So comes the news of a second charter school closing—this time MEI Futures Academy. The school which offers room and board and schooling for teen mothers during the week has had its licensed revoked by the school board and will close in June. The school isn’t quite two years old.  Two nights ago, the charter board brought down its ax.

The Post‘s Bill Turque broke the story. (He gets my vote as one of the top beat reporters in the city). Turque wrote that MEI, located in the Lamont Riggs neighborhood, failed at all levels:

“A boarding and day school for teen mothers ages 14 to 21 with a pre-K and kindergarten program for children three to five, MEI had struggled to establish an acceptable curriculum, officials said, adding that none of its high school students were on track for a diploma. Last year, not one of the 15 tenth graders who took the DC-CAS standardized test achieved proficiency levels in either reading or math. Enrollment has dwindled to just 31 students from 66 in fall 2007.”

Letitia Dowling, MEI’s principal, talked to City Desk this afternoon. Dowling was installed as principal after an administration shakeup in February. But by then, the revocation process had begun. She didn’t have much of a chance to turn things around.

“I’m very discouraged,” Dowling says. “We’re not only putting students out in the streets but their children.”

Concerns about the school began to pop up last fall. A review was conducted in November. The board issued its revocation order on February 24.

Dowling says the school then filed an appeal request. On March 19, an informal hearing was held to address the board’s concerns. The board then sent a follow-up letter seeking further data.

“We addressed all their concerns on April 3,” Dowling explains. “In addition. [the board] sent auditors to our school on March 30, April 6 and on April 14 to verify the information we sent in. We didn’t see any follow-up reports nor hear anything from the board. On the night of the 20th, they issued their revocation.”

Dowling says the board was skeptical of the speed in which MEI produced its answers (for example the board wanted to see the students’ transcripts which were turned over).

Dowling adds that one of the main issues—-truancy—-had a simple explanation. There were some students who should have simply been wiped from the school’s roster. Other students may have been absent because their children were sick. She notes that her school isn’t the only one with a truancy problem.

The D.C. Public School Charter Board listed its many reasons in a press release sent out today. This is not the first charter school aimed at serving marginalized students or at-risk youth to fail this year. City Lights closed in late February.

The Board listed its evidence against MEI:

“Failure to operate with a valid certificate of occupancy.

Lack of sufficient books and other supplies for all students attending the school, and failure to develop and provide curriculum materials to all teachers at the school.

Failure to operate in accordance with the mission statement provided in its application.

Failure to design and implement the educational program described in its application.

Failure to adopt content and performance standards for all subject areas at all grades and other performance levels served by the school.

Failure to comply with all federal requirements related to educating students with special needs.

Failure to maintain an inventory of all assets purchased with D.C. or federal funds.

Failure to submit Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes to PCSB.”

That’s a lot of F’s. Looks like the school failed in every way possible from basic building operations to record keeping to educating its vulnerable students [the board did not note that the school’s website is basically a shell]. Because two of these types of schools have failed, I wonder if the charter board has any special regulations or requirements that would prevent these types of failures from happening again.

These schools pitch themselves to at-risk populations. They should be held to higher regulations and oversight. Obviously the board did a good job in finding the problem and doing something about it. But what about on the front end, when the next school for an at-risk population applies to the board?

The board’s press release quotes member Skip McKoy: “The idea and mission are terrific. It’s a service that is really needed, but students were not getting that service.”

There’s a big difference between an idea and failing at the level MEI failed. Hopefully, the board has or will put in place oversight to prevent this kind of tragic dysfunction.

“We have some wards of the court who have nowhere to go,” Dowling says. “They will probably have to get reassigned to group homes.”

Some of her students are over 18 and can’t get transferred back into DCPS.  Dowling notes that there are only two other charter schools who take students over 18.

“I’m taking it kind of hard,” Dowling says. “I don’t feel they gave us the chance….There was no probationary period or adequate monitoring period.”

*photo of school courtesy of MEI.

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