Testimony by Suzanne Wells at the Public School Charter Board Hearing, April 20, 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to testify this evening. My name is Suzanne Wells. I am a resident of the District of Columbia, and I have a daughter who is a fourth grader in the Tyler Elementary Spanish Immersion program.   I have been a strong supporter of my neighborhood public schools, and believe the public schools can and should provide a top-quality education for all children regardless of race or economic status.

I am testifying this evening about my concerns with the lack of planning between the Public Charter School Board and DCPS in making decisions about the opening of new schools. This lack of planning results in an inefficient use of our tax dollars that go towards education, has a detrimental impact on both existing charter schools and the DC public schools, and creates more open seats than this city has students to fill them. As Benjamin Franklin is attributed to saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

The outcome of last year’s Student Assignment process reinforced the principle that families and communities in all parts of the city want the assurance of quality, matter-of-right schools in their neighborhoods. Parents do not want to be at the mercy of lotteries, and they don’t want their children to have long commutes in order to attend quality schools.

Currently there is no overall strategy for how we will meet the educational needs of our children and communities, and how we will spend nearly one fifth of our tax revenue each year to do so. We must have coordinated planning, overseen by an accountable city agency, with active community input, to consider proposed modernizations, expansions, closings, and openings of any school.

For example, this evening the Public Charter School Board is considering the Washington Leadership Academy’s application for a new high school. Our city has made heavy investments in modernizing our neighborhood high schools, investing well over $600 million dollars to renovate high schools across the city, including Anacostia and Ballou High Schools in Ward 8. These renovations were much needed. At Eastern High School, the impact of the renovation in 2010 played an important role in the rebirth of the school where it went from being virtually closed to now being fully enrolled.

The PCSB announced after the first round of the My School DC lottery that there were over 400 open 9th grade seats at public charter school campuses. Similarly, many of our high schools are under enrolled.

In addition, DCPS recently announced a $20 million commitment to its Empowering Males of Color initiative that aims to increase enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, improve graduation rates, increase college acceptance, and prepare students for high-wage, high-growth careers. As part of the initiative DCPS is planning to open a high school designed to support the academic and social-emotional development of male students.

Should our city be opening a new high school when we know we have open seats in both the public charter schools and neighborhood high schools? Should our city be investing in yet another high school facility after substantial dollars have been invested in the neighborhood high schools? Are the goals of the Empowering Males of Color Initiative and Washington Leadership Academy the same?

Similar concerns can be raised about the applications for Legacy Collegiate and Breakthrough Montessori. These applications duplicate programs that already exist in our public school system, create excessive seats, and will require the taxpayers to invest in new facilities.

There must be better planning between DCPS and the Public Charter School Board before any new public charter schools are approved.



Hope everyone has been enjoying their Spring break!

The CHPSPO April meeting will be held on WEDNESDAY, April 22, at School-Within-School (920 F Street, NE). The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m., and we’ll meet in the library.

Scott Pearson and Josh Henderson from the Public Charter School Board will attend our meeting to discuss the PCSB’s process for approving new charter schools.

We’ll also be discussing efforts to support the modernization of Jefferson and Eliot-Hine, along with planning for a meeting with the Deputy Mayor for Education, and Bike-to-School Day.

Hope to see you on Wednesday.

Suzanne Wells

042215 CHPSPO Agenda.docx


Letter to the Editor by CHPSPO founder, Suzanne Wells: Put controls in place regarding the approval of new D.C. public charters

The following letter to the editor, Put controls in place regarding the approval of new D.C. public charters, appeared online in the Washington Post on March 27, 2015.

In the March 22 Local Opinions commentary “Why charters need traditional schools,” the executive director and the former chairman of the D.C. Public Charter School Board claimed, “We believe that the balance we have, with a thriving public charter sector and strong traditional schools, is about right.” It is unclear what they believe should happen now that “the balance . . . is about right.”

It seems clear that the charter board won’t stop approving new schools. It has approved an average of six a year. The District has 112 public charter schools, and three will open this fall. One, Washington Global Middle School, will open about a third of a mile from Jefferson Middle School and offer a substantially similar program. In May, the board will vote on whether to open six more schools in 2016. The balance won’t be “about right” for long.

Parents and public education supporters have been advocating for joint planning by D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Public Charter School Board before charter schools are opened. Many believe we are spreading our education dollars too thin by opening charter schools that duplicate the services found in existing schools.

It is up to the D.C. Council and the mayor to require comprehensive planning before District taxpayers are asked to fund the opening of public charter schools.

— Suzanne Wells, Washington

Support the Capitol Hill Montessori Online Auction – all are welcome to bid!

PrintGreat items you love… for a great cause!

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Public Hearing for DC Schools FY16 Budget – Testimony by Suzanne Wells, CHPSPO

The following testimony was prepared by Suzanne Wells of CHPSPO. on March 16, 2015 at the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget for Public Schools in the District of Columbia organized by the Executive Office of the Mayor.


Fiscal Year 2016 Budget for Public Schools in the District of Columbia

Suzanne Wells

Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization

March 16, 2016
Columbia Heights Education Campus
3101 16th St., NW

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my views on the FY16 funding for public schools in the District of Columbia.  This is an important hearing because important education policy decisions are made when our city makes decisions on how it allocates funding for education.

The Washington Post reported last Friday, March 13, on the DCPS plans for allocating its FY16 budget.  Overall, there are many good things in the budget.  Kaya Henderson has called next school year “the year of the high school.”  The extra investment in high schools is expected to provide more Advanced Placement courses, and more electives for students.  We support this much needed investment in high schools.

However, we must caution that the work on our middle schools is far from being done.  Middle schools across the city provide the bridge between our elementary and high schools.  DCPS has faced a persistent problem in retaining students after elementary school.  While there have been investments in past years in our middle schools, and modest gains in improvement, continued investments are needed.  Support similar to what is being provided next year for high schools is also needed at the middle school level in order for them to thrive.

We support DCPS’s plans to begin providing a per student funding formula for library collection development.  While we have not been able to closely examine the local school budgets, because neither those budgets nor any substantive budget guidance was made public even as of 2 pm today, we caution that the funding for library collection development should be a real increase to the local school budget, and should not come at the expense of other important items in the local school budget.

Because this hearing is on the funding for public schools, both the schools DCPS manages and the public charter schools, we must raise to you our deep concerns about the lack of comprehensive planning between DCPS and the Public Charter School Board PCSB) when new charter schools are opened.  I will use the remainder of my testimony to explain why this lack of planning should be of concern to both you and the taxpayers of the District of Columbia.

Last week, we learned a new charter middle school, Washington Global, has leased a building in Ward 6 that is less than 1,700 feet from Jefferson Middle School in order to start its International Middle Years Curriculum program. In Washington Global’s own charter school application, they targeted Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8 for locating their new school based on their own analysis of need.  In Ward 6, we have three middle schools, Stuart Hobson, Eliot-Hine and Jefferson along with Capitol Hill Montessori@Logan which is a city-wide school that DCPS expanded to go through middle school.  Stuart Hobson is at capacity, but both Eliot-Hine and Jefferson are under enrolled.  Both Eliot-Hine and Jefferson have been steadily improving.  Eliot-Hine is expected to become certified as an International Baccalaureate Middle Years program for the coming school year, and Jefferson is shifting to a college prep program.  Washington Global’s program essentially duplicates the program being offered at Eliot-Hine, and is substantially similar to what is being offered at Jefferson.

With the opening of the new Washington Global, taxpayers will now be paying for a new charter middle school when it essentially duplicates what is being offered at other middle schools in the city.  Taxpayers will be paying for the opening of a new charter middle school when we know that we have existing under enrolled middle schools.  Taxpayers will be paying for Washington Global to renovate the building they have leased while both Eliot-Hine and Jefferson will continue to wait for their Phase 1 modernizations that the taxpayers will eventually be asked to fund.

Because there is no planning between DCPS and the Public Charter School Board, our educational dollars are being spread thin.  Because there is no planning, our educational dollars are not being strategically used to support students.  The taxpayers, parents and students cannot fix the “no planning” problem.  It is up to the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor for Education, the DC Council, DCPS and the PCSB to fix the “no planning” problem, and we urge you to make this your highest priority.