Capitol Hill neighbors wary of proposed charter
One of the 13 groups seeking to open a new public charter school in the fall of 2011 is drawing questions from its prospective Capitol Hill neighbors--both for a lack of candor and the financial backing it is receiving from the International Graduate University (IGU), which has had its license revoked by the District.
University High Public Charter School wants to lease space at IGU, on D Street SE, for a college preparatory program targeted to at-risk youth. It proposes partnering with the Community College of the District of Columbia to give students exposure to college-level courses by their junior year. The D.C. Public Charter School Board, which authorizes the publicly-funded, independently operated schools, will review all the applications at public hearings on March 15 and 16.
Capitol Hill residents have been frustrated by their inability to get information from University High's executive director, Terry Shelton, a former treatment team coordinator at Oak Hill Youth Center and probation officer for D.C. Superior Court.
During a bizarre two-hour meeting at IGU Wednesday evening, Shelton would not disclose the members of the group's founding board, although they are listed in the application on file with the charter board. The founding group includes Virginia Elizabeth Hayes Williams, mother of former mayor Anthony Williams, and William Stancil, managing attorney for Neighbohrood Legal Services.
The application also names Wilma Gaines, a former DCPS principal, as interim principal.
Residents were especially concerned about the school's plans to use the nearby Watkins Recreation Center. Several appealed for more involvement in the planning of the school.
"It's very important that you bring us in," said IGU neighbor Mary Case, who also accused Shelton, an African American, of "profiling" the white audience when he observed that they "looked like" an educated group.
Neighbors are especially wary of University High's connections to IGU, an institution that Case called "incomprehensible," and another resident at the meeting described as "a large, dark mystery." University president Walter E. Boek bought the former Buchanan School building from the District in 1998 for $1.5 million, according to the Washington City Paper. The school's web site says it offers master's degrees in executive management, human services and constitutional democracy. But neighbors say they seldom see students coming or going, and complain about uncollected garbage and unshoveled snow.
Shelton and Boek said Wednesday evening that there would be no relationship between the two institutions beyond University High's rental of the building. Shelton said he knew Boek, but wouldn't elaborate, and he declined to entertain questions about IGU.
"Today is a new day," he said. "We're going to start a charter school."
When Shelton was asked how the group would finance start-up costs, he said there were private and federal grants available. But the application tells a different story. It says that if the charter board authorizes University High, IGU will lend the group $275,000 at 4 percent interest to cover start-up expenses.
Boek began the meeting with an odd, rambling monologue about the history of the school, a visit by the Dalai Lama and the books produced by its scholars, which included "Decisions Relating to Condominiums" and "Increase Your Learning Power."
When neighbors wanted to get to the main event of the evening, Boek said he would get to it when he was ready. "If you don't like it, we'll terminate the meeting right now," he warned.
When he did address the issue, he said that members of the D.C. Council were "anxious to see a charter school here." Asked to name the member or members, Boek refused.
There's also the matter of IGU's licensing. Last year, its provisional license to operate a post-secondary degree granting school was revoked by the Educational Licensure Commission at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. The eight-page notice found serious deficiencies in virtually every aspect of school operations, including admissions, finances, governance and qualifications of its faculty. It called the school's organizational chart "a sham," that listed administrators who were either "ill" or "out of town" during an agency site visit.
The school also has never gained certification from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, according to The Hill is Home, a neighborhood blog that first reported on the issue.The suspicion in the neighborhood is that Boek brought Shelton's group in as a way to preserve IGU's non-profit status, which could be jeopardized by its licensing issues.
It ought to be an interesting hearing at the charter board.
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