IDEA Public Charter School Objects To Potential Closing

IDEA pleads its case of low academic achievement to PCSB at public hearing to dismiss revocation.

Many Ward 7 community members, parents, students and alumni filled the auditorium at the Integrated Design Electronics Academy (IDEA) Public Charter School on Thursday night. Alumni waited anxiously in the auditorium at IDEA for the start of a hearing on academic performance that could impact the school’s fate.

The usually empty auditorium was packed with close chair seating for the audience, a podium in front of the stage to the left, a long-stretched table in the middle that seated several IDEA board members and a hired photographer to the right. The six members of the Public Charter School Board (PCSB), which has the power to decide IDEA’s future, faced them from the stage above.

The atmosphere was noisy and busy. Audience members gave mean stares to the PCSB board and shook their heads in disgust while others left the wild behavior to their kids. Students handed out pamphlets to people who were arriving while audience members gathered in a line to get refreshments as others talked among themselves about the soon-to-be confronted issue.

The PCSB gave the IDEA Public Charter School, located on 1000 block of 45thStreet, NE, the opportunity Thursday to plead its case of low academic performance during an informal public hearing. The hearing stems from the Dec. 19, 2011 action where the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board voted to revoke the charter of IDEA, an action that will make the 2011-2012 school year its last. IDEA board members were allotted 30 minutes of testimony to address curriculum issues and the necessary steps to improve the school’s academic and disciplinary performance.

IDEA Public Charter School is a military, technical-based academy that educates and prepares middle- and high-school students for various careers, from computer technology to military professions. However, it has a 10-year history of low academic performance for both reading and math as determined by the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS). The DC CAS test is managed by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and is mandatory for DCPS and DCPCS to administer it every year.   

IDEA middle-schoolers scored a cumulative average of 29.3 percent while high-schoolers scored 30.9 percent on the 2010-2011 DC CAS test, which evaluates students’ skills in reading, math and other related subjects.  As a result, IDEA has been labeled a Tier 3 school. There are 71 D.C. Public Charter Schools campuses that are listed in three tiers of overall quality, based on a 100-point scale. The 15 Tier 3 schools, including IDEA, are considered the weakest performers serving grades six through 12. Among the 22 charters in Tier 1, with records of high student achievement, there are 34 charters in Tier 2 that are on the basic level.

IDEA is “falling significantly short of high performance standards and showing inadequate performance,” according to the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework (PMF), a comprehensive system that evaluates charter schools. In addition, the school has had more than 100 suspensions so far this year, which is about 10 percent more than last year. This, therefore, led to IDEA public charter school being under close watch and to an investigation.

David K. Owens, IDEA board member, said, “When I participated in the process in December, I was very shocked to know that we were potentially in the process of having our charter taken away from us.”

IDEA’s Action Plan

As the crowd was seated, a PCSB representative introduced the six board members and stated the purpose for this hearing.

“IDEA needs to illustrate what actions they need to take to better improve that academic system and test scores,” a PCSB member said. 

Minutes later, IDEA board members began their testimony.

“We fully understand your concerns and recognize the gravity of the situation,” said Owens, “We know the action we need to take to improve our low performance, and here are our plans to execute that.”

IDEA’s board has developed a restructuring plan that addresses the PCSB’s concerns and is prepared to implement fundamental reforms. IDEA’s restructuring team consists of members from TenSquare, a financial advising company, who will lead the effort to recruit new leadership and handle the financial resources to meet academic priorities. Also, charter board partners and board members of IDEA will assist in implementing the changes. 

“We plan to improve on the curriculum that addresses students learning standards, hire leaders of expertise and develop a better outreach plan be,” said Morris Redd, an IDEA board member.

Owens added that some steps have already been taken.

“The board chair, executive director, principal and deputy director are willing to step down from their positions at the end of this year and be replaced with a new school leadership, we have terminated our adult program and brought forth experts such as D.C. Special Education Cooperative and End to End Solutions to assist our special needs students,” he said.

The school’s attorney, Steven Marcus, stated that IDEA is working to become a “better academic performance charter school.”

“IDEA has the right to be treated the same and given the same procedures as any other charter school. The kind of procedures that allows fair notice of revocation and the opportunity to respond to address those concerns,” Marcus said.

“IDEA-PCS was denied these rights,” Marcus added. “The PCSB has given many charter schools that faced revocation a five-year review a year before they get a primary review, which gives the school fair warning and a full year to address the issues.”

Questions & Answers: PCSB and IDEA Boards

After IDEA described the plan of improvement, the PCSB addressed the school’s concerns and asked for in-depth changes on the reconstructing plan. As the PCSB and IDEA’s board conducted a question and answer session, members of the audience grew angry and whispered among themselves. Many weren’t happy with the questions that were being asked.

Questions from PCSB board members included:

  • “Can you explain your restructuring you restricting plan?”
  • “What are you going to do about the numerous suspensions occurring in the school year?”‘
  • “How will IDEA’s test scores for the DC CAS improve?”

When it came time for community members to make two-minute statements, the mood dramatically changed. Their voices were filled with anger, a sense of desperation and urgency. Speakers seemed disturbed and curious as to why the PCSB continues to measure the success of the students based on the DC CAS test.

Terrence A. Lewis, IDEA’s acting vice principal and senior army instructor of JROTC, had much to say about his thoughts on the PCSB’s comments.

“When the school first opened, there was no adequate yearly progress and to combine those years into something that didn’t exist is more difficult then to give a child four-and-a-half hour test after 12 years of education and say that this test is the measure of this child’s achievement,” Lewis said.

Dorothy Douglass, a candidate running for councilmember of Ward 7, stepped to the podium to address the PCSB.

“Us being here shows how important our kids’ education is,” Douglass said.

“I hope you go back and take good time to review this and not shut down, not only IDEA, but all schools in Ward 7 and 8,” Douglass said. “Educating saves lives.”

Douglass also brought Charlotte Burns, a parent and nearby resident who is wheelchair bound, up to the podium.

“I have two daughters that go here, and I love this school,” Burns said. “When I first heard IDEA had issues, I said I would give them all the money I had to keep it open.”

Councilmember Yvette Alexander came to show support for the school and addressed her concerns about the hearing. With IDEA being one of the few charter schools guaranteeing their students technical certifications, she believed that IDEA should remain open.

“This school built new facilities to better educate their students with two new computer labs, 11 classrooms, a health and wellness center, a library, new technical courses and provides student with paid internships,” Alexander said.

Alumni Support for Their Alma Mater

IDEA alumni also voiced their opinions on how disturbed and saddened they were to know that their alma mater could potentially close for good.

Theodore Santos-Gaffeny, an alumnus who attends Howard University, stepped to the podium to inform the PCSB that IDEA does help teach and provide scholarships to students.

“They helped me get certifications in computer science and technology before I graduated, helped me get an internship while in school and awarded my scholarship money for college,” Santos-Gaffeny said.

“Through the boot camp, I learned how to build my first computer from scratch and other students became electricians through the electrician program,” Santos-Gaffeny said.

He also explained how IDEA helped his brother, Walter Santos-Gaffeny.

“IDEA even helped my brother gain skills and got his A+ Certification for computer technicians,” Santos-Gaffeny said.

Ta’Shawn Yates, 19, an alumna of IDEA’s class of 2010, complained about the vote by PCSB members to revoke IDEA’s charter. “They said that it’s not based on the academic scores, but it really is.”

“They don’t see how IDEA does help the community, these kids and with me by getting me into school and offering scholarships,” Yates said. “I hope they don’t close the school because sending these kids to other schools could lead to violence due to neighborhood beefs.”

The Public Charter School Board was impressed with the amount of support from the community and fellow IDEA students. However, the board members still hold the power of deciding on the school’s fate.

As IDEA awaits the board’s decision, the school is continues to educated students and work on restructuring plan.

“I strongly believe that they will continue to leave the school open,” Lewis, the acting vice principal, said of the PCSB members. “However, I think they need to provide the support that will help the school achieve in the areas they think are important.”

IDEA is preparing for graduation and readying seniors for their entry into college, which Lewis believes is not based on the DC CAS test.

“We have many successful people of every ethnic group and religion who score horribly on the test, but excel in college and do well in professions outside of college,” Lewis said.