EducationLocal

Democracy Prep Facing Tenuous Future

With the sounding of school bells announcing the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year just days away, parents in one Southeast-based public charter school received news that there would be a changing of the guard — a change that would impact an approximate 600 students and their families.

In summary, the emailed letter written by Katie Duffy, executive director, Democracy Prep Congress Heights, announced that after just under five years of operation, the school which serves students from preschool to the eighth grade had been unable “to provide [ ] scholars the school they deserve.”

Further, the letter indicated that Democracy Prep would immediately begin to identify a new organization to run the campus for the academic year beginning in the fall of 2019.

“The news of our departure from Congress Heights has been met with a spectrum of responses, from measured support, to justified anger and frustration. Democracy Prep has designed an educational model that has worked in multiple states. … At the foundation of our work is a mission-critical commitment to do right by kids. What we have learned from this is that sometimes doing what’s right means having the humility to make space for someone else to come in to do what is best.”

And while one representative from the Democracy Prep school board indicated that an October-scheduled board meeting may be able to address at least some of a growing list of concerns and heated inquiries and bring greater clarity as to the future of the school, the future, for now, remains uncertain.

For now, parents once optimistic after being given promises by the leaders of the New York-based charter network when it took over Imagine Southeast in 2014 — a school steeped in underperformance, must wait. So, the charter network, considered one of the best in lifting test scores for students from low-income homes will close its only school in the District while close to 20 others across the U.S. remain.

However, one parent said he had long seen the writing on the wall and had plans to move his children to other schools even before receiving Duffy’s letter.

“I wanted to pull my daughters (9 and 12 years old) out three years ago but couldn’t do anything until last December when I received full custody at which point I immediately jumped on the lottery,” said Ivan Hall, 30, born and raised in Southeast and who by his own accounts, has both an interest in and propensity for local politics.

“Someone needs to fight for ‘us’ more — someone who can better articulate the needs and concerns of those like me and my children who live in Southeast,” he said. “I’ve been to the mayor, to the council and their education committee and addressed my concerns with the school system. Four principals in four years. No running water in the school at the end of the previous school year. No extra-curricular courses offered in the first year. Students forced to attend classes in a dilapidated building. That’s what I’ve seen and what my children had to endure.”

“You can imagine why I was against a new facility being built last year when that money could and should have been used to address more immediate needs. But no one from the board wanted to listen to me leading me to believe that folks just didn’t give a damn.”

Hall says he’s further troubled that based on the perspective of some media outlets, it appears that the problems facing Democracy Prep stem from the community.

“They [Democracy Prep] say (in the letter sent by Duffy to parents) that they cannot understand why things didn’t work here in terms of raising test scores and student performance — I guess because they’d done well in other cities. They make it seem like we didn’t want better for our children and that maybe we ran them out — none of that holds any merit. We may be a low-income community but we want the same thing that all parents want for their children and we’re willing to do what’s necessary to make that happen.”

As for the future of his daughters, Hall says he has already enrolled them in another D.C. school in Northwest which requires him to commute twice a day to the other side of town — a price he says he will “gladly pay.”

“There just aren’t any good schools in Wards 7 or 8 — at least none with which I was pleased. I have heard about a few elementary schools but that wouldn’t work for me because I wanted my children to be in the same school. That’s tragic. There just aren’t any good options. And then, some of the teachers at Democracy Prep spoke to our children with little or no respect.”

“So many broken promises. So much repair work needed. Why does this seem to be the norm in Ward 8?” he asked.

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