Posted by Tim Hurd

At 12:30, the bell was rung and President Shaun called the meeting to order. Cell phones were turned off.  American members pledged allegiance to the flag. Russ Savage answered the call for words of inspiration, giving a short prayer invoking the Spring season of new birth.   

Secretary Tim Hurd introduced the guests of Rotarians:

  • Christian Benjamin, Founder and CEO of 12-26 Studios, guest of Abe Helal
  • C. Dudley Brown, guest of William Busker
  • Kathy Bailey, Managing Shareholder of Bailey Law, guest of Kathy Ward
  • Cary Ridder, fundraising consultant, guest of Kathy Ward
  • Daniel Bahr, Former German Federal Minister of Health
  • A visiting Rotarian was John Price, visiting Rotarian from Merced, CA, Classification: Construction

 Sergeant at Arms David Treadwell gave the birthday announcements:

  • March 18: Walter Sechriest, who joined our club in 2005.  Classification:  Business development.

In announcements:

  • Judge Margolis recognized the club members who are tutoring students at the Inspired Teaching Charter School on Florida Avenue, NW. 
  • President-elect Jennifer Hara encouraged attendance at the District Conference in Baltimore.  She is shooting for 15-20 participants from this club.
  • Past President Howard Davis told us about the results of the club’s foundation fund drive:  64 percent of the club participated to give $28,000 this year.
  • Abe Helal invited everyone to a special luncheon on April 7 together with Brendan McGinnis of the Horinko Group regarding a planned water project in the Old City of Jerusalem.  He has details.

Then Davis Kennedy introduces our guest speaker, Martha Cutts, Head, Washington Latin Public Charter School.  He sketched her professional history of 44 years as an educator, including a time as Head of the Upper School at the National Cathedral School in Washington.  He noted that the Washington Latin Public Charter School has the highest graduation rate of any DC open enrollment school.

Ms. Cutts went all the way back to kindergarten for her own educational history, talking about how the baby boom caught school districts flat footed in the fifties, causing crowding and double sessions.  Her parents sacrificed to enroll her in a small private girls school for fifth grade and subsequent years.  Her interest in learning was ignited and remained strong.  She majored in German and went on to teach, coach and administer at schools in Delaware, Connecticut, Philadelphia and DC. 

She got a call to consider taking over the new Latin Public Charter School six years ago and has been there ever since.  It was quite a change from National Cathedral School – the big auditorium that held the partitioned-off class areas was nicknamed “the Thunderdome.” She says it has been the most challenging job she’s ever had, and the most rewarding.

Charter schools are hybrids, she told us. They have an independent board, mission and focus.  But they are not magnet schools:  they must accept all the students who have succeeded in a lottery for the available seats, with an exception for siblings.  The DC School Board approves her actions under the provisions of a 1995 school reform act.  She can hire staff. Today, 40 percent of DC students are in the District’s 60 charter schools on 106 campuses.

Her mission is to provide a challenging classical education. The resources to carry out the mission come from an enrollment formula, and the support of the physical plant come from another payment of $3000 per capita. She told us about a long and complicated process of assembling space in scattered separate buildings. They have finally obtained an abandoned elementary school and with a $17.7 million loan and a million dollar grant, they are returning it to use as their facility.

What makes them special?  Latin study in at least 5th to 10th grade; consideration of moral questions; and training in public speaking and self-expression.  She believes that the quality of the faculty and the small class size are very important.  The school has received high marks in reviews and there are good results in test scores.  In the latest lottery they had 1374 applications for 110 spots, of which48 will go to siblings.

She says the school has now graduated two classes of seniors, and they have hired a college counselor.  The best test will come with the eventual college graduation rate.  They hope to improve salaries and build a gymnasium. She concluded by repeating the importance of good faculty.

In questions and answers, she said that she personally felt that teachers make school reform difficult, but that change is on the way.  She says the Principal needs autonomy.  Again, she stressed good teaching and rewards for teachers.  Parents need to support the school.  In general, the work ethic of US students could stand improvement.

The tree certificate was presented. Heather Jaffan was the raffle honcho, resulting in a $31 win for Bill Busker.  The Queen of Spades, although it is the subject of a story by Alexander Pushkin, two operas and several films, did not win the $665 large pot.  

The Hospitality Table was staffed by Balraj Gupta, Ted Hamady and Stu Shalloway, and the greeters were Ken Kimbrough and Gordon Neilsen.  The closing bell sounded at 1:30 pm.