Options School Receiver Josh Kern Hears Community Weigh In on Troubled Charter
by Larry Janezich
Last night, the court appointed receiver of Options Charter School appeared before an ANC6A meeting at the invitation of Chair David Holmes. The purpose was to provide an opportunity for the community to address concerns regarding the recent allegations of financial impropriety involving the school’s administrators, and other issues about the school. Kern was co-founder in 2001 and a long-time member of the leadership of the Thurgood Marshall Academy, a charter high school in Anacostia.
Prior to last night, on October 12, ANC6A voted to support a letter to the DC Public Charter School Board (PSCB) regarding the “severe problems at Options School” and made three recommendations. The letter expressed support for transfer of Options charter to a new operator, urged that the school not be closed, and called for a transition to a new, larger [but unspecified] site. A follow-up email from Holmes to PSCB Executive Director Scott Pearson stated that “PCSB bears much responsibility for the failure” of Options, “with arguably unethical behavior of the then-PCSB chair and the current alleged malfeasance of the PCSB financial officer.” Holmes’ email included articles from the Washington Post, which point to a possible conflict of financial interest with respect to the actions of then PSCB Chair Thomas Nida.
Last night, the community provided a divided assessment of the school in the neighborhood. Commissioners Calvin Ward and Sondra Phillips-Gilbert rose to make clear they had not voted to support the ANC letter of October 12. Some members of the community complained about the behavior of Options students both on and off school property, while others opposed the relocation of the school and moving students out of the community. There seemed to be general acknowledgement of lack of confidence in the school’s current administration. Commissioner Phillips-Gilbert took the ANC to task for “the hostility” Options has received from “my colleagues” on the ANC.
Kern and the attorney who accompanied him took notes throughout the discussion but offered little in the way of revealing his plan for moving forward. He referred more than once to the terms of his receivership, which limit his ability to speak publically. The order from DC Superior Court orders Kern to “hold, preserve, administer, and operate the business and activities of Options in the best interests” of the students and the public. The order further directs that Kern not discuss any of his tentative findings or recommendations. It will be up to the Court to make Kern’s findings public.
PCSB was scheduled to vote on October 16 on revoking Options’ charter, but deferred in light of a request from Kern for more time to finish making a thorough assessment. He told the PCSB he expects to make a complete report by the board’s December meeting.