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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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By Bill Turque  |  February 18, 2010; 7:17 PM ET
 
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Comments

We have too many "at-risk" youths in our area without having this school add to it. Enough is enough.

Posted by: mensan98th | February 18, 2010 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Sheldon sounds weirder than Michelle Rhee.

A whole different kind of weird.

This we don't need.

Where do these oddballs come from and why do they think they can help education?

Posted by: efavorite | February 18, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

This is one of the serious problems with charter schools. Although they are considered to be public, they don't have to include community and parent involvement like DCPS does.

It is our tax dollars that are funding charters and there needs to be more accountability.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | February 18, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Neither charter schools nor the Public Charter School Board care in the least about the neighborhoods that they locate in. It has NO bearing on their decisions.
They didn't even bother with public safety or traffic studies before they approved a school on a narrow residential street off Lincoln Park that doesn't even comply with zoning regulations.

The PCSB is totally opaque and unaccountable. They don't even publish transcripts of their meetings, which is a violation of DC law.
This community is screwed.
The worst is that it's with their own tax money!

Posted by: parkbench | February 19, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Dear Bill,

Thanks for this excellent and detailed recap of the meeting--and for the background information about IGU, too. I live close to the proposed charter school, and this is very helpful information for the neighborhood to have. I am also glad to know that the Post is keeping tabs on the situation.

Thanks again.

Posted by: jenhoward | February 19, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Another tax scam from Walter Boek, this time on the back's of DC youth. And Tommy Wells is once again silent for his desperate constituents when there's potential campaign money to be had.

Posted by: CMillrod | February 19, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

@CMillrod

Have you been out of the loop? Here's what Tommy Wells put out several days ago:

"I am extremely skeptical of this proposal from the International Graduate University. They have no track record of working with neighbors, the community or the city," stated Tommy Wells.

Posted by: commonsense32 | February 19, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a big fan of charter schools, taking public money, and more importantly, parents who otherwise would engage in their student's education and participate in the larger school community.

DCPS should make a move for this space for a junior high school. Btwn Stuart-Hobson and Elliot-Hine, the capacity is for only about a thousand students (across three grades) and there are a lot more students than that attending the public non-charter schools on the Hill (Payne, Maury, Watkins, Brent, Tyler, Ludlow-Taylor, and Minor ... I might be missing some).

By closing down Hine Jr. High School, the District has relegated middle school to the furthest edges of Capitol Hill and left itself without capacity. Losing Hine might have been OK if there was still space at Bryan (or whatever the school was that is now Results the Gym), but the District needs to re-commit to public education for the full trajectory of education from K through 12. Charter schools are a scam. [See the charter school experiment in Chicago ... and the failed results there after the tenure of former Superintendent/current Education Secretary Duncan.]

Posted by: dcsween | February 19, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Many of these charter school proposals come from people who want to siphon off tax money for themselves. There are already many instances of charter school fraud and mismanagement across the country. Citizens need to keep a very sharp eye on the money.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 19, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Charter schools are public schools, funded largely by the public and open to the public at large. I'm sure there are parents of students at charter schools that are both engaged in their student's education and the community around it. However, just like DCPS schools, charter schools are only as good as the people who comprise it. Judging from the mixed results at both DCPS and charter schools, eternal vigilance will always be needed to weed out those unfit to educate our children!

I think Mssrs. Boek and Shelton have sealed the fate of their charter application (thanks, Bill Turque, for airing the grisly details). I think former mayor Anthony Williams will be calling to ask for his mother's name back...

Posted by: FloD | February 19, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

@parkbench

The PCSB publishes transcripts:
http://www.dcpubliccharter.com/Board-Meetings/Board-Meeting-Minutes.aspx

And even "tweet" meetings realtime
http://twitter.com/DCPCSB

Posted by: nomares | February 19, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

One part of this half-baked proposal that is particularly hard to justify is the idea of 3-year-olds at Watkins ES sharing the playground and ball fields with at-risk 18-year-olds. That does not sound like a good plan.

Posted by: Trulee | February 19, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Callow to appraise the proposed charter schools on the basis of a WaPo article, even one by Bill Turque. Why not download and read the executive summaries of each of the proposals. Scratch your head, laugh your head off, and wonder how these can be the bases for consideration of charters. As a wise man in quality control said of el/sec educations, distinguishing them from, say, automobiles. "Better get it right the first time. There are no product recalls in education."

Linda/retired teacher: Where are the demainds for better audits of charter schools? You and the rest of the public don't express dissatisfaction with the audit summaries appearing in the Charter School Board's annual report.

Posted by: incredulous | February 21, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Incredulous:

I didn't know how to express dissatisfaction with the audit summaries but now I'll look into it. Thank you.

I did write to my state capital and was told that a charter "manager" could place himself on the board of directors for the school and award himself a huge salary!! Could this possibly be true?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 22, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

@ nomares

Minutes of meeting are NOT "transcripts" and do not comply with DC law according to an opinion by the DC Inspector General on the PCSB's practices.
Please also note that the PCSB is 3 months behind in posting even simple minutes of meetings on their website.

Until about three years ago, they didn't even post minutes, nor did they give legal proper notice for their board meetings.
It was only last year that they began to comply with the legal requirement that they properly notify ANCs of the intention of charter schools to locate in their districts or make substantive changes to existing schools.

The PCSB is non-accountable and non-transparent. Their rules are set by them to protect them from answering to taxpayers.

Posted by: parkbench | February 22, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

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