Chavez Prep February 25th Public Charter School Board Testimony
Cezar Chavez Prep Middle School will close at the end of this school year. It has been a wrenching few months for the Chavez community — the teachers, staff, students and families , all of whom only found out about this abrupt closure when one of the teachers was contacted by a reporter who heard the news first. To learn more about the Chavez story here , here & here .
Chavez teachers came to the February Ward 1 Education Council meeting to explain their situation and to ask for help supporting their families - many of them limited-English speakers who suddenly found themselves scrambling to complete last minute lottery applications to get their child into a new school before the lottery closed. (Chavez families found out about the closure just one week before the high school lottery closed. Middle school families had just five weeks to find a new placement for their child/children). Several participants offered to help families navigate the lottery, and Rebecca Reina, the W1EC chair and I set up tours for families to visit the other Ward 1 middle school options, including CHEC and Cardozo.
Some members of the W1EC also attended a hearing at the Charter School Board on February 25th to support teachers and alumni who testified. Please see a few of the many testimonies given that evening — the house was packed and the meeting went on for hours. See testimony below, including a letter submitted to the PCSB, including a letter by Ward 1 Council Member, Brianne Nadeau.
Testimony from Chavez graduate, Brianna Strickland:
Chavez Prep for me was a school that was unlike any school i had attended. For starters it was in a church. And we didn’t have an actual cafeteria. But once i looked beyond those things i saw a school that had teacher who were creative and innovative. But most importantly teacher who truly had a heart for changing the live of students through education. Me. Sullivan my 8th grade English teach change my life when he gave me a book. He ignited a passion for reading that’s has yet to die. To be a part of the growth of a school and see it blossom to it full potential was incredible to watch. But to hear that a school that was in the top ten for standardized testing growth is closing doesn’t make sense. It is down right disrespectful to close any school with little notice and not even provide answers as to why. The fact that the board has allowed Tensquare to possibly close Chavez Prep for monetary gain is disgusting. How can student, parents and teacher how faith in a school board that shows them through this action that we value money over the education and enrichment of our students. Transparency must be given regarding decisions made that will shift the life of staff, parents and students. Accountability must be held by Tensquare and the Chavez board for making such a swift and drastic call that will change the charter system in dc forever
Testimony from Chavez graduate, Sadaja Kieth (spoken, no written documentation) [When I left Chavez HS] I was well prepared for college. I was able to do many things my colleagues couldn’t. Not that is was a competition, I was just well taught and experienced with time management. I surprised many of my professors with my clear writing; it's because teachers care so much about you; it's like a home away from home. You feel safe, it's a non-judgmental environment
My name is Jennie Tomlinson and I am the school librarian at Chavez Prep. The priorities of the Chavez Schools board of trustees and of TenSquare were made clear when their legal representative said on Feb. 12th that they made “an entrepreneurial decision” to close our school due to their “inability to derive adequate revenue out of the asset.” That statement is distasteful at best - we’re talking about a school, not a start up - but it clearly demonstrates that they see schools as assets in a portfolio and students as dollar signs.
The Chavez Board and TenSquare decided that it was no longer “economically viable” to continue operating Chavez Prep. The reason given was declining enrollment, which has led to a decrease in overall revenue, but there has not been a corresponding decrease in administrative expenses.
In 2016, the board hired TenSquare at a rate of nearly $140,000 per month. This pays for a small team of “consultants,” the majority of whom we have never seen.
Between 16-17 and 17-18, Chavez Schools increased spending in the “other general expenses” category by over 900%, from $199,000 to almost $2 million.
Since 2013, business and administrative expenses have increased by 36% while student-facing expenses have increased by only 2%.
In 17-18, two teaching positions at Chavez Prep were left empty because the school said they couldn’t “afford” to fill them, but they could find money to continue paying TenSquare’s contract
The budget for library books was cut by 70% during the last three years.
Music, reading, and math intervention programs have been discontinued
I could go on, but it’s clear that Chavez Schools has frequently chosen to spend taxpayer money in a way that benefits adults, not students. The argument that operating Chavez Prep is no longer “economically viable” rings hollow when Chavez Schools is sitting on over $10 million in unrestricted assets and could instantly add almost $2 million to their annual budget by simply ending their contract with TenSquare. Their own financial records do not support their claims. It is unacceptable to close a public school because the people in charge want to continue spending money on consultants instead of kids. Do not allow Chavez Schools to amend their charter agreement. Thank you.
My name is Christian Herr, and I am a science teacher at Chavez Prep. Both Chavez Prep and Capitol Hill serve populations made up entirely of students and families of color, and both have served the highest percentages of at-risk students of any charter school in their respective wards over the past three years. Both showed remarkable growth on the PMF last year despite its well-documented bias against these students. Instead of celebrating us, you are considering whether or not to close us down due to our enrollment numbers.
Chavez Prep’s peak enrollment of 357 was the result of a lie told by our board. Many of our eighth-graders do not stay for our ninth-grade program, due to the fact that it is more difficult to find a high school as a tenth grader. The 357 number was during a year when our board told our eighth-graders that if they stayed for ninth grade, that they would be able to go to a new Chavez Prep high school in Ward 1 starting in tenth grade. Students turned down opportunities at schools like Banneker and School Without Walls to stay at Prep. However, this new high school never materialized, and our board is now using this inflated enrollment number to support the “entrepreneurial decision” it has made to close Chavez Prep in order to “monetize the asset.”
Director Pearson showed courage on Friday the 15th, when he told City Council that “we don’t think that was right,” in discussing the way that this decision was made. It meant a lot to me to hear him say that, and I want to publicly thank him. Will your actions be as courageous as his words? The Chavez board did not even record minutes when they made this decision at a secret meeting. They have provided no evidence that they ever even considered firing Tensquare, which would free up more than enough money to make up for any enrollment shortfall and impact precisely zero student-facing services. They have refused our requests at the bargaining table for increased mental health supports to help our students through the trauma they created. They continue to show our school to potential tenants while students are still in the building. They gave our eighth graders barely one week to find a new school before the February 1st high-school deadline. They don’t deserve to determine our future, and those who do need your help. On March 18th, you will show the city who you work for. You either work for those who breathe life into our schools, or you work for those who would see it taken away. Vote no. Thank you.