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Friday, July 19, 2013

Charter Founder: Linda Moore, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS

Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS Founder Linda Moore 

“Creating a school is the best job I ever had”
Linda Moore, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS

After we submitted our application, I immediately went home and took a nap. I was absolutely exhausted after staying up all night completing the proposal. Technology was not as user-friendly 15 years ago as it is today and the cold, dank basement of my home had served as charter school central for completing the application to create DC’s first-ever French and Spanish bilingual elementary public charter school.

When we applied, DC still had two charter authorizers, and we had submitted to the D.C. Board of Education. During the review process, I thought, “Why are the reviewers asking these particular questions?  What is it that I haven’t made clear?”

While numerous people contributed to developing the design of the Elsie Whitlow Stokes School, when the Board of Education finally approved the school, I was a little sad because I was the sole representative of our group present.  The review panel had asked us to go back so many times and do so many revisions that I had become reluctant to ask people to join me at the meetings.  That day I expected to have to meet more conditions before approval but, instead, I got a green light. I never thought that would be the moment when my dream to open a school would become a reality. But I always had confidence that the school would someday come to be.

Now, surrounded by our 350 students and dedicated teachers who make up our school community, I’m anything but alone. Each year as our students return, I look forward to the possibilities. In our case, that means welcoming another new cohort of three and four-year-old students eager to attend “real” school - and learn Spanish or French while they are doing that - and greeting the older students who have matured and learned important lessons over the summer.  For the past 15 years that the school has been open, I have seen our scholars fulfill the promise of discovering new learning, making new friends, exercising leadership in serving others.

Creating a school is the best job I ever had.  It is also my most challenging job ever. But I would not trade these experiences for any other.

Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School opened with 35 students in kindergarten and first grade in September 1998 in a rented space in the basement of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Ward 1. Today, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School owns its building in Ward 5, and serves 350 students in grades PK3 to 6. 

Posted by: PCSB at 3:30 p.m.
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Monday, May 20, 2013

Charter Founder: Josh Kern, Thurgood Marshall Academy

Thurgood Marshall Academy founder Josh Kern 

One in an occasional series about DC charter school founders.

"People Didn't Think it was Possible"
Josh Kern, Thurgood Marshall Academy

I have no recollection of actually turning in the application. I remember getting the message that we were conditionally approved. I was biking from Seattle to San Francisco. I stopped by a payphone to check my messages and there was one from the PCSB. I was literally on the side of the highway on my bicycle when I learned that my dream to open a law-themed high school in Ward 8 would become a reality.

People didn't think it was possible. I remember one person during the application process saying to me: “How are you going to have an open enrollment college prep high school in Anacostia? You¹ll have to reduce expectations for success after high school or limit enrollment to high-performing students.” I told that person – and any anyone who doubted that it was possible -- that the point of the school was to prove that it was doable.

There were a lot of doubters through those first 10 years I led Thurgood Marshall.  I also remember a lot of people who were incredibly generous and supportive.  I'll never forget those people who believed in all the possibilities that the school represented.

We had been open for several years and it still felt like an experiment. And then one day I watched our cheerleaders cheering on our basketball team in our newly constructed gymnasium. And it hit me, that this was a high school.

When we had cheerleaders i
n our gym cheering on our student athletes, the school moved from some idea that floated in my head into an institution that would continue long after me.

I ran Thurgood Marshall Academy for ten years and stepped down because the school had met and even exceeded my dreams for what we could accomplish. I wanted to create one great school and it ended up being even better than I anticipated.

Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School was approved in 2000 by the Public Charter School Board and opened in 2001 with 80 ninth grade students. Josh Kern led the school from 2001 to 2011 and planned for Alexandra Pardo, Academic Director, to succeed him as executive director. Today Thurgood Marshall Academy is the highest-achieving open-enrollment high school in the District. 

Posted by: PCSB at 6:00 A.M.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Charter Founder: Emily Lawson, DC Prep

DC Prep founder Emily Lawson (center) with COO Wendy Scott (left) and CEO Rick Cruz (right)

One in an occasional series about DC charter school founders.

"Our Students Do Such Amazing Things"
Emily Lawson, DC Prep

The founding group, we worked on the application right up until the deadline and turned it in the afternoon it was due. I remember being worried about the page limit; were they really going to enforce it? And if so, which parts of which appendices did I need to cut? I asked then-PCSB Deputy Director Tamara Lumpkin a few questions and then made the final decision right there in the PCSB office, tearing out lots of pages from all the different copies of the application.


Soon after that PCSB issued a statement saying that its summer meeting had to be cancelled, so the decision on new charters for that year had to be pushed back by a full month. As you can imagine that was disappointing and frustrating. I went on vacation and while I was in the mountains, I went to the public library every day to check my email just in case something had changed.


Our group was optimistic about our chances, albeit nervous. When we got the green light to start DC Prep, we were elated and relieved.


After having our charter approved, I was so deeply invested and determined to get DC Prep off the ground that I didn't even have a moment of, "what have I gotten myself into?" because we were just ready to get going.


In comparison to back then, our DC Prep leadership team now is much wiser about how hard this work can be. We are also more determined than ever because we have seen our students do such amazing things. To use a phrase from President John F. Kennedy, we have become "idealists without illusions."


DC Prep was approved in 2003 and opened its first school, Edgewood Middle Campus in Ward 5 later that same year. Today, DC Prep serves preschool through eighth grade across three campuses in Wards 5 and 7, with a fourth campus set to open in Fall 2013. 

Posted by: Theola Labbé-DeBose at 6:30 a.m.
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