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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Outgoing PCSB Board Member Brian Jones Bids Farewell

An Open Letter to Herb Tillery and Barbara Nophlin:

Herb and Barbara, congratulations on your confirmation yesterday and on joining the PCSB.  As I conclude my six years of service on the Board – having had the privilege of serving as Chair for three of those years – I can say without equivocation that you are joining one of the finest education organizations in the nation.  Your appointment completes the composition of the Board and places you in a position to lead what I believe to be the most talented staff of any charter school authorizer in America.  As you take your seats on the Board, I hope you won’t think me presumptuous to offer just a few thoughts about the work that lies ahead – observations I would love to have received when I joined the Board in 2007.

First, you are joining a board that has maintained a remarkable consensus in favor of accountability for our schools.  It’s been confronted with countless difficult decisions in recent years – from decisions about what charters to approve, to questions of when and how to authorize charter growth, to wrenching decisions to close low performers – and has always met those challenges with a laser-like focus on the interests of students and families.

Second, you are now leading a sector that is strong and growing because of the independence of our schools and of the PCSB itself. While oversight and accountability are as essential to the Board’s work as they are to our schools’ work, your insistence upon demanding the right balance between those principles and the Board’s essential independence is critical to the sector’s continued success.

Third, as you both know well, DC is a unique and special place. There is extraordinary energy and ingenuity here. But we don’t have all the answers. This is a thrilling time to work in education because student-centered innovation is occurring at a rapid pace all over the country. The student experience is being customized and improved, and many charter operators outside of DC are demonstrating breathtaking successes. Embrace that innovation and work to ensure that DC remains an attractive place for successful charter operators across the country.

Finally, never lose sight of the Board’s ultimate stakeholders – the students and families our schools serve. In your Board service, empower students and families with more and better information about our schools – including what true “quality” looks like – and with an ever more dynamic and diverse array of options.

I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little envious of you both.  It’s an exciting time to be a part of the growing charter sector here in the District.  It has been among the great privileges of my life to serve with my – now your – devoted colleagues on the Board and to work with Scott Pearson, the extraordinary staff he leads, and the committed leaders of our schools.  So have fun; visit schools early and often; and, if you can find the time, drop me a line every now and then.

Warm regards,


Brian Jones served on the PCSB Board from 2007 to Jan 2013.  

*The D.C. Council also approved Sara Mead to serve a second term on the Board.



Posted by: Brian Jones at 8:30 a.m.
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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Guest Post: How Authorizers Can Create High-Quality Charter Schools

How does the work of charter school authorizers help create high-quality schools? This is the core question to be explored Wednesday at a summit, Accountability and High Quality Charter Schools: Policies and Practices to Strengthen the Sector, sponsored by the National Charter School Resource Center. PCSB deputy director Naomi DeVeaux and I, along with others from the charter authorizer world will take part in the summit to discuss challenges, strategies, and opportunities related to establishing and maintaining high quality charter schools. 

The goal of the event is to explore the variety of approaches being used by charter authorizers across the country to maintain high standards for student performance and to support underachieving schools in moving towards higher achievement.  

Coincidentally, this week also marks standardized testing for DC students, the annual process of determining the quality of learning for both charter and traditional public school students in grades 3 through 8 and 10.  At PCSB, where we use a Performance Management Framework (PMF) to measure school performance, charter schools that score high on the DC assessment typically fall into the Tier 1 category, and schools with lower test scores receive either tier 2 or tier 3 rankings. 

In the most recent PMF assessment, about a third of our schools achieved a Tier 1 ranking, with close to half landing in Tier 2 and, happily, only a small number of schools landing in the lowest level, Tier 3.  These rankings areas impact the assessment of schools under quality review by the charter board as well as those up for renewal of their 15-year charters, with a variety of consequences including possible school closure.

It is notable for this discussion that the DC charters receiving Tier 2 or Tier 3 rankings represent a wide range of school missions and academic programs, including schools that provide traditional college preparatory or STEM curricula, schools that focus on language and cultural immersion, schools with a vocational training focus, and schools for students that have not succeeded in traditional learning environments.  This diversity, while a welcome and much needed feature of the charter movement, also represents a challenge in terms of ensuring that PCSB can fairly and accurately assess the value of individual school programs and the impact these schools have on learning outcomes for our students.

According to the National Association of Charter School Authorizer’s (NACSA) 2012 Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing, a charter authorizer’s primary focus should be on setting and maintaining high standards for charter school performance.  To this end, an authorizer should:

  1. Set high standards for approving charter applicants.
  2. Maintain high standards for the schools it oversees.
  3. Effectively cultivate quality charter schools that meet identified educational needs.
  4. Oversee charter schools that, over time, meet the performance standards and targets on a range of measures and metrics set forth in their charter contracts; and
  5. Close schools that fail to meet standards and targets set forth in law and by contract.

The high stakes challenge of capturing the quality of learning in charter schools, both here in Washington DC and across the nation, mirrors the content of this week’s accountability summit and is a subject worthy of continued discussion by all in the charter school community, including school leaders, parents and students. 

It is the responsibility of the PCSB, and all charter authorizers, to ensure that our charter schools fully deliver on the promise of providing superior options and outcomes for all of our students. To get there, we must demand more of ourselves, including taking a close look at our strategies for determining the value of schools that represent diversity – both in the missions represented in their school programs and in the students attending their schools.  I look forward to this week’s conversation.

Posted by: Darren Woodruff, PCSB Vice Chair at 5:28 p.m.
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Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Class of 2013 Education Innovation Fellows

Six DC public charter school teachers have joined six teachers from the DC Public Schools system as the first class of CityBridge Foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund Education Innovation Fellows. 

The two foundations established the Education Innovation Fellowship after extensive research on the potential for blended learning to improve DC public education.  The program aims to capture the blended learning happening nationwide as professional development, and to establish a new set of pilot projects that would provide additional proof-points for what blended learning can do to harness technology and actionable data to drive new learning gains in the Washington, DC. 

Here is the inaugural class of charter school Education Innovation Fellows, selected from a competitive field of applicants:

Kylie Alsofrom, DC Prep PCS - Edgewood Elementary
Shane Donovan, E.L. Haynes PCS
Rabiah Harris, E.L. Haynes PCS
Rasheki M. Kuykendall-Walker, Roots PCS
Melissa Mauter, KIPP DC: Key Academy PCS
Kyle Morean, Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS

Through travel, discussion with expert practitioners and monthly sessions, Fellows will study exemplary blended learning models from around the country.  The yearlong fellowship program will culminate with an Education Innovation Summit on December 9. 

To learn more about the Fellowship program, please contact Steven LaFemina at or visit this link.

Congratulations, Fellows!

Posted by: Don Soifer at 10:30 am
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