The Process of Starting a Public Charter School
During the Fall of 2021, DC PCSB did not accept requests to open new charter schools to re-imagine its charter school application process and guidelines and to revise the accountability framework. The decision came at a time when schools were trying to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure existing public schools could successfully serve DC students and families. As a result, no new public charter schools will open during the 2023-2024 school year.
In August 2022, DC PCSB released the 2023 Charter Application Guidelines, which opened the way for interested founding groups to submit a proposal to open a new public charter school in the District. The shifts in our process seek to improve the quality of applications received by the Board and provide strong, in-demand options to DC students and families. Learn more about our revision work here.
During this year’s charter application cycle, we received one proposal from ISM Creative Academy. In its application, the Academy outlines states that it would operate on “the renowned Montessori and Reggio Emilia frameworks.”
The school seeks to “engage [students] in the arts which can significantly strengthen [their] abilities in visual, aural and kinesthetic learning, not only making students better learners but also more creative problem-solvers.”
Additionally, the school hopes to use its “customized arts-based educational model so that students can develop their creativity in an environment that balances self-guided exploration with carefully selected materials across topic areas.”
If approved, the school would open in the 2024-25 school year, and would like to lease a facility in either Wards 5 or 6.
When a group of individuals has an idea to bring a new education approach or add to the proven practices already in place, how do they manage the process of becoming a public charter school?
The Application Process
Typically, DC PCSB welcomes new proposals to open a charter school on an annual basis from applicant groups with diverse backgrounds and expertise. During this process, each applicant is evaluated through a meticulous review process that includes capacity interviews with the founding groups, and public hearings for the community to voice their opinion on the proposed schools.
The first step in the charter application review process is to submit a Letter of Intent. While not required, this step is encouraged to allow DC PCSB staff to plan appropriately for the upcoming application cycle.
Approximately one month later, the electronic application is due. Once submitted, DC PCSB informs the applicants about the completeness of their electronic submission. If there are pieces missing from the electronic submission, the applicant group has 48 hours after being notified to ensure completeness and submit final electronic and paper versions of the application.
The Review Process
Once applications are submitted, they are carefully read by a DC PCSB review team to elevate which applications are strong enough to move forward, or where further clarification is needed. Applications that fully describe four key areas: responding to community need, an education plan, a management plan, and a finance plan, ensure an objective review of the school's proposal. Each review team consists of a lead reviewer, secondary reviewer, special student population expert, finance expert, and a community engagement expert.
After the review process, site visits are scheduled for all eligible applicants, which include all experienced operators, or (existing nonprofit school management organizations or charter schools with a minimum of three years of high-quality, externally validated performance data on a specific educational program), as well as some new schools, particularly those contracting with school management organizations, or (founding groups that plan to contract with an existing nonprofit or for-profit SMO executive, academic, and/or administrative services), or conversion schools. If a proposed applicant group does not currently operate a school, a site visit is not conducted.
Next are capacity interviews, which allow DC PCSB staff to ask founding group members a series of questions. The interview includes topics like the founding group’s ability to execute the plan as written, support for students with disabilities, teacher recruitment and retention, demand for the proposed school, clarifying parts of the application, and hypothetical questions to understand how the founding group would approach challenges common to DC.
The Board’s Decision
Finally, the applicants come before the DC Public Charter School Board for a public hearing. The public hearing is the Board's final opportunity to ask any unresolved or remaining questions they may have, and also gives community members a chance to publicly comment on the proposals. During the following month’s Board meeting, the decision is made to approve or deny each charter application. A formal decision letter is sent to each applicant group informing them of the Board’s vote in the days after the meeting.
Here is the timeline for the one charter application before the Board:
March 6: ISM Creative Academy application received
March 22: Capacity Interview
April 18: Public Hearing
May 15: Vote on the Proposal
May 25: Decision letter is released
Now through April 18 the public is encouraged to comment on this item by visiting our public comment webpage.