional specialist, was astonished to learn that she had received a completely unexpected individual reward as a top educator. In front of 400 cheering students, colleagues and dignitaries, Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Mike Milken and acting DC State Superintendent of Education Jesús Aguirre presented Allison with a Milken Educator Award. In a moment’s time, this outstanding educator experienced the fanfare typically reserved for all-star athletes and award-winning entertainers.

Hailed by Teacher Magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” what separates this Award from others is that the recipients have no idea that they will be honored. This recognition is not a lifetime achievement award. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Encompassed in the recognition is the responsibility for those honored to stretch their professional practices and leadership to even higher levels.

Lending their congratulations were DC Deputy Mayor of Education Abigail Smith, who presented a congratulatory letter from Mayor Vincent C. Gray; D.C. Public Charter School Board Member Don Soifer; DC Councilmember and Chairman of the Education Committee David A. Catania; and DC State Board of Education Members Mary Lord (At-Large), Vice President Mark Jones (Ward 5), Monica Warren-Jones (Ward 6), and Karen Williams (Ward 7).

Described by a colleague as “irreplaceable,” Kena Allison’s pursuit to help others actually started with medical school. Luckily for her students, she realized she wanted to help shape the future by becoming a teacher instead, carrying her love of science over into the classroom where she shares it with her students.

“I love way I do, I love our kids, and I love this community,” said Allison, flanked by cameras from every local television station. “Our students come to school every day ready to work because we set the standards and they know there’s no compromise. Here at the Thurgood Marshall Academy, we do what we say we’re going to do.”

Always the consummate innovator, Allison encourages her 12th grade students to learn Albert Einstein’s subject of choice--physics--in creative ways. Inside the classroom, students originate physics raps to learn equations, or play Red Light, Green Light to demonstrate Newton’s Laws of Motion. Outside the classroom, she plans field trips for students to study the aerodynamics of roller coasters and also created a “Physics of Sports” project, where students pick their favorite sports like golf or gymnastics and relate back to her how the laws of physics apply to their respective sports.

Thurgood Marshall Academy students enter the public charter school in the 9th grade, many of them three to four years behind, so Allison developed a system to get freshmen on the right track from the start. By the time they reach her senior physics class, these teens are prepped for her introduction to the rigors of college. One hundred percent of Thurgood Marshall Academy students are accepted to college.

In addition to being an exceptional classroom teacher, Allison is science department chair, collaborating with colleagues to study Next Generation Science Standards and leading professional development. For her tireless efforts, she received a Harvard Fellowship for Enhancing Teacher Effectiveness in High Schools.

“Kena Allison could have been a skilled doctor, but instead chose to become a dedicated school teacher,” added Acting State Superintendent Aguirre. “Over the years, she has diagnosed and repaired systemic school challenges, encouraged her students’ dreams, and contributed to improving the academic, emotional, and physical health of not just her students but by extension her entire school community.”

Allison’s Milken Educator Awards story doesn’t end with her surprise notification. New recipients are invited to join the Milken Educator Network, a group of distinguished educators coast-to-coast whose expertise serves as a valuable resource to fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others shaping the future of education. “Milken Educators point to the Award as a pivotal professional milestone,” said Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a 1994 Milken Educator recipient from Indiana.

Since first presented to a dozen California teachers, the program has grown to become the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program having honored nearly 2,600 K-12 teachers, principals and specialists. More than $136 million in funding, including over $64 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.  From local to state to national and even international levels, the exponential impact of Milken Educators strengthens American K-12 education.

Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to the Foundation.

Click here to see more photos from the event.  

Posted by: PCSB at 10:35 a.m.
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Monday, June 03, 2013

Vacant Surplus Buildings Available For Public Charter Schools

Executive Director Scott Pearson recently blogged about the facilities inequities between DC Public Schools and public charter schools. At the time of the post, more than 25 buildings sat empty or were scheduled for closure.   

Mayor Gray and Deputy Mayor of Education recently took an important and commendable step to close the facilities gap by starting an 
open process for making the unused buildings available for use.  

With more than
22,000 students currently on waitlist to get into charter schools of their choice, the move allows quality charter schools access to the vacant school buildings that can serve the thousands of families currently on waitlists.

“In order to ensure that charters continue to thrive, it is critical that schools have access to 
suitable facilities for classrooms, cafeterias, and other student spaces,” said Pearson in the posting.     

Public charter schools interested in leasing available school buildings should submit a Reuse Inquiry Form by June 30.  For more information on the process and to learn what buildings are available, visit this link

Posted by: Scott Pearson at 1:35 p.m.
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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

How Wide is the Disparity between Public School and Charter Facility Space?

The DC Public Education Master Facilities Plan, which the D.C. Council recently held a hearing, is rich with data on how wide the facility disparity is between DC Public Schools (DCPS) and DC public charter schools.

The report breaks down the average gross square feet (GSF) per grade type, and compares the data between DC charters, DCPS, and national averages. At every level charters are making do with less space per student, most strikingly in middle school facilities where charters only have 28% of the square footage per student as compared to DCPS middle schools.

DCPS has also created guidelines for how much square footage should be built per student in future public schools, called the DC Standard for Modernization. At every grade level charter schools are currently occupying less space than these standards recommend for public schools, averaging between 19% and 24% fewer square feet per student.


DC Charters


Standard for Modernization


243 SF/student

114 SF/student


150 SF/student


436 SF/student

121 SF/student


170 SF/student


408 SF/student

155 SF/student


192 SF/student


256 SF/student

143 SF/student




270 SF/student

202 SF/student




It’s clear that charter school students are being forced to learn in too-small spaces. Meanwhile, more than 25 former DCPS school buildings sit empty – school buildings that are large and spacious, this study demonstrates – and charter schools do not have access to them.

Instead, charter schools are responsible for securing their own facilities, with schools currently utilizing a wide variety of facility types, everything from purpose-built new schools to leased commercial space to former DCPS school buildings. As a result, they are not able to secure the same amount of student space that DCPS is allotted.  Even the current modernization standards for DCPS require more square footage per student than the average charter facility currently utilizes, at every education level.

In order to ensure that charters continue to thrive, it is critical that schools have access to suitable facilities for classrooms, cafeterias, and other student spaces. 

Posted by: Scott Pearson at
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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Charter School Wait Lists Show Continued Need for High-Quality Schools

We have once again asked schools to share with us information about waitlists and available seats. We collect this information primarily so that we can share with parents which schools still have available spaces, and how high the odds are to clear the waitlist at schools that are full.

We are still validating this data, and expect to post detailed grade-by-grade waitlist and availability information for the 2013-2014 school year, for all schools, on Monday, May 6.

But what we can report now, is that our early data show that around 22,000 names are currently on the wait lists to get into charter schools of their choice. This is nearly 50% higher than the 15,000 names we reported last year. This is a depressingly high number that testifies to the continued strong demand for quality schools among DC families and the ongoing shortage of enough quality seats to meet parent demand.  More than half of all names on waitlists are at schools rated as “Tier 1” under our Performance Management Framework.

It also appears that there are approximately 1,000 slots still available at schools. Again, we will share specific information about where these slots are available on Monday.

Demand is high in nearly every ward.  Nearly every ward has more than 1,000 students on waitlists, with the exception of Ward 3 which has no charter schools. We are seeing the greatest demand for seats in the early grades – roughly 14,000 in PK3 through 1st grade, but parents are looking to enroll the children in a charter school at every grade level.

We know that parents are on wait lists at multiple schools, so our waitlist count undoubtedly includes duplicate names. This year we aren’t able to “dedupe” the names.  But next year, as we work to build a common lottery, we expect we will be able to report not only on the total number of names, but also how many individual students this represents.

The real tragedy behind these numbers is that many of our best schools want to grow to serve more children, but they are constrained by facilities.  Meanwhile, we count 25 empty school buildings that are either vacant or soon to be vacant. Quality charter schools need access to these buildings to serve the thousands of families currently on waitlists.

Posted by: Scott Pearson at
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