Ward 8 charter to be consolidated with Achievement Prep

The District's only all-boys public school plans to close at the end of the school year, sparking concerns among parents about what will become of the school's 230 students.

Septima Clark Public Charter School, a second-tier school in Ward 8 with students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, plans to close and consolidate with the top-tier Achievement Preparatory Academy. If the Public Charter School Board approves the deal, Achievement Prep would take over Septima Clark's finances and offer seats immediately to all Septima Clark students who will be at least 5 years old by Oct. 31.

Though Achievement Prep currently offers only grades four through eight, the school plans to expand as part of the merger to offer kindergarten through third grade in the coming school year and two years of pre-kindergarten the following year. The roughly 40 students who won't meet the age deadline for kindergarten will have to find another school for next year.

The proposal is scheduled to go before the Public Charter School Board Tuesday night.

The decision to close Septima Clark stems from the school's poor academic performance, said school board Chairman James Costan.

When the school began considering a change in April, it was in the bottom tier of public charter schools following low scores on the District's standardized tests. Although the school was upgraded to Tier 2 in October -- earning recognition from the Office of the State Superintendent for Education for the greatest improvement of any charter school in a single year -- the performance was still not where the school's leaders wanted it to be.

"We were monitoring how we were doing on the internal turnaround, and the prospects weren't very encouraging," Costan said.

The school will lose its building at the end of the year and has been having trouble securing a permanent location as a result of its poor academic performance, he said.

But school founder Jenny DuFresne, who resigned as head of the school on Jan. 31 as a result of the proposed deal, has accused the board of concealing its efforts to close the school until the last minute and of giving up on the school without exhausting every option.

"This has been not handled in a way that I think has really taken into consideration what parents chose for their sons," she said.

Septima Clark parents have expressed fears that the change would hurt students' chances for success.

Many students arrive at the all-boys school after struggling in multiple coed schools, said Ramona Edelin, executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools.

"African-American males, because there's such a lack of positive imagery out there, they don't feel as much security as

their white American counterparts," said Andre Johnson, whose 4-year-old son is in pre-kindergarten at Septima Clark. "You're not going to be able to counter that in an environment where you have boys and girls."