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Haynes Charter School Moving to Georgia Ave. from 14th & Irving Sts.

By Karen Byer*

Like many parents before them, Shepard Park residents Christine Martin and her husband had seriously considered packing up their lives and moving to the suburbs where they would provide their children with the kind of quality education that they and every District child deserve.

In the midst of considering all the alternatives, Christine, a native Washingtonian, decided to attend an informational session at E.L. Haynes public charter school and in her words, she was “blown away”.

Public charter schools in the District have been having that effect on parents, students, teachers, public officials and the community alike. This 11-year-old public education movement has matured into an essential and successful component of the city’s education reform strategy.

Now educating 22,000 of the city’s public school students, charter schools are tuition-free, autonomous, public schools that are given the freedom to be innovative in exchange for increased accountability for improving student achievement. These schools do not have entrance requirements and welcome all students to apply.

Because charter schools are not limited by the in-boundary rules that apply to the traditional public schools (DCPS), Ward 4 residents like Tanya Renne are able to send their children to schools that best meet the educational needs of their children. Like Christine, Tanya made the decision to enroll her twins at E.L. Haynes. As a true believer in public schooling, Tanya remains totally committed to public schools and completely prepared to get involved in her children’s education.

Currently serving students in grades pre-K through 5, this four-year-old charter school, like many of the city’s public charter schools, opened its doors in a less than ideal school location — above the CVS store at 14th and Irving Streets, NW. But with parental and community support and monetary assistance from various organizations the school will move into a new building in the fall of 2008.

“We are thrilled to be relocating to Georgia Avenue. We have received such a warm reception from residents over the course of the construction process. We look forward to not only providing an educationally-rich facility for our students, but to sharing our new building with members of the Park View and Petworth communities,” said Jennie Niles, founder and Head of School.

Residents of those neighborhoods can expect a great deal of support and involvement from the school and its students. Since its doors opened four years ago, E.L. Haynes has not only had a positive impact on children and families, it has also played an active role in the development of the Columbia Heights neighborhood where it is currently situated. In 2007 its students initiated a week-long inter-session that involved an intense cleanup and recycling program in the neighborhood. The students also partnered with Giant and Whole Foods supermarkets to encourage their parents to go green and use recyclable grocery bags. In addition to its efforts in Columbia Heights, the school launched a program in Rock Creek Park where students researched indigenous plant life and created a display in the park so visitors could learn which plants where native to the area.

Christine Martin believes her children Jane and George benefit greatly from E.L. Haynes’ year-round calendar while Tanya Renne and other parents like her laud the friendly, open atmosphere of the school. Other parents interviewed say they like having two teachers per class, the sense of a strong school community and the concept of students learning hands-on through E.L. Haynes’ expeditious learning model, which organizes its instruction into thematic units called expeditions.

As charter leaders boast of high parent involvement in their schools from parents like Tanya and Christine, they also recognize the need to satisfy these parents with tangible results or risk losing their students and ultimately, their charter. As it happens, public charter school students significantly outperform students in the traditional DC public school system, especially at the secondary school level where they are twice as likely to score proficient or above on reading and math tests.

Charter school leaders like Jennie Niles have the autonomy they need to be innovative in their efforts to provide a quality education for all of the city’s children. If student achievement does not improve, charter schools can make very quick, effective changes, such as modifying the curriculum or replacing ineffective teachers.

*A Masters degree graduate from American University and DC resident, Karen Byer is Communications Manager of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS).

Editor’s Note: Founded in 1996 by Malcolm E. Peabody, who continues to serve as its Chairman, FOCUS has been instrumental in gaining acceptance for the charter school movement in the city. From 1984 to 1995, Mr. Peabody was the Chairman of the Board of the Washington International School. He has also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Equal Opportunity in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (1969-1973), where he established HUD’s Housing Allowance Program, and before that served as Executive Secretary of the New York State Commission Against Discrimination (1960-1962). Mr. Peabody is the President of Peabody Corporation, a local real estate firm.

Copyright (c) 2008 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Friends of Choice in Urban Schools. All rights reserved. reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §§107 & 108 (“fair use”).