CharterFolk X Vol 2.2 – Patricia Brantley and Donald Hense, the Friendship at the Heart of One of the Most Important Success Stories Happening in Public Education Today

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today it is our honor to recognize Patricia Brantley and Donald Hense, the current CEO and the former CEO and Founder of Friendship Public Charter School in Washington, DC, as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

Theirs is a friendship that lies at the heart of one of the most important success stories in the history of the national charter school movement.

Just how important was underscored by an editorial that the Washington Post ran just three days ago.

The improvement of public education in Washington DC over the past quarter century has created better educational opportunity for hundreds of thousands of students, and much of the benefit has come to those who have needed it most.

These headlines stand in stark contrast to those that were appearing in Washington twenty-five years ago.

Public education in DC was in total crisis. Students’ needs were not coming close to being met. Many schools were in a state of abject squalor.

From Ramona Edelin’s CharterFolk Column:
Public Schooling in DC Before Chartering

Against this backdrop of despair, DC’s charter school law was born.

It was a clarion call to all: Something had to be done for the youth of DC.

Since then, many people have responded to that call. Without doubt, the accomplishment has been a collective one.

But of all who responded, no one person deserves more credit for the district’s transformation than Donald Hense.

Donald With Jay Cammon, Jr., Friendship Collegiate Academy and University of Pennsylvania Graduate

Less than two years after the charter school law was passed …

Donald founded Friendship Public Charter School, a school that grew out of the Friendship House Association, a social services agency that had been providing support to DC residents for over 100 years. The school started as the first multi-campus charter school in the nation serving 1200 students in its first year, with over a thousand students on the waiting list.

This is how Donald described the opening of Friendship in an interview with Roland Martin.

We were actually behind the parents. Parents were way ahead of us in believing that the school system as it existed then was failing their children. And with the graduation rate at that time barely 50 percent, it was in fact failing their kids, and they wanted something different.  And they felt we offered that.

Five years later, Friendship’s first senior class graduated with a 91% graduation rate, providing 40% of all the public high school graduates in all of Wards 7 and 8 in 2003.

The transformation had begun.

Under Donald’s leadership, Friendship became one of the most respected charter school organizations in the country, eventually opening 16 campuses serving 4500 students in the district. Along the way, Donald helped found the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools …

… and advocated relentlessly, not just on behalf of Friendship, but on behalf of all charter schools, as he did in this interview.

We are hell-bent on trying to serve kids who are not being served now in the District of Columbia and believe it or not you still have a huge percentage of kids who are in poor schools …. There was an article just recently in the local newspaper that I think says a lot. If you subtract the test scores of all the schools in the more affluent Ward 3 in the District of Columbia, charter schools’ test scores are 30 percent higher serving poor children …. It’s easy to disqualify two or three percentage points. It’s extremely difficult to ignore 30.

And so, it came as no surprise to anyone in our movement that Donald was inducted into the charter school hall of fame in 2011.

A few years later, when Donald decided to retire …

… there was concern in the Friendship organization and across the broader charter school community.

Who could ever carry on the legacy of Donald’s leadership?

Fortunately, of the many great decisions that Donald made as the head of Friendship, perhaps his very best was hiring Patricia Brantley as the organization’s COO in 2003.

Patricia was someone who heard as clearly as anyone the clarion call of the charter school movement to improve public education for the students of DC. In her role as COO, she led Friendship to some of its greatest accomplishments.

Developing new school facilities …

Taking over the management of a struggling charter school …

Helping the district turn around one of its most challenged campuses …

So when it became time for a leadership transition, there was no question who would be Friendship’s next CEO.

Since that time, Friendship has only accelerated its progress, opening five additional campuses, with Patricia advocating for charter schools just as Donald had.

I believe that there is this rhetoric in the country that our families don’t want high standards.  They do. I don’t have to challenge them. They challenge us when they send their children here. It is because of the promise that we made that we are going to do everything possible to realize that child’s full potential, and so we together work to make that a reality, Parents want it. Administrators want it. Teachers want it. Children want it. And it’s not that they want it because it’s easy. They want it because it’s right. They want it because they believe, and they are willing to work hard to get it.

When it came time to draw together DC’s two charter school advocacy organizations into a new unified force, it was natural that the charter school community would turn to Patricia to serve as the inaugural Chair of the Board of the DC Charter School Alliance …

… situating Friendship yet again right in the middle of the collective success story that is emerging from DC’s charter schools.

Through it all, Donald and Patricia’s bond with one another remains as strong as it has ever been.

In an interview soon after his departure from the organization, Donald said of Patricia:

“Pat is doing a marvelous job …. Friendship has the individual it needs to conduct this life changing work and she will ensure that our educators are no less than world class.”

Of Donald, Patricia remarked in an article after his retirement:

I miss him every day.

It demonstrates that at the heart of Friendship’s remarkable progress across the decades …

… is friendship itself.

A special bond that is helping further unfold one of the most important success stories happening in public education today.

It’s why we couldn’t be happier than to recognize Patricia Brantley and Donald Hense as shining examples CharterFolk Extraordinaire.