One Chavez school remains following recent closures

Andrew Dong

The Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy announced that two of their three remaining campuses will be closing.

The Chavez Schools at one time had four campuses in the district: The Capitol Hill High School, The Parkside Middle School, The Parkside High School and the Chavez Prep Middle School.

The Cesar Chavez Prep schools were founded in 1998 by former DCPS employee Irasema Salcido to create a school which focused on providing low-income students with a quality education. The schools were known for their public policy program, college preparation curriculum, and support services for ESL students.

The DC Public Charter School Board voted to close Parkside Middle School at the end of last school year because students did not meet academic expectations. The Chavez Prep Middle School and Capitol Hill High School will close at the end of this school year. Students from the Capitol Hill High School will be transferred to the Parkside Campus.

Similar to Parkside, the reason for the closure of the two schools is dwindling enrollment and low academic performance. The Charter School Board’s policy on Charter Renewal and Review Criteria explains that, “increases in student achievement by subgroup… [is] one of the most important factors when deliberating charter school renewals and revocations.”

Chavez Prep Middle School librarian Jennie Herr said that the board meetings are “closed door” and there is a lack of transparency from the DC Public Charter School Board. “They made these decisions without asking the staff, students or parents,” she said.

The closures comes after a controversial decision by school administration in 2017 to spend nearly a quarter of their budget on the consulting firm TenSquare.

The school claimed the firm would assist school administration and turn around academic performance. Teachers, who protested the decision, argued the money could have been better spent on filling positions for social studies and english language teachers, who would assist ESL students and relieve pressure on the staff.

TenSquare has shown improvement in other schools they have assisted, though the data is not consistent. The firm has been criticized for ties to third-party organizations and right wing activists that could constitute a conflict of interest. The decision to close Parkside Middle School was made eight months after TenSquare was brought in.

According to the Washington City Paper, some school leaders have felt pressured by the DC Public Charter School Board, who have been known to be allies with TenSquare, to have the company consult them.

TenSquare claims its plans for the school are still in year one out of five for the Chavez Schools.   

Chavez joins multiple recently-closed schools in the District. Democracy Prep Congress Heights, City Arts and Prep and National Collegiate Preparatory, are all expected to close due to low performance, though some of these schools are considering other options in order to keep open. Two other schools—Somerset Prep DC and Ideal Academy—faced similar issues with poor performance in the past but created deals with charter networks such as KIPP DC, which currently runs Somerset, to increase the school’s performance and thereby avert closure.

The absence of these schools will put even more pressure onto the one remaining Chavez school located in Parkside. Students at other Chavez Prep campuses will have to find another school next year or go to the Parkside campus.

Herr believes that unless special measures are taken, more Charter schools in the district will close.“Unless legislation gets passed, there is a high likelihood of this happening to another school,” she said. Herr believes that the lack of transparency between the Chavez Board of Trustees, the DC Public Charter School Boards, and the Chavez community increases the chance of a closure happening.