D.C. charter school must close despite White House praise as 'exceptional'

 D.C. charter school must close despite White House praise as 'exceptional' (ABC7)

A charter school visited just last year by Education Secretary Betsy Devos and First Lady Melania Trump - who touted it as "exceptional" - must now shut down. That was the unanimous decision late last week by D.C.'s Public Charter School Board.

In a 6-to-0 decision, the board voted to close Excel Academy in June, at the end of this school year. It's the District's only all-girls public charter school, serving more than 600 students, Pre-K through eight.

The school board cited declining test scores and below average reading and math skills.

"The trend for student performance over the past several years has been negative, despite any benefits that may have occurred from learning in an all-girl setting,” said board chair Darren Woodruff.

Parents, who were still learning about the decision on Tuesday, were in disbelief.

In a letter to parents and guardians, the school calls the decision “extremely disappointing,” encouraging families to attend school-wide PTO meetings on Wednesday to discuss their transition to the next school year.

“Yeah, no kids want to start over,” said Sherricka Rivers, a mother at the school. “Who wants to start over?”

In April, Melania Trump visited the charter school with Secretary Betsy Devos. In the official White House readout of her visit, Mrs. Trump called Excel "an exceptional example of a school preparing young women both academically and personally."

But just nine months later, the school's future is now unclear.

In a statement, Excel board chair of Excel Academy Elizabeth Heider said:

“Our staff, remains focused on its most important responsibility to finish out this school year strong, by educating our young girls in Ward 8, regardless of the Public Charter School Board's vote to revoke our charter. The school administration has a meeting planned with parents Wednesday to support them through this process and talk about next steps. Our priority remains on our students and their families.”

The school board has promised to help families review their school options and assist with enrollment for next year. Meanwhile, a school spokesperson acknowledges a takeover by another charter program is possible but uncertain.

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