As we reported last November, representatives of University High Public Charter School are pushing forward with their plan to open a charter school at the site of the Buchanan School on 13th and D ST SE. This Tuesday, a DC Public Charter School Board press release announced University High Public Charter School as one of 13 applications for new charter schools for the 2011 school year. The site is well known as the location of the mysterious and reclusive International Graduate University. So far, all that is really known of the proposed charter school is a two page Executive Summary (pdf), which fails to really illuminate the educators’ expertise for managing the large institution or what the school will offer that other charter and traditional public schools don’t already.
The relationship between the now defunct IGU and UHPCS is murky, although there clearly is more than a casual connection. Mr. Terry Shelton, a representative of University High, insists that they are “an autonomous unit, with no connection to the International Graduate University,” although that denial was somewhat tempered by the fact that I called him at that facility and he answered the phone “IGU.” Very little is known about who makes up the “Founding Group” of University High Public Charter School, and they have not publicly identified themselves. Mr. Shelton, who represented the school in its meeting with ANC-6B last October, indicated recently that it was comprised of twenty members, some of whom were retired DCPS Principals. However, he “was not at liberty to say” who they were, but assured me the information would be forthcoming.
Taken on face value, the school would provide room for 240 students from 9th to 12th grade. Initially, University High plans to “teach the first ninth-grade class that is expected to include students considered to be at risk. A significant number of these students reside in public housing units.” While the proposal is admirably focused on helping at risk students, there is little there to flesh out how this incredibly challenging and important task will be implemented. The curriculum focuses on college preparatory studies with a “democratic leadership theme”, which should come as a great relief for those parents who find that their children’s college prep courses are overly steeped in agrarianism, liberalism, or, God forbid, monarchism.
Many other details of the proposal remain unanswered as well. University High proposes to partner with a post-secondary institution to provide their students with either an associate degree or 60 college credits, but Mr. Shelton declined to indicate which school would participate. The school also plans on utilizing the nearby Watkins Recreation Center but no word yet on how that will interfere with the current usage of the same facility by students from Watkins Elementary or other members of the community. Mr. Shelton says that a “preliminary arrangement” had been worked out with DC Parks and Recreation Department, but we’re still waiting to hear who in the Department had been contacted. Finally the proposal touts the “skill sets represented by the Founding Group” but does not identify who they are, nor what their accomplishments in the specified fields are, other than the unspecified DCPS former principals.
The proposal has already caught the attention of many members of the community. According to neighbor Mark Segraves, “after all these years of dealing with the University, there’s reasons for neighbors to be concerned. From their proposal, we see issues with safety, parking, use of the Parks and Recreation space, density in the neighborhood, and a lack of reach out to the community”. Councilmember Wells has also raised concerns, saying “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.”
Which brings us back to the International Graduate University itself. According to DC Attorney General Peter Nickles the “IGU’s license was revoked by the Educational Licensing Commission at the OSSE (Office of State Superintendent of Education).” While they have reapplied, the application is pending and has not been approved. An institution that was unable to ever gain certification from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, failed to keep their DC license, and has not provided a whole lot of details now proposes to run a high school for predominately at risk teenagers across the street from an elementary school and within a residential neighborhood.
We look forward to following up with more information on this topic as its forthcoming. A public hearing is scheduled by the Public Charter School Board for this and other proposals on March 15th and 16th, but we hope the details of this proposal are fleshed out before then.