"We strive to ensure that our children learn not just reading, math and science, but also compassion, service and community."

— Karen Dresden, Founder

Our Mission

Capital City Public Charter School enables a diverse group of students to meet high expectations, develop creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, achieve a deep understanding of complex subjects, acquire a love of learning, along with a strong sense of community and character. We will graduate young adults who are self-directed, intellectually engaged and possess a commitment to personal and civic responsibility.


Brief History


Capital City Public Charter School was founded by a group of parents and teachers from Phoebe Hearst Elementary School. In 1999, the DC Public Charter School Board approved our initial charter application, making us the 1st parent-founded school in Washington, D.C.


In September of 2000, Capital City opened at the corner of 14th and Irving Streets, with 135 students in Pre-K through 5th grade.


In 2004, we moved to the newly renovated National Capital Presbyterian Church building at 15th and Irving Streets. The Lower School soon reached full capacity, with 244 children in Pre-K through 8th grade.


In 2006, we successfully amended our charter to include a High School. In 2008 we opened our Upper School campus with 129 students in 6th through 9th grades. We added an additional grade each year and graduated our first senior class in 2012.


President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan chose Capital City as the first school to visit following President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. The President called Capital City, “an example of how all schools should be.”


We were designated an EL Education Mentor School in 2011 recognizing Capital City as one of the top performing schools in EL Education’s national network of 165 schools.


In 2012, all grades relocated to a single site, the former Rabaut School Building at 100 Peabody Street, NW. We renovated and designed the space to fulfill our mission and support our program. Capital City also expanded from two campuses to three: adding a separate middle school program to meet the needs of this age group.


In 2014, we were awarded a Breakthrough Schools grant for our innovation in education by the CityBridge Foundation. We were awarded another Breakthrough Schools grant in 2017.


In 2016, we won one of ten Career and Technical Education Makeover Challenge Prizes by the U.S. Department of Education. Capital City was also named a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School for our focus on sustainability and the environment. Supporting our whole-child approach, we also upgraded our school facility in 2016, completing renovations for a state-of-the-art theatre and gym. 


We were featured in the 2017 Aspen Institute Case Study on social, emotional, and academic development. To mark their 25th anniversary, EL Education selected Capital City as the location for The Way School Ought To Be, a 60-second video showcasing best practices in public education. 


In 2018, our Middle School Principal Laina Cox received the Silverberg Leadership Award from EL Education and our Tier 1 High School made the list of 100 best public high schools across the District and Virginia.


In 2019, 7th Grade Science Teacher, Justin Lopez-Cardoze, was named the District of Columbia's 2020 Teacher of the Year. High School Principal Belicia Reaves was recognized with the DC Public Charter School Board 2019 TIERific Principal Award.

2022 graphic

Founding Middle School Principal Laina Cox served as a School Ambassador Fellow for the United States Department of Education, selected as one of only six in the country.

2023 graphic

After 23 years of service to Capital City, Karen Dresden stepped down as Head of School. The Board of Trustees selected Laina Cox to succeed her, becoming our second Head of School in the school’s history and our first Black leader.

In 2025, Capital City will celebrate 25 years of providing DC students and families a high-quality, engaging, culturally-responsive education full of opportunity. Click here to learn more about strategic plan guiding this work. 

Top photo and many images featured on our homepage are courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action. Capital City participated in this photo project during the 2016-2017 school year.