Friday, May 06, 2005

WEDJ PCS Spring Fling 

Last Saturday and Sunday were truly amazing. Friday night there was a faculty performance. Everyone was fantastic. Many of the staff were on stage for the very first time, although you would never have guessed this to be the case.

Saturday included a carnival from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There were so many people inside our school that you could hardly walk the halls! I had a caricature done of myself, my wife and I purchased a student painting, and we watched kids from another school do a dramatic reading.

Saturday night included a cocktail party and a repeat of the faculty performance.

But the highlight for me was the school's ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday afternoon. Picture this, about 100 people crammed into the front entrance way of the school. I sat next to Mrs. Doar, Julie Doar-Sinkfield's mother. On the other side a podium sat Julie, Nadia Casseus, and Mary Robbins, the school's founders. Each of us spoke, with me giving the first address. Some of our students sang a couple of songs. From the first words out of my mouth there was not a dry eye in the house. Even our attorney cried. Here are my remarks:

Good Afternoon, I am Mark Lerner, Chairman of the Board of the William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts. On behalf of the board I'd like to welcome you to our Spring Fling, which is a part of our "Opening Doars" campaign. A special welcome to Mrs. Doar, whose husband is the school's namesake. On occasions such as this it is traditional to have someone like me give a really long and boring speech. So in keeping with tradition.

What a extraordinary day this is. Just a short time ago many of us gathered here today were meeting in Julie's Doar's Capitol Hill apartment to write the charter for this school. Right from the beginning I knew that I was involved with a great group of people. This is where I first met Mary Robbins and Nadia Casseus. Julie was the board chair then and she cooked dinner for us and we laughed as we completed the extremely serious job of laying out the vision of a school that would change public education in Washington, D.C.

The number of fantastic individuals associated with this project has only continued to grow. We would not be meeting here if it wasn't for one of our heroes. Unfortunately Fred Ezra is traveling. What he did for us, in fact, for the entire charter
school movement in purchasing 705 and 707 Edgewood Street, so that we and others would have a home, cannot be understated. New charter schools have no financial history and no capital so they cannot go to a bank and borrow money towards obtaining a facility.

And his investment company did not just buy the building; Fred stepped in to help arrange the 2 million dollars in financing to build the most beautiful school I have ever seen. WEDJ PCS is one of the only start-up schools in the nation that in its first year obtained a permanent home.

My friend Anthony King is here today representing that investment company, Core Ventures. Anthony can be quiet but that should not make you underestimate his resolve in helping charter schools. One of my favorite memories of him is the year that we were both at work at our desks at 8:00 a.m., talking about our desperate search for a property in the district for our school. Nothing unusual about this, we have had many similar conversations. Except on this occasion it was the day after Christmas.

There are many many people I could thank. The architects, Interplan; Corbet Construction; Jennifer Snowden who lent us the construction money; Stephen Marcus, our attorney who negotiated our lease, Selva, Core Venture's construction manager, Phil, the superintendent who built this school in 7 weeks There are others I'm sure I am leaving out. In fact, everyone here today has a part in what we have been able to achieve.

These achievements include the hiring of the most talented group of teachers in the city, opening school on time, setting up and moving into a temporary facility. Ending school on the Friday of Martin Luther King Holiday weekend and opening up here on schedule the following Tuesday morning. Putting on 4 student performances. Assembling a first class board of directors. Retaining 98% of our enrollment for next year. Retaining 100% of our faculty. The list could go on and on.

On a person note I would like to thank Julie, Nadia, and Mary. The last 2 years have been the most rewarding period in my life. For as long as I can remember I have been laughed at or worse when promoting the idea that we could improve education in the inner city by allowing parents to choose where their kids go to school. Now my dream too is a reality.

I'll save my final thanks for the parents who have chosen us. Without their faith in our school and their energetic support we could not exist. So far we have done everything we said we were going to do. We are here today to let you know that we will not let you down.

Thank you.

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