Rocketship on their Decision to Delay Opening of Third DC Campus
(The following is the message Rocketship PCS sent to families about their new campus being delayed.)
As many of you are aware, we decided to delay the opening of our third Rocketship campus in DC by one year. Recent news reports on our decision to delay have lacked the full context of our decision and plans for the future; so we wanted to share an update directly.
First, to be clear, we are not “abandoning” plans to open a third school in DC. We are simply delaying the opening of our third DC school by one year. We made the same decision three years ago with Rocketship Rise Academy. Rise went on to become the largest charter school opening in DC’s twenty year history of charter schools. And in their very first year, Rise Rocketeers scored in the Tier 1 category.
We worked hard to ready our third school to open this August, but several factors put a successful opening out of reach this year.
Fundamentally, our decision to delay came down to the availability of a viable school facility. The lack of affordable facilities is a huge barrier for charter schools across the District. There is strong demand for high-quality schools in underserved neighborhoods, but the supply of affordable and suitable sites in those neighborhoods is scare.
Despite not having a permanent facility ready to open in August, we felt an urgency to meet the needs of DC families and were working to open in a temporary space for our first year. We found a suitable temporary space on the campus of Perry Street Prep in Ward 5.
The space at Perry Street required renovations to ensure it was suitable for our students and staff. This meant we did not have an actual school facility that families could tour before making their enrollment decision. Consequently, enrollment lagged with just 22 families fully enrolled on May 1.
Enrollment was gaining momentum in recent weeks, but then final construction bids came in. The renovation cost was more than double from that of our original estimate. After consulting with our construction and design partners who helped us develop Rocketship Rise Academy and Rocketship Legacy Prep, we came to the conclusion that there was no way to meaningfully reduce the cost.
The combination of the steep increase in renovation costs and lagging enrollment at our Ward 5 school made it clear that the most prudent decision for the health of our DC network, students, staff, and families was to delay the opening of our third DC school by one year.
Upon making the decision to postpone the opening we felt it necessary to prioritize informing our enrolled families immediately. We moved quickly to inform all 22 enrolled families and worked with each of them to find a seat in another high-quality school. All pre-school and pre-kindergarten students were offered seats at Perry Street Prep PCS, which also operates in partnership with AppleTree Early Learning. As of May 15, 21 of those 22 families are now enrolled in another school including 10 who chose to attend Rocketship Legacy Prep.
Our partners at the DC Public Charter School Board and MySchoolDC have provided outstanding support for our families throughout this process.
Although we will not open a third school in the 2018-19 school year, our enrollment is nearly doubling this year, and we will serve well more than 1,000 Rocketeers in southeast DC -- up from 633 Rocketeers in the 2017-18 school year. Growing by close to 100% is still an ambitious expansion of our network, and we are excited to offer nearly twice as many families the excellent education they deserve in the year ahead.
We remain fully committed to continuing to grow our DC region and opening our third school in the 2019-20 school year. The Rocketship DC network is strong and growing, and our decision to postpone the opening of our third campus will ensure we can continue to serve more families with excellence for many years to come.