Educator Spotlight: Donald Hense

Educator Spotlight: Donald Hense

By Curtis Valentine

The African-American community’s fight for quality education requires constant dedication and reflection on successful strategies to educate our children. Donald Hense and the Friendship Charter Network is an example of success worthy of recognition.

Hense is the founder and board chairman of the Friendship Charter Network, the largest African-American-led charter school network in America. Hense’s accomplishment is significant, because, while over 80 percent of charter school students are Black or Latino, fewer than 10 percent of charter schools are founded and led by Blacks or Latinos, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.

Three-quarters of the students enrolled in Friendship schools in D.C. are from Wards 7 and 8, the city’s two poorest areas, and nearly all are African-American. Their achievement is reflected in their continuous improvement on standardized tests. Most recently, Hense and his team celebrated, when five of Friendship’s 12 D.C. schools were rated Tier 1 by the Public Charter School Board – the highest of three ratings a charter school can earn.

As a native of St. Louis and graduate of Morehouse College and Stanford University, Hense has long understood the power of a quality education. But for years he had no interest in working in K-12 education. He was serving as executive director of Friendship House Association, a non-profit serving low-income families in Washington D.C., when he was approached by an executive from a local charter operator about using Friendship House to charter a school. After some reflection, he agreed to transfer his experience fighting intergenerational poverty to the fight for quality public education.

Hense made history as the first African American to win a grant from New Schools Venture Fund, which supports charter school founders. Friendship was among the first group of schools chartered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 1998. Twenty years later, it has12 campuses for students in grades Pre-K3 to 12 in D.C., an online school, and schools in Baton Rouge, La., Baltimore, Md., and Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Hense is proud of Friendship and of education reform efforts in Washington, but he is not ready to celebrate. “We declared victory too soon,” he says. “Fifteen years of education reform is not an institution.”

To Hense, the fight to reform school systems serving African-American students should include more leaders of color. For years, he held a monthly meeting of black charter school leaders in D.C. to talk about their experiences and discuss lessons learned, but it “fizzled out” after young leaders lost interest. “We brought in second and third generation [leaders] and forgot to show them that [African-Americans] need to work together to get things done,” he says. “New [leaders] have to participate in black organizations.”

In spite of a few setbacks, Hense is still dedicated to supporting African-Americans interested in opening their own charter schools. The greatest obstacle to their success, he believes, is lack of experience in management. A potential founder needs “a good plan and a good board of directors. It’s best to go in [to the charter application process] with a strong [management] team.”

Fortunately, there are positive examples of young, African-American charter school founders to emulate. In 2017, Dominique Lee of BRICK Avon Academy in Newark, New Jersey won a Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Education Department. Dominque aims to use the grant to educate 3,000 students in Newark over the next few years, making BRICK the state’s third-largest CMO and the only one led by a person of color.

Hense recommends that other African Americans interested in starting charter schools apply for funding fromthe New Schools Venture Fund or for charter school design grants from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), if they are in D.C.

At 75, Hense says he is not done. The Friendship Education Fund continues to identify opportunities to replicate their model around the country. Friendship’s goal is to bring what Hense and his team learned in Washington to the countless districts struggling to grow African-American student achievement. As DCPS welcomes a new chancellor with experience championing school choice, there may be new opportunities in D.C. as well.

This article is a part of The ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’ series. This series highlights Change Makers from our community who are walking reflections of what’s possible when we place Accountability and Autonomy at the forefront. 

Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Continues legacy of leadership

Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Continues legacy of leadership

Defender Network LogoBy ReShonda Billingsley

When Hurricane Harvey rolled through Houston causing massive destruction, the men of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity stepped up to the plate to help the community rebuild.

“We’re unique men who feel the need to help others. Our constant goal is to make sure mankind is doing better,” said Jeffery Williams, who serves as the Life Membership Board Regional Director for the Ninth District (Omega chapters in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas).

Williams also leads the Houston coalition of area Omegas, which is hosting their regional convention in Houston on March 21-25. (More than 3,000 members are expected to attend the conference). The Coalition began as a way to work together on programs and activities mandated by the fraternity and consists of seven graduate chapters (Nu Phi-Houston, Theta Chi-Prairie View, Rho Beta Beta-Houston, and Rho Xi-Freeport, Rho Nu – Galveston, Alpha Mu Mu – College Station, and Mu Mu Nu – Conroe, TX) and five undergraduate chapters: Tau Epsilon (Texas Southern University), Omega Theta (University of Houston), Rho Theta (Prairie View A&M University), Eta Mu (Sam Houston State University) and Nu Delta Delta (Texas A&M University). Rho Nu (Galveston) joined the coalition to comprise 10 chapters.

While many people know the “Ques” as they’re called for their ability to throw off-the-chain parties and step, Williams said service is really at the core of everything they do.

“There is a lot more to it than that,” Williams said. “It’s about service. It’s all about helping men become better men.”

“Yes, we have a good time, but what we do goes so much more deeper than that,” added Marvin Alexander Jr., Southwest Texas State Representative. “We have a Thanksgiving Meal on Wheels, Achievement Week, where we work with high school students, the Charles R. Drew Blood Drive, Real Men Read, where we partner with local schools to read to students, and that’s just a few of the things we do.”

For Antonio Brown, a 15-year member of the fraternity and basileus (president) of the Rho Beta Beta Chapter, joining Omega simply meant that he could continue the foundation his parents had laid.

“The principles we stand for are right in line with everything I believe in,” Brown said. “The good things we do for our community is right in line with how I was raised. Our organization promotes ‘manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift.’ That’s what we’re all about.”

Brown said the organization is committed to future generations and a leaving legacy that uplifts the Black community.

“This is important. We understand the village mentality,” Brown said. “If we know that we’re responsible for each person next to us, we tend to do better. We tend to make sure we’re doing the right thing in that person’s presence. And not just when we’re there but even when they’re not.”

Omega Signature Events

Go Western Scholarship Dance

The dance, established in 1961, was generally held on the third Saturday of February. This Go-Western gala hosted by Nu Phi has been considered the oldest, longest-standing, Black Go-Western in the Greater Houston area.  The proceeds generated from this affair are used to provide scholarships and to support the numerous community programs that the Chapter conducts and sponsors.

Annual Boat Ride

Boat Rides have been a part of Omega’s history for a long time. The first Houston-area Omega Boat Ride took place in 1987, “Moonlight Cruise with the Ques.” Nu Phi and Theta Chi jointly sponsor a Memorial Day cruise, which leaves from Galveston, where patrons loaded up at the San Jacinto Battleground to enjoy a five hour cruise and dinner. Rho Beta Beta sponsors a Labor Day event.

Achievement Week

Achievement Week is observed each November and is designed to recognize those individuals at the local and international levels who have contributed to community uplift. A High School Essay Contest is held in conjunction with Achievement Week.

*Not a comprehensive list

Fraternity history

Omega Psi Phi was organized Friday on Nov. 17, 1911 in the office of Ernest  Everett Just, a professor of biology at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The organizers were three juniors in the College of Liberal Arts: Edgar Amos Love, Oscar James Cooper, and Frank Coleman. They envisioned a creative idealistic national organization that would unite thousands or young men in aim, thought and loyalty.

They selected the name of the organization, Omega Psi Phi, represented by three Greek letters which mean, “Friendship is Essential to the Soul.” The meaning of the letters was adopted as the fraternity ‘s motto. “Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance and Uplift” were adopted as the fraternity’s cardinal principles

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Approved Arkansas State ESSA Plan

Approved Arkansas State ESSA Plan

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Please read the final plan and submission letter: Arkansas State Plan (Final).

Our plan has been recognized as one of only seven in the nation to receive a strong rating in three major categories for its new accountability system. Learn more at

Informational Documents

NEW! Guide to ESSA Plan and a flyer about the differences between No Child Left Behind and ESSA are now available. Please read and share informational documents related to the Every Students Succeeds Act.

Topics include Vision for Excellence in Education, Arkansas Academic Standards, School Quality and Student Success, State Assessment System, and What is ESSA?

Archive of the Arkansas State Plan Process

Arkansas’ federal education accountability plan reflects more than a year and a half of ongoing collaboration, input and feedback provided by educators, parents and students around the state. The plan was submitted to the USDE on September 15, 2017. To learn more about the process, please visit the Stay Informed Archive page.

ADE Facebook Live Series: Understanding ESSA

This series was recorded in May 2017 to provide information about educator effectiveness, assessment, accountability, school support and English Language Learners under ESSA.

Video Links: Educator Effectiveness | Assessment | Accountability | School Support

English Language Learners

What is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015, and reauthorized the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s education law that provides opportunity for all students.  Read the Every Student Succeeds Act at 

As part of the Vision for Excellence in Education, Arkansas is defining the  Arkansas Accountability System. Arkansas is committed to transparent communication with all stakeholders.  ESSA SummaryPlease see the log of meetings and presentations at

Arkansas Accountability System (ESSA) Timeline

Stage 1

Please visit to learn about all Stage 1 activities.

Stage 2

  •  The Steering Committee will continue meeting on a monthly basis.
  •  Arkansas Department of Education begins writing the state accountability and support plan, continues to gather stakeholder feedback, and modify the plan based on the stakeholder feedback.
  •  The Advocates for Students group will provide targeted feedback on the state accountability and support plan through the lens of the students they represent. The advocate groups are: English Language Learner, Special Education Economically Disadvantaged, Race/Ethnicity, Foster Children, Military Dependents, Homeless and Equity for all Students

What is my role as a stakeholder?

  1. Stay Informed. Stakeholders may sign up to receive the most current information about the ESSA process. We invite you to to visit this webpage often for new information. Sign up to receive email alerts to updated information and feedback opportunities regarding ESSA at
  2. Get involved. Sign up to be an Ambassador and share the latest ESSA news with your colleagues, community members, friends and family. If you are interested in learning more about being an ambassasor, please complete the requested information and Ms. Tina Smith will be in contact with you. Thanks.  View the list of Ambassador Hosted Community Listening Forums.
  3. Advocate for Students – Committees will be asked to review the Arkansas Accountability System with the lens of student’s subgroups-English Language Learner/Title III, SPED, Economically Disadvantaged, Race/Ethnicity, Foster Children, Military Dependents, Homeless, Equity for All Students. To access the application to be a student advocate, please go to
  4. Tune in to Steering Committee Meetings. The Vision for Excellence in Education and Arkansas Accountability System Steering Committee will meet on the last Wednesday of each month (beginning August 31, 2016) at 9:30 am in the Arkansas Department of Education auditorium. The meetings will be open to the public, live streamed, and recorded.

5. Submit Public Comment. Submit comments, questions, concerns and celebrations regarding ESSA.

Additional Resources

  1. Participación de la Familia en el Cada estudiante tenga éxito Ley (ESSA)
  2. ¿Qué implica para mi hijo la nueva Ley Todos los Alumnos Triunfan
  3. For more information, please contact:
  4. Tina Smith, Special Projects Director
  5. Arkansas Department of Education
  6. Four Capitol Mall, Room 305-A
  7. Little Rock, AR 72201
  8. Phone:  501-682-3667
  9. Email:
Inside the ESSA Plans: What Are States Doing About Goals and Timelines?

Inside the ESSA Plans: What Are States Doing About Goals and Timelines?

By Stephen Sawchuk, Alyson Klein, and Andrew UjifusaEducation Week logo

EDUCATION WEEK — This week, Education Week is bringing its trademark analysis to the remaining state plans for fulfilling requirements of the Every Student Succeeds law. On Monday, we had a look at the states’ proposed “school quality” indicators, €”the required but nonacademic portion of each state’s plan to judge schools. Today, we’re going to take a look at states’ goals for raising student achievement and their timelines for doing so in the plans awaiting federal approval.

One thing we’ll keep stressing again and again this week: how far federal policy has moved since the days of the No Child Left Behind Act (ESSA’s predecessor). Read on.

So, what kinds of goals are states setting?

Some states chose fixed goals that aim for all students, and all subgroups of vulnerable students, such as those qualifying for subsidized school lunches or English-language learners, to reach the same target (such as 80 percent proficiency). What’s nice about this kind of goal is that it sets the same endpoint, making it easier to see over time how achievement gaps are expected to close. States in this category include: Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, (grades 3-8 only), Ohio, Minnesota, New York, Rhode island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

Source: Education Week Politics K-12

Trump Ed. Dept. Wants Improvements to ESSA Plans for California, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Two Other States

Trump Ed. Dept. Wants Improvements to ESSA Plans for California, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Two Other States

Arkansas, California, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas need to make some big improvements to their plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, according to letters released publicly Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The most important letter is probably California’s. It’s a huge population center, and its plan, which relies on a dashboard to track school accountability, is either one of the most innovative and holistic in the country or one of squishiest and most confusing, depending on who you talk to.

The feds gave the Golden State a long, long list of things to fix. For one thing, the department says, it’s not at all clear from California’s plan that academic factors (like test scores) will count for more than school quality factors (like discipline data), an ESSA requirement. California wants to handle schools with low test participation by simply noting the problem on the state’s dashboard. The feds aren’t sure that meets the law’s requirements. And California told the department that it plans to finalize its method for identifying the lowest-performing schools in the state in January of 2018. The feds say they need it explained before they can greenlight California’s plan.

California also doesn’t have clear “interim” or short-term goals for English-language proficiency. It’s also unclear how the state will calculate suspension rates, which California wants to use to gauge school quality and student success. The state also needs to better spell out how it will make sure disadvantaged children get access to their fair share of effective teachers.

California has a long history of bucking the department. The state faced off with the Obama administration on student data systems, teacher evaluation, and more. So it will be interesting to see how many of these changes California makes, €”and whether the state will be approved even it doesn’t significantly revise its plan. A number of states that turned in their plans this spring didn’t make changes the department asked for, €”and got the stamp of approval anyway…

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

Edweek has some great tools for understanding and tracking ESSA plans here.

Source: Education Week Politics K-12

What’s the Future of Teacher Evaluation in the ESSA Era?

What’s the Future of Teacher Evaluation in the ESSA Era?

Back during the Obama administration, many states were working to tie teacher evaluation to student test scores, in part to get a piece of the $4 billion Race to the Top fund, or to get flexibility from the No Child Left Behind Act.

Then Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the feds were totally barred from monkeying around with teacher evaluation. So have a ton of states dropped these performance reviews? And what has happened in the ones that didn’t?

So far, six states, €”Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oklahoma, €”have dropped teacher evaluations through student outcomes, according to the National Council of Teacher Quality. And other states have kept performance reviews, but made some modifications. Florida, for instance, has kept the student-growth measures, but allows districts to decide how they are calculated. More in this story from Liana Loewus…

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

Are School Ratings in ESSA Plans Clear for Parents? Check Out One Analysis

Are School Ratings in ESSA Plans Clear for Parents? Check Out One Analysis

Every state has turned in a plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act. So how do those plans stack up against each other and against No Child Left Behind, the previous version of the law? The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank headed up by Michael Petrili, a former Bush administration aide, is out with a look Tuesday.

Fordham judged the states on whether or not they had assigned annual ratings to schools that parents could understand, whether they encouraged schools to focus on all students or just the lowest performers, and whether the ratings were fair.

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.


FULL COMMITTEE HEARING — The Every Student Succeeds Act: Unleashing State Innovation

FULL COMMITTEE HEARING — The Every Student Succeeds Act: Unleashing State Innovation

Date: Tuesday, October 3, 2017
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Time: 10:00 AM
Location: 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Visit the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions for live video of this hearing.

Committee Membership



Inside ESSA Plans: How Could Your School Be Graded?

Inside ESSA Plans: How Could Your School Be Graded?

It’s one of the most controversial questions about the Every Student Succeeds Act and accountability in general: How should schools be graded?

Since nearly all states have at least turned in their ESSA plans, and many ESSA plans have been approved, we now have a good idea of how states are answering those questions. Keep one thing in mind: ESSA requires certain low-performing schools to be identified as needing either targeted or comprehensive support. States have no wiggle room on that. But beyond that, states can assign things like A-F grades, stars, or points. Based on the states that have turned in their plans—and remember, not every state has—We did some good old-fashioned counting and came to the following conclusions, in chart form:

Here are a few notes about that chart.

1) Many states use some kind of points system only as a starting point, since they then use those systems to arrive at final grades or scores that are presented differently to the public…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.

Decades after “Little Rock Nine,” school segregation lingers – Education Week

Decades after “Little Rock Nine,” school segregation lingers – Education Week

It had been three years since the Supreme Court had declared “separate but equal” in America’s public schools unconstitutional, but the decision was met with bitter resistance across the South. It would take more than a decade before the last vestiges of Jim Crow fell away from classrooms. Even the brave sacrifice of the “Little Rock Nine” felt short-lived—rather than allow more black students and further integration, the district’s high schools closed the following school year.

The watershed moment was “a physical manifestation for all to see of what that massive resistance looked like,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

“The imagery of these perfectly dressed, lovely, serious young people seeking to enter a high school … to see them met with ugliness and rage and hate and violence was incredibly powerful,” Ifill said.

Six decades later, the sacrifice of those black students stands as a symbol of the turbulence of the era, but also as a testament to an intractable problem: Though legal segregation has long ended, few white and minority students share a classroom today.

The lack of progress is clear and remains frustrating in the school district that includes Central High. The Little Rock School District, which is about two-thirds black, has been under state control since 2015 over the academic performance of some of its schools. The district has seen a proliferation of charter schools in recent years that opponents say contributes to self-segregation.

Ernest Green still remembers the promise of the era that put him and the eight other students on the front line. After reading about the May 17, 1954, Brown v. Board of Education decision in the local newspaper, he recalled: “I thought to myself, ‘Good, because I think the face of the South ought to change.’… ”

Read the full story here…