Dismal attendance, re-enrollment and graduation rates notwithstanding, some families in the Bellevue/South Capitol area of Southeast said they consider National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter School a community gem.
But not even National Collegiate Preparatory’s recent efforts to strengthen its programs, nor the bevy of stories about students’ personal and academic triumph, could sway DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) members away from revoking its charter.
In a 5-1-1 vote, board members voted set National Collegiate Preparatory along a path to permanent closure on the last day of the 2019-2020 academic year, despite the presentation of a school improvement plan and changes to the trustee board and math department that DCPCSB Chair Rick Cruz and others said came “too little, too late.”
“This was not a plan that was undertaken when these conversations started years ago,” Cruz said minutes before the board approved charter revocation. “The academic performance of the school weighs heavily on the decision we have to make today. That doesn’t discount the significant qualitative aspects that were shared, not just last week, but with board members in conversations, but we need to make sure we get the balance of that right.”
The board’s decision followed an emotionally charged, standing-room only informal charter board meeting on the grounds of National Collegiate Preparatory that lasted well into the night.
Minutes after the meeting ended last Wednesday, DCPCSB Deputy Executive Director Naomi DeVeaux, while standing among dozens of people, including DCPCSB Executive Director Scott Pearson, allegedly yelled an obscenity at and pointed her finger in a staff member’s face.
A two-page incident report, filed by Nigel Jackson, a social worker at National Collegiate Preparatory, said that DeVeaux lashed out at him in reaction to US Census Bureau data he recited at a December 17 hearing.
Jackson said he presented the statistical information to highlight the broken family dynamics and circumstances his students overcome. For him, what he described as DeVeaux’s emotionally volatile outburst called into question not only her credibility in determining Black children’s future, but how disrespect by a charter school official could go unchecked.
“Ms. DeVeaux’s misconduct was a violation of professional ethics and underscores the pattern of disregard she and the charter board staff have with underserved communities and the schools which serve them,” Jackson said.
“Would Ms. DeVeaux have a profanity-laced tirade in Georgetown, Friendship Heights or Capitol Hill? Has she displayed this behavior at Washington Latin or BASIS? [There remains an] underlying question of accountability. Had this incident been caught on video, there would be a national outpouring demanding action,” he added.
On the evening of December 17, during a hearing that prompted last week’s meeting, DCPCSB members voted to start the revocation of National Collegiate Preparatory’s charter after hearing testimony from the school community and a presentation of reports about the National Collegiate Preparatory’s progress in the last five years.
A DCPCSB report presented that evening at Trinity Washington University in Northeast showed the school struggled to rise above its Tier 3 status. Board members also said National Collegiate Preparatory scored the lowest among D.C.’s active charter schools on the Performance Management Framework, a tool used to create school quality reports.
Other qualms of the charter board involved National Collegiate Preparatory’s alleged failure to comply with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s framework for special education and monitoring, and a situation where students didn’t have class schedules during the first week of school.
While she acknowledged challenges in operating National Collegiate Preparatory, Jennifer Ross, founder and executive director, said DCPCSB’s report lacked nuance and overlooked circumstances specific to her school, particularly the compilation of goals that DCPCSB and administrators agreed to during National Collegiate Preparatory’s five-year review.
That list prioritized English and Math proficiency, student satisfaction, financial viability and access to resources and National Collegiate Preparatory’s score on the College Readiness Indicator.
A document obtained by The Informer showed that National Collegiate Preparatory met eight out of nine goals, which Ross said gives DCPCSB more than enough reason to not revoke the school’s charter.
“We were asked in the fifth year by charter school board executive director if we wanted to continue with our goals or the Performance Management Framework,” Ross said.
“I wanted to keep our goals because we found problems with the Performance Management Framework that affected our children who are higher at risk. Some of the measurements we find unfair to students.”
Those metrics, Ross said, didn’t consider student academic growth within the span of an academic year, only the students’ current reading and math levels. She argued that data-gathering methods used by the charter school board disadvantaged her students, many of whom entered National Collegiate Preparatory with academic and social gaps not addressed in elementary and middle school.
“The charter school board changed the Performance Management Framework two years in a row knowing schools can’t demonstrate growth,” Ross added.
“Students’ work getting toward grade level wouldn’t be reviewed. We would’ve shown 10 percent growth, but it looked like we decreased and stayed at Tier 3. For the STAR rating, we were 0.4 points away from being two stars. If you compare us to other schools, that demonstrates that we outperform the two DCPS schools in the area, [Anacostia and Ballou].”