Potomac Prep PCS Staff, Students, Parents Await News of School’s Future

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Charter School Board will vote on proposed charter revocation on Feb. 10

Stakeholders at Potomac Preparatory Public Charter School are girding for a meeting on Feb 10 when they expect to learn if the school’s charter will be revoked.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Gala Hispanic Theater (3333 14th Street, NW, Wash., D.C., 20010). According to an agenda posted on the DCPCSB website, the only meeting discussion item is the vote on whether they will force the closure of the 425-student school.

“We are anxiously awaiting the board’s decision,” said Dr. Marian White-Hood, Potomac Prep’s Principal/Head of School. “Parents, students, members of the staff, and hundreds of community members have testified or written letters in support of the school. We have worked hard to make improvements. Test scores have gone up, teachers are engaged with the students and parents are involved. We hope that we will be able to continue our work.”

The public charter school board decision is the latest episode in a chain of events that kicked off two years ago when the Potomac Prep Board of Trustees changed the school’s management, hired a new principal and began an extensive overhaul of everything from staffing to teaching methods.

Potomac Prep, located in the shadow of Providence Hospital, formerly operated under Lighthouse Academies, a national charter school management organization, as the Potomac Lighthouse Public Charter School. The school, which was granted its charter in 2005, struggled for years with low test scores and poor attendance. Potomac Prep is currently managed by a D.C.-based company that handles budget, finance and human resources. The school is overseen by the Potomac Board of Trustees led by Nicholette Smith-Bligen, a well-known advocate for children.

In June 2014, Potomac Prep’s board hired Dr. Marian White-Hood, the former chief academic officer for the Maya Angelou Public Charter Schools in the District and a former award-winning principal in Prince George’s County.

Under White-Hood’s leadership, test scores increased while truancy and suspensions dropped precipitously. She replaced lackadaisical and non-performing teachers with instructors recognized for their skill and commitment in working with children. After-school tutoring and Saturday School were implemented. She held programs to bring parents into the school, such as the Principal’s Parent Advisory, Saturday School STARS, and parent training sessions. Extracurricular programs such as Student Government Association, an arts and culture club, athletics, cheer-leading and a technology club were created.

Though test scores improved by double-digits, DCPCSB had set a deadline of one year for NWEA scores to increase by 70 percent. When Potomac Prep did not meet that standard, DCPCSB began efforts to close the school. Potomac Prep’s board chair was notified the day before Thanksgiving that the board was moving to revoke the charter. School officials notified them that rules of the charter required that a public hearing had to be held to give them a chance to respond. One such hearing was held in December. A second hearing was held Jan. 14. Hundreds of supporters of the school attended. Parents talked about their children’s progress. Teachers talked about successes. Members of the community talked about the success they have witnessed.

It seemed for many in attendance like déjà vu. A similar round of hearings in 2014 resulted in the school getting a year to improve its scores. However, that deadline was applied to tests given only four months later. White-Hood said she and the teachers simply did not have enough time in that short period to meet the 70 percent target set by DCPCSB. She stated, “Turnaround schools need two – three years and strong support from parents. Potomac Prep’s students were a few points shy of meeting the required target. But, the paradigm has shifted….parents are engaged, students want to learn, and they are also proud of their school and their personal accomplishments. We are of proud of this change and celebrate our students and parents.”

Potomac Prep supporters said that during the Jan. 14 hearing, some members of the DCPCSB were texting and appeared not to be paying attention to the speakers. Potomac Prep’s attorney has asked for copies of the texts, saying school officials should have access to any communication between board members and their staff during the hearing on whether they would revoke the charter.

White-Hood said she and her staff have asked for additional time to continue the progress the students have made. She said she expects test scores to go up again this spring. Her staff would have had two years to work with the students.

She said the students have worked hard, but said many of them faced challenges that could not be turned around so quickly. Many come from households with economic challenges. Currently, 72 of the students are exceptional learners. If the school were to close, parents of those students would face significant challenges in finding schools for them, officials said.

“All they want is the chance to continue to help the children improve”, White-Hood said. If the public charter school board votes to close the school, Potomac Prep would be required to stop operating at the end of the school year. The process to close would coincide with the spring standardized testing program. This would greatly impact student outcomes. One parent indicated, “the process for revocation needs to be revised if improving student outcomes is a real goal.”

For more information on the school’s efforts to retain its charter, visit http://www.potomacprep.org. Access the school’s online petition at: change.org. Use the hashtag: #POTOMACPREPPRIDE to share the facts and the news about how Potomac Prep has positively impacted your child. Make plans to support Potomac Prep’s efforts by attending the DCPCSB Special Meeting on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 6:00 pm, Gala Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th Street, NW, Wash., D.C., 20010.

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Ingrid Padgett

Marian White-Hood, Ph.D.
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Potomac Preparatory Public Charter School
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