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New Multimillion-Dollar Education Investment in Southeast

Doranna Tindle | 12/14/2012, 3:27 p.m.

While the District of Columbia's traditional public school system plans to shutter 20 public school buildings, Friendship Public Charter School is opening a new school building on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast. Friendship is the region's largest nonprofit public charter school operator, overseeing six charter school campuses and five traditional public school campuses in underserved communities in the District and Baltimore.

Friendship Tech Prep Academy currently serves students from the sixth through the 10th grade, and the new state-of-the-art facility being built will enable the additiion of an 11th-grade next year and a 12th-grade the following year. This will significantly expand the number of students served in the high-poverty neighborhood where our school is located--from 200 students when we opened, to 620 in two years' time.

As a public charter school, we are free to invest in school infrastructure and instruction, without reference to the traditional public school system. This independence means that we design our own school culture and curriculum. Charters are now a big part of Washington D.C.'s public education scene, educating 43 percent of children enrolled in the District's public schools. Friendship is an important part of this educational offering, educating 11 percent of all District charter students.

Tech Prep prepares our students for higher education and the career of their choice by ensuring they master the skills, knowledge and tools needed for success in the 21st century green global economy. The focus of the school is Engineering, Computer Sciences and Environmental Education, and it will cater to students who seek a college education.

Every 11th- and 12th-grade student will be dual enrolled at Tech Prep, and in college, at no cost to themselves--important in this low-income community. Students will earn both a high-school diploma and credit toward a bachelor's or an associate's degree at the university level.

Friendship raised the funds for the new building through public charter school revenue bonds purchased by a variety of major institutional bond investors and money managers who have invested in similar charter school projects nationally. We received some of the lowest interest rates of any comparable charter school transaction since 2008. We were fortunate to partner with Robert W. Baird & Co., our lead underwriter, Turner Construction, and Architecture Inc. in Reston, Va.

Our investment represents an important contribution to the regeneration of the Ward 8 area that our school serves. Tech Prep's new campus will be located at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Milwaukee Place, on the site of an abandoned McDonalds. It enables us to renovate the existing campus--which formerly housed a boys and girls club--and to add an auditorium, a cafeteria, a gymnasium and a playground in the new building, which the current facility lacks.

Our new campus will be directly adjacent to the former St. Elizabeth's Hospitality property, which is about to become the new Department of Homeland Security headquarters, bringing 26,000 new jobs to the local community. We hope that Tech Prep's STEM--science, technology, engineering and math--emphasis will enable us to forge new educational and corporate partnerships, benefiting our students and preparing more Southeast D.C. youths for STEM careers.

We also aspire for Tech Prep's student performance to match that of our public charter high school, Collegiate Academy. Based in Northeast D.C., Collegiate has a 91 percent on-time high-school graduation rate. That is 35 percentage points higher than the average for D.C.'s traditional public high schools. More than revitalizing a long-neglected neighborhood-we also are positioning even more of its young people to become successful college graduates and career professionals.

Doranna Tindle is the principal of Friendship Tech Prep Academy.