April is designated as Month of the Military Child to honor the sacrifices made by military families worldwide and the important role military children play in the armed forces community. To recognize the designation, we are highlighting LEARN Charter School Network’s soon-to-open campus on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB), a military installation in Washington, D.C.
LEARN D.C. will be the first school in the region to focus on the unique needs of both military and local families living in D.C. starting this fall. The school is in high demand from military families and will be the first and only charter school in D.C. authorized to give a 50% priority to military-connected children in the nation's capital.
We caught up with Dr. Jill Gaitens, executive director of LEARN D.C., to gain insight into the mission and future of the school. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
What is the mission of the school and how did it come into formation?
Our mission is to provide children with the academic foundation and ambition to earn a college degree. LEARN Charter School Network operates 10 schools in Illinois and has a proven model for PreK-8th grade education. LEARN also has an exceptional track record of success; LEARN alumni are twice as likely to graduate from college versus their peers.
LEARN currently operates two high-performing schools serving both military and community children from Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois. It was this success that caught the attention of local D.C. parents from Ward 8 and JBAB. Working with sponsors PAVE and FOCUS, parents from both communities joined forces to allow for a new charter option in their community. After an extensive process, the parents selected LEARN to open a new public charter school serving the community and military-connected children in fall 2021.
What did you learn most in the process in regard to opening a school for military-connected children?
Listen to parents! Parents will tell you what they would like to see in schools and we are a parent-driven community. We are selected by parents, for parents and we must continue the deep level of parent and family involvement.
Between hiring our founding team and building a new facility, it has to be centered around our core values of providing a safe and nurturing environment, focus on the whole child, family involvement, culture of respect, and high expectations. Our best practices are not just for military-connected children, but for all children since we are a community-based school.
What are the long-term goals the school aims to reach?
We aim to be the highest performing school in D.C. and build a community school open to all students. We want to replicate the success from LEARN Illinois schools. LEARN alumni have closed the academic achievement gap graduating college at a rate that is 10 points above the national average. We celebrate this success, and we aim to also close the academic achievement gap in D.C.
LEARN D.C. celebrated their groundbreaking on April 29, 2021. LEARN D.C. will open with 200 Pre-K3 to 1st grade students this fall, growing to serve 550 students. The campus will provide an abundance of resources for the local military and larger D.C. community. For more information visit learncharter.org.
Jill Gaitens, Executive Director of LEARN D.C., holds an undergraduate degree in human resources from Oakland University, a Master’s Degree in educational leadership from Arizona State University, and a doctorate in educational policy, planning and leadership from the College of William and Mary. She formerly worked with the Military Child Education Coalition as the director of Central and Coastal Virginia.
Destinee Perry is the spring 2021 communications intern at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and a former charter school student.