Friendship Public Charter School was founded in 1998 with a vision to provide families on the east side of Washington, DC with an opportunity for quality education. Over the next seven years, Friendship grew from 1,200 students to 2,800. VPP partnered with Friendship in 2005 to help the organization build capacity and serve more families across the District. Today, Friendship Public Charter School has 11 campuses and serves more than 4,200 students
Pat Brantley is the school’s current CEO, and she sat down with Carol Thompson Cole to tell their story.
Friendship Public Charter School
Carol Thompson Cole
Pat Brantley – CEO, Friendship Public Charter School: Friendship Public Charter School was founded with the idea that our children in the neighborhoods of Washington, DC needed better options and opportunities, and that we could make a difference not just in their school years but also beyond—that we could help to transform their lives.
Carol Thompson Cole – President and CEO, VPP: The early leadership of Donald Hense was crucial. Donald had been a part of the pilot for VPP and we got to know him early on. There’s a story that one day when VPP’s founder, Mario Morino, was talking to him, Donald stood on a street corner and sketched out his vision for Friendship Public Charter School on a napkin.
Pat: We really looked at the investment as a way for us to strengthen our academic program and to think about how Friendship could take the best parts of its model and magnify them, not only in the schools that we already had, but also to grow. We were about six years old and knew that the only way we were going to grow was if we built our back-office capacity.
Carol: One of the most important pieces of the investment was a very complex strategic planning process. McKinsey & Company was the partner that came in to help and they had a very strong education practice. We knew how important it was going to be to make sure that Friendship had a solid long-term plan and the right people on board. It was clear Friendship had big aspirations.
Pat: VPP put a lot of thought into Friendship as an investment. There were a lot of times I remember Carol asking, “Is this really what you want” and “Are you willing to make the changes necessary in order to move the organization forward?” So we really had to think about those types of big questions.
The investment from VPP allowed us to bring on our first professional chief academic officer and a director of professional development. It allowed us to bring in someone who’s doing strategy. It allowed us to bring in our first professional CFO. I mean, it wasn’t just about the academics, but it was really about retooling the organization to support and improve the outcomes.
Carol: That’s VPP’s focus: helping the organization to build what we call the C-suite positions to get those senior people in place. If you get the right senior people, they will shape the right strategies, and our view is the rest of the growth and development will happen. That has definitely been the case with Friendship.
Pat: We were able to be much more efficient, to grow our enrollment, to grow our outcomes just a few years after the end of the formal VPP investment. When the Charter Board did its ranking of schools, there were 10 elementary and middle schools. Of the top 10 schools, three of them were Friendship schools. I feel like the VPP investment has made a truly sustained difference. Because they invested at the highest levels, that has allowed us to maintain a high-quality organization across all our campuses.
Carol: I remember asking Donald one day what he thought the biggest challenge was. He said, “The kids don’t want to go home.” If the kids don’t want to leave school that means you’re doing something right. Donald said that every child could learn from the traditional American education. It didn’t matter if they had special needs. Donald knew they could excel and perform to high standards. And I said, “If we can prove that, it’s the biggest investment we can make.” I think we proved it.