Update - Monument PCS Will Continue to Operate

On June 18, Monument's Board voted to reverse its decision to close the school.  The school will partner with Friendship Education Foundation to operate the academic and boarding program in the Monument building next year. Read the letter from Monument's Board Chair by clicking here.  

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On June 4, Monument’s Board Chair Charles Moore sent the following letter to the Monument school community:

Dear Monument Academy Community,

Last evening, the board voted to relinquish the school’s charter and to close at the end of this school year.

Let me start by saying: I’m sorry.

We know this decision will have a profound impact on the students, families, and staff of the school. At Monday’s rally, I was touched by the stories that students and parents shared about the impact Monument has had on them—stories of personal growth, of academic growth, of feeling cared for by dedicated staff. We also heard as much during last week’s parent meeting and in messages sent to the board.

This decision does not take away from that fact.

So why did the board make this decision?

First, we believe the likelihood of the Public Charter School Board renewing the charter in the upcoming review cycle was low, based on what we heard when board members met with PCSB staff and trustees on April 26. The core message was that when schools have not met their accountability goals, the only path to charter renewal would be having a clear, positive trajectory in student outcomes.

Our own analysis of the performance showed that while there were pockets of success with student progress—in fact, many students saw tremendous gains—the aggregate results showed uneven gains and an unclear path to create faster growth in a short time frame.

Second, despite the valiant work of our family engagement team, the board believed that our student recruitment numbers were behind the pace needed

(based on the historical record) to reach our enrollment target of 120 students by the start of the school year.

We are proud of the students that we serve. Their resilience is amazing. That being true, many of them have needs that are different than students who have not experienced the same kind of challenges.

Reaching the enrollment target would mean that we would have the funds to support the services and supports that our kids need, particularly given the very small size of our school and quality of services needed. If we did not reach the target, it would likely lead to a need to cut staff, stretching our current staff and making it more difficult to serve students at the high level they deserve.

At a minimum, that staffing situation would make it even harder to achieve the clear, positive trajectory in student outcomes the PCSB required for charter renewal.

Still, why not wait until the charter renewal process concluded next year?

The lesson that we have learned from other schools that have closed is this: maintaining an excellent learning environment while the school is closing down is incredibly challenging. Closing schools experience high staff attrition—often filling gaps with long-term substitutes—and have greater issues with safety. That is not a fair situation for kids.

Additionally, success for many of our students means providing them support and relationships that help them build emotional skills and improve their behaviors.

Having fewer staff to do this would add to the challenge. And given the overnight part of our program, that risk would be even higher.

The board determined that the risk of staying open with less staff than we need or a high proportion of substitutes who do not have relationships with our students was too high. Our students' safety is our biggest priority, and it is essential that we do everything we can to protect their wellbeing.

But why wait until the very end of the school year, when kids have fewer options to attend other schools? Haven’t you been considering these issues for a long time?

The board has been concerned about the school’s performance for some time. Last June, the board identified that we needed a more solid answer to a specific question: “Are students better with us than they would be in other schools?” We believed that a compelling case on that question would justify charter renewal. Concerned about our progress, in November, the board mandated that the staff implement an improvement plan for academic progress and improved safety.

And in April, when the board discussed the proposed budget for next school year, which included the enrollment target of 120 students, there were serious questions about whether or not we could afford to run the school we knew our students needed with the funds we had. We specifically outlined that we would monitor enrollment closely and revisit the plan by the end of the year.

One thing that is painfully obvious to me and to other board members about that process is that we failed miserably on engaging parents, staff, and the wider community on these issues.

The critical mistake we made was to believe the logic that letting the wider community know that there were significant issues with the school and that the board was considering closure would lead to a negative, self-fulfilling spiral. The concern was that staff would leave and that new students would not enroll.

The problem with that decision is that it provided no opportunity for the wider community to rally and to identify solutions to the core issues we faced—with enough time to implement them. And most unfair, it did not allow families to seek other options through the lottery.

If we had to do it over, we would take a different path. And it’s right for everyone to judge the board and leaders on this fact.

What can families do now, given the lack of options?

First, families can work with the Monument Academy family engagement team on options that may be right for them. That team is working to identify schools that have a commitment to kids like ours and short or no waiting lists. Our team is working with each family individually to ensure that they understand their options and can find a school that serves the unique needs of their students.

Second, families can work with placement specialists at the DC Public Charter School Board and DC Public Schools. Those students who have more than 20 hours of support in their individualized education program (IEP) have additional rights for placement in DCPS schools that fit their needs. That said, we fully recognize that many students did not have a quality experience in their in-boundary school, which is why they sought out Monument.

The family engagement team can help families to access those resources.

Our intention is to also fund ongoing support for students and families for months beyond the end of this year, so that they have a resource should they need it. We are also actively working with city leaders to identify solutions for those students experiencing homelessness and home instability.

Are there other options besides closure that could be considered?

If there is a solution that would solve the factors described above, the board is open to hearing it. In fact, we have been collectively searching for just that solution this past year.

That said, given where we are now, the board felt its responsibility was to make a clear decision.

Several other charter operators have reached out to see how they might help, and we have engaged them appropriately. Unfortunately, there is significant

uncertainty about whether those discussions would yield a solution that would be financially viable, acceptable to authorizers or be completed in a time frame that families would need to make decisions.

We will also engage with elected leaders and others on identifying solutions for students facing housing instability.

Finally, I wanted to end on a personal note.

As volunteers, it’s easy for board members’ engagement to show up mostly through email, through evening and weekend meetings, or through the language of budgets and governance concerns. It creates a dynamic in which board members feel deeply involved and committed to students but they are not known to the wider community. This process has shown the error in not forming deeper relationships with families and staff sooner.

On the whole, board members became involved with Monument Academy because they share the view that it’s deeply unfair that many of our kids have faced traumatic experiences in their lives and that it’s unjust that schools are often unprepared to ensure student success when they have faced these experiences. We know our students need the kind of support that we provided at Monument.

And that’s why it’s heartbreaking that the school was not more successful. And so I’d like to repeat my apology from the start of this letter. We know the students, families, and staff will carry the biggest burden of this decision, but wanted the community to know that board members will continue to focus on enabling students to find placements that meet their needs.

Finally, we are committed to contributing to the larger conversation in our city about how best to serve kids like ours. We were not able to solve everything, but know the need continues.

Charles Moore

Chair of the Monument Academy Board

The letter is also available on the school's website by clicking, here and here.

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