On Wednesday evening, Perry Street Prep Public Charter School’s charter was up for renewal at the DC Public Charter School Board. It was renewed with four conditions – one being the closure of the high school in June of 2015. On Wednesday, the decision was made to close a school and few people seemed to notice.
Perry Street Prep (formerly Hyde Leadership) is a special place to me. In September of 2010, they gave us a shot. Armed only with an idea and a belief in its possibility, I entered Hyde Leadership and launched Reach. From that seed, something beautiful has grown. This year, we’ll see our first cohort graduate. Next year, we’ll see some more of our readers and leaders from Perry Street Prep walk the stage. Then, never again.
But, the school’s history is more than that. Hyde Leadership was a place that truly valued character, a place that made time for the development of young people. As test score pressures mounted, this commitment to character faded (and the school’s name changed). You still see traces at the school, teens that offer the firm handshake they learned as elementary school students. You still see it on the field – home of the best urban rugby program this country has ever seen.
But, on Wednesday, a decision was made to close the high school. This is the second Ward 5 high school to close in two years. There is no other high school in the surrounding area and no evident plan for the students. And that’s where it hurts most. While we talk of policy, improvement plans, and transitions, actual students do not know where they will continue their high school careers. Current sophomores can stay for next year, but will then be forced to find new schools as 12th graders. Current 9th grade students find themselves in a similar situation, knowing full well that many schools do not accept upperclassmen.
It is not lost on me that this decision was made following the deadline for the MySchoolDC lottery, which could have given students the ability to explore other school options for next year (a letter was sent to families about this possibility one week ahead of the deadline). While some will say that the students have a full year to plan for the future, I expect a mass exodus of quality teachers. While teacher retention has been an ongoing challenge at PSP, few will want to remain at a school marching toward its end.
None of this is to say that the wrong decision was made. That is for other people to debate. What I do know, however, is that schools are not simply buildings in which teachers talk and students listen. They are communities. When schools close, communities are disrupted and children experience trauma. Teens especially, who experience life through social interactions with peers, suffer from the loss of social groups. When we fail to manage these transitions appropriately – or at all – we fail our kids.
Perry Street Prep is the birthplace of Reach, and it’s the home of so many of our children. They are beautiful young people. Many of them are skilled tutors and published authors.
On Wednesday, they were told that their community is irreparably broken. And now, it seems, they’re left to figure out what to do.