Friendship Public Charter School Revamps Anacostia High School

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The Washington Informer
Friendship Public Charter School Revamps Anacostia High School
New Teachers, Administration Creates a Learning Environment
By Norma Porter
Thursday, April 8, 2010

When D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee asked community partners to help her turnaround the lowest performing and most violent high school in the District in September, the Friendship Public Charter School organization jumped at the opportunity to improve the failing school. The school has seen four principals in the last four years and had the lowest teacher attendance rate in the city.

Now the Academies at Anacostia-formerly known as Anacostia High School-is beginning to look like a replica of the other eight schools under the charter school conglomerate. While some of the chaos of the Southeast school's turbulent history still lingers, students sport khaki pants and polo shirts. Administrators walk the halls and ask young men to remove their hats without fanfare. Teachers question students in hallways after the bell rings and they respond to faculty in a respectable manner.

This is a complete transformation from the violent fights and constant police and fire departments responses to the school.

"Anacostia had a lot of problems when we came here: transcripts were a wreck, kids were enrolled in classes that they've already passed and special education students were assigned the wrong IEPs [Individualized Education Programs]," said Shanika Hope, deputy chief of school turnaround.

"There has been a significant change primarily around the energy in the school and teacher-student commitment. We've had a reduction in disciplinary activity and the number of expulsions, and stabilization around suspension," she said.

While Anacostia remains under Rhee's leadership, Friendship has autonomy to hire school personnel.

Out of the 66 teachers assigned to Anacostia last year, Friendship kept only 10 teachers. Now, 70 percent of Anacostia's teachers are new and many of them have come to the school through the Teach For America program.

Friendship is also changing the structure of Anacostia to replicate the specialized focus on age-appropriate instruction and institutional structure of charter schools. The school is divided into four academies: the Sojourner Truth and Charles Drew Academies for incoming ninth graders, the Frederick Douglass Academy for existing sophomore through senior classes and the Matthew Henson Academy for students seeking credit-recovery. The school's leadership plans to steer the academies towards more career-oriented curriculums in allied health, humanities, criminal law and media and technology to expose students to different career paths, Hope said.

Students also see marked improvements at the school.

"There's more structure now and more students want to learn," Patrice Haney, a junior at Anacostia and recipient of a four-year college scholarship through The D.C. Achievers Scholarship, said. "The teachers actually teach and they also talk to us about their personal lives."

While the school has seen some progress during the short time that Friendship has been at Anacostia, Hope said, they have to prove that the change will last.

"We've got to build credibility with both the students and the community and that takes time," she said. "We're happy to see movement in the right direction, but we are not satisfied. We have a lot more work to do."

But some Anacostia parents like Melvin Tucker are unhappy about Friendship's takeover. Tucker, a Ward 5 resident and football coach at Anacostia, said he enrolled his son in Anacostia because of the school's track record for producing high achieving athletes like University of Michigan graduate and Chicago Bears linebacker Cato June.

Tucker's 15-year-old son is not an athlete, but he thinks Anacostia is a good environment despite its reputation.

"This process is not working for the school and it's a waste of time and effort for the students and teachers," he said.

"The teachers lack experience working in an urban environment and the charter school method is like the military-it is not working for our children."

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