DC Charter Board Proposes Closing Imagine Southeast for Poor Performance
by Emma Brown
January 9, 2013
The DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) is proposing to shutter a Ward 8 school for poor performance and will vote on the measure Thursday night.
Imagine Southeast, which serves more than 500 elementary and middle school students, opened in 2008 and has since failed to meet four of the five goals laid out in its charter agreement, according to PCSB.
Among the problems is a record of non-compliance with several laws and “dismally low” academic achievement, according to PCSB.
The board reviews schools’ performance every five years and can close any school that fails to meet agreed-upon expectations or breaks laws.
“A school cannot simply make a promise to educate kids well and not deliver,” PCSB spokeswoman Audrey Williams wrote in an email.
Leaders of Imagine Southeast protest that they are well aware of the need for improvement and have already begun making changes. They said they were shocked to learn that the school is in danger of closing—and deserve more time to show progress.
“We feel a little bit like the carpet’s being pulled out from under us in the middle of what’s going to take a little more time,” said Matt Engel, Vice Chairman of Imagine Southeast’s board.
If the PCSB votes to revoke Imagine’s charter, the school would close at the end of this school year. Families would have the aid of an enrollment specialist dedicated to helping them find a new school, Williams said.
Attendance rates at Imagine are among the lowest in Ward 8, and re-enrollment rates never rose above 70 percent—a sign, according to PCSB, that parents are not satisfied with the school.
While students’ reading performance at Imagine Southeast has improved in the last two years, the proficiency rate on standardized tests is far below the city average, at 36 percent, according to the revocation proposal.
The school’s math proficiency rate, 33 percent, is also lower than the city average.
The PCSB said that the school has broken several laws over the past five years, including establishing a discipline policy that didn’t provide due process for students and using an application form that asked “for information that was not allowable.” Charter schools must give equal-admission opportunity to all applicants and cannot screen out students with disabilities or other special needs.
Leaders of Imagine Southeast said they could not immediately comment on those allegations.
Imagine Southeast is part of a network of schools operated by Arlington-based Imagine Schools Inc., a for-profit company that operates about 70 schools in 12 states and the District, according to its website.
In Missouri, state officials last year closed six Imagine charter schools in St. Louis, citing academic failure and financial problems. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had written extensively about complicated real estate deals that left the city’s Imagine schools spending a disproportionately high amount on rent, leaving little for textbooks and other instructional necessities.
Another Imagine school, in St. Petersburg, Florida, also came close to being shuttered for poor performance, but was saved by parents’ pleas for a chance to improve. The school rated an “F” on Florida’s school report card.
A spokeswoman for Imagine Schools did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.