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Monday, July 28, 2014

Charter Founders: Lee Montessori PCS

                                                             
“When you choose to form a school, you have the beginnings of an idea, but it isn't until you have something on paper that you really start to get an idea of how you will leverage the passion, skills, and experience of a team to achieve a shared vision for closing the achievement gap.”  Founders of Lee Montessori PCS 

We were really excited after turning in our application.  When you choose to form a school, you have the beginnings of an idea, but it isn't until you have something on paper that you really start to get an idea of how you will leverage the passion, skills, and experience of a team to achieve a shared vision for closing the achievement gap.  Our application took this vision to a level of detail that forced us to answer the nitty-gritty questions: Can we afford to implement our model?  How do we have a holistic plan that serves all of the students we want to serve?  What's the best way to grow?  How do we maintain sustainability?

The day we turned in our application to the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB), we felt we knew our school.  We didn’t have a building, but we knew what it would look and feel like.  We didn’t have students, but we could see our scholars learning.  And we hadn’t hired teachers, but we could envision the talented individuals we would need to help us in our mission of closing the achievement gap for our students.

As a small founding group, we didn’t have a lot of start-up money. We all pitched in to edit, review, copy, and assemble our more than 200 page application.  The review process was difficult and somewhat arduous, but at the same time exhilarating, because our team was passionate about implementing high-quality Montessori programming. Because we wanted to ensure our application had sufficient detail, we worked long hours leading up to the day the application was due, but thankfully no all-nighters!

On May 20, 2013, PCSB approved our application.  The Washington Post's Emma Brown said it best:  "The two successful applicants for new charters are giddy after PCSB vote. I think I heard talk of champagne."  We were proud to have external, objective validation of the strength of our plan and ecstatic to know we would start implementing our work.  

We're very proud of our application and all the work done so far, but now we begin the hardest part.  We have spent a lot of time doing outreach and project planning to ensure we have a strategy that will get us a school that, on the first day of school, is fully enrolled and staffed by the greatest teachers in the District of Columbia.  

We're somewhat a case study in how perseverance pays off when designing a charter application in DC.  We didn't realize how much was missing in our application last year until we went through the application process, but we knew we had a great idea that others would value, so we kept going.  

Lee Montessori PCS, located in the Edgewood neighborhood in Ward 5, will open in August 2014 and serve 70 students in pre-kindergarten 3 through first grade and add a grade each year up to sixth grade.  


Posted by: PCSB at 10:55 a.m.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Charter Founder: Jack McCarthy, AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School

                                                                        

“I've learned to understand that what we're doing is never finished--it can and must continuously improve because so many lives are at stake.”  -Jack McCarthy, AppleTree Early Learning PCS

As I recall, we used every bit of the time available to us to submit our application. We even went to the office about an hour before the deadline just to make sure we were on time. I'm sure everyone worries about a mistake, or an omission - we were no different.

Once submitted, however, our founding group felt a great sense of accomplishment - we had taken an idea that we had developed and tested, and documented it into a full implementation plan.  PCSB’s process was rigorous and hard, but we expected that. We were tired and cautiously optimistic. It seemed like the review process took a long time. The public hearing caused the greatest apprehension (because one never entirely knows what to expect). Fortunately, everything went smoothly.

The moment our school was approved we were elated. Charters provide citizens with both a unique policy space and operational opportunity to start the world over again in some aspect of public education. They are innovative, autonomous entities, accountable for results, and it is always exhilarating when the rubber meets the road in school reform!

Designing a charter school, implementing a business growth plan and measuring the positive impact of your innovation on children's learning is extraordinarily satisfying. But every day one learns something important about education and about oneself. What is really interesting is that you learn from everyone: parents, teachers, staff, funders, policymakers, and even casual observers. I feel an incredible sense of urgency about our mission at the same time that I recognize what a long-term commitment school reform is.

As Emily Lawson wrote in her founders series post, over time we've become "idealists without illusions." The biggest change is "seasoning" and patience. You own it and it owns you. I've learned to understand that what we're doing is never finished--it can and must continuously improve because so many lives are at stake.

AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School started with 36 children in a church basement. Today, the school serves 640 children at seven sites throughout the District of Columbia. To further strengthen their priorities of academic achievement and performance, AppleTree recently requested to amend their school’s charter to adopt PCSB’s early childhood PMF as their official academic goals. Learn more about AppleTree PCS. 


Posted by: PCSB at 4:35 p.m.
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Charter Founder: Jennifer C. Niles, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School

                                     

"I'm not surprised being here ten years later, but I certainly didn't appreciate then the richness of what the school would become." 
Jennifer C. Niles, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School 

I turned in the application on time, right at deadline.  I am sure I walked it to the office myself.  It was an exciting moment -- it felt like a big accomplishment just to have completed the proposal.  

This was 12 years ago!  I don't really remember the interview process.
But I do remember the hearing.  Because I had been working at Capital City, a number of students and parents from there came to speak, which was really nice.  One of the 2nd graders who spoke made an analogy: "Ms. Niles is like a Japanese Tea Ceremony."  I was wondering where this was going...  She said, "Ms. Niles is very calm and serene with everything exactly in its place."  What a lovely image, though one I didn't think was quite so representative of me at that time, but I was pleased that's the impression I gave.  The other people who spoke were some of the 40 people who contributed to our application.  It was great to have so many people there in support.

I thought that our application would be approved, but I didn't know if it would be approved conditionally.  I thought it would be approved because it had drawn so much from effective practice and we were very thorough.  And I had read so many other charter applications in DC and around the country.

I'm not surprised being here ten years later, but I certainly didn't appreciate then the richness of what the school would become.  While you can imagine having a high school, you can't imagine what it really looks like to have incredible teachers think about rigorous curriculum, students shine in writing essays about "Persepolis," students impress scientists who come to visit, and students earn scholarships to prestigious summer programs.

Jennifer C. Niles is the founder and Head of School at E. L. Haynes Public Charter School. The school opened in 2004, and currently serves more than 950 students in grades PK to 12th grade.  

Posted by: PCSB at 3:40 p.m.
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