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9 Renaissance Schools, 5 Promise Academies announced

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 30, 2010 02:30 PM

Moving on a lightning-fast timeline, the School District plans to turn over nine low-performing schools to outside managers by September – the majority probably as charter schools – while trying to jump-start educational improvement at another five under a model overseen by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

The District announced that all 14 schools designated as Renaissance Eligible will go through some kind of turnaround process this year. Officials had said that some might be able to avoid it if a February school review process found progress.

Ackerman said that she decided to proceed with all 14 because after studying the reviews all needed radical intervention now.

The decision means that the entire faculty of the 14 schools will be force transferred and if they want to stay on, will have to reapply for their jobs. Under the union contract, at Renaissance Schools that continue to operate within the District, which include Ackerman’s Promise Academies and so-called “Innovation” schools, no more than 50 percent of the teachers can be rehired.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan was hoping that the turnaround language in the teachers' contract would help Pennsylvania's bid for Race to the Top funds. The Department of Education announced yesterday that Pennsylvania did not win in the first round of applications.

For the five Promise Academies, Ackerman chose two elementary, one middle, and two high schools. According to a District blueprint, they can all expect a longer school day and year, uniforms, and extensive use of Corrective Reading and Math – similar to current Empowerment Schools.

Turnaround Schools

Renaissance Schools

Promise Academies

To be matched with an outside provider Under the supervision of Superintendent Ackerman
Elementary Schools Elementary Schools
Guion S.Bluford Ethel D. Allen
Samuel H. Daroff Paul L. Dunbar
Frederick Douglass Middle School
William F. Harrity Roberto Clemente
William B. Mann High Schools
Potter-Thomas Roberts Vaux
Franklin Smedley University City
Middle Schools  
John B. Stetson  
High School  
West Philadelphia  


The District was still preparing a more extensive statement about what will happen in the Promise Academies, said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

The nine designated to be Renaissance Schools will be courted by one or more of six private providers that have passed the District’s first round of scrutiny as turnaround managers, although it is possible that not all six will make the next cut. The final list of approved providers will be announced on April 9.

School advisory councils at each school will have between then and April 30 to recommend the best provider, but the central office and School Reform Commission have the final say. An SRC vote is scheduled for May 19.

While in the past District officials had indicated that they would consider "none of the above" as a legitimate recommendation from a council about the providers, Ackerman said in the official announcement that "none of the above" was not an option.

Ackerman decided to put under the Promise Academy banner several schools that had been requested by providers. For instance, both Mastery Charter and Young Scholars Charter said they would like to work with Dunbar. Mastery also said it wanted to tackle Vaux. Later, it added Mann and Douglass.

Mastery CEO Scott Gordon said that the potential providers were not consulted as the District went about its decision-making about which schools to designate as Promise Academies and which to make Renaissance Schools, managed by outside providers.

Mastery particularly wanted to work with Bluford, which feeds one of its existing middle-high schools, Shoemaker. As it stands now, Bluford, Mann and Douglass are all Renaissance Schools that must choose a provider. 

Mastery’s experience so far has been in middle and high schools, but it had invested heavily in adapting its curriculum and approach for younger students, Gordon said, and is already recruiting and interviewing elementary teachers. 

Two Latino-focused agencies, ASPIRA and Congreso de Latinos Unidos, which both run charter schools, had expressed interest in the three predominantly Latino schools on the list – Clemente, Stetson, and Potter-Thomas. But Clemente was named a Promise Academy.

Ten of the schools completed a Promise Academy application and provided signatures from community members and supporting documents to indicate the depth of interest in this option. Some schools had hundreds of signatures for the Promise model while others had only a few.

West Philadelphia High School had been a particular point of contention. The school’s active community partners and its staff argued that it was on the road to improvement under third-year Principal Saliyah Cruz and needed more time to pursue the direction it was going. Ackerman, however, cited proficiency rates in the single digits as a reason why the school needed “drastic” intervention. She said many parents supported her.

In late March, the School Advisory Council at West met with representatives from Johns Hopkins University/ Diplomas Now to hear its plan for reshaping the school and with Benjamin Rayer, who heads the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative, on what a Promise Academy would look like.

Parent Joy Herbert, a council member and mother of a 10th grader at West, said she came away with no clear sense of the Promise Academy vision. “They gave us no model, no track record, no proof this method works,” she said.

On the other hand, Johns Hopkins “structured a whole program around kids and academics. I loved that they’re working in small teams” of students and teachers, Herbert said.

Teacher Neil Geyette said that West has already adopted much of the Diplomas Now model, including the Talent Development program’s intensive focus on 9th grade. He said changing direction didn’t make sense.

“I don’t think you can argue that these things will happen dramatically overnight, but parents, teachers, students feel academic progress is happening,” Geyette said.

Hopkins proposes to operate schools under an “innovation” model, meaning they are run within the District, under the union contract.

The other providers have all said they want to convert their schools to charters, but will be required to take all students from the feeder area.

The Cross City Campaign for School Reform has urged the District to make more use of the innovation model and give more support and time to the advisory councils. Teams from West Philadelphia and University City High had both submitted proposals to reform themselves under the “Innovation” option. However, the District rejected both proposals.

Rod Sutton, assistant principal at University City, said that its "Innovation" proposal was built on a model promoted by the Coalition of Essential Schools, that does "authentic intellectual work" with students by creating a curriculum that is based on rigor, relevance and relationships.

"We want to make our students college, career and civic ready," he said.

He said that he was "excited" about becoming a Promise Academy because he sees it as an opportunity to more actively engage the community in moving forward.

"We can make choices about the direction the school will go in from a grassroots level, and we'll get District support to sit down with the community and hear their voices," he said.

He didn't see Ackerman's model, which as a big dose of skill-building remedial programs, as incompatible with the notion of  "authentic intellectual work" as envisioned by the Coalition of Essential Schools. Ackerman is known to have liked the University City "innovation" proposal, even though it was not accepted by the District.

"We see the Promise Academy as giving us more autonomy and more support," Sutton said.

Under the turnaround provisions, not just teachers but administrators must reapply for their jobs.

"If this administrative team stays in place, we will continue seeking a program that fits the needs of our students," Sutton said.

A version of this piece will appear in the forthcoming April edition of the Notebook focused on dropouts, disconnected youth, and diplomas.

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Comments (17)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 30, 2010 2:11 pm

Kudos to West Philly High's parents, teachers, and community members for advocating for themselves and winning a small victory here. As Ms. Herbert said, there is no information on the Promise Academies, whereas Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now has a proven track record and a history with West. As a teacher at West, I know there is now a much better chance of retaining many of our best teachers who were dead-set against the Promise "model."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 31, 2010 9:15 pm

what victory did they win? So many teachers in the district do not want to face the COLD REALITY that they are tired, and burnt out. Today's student is not the one they were in the 60's, 70's or 80's...the problems are much deeper and the wounds are exposed. Since Philly loves testing and teaching to the tests, every school in the district should be making AYP- but they don't! Why? Because how is it fair that students who frequently struggle with reading comprehension can expect to sit through six-eight hours of testing (the month of April is practically devoteed to testing for PSSA) what is happening at West? Are their test scores up? graduation rates improved? college readiness programs effective? is attendance up? So, a vast majority of high schools that are not special admits, are struggling and sucking the life out of students with this PSSA test...test...and more test...give me a break!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 30, 2010 2:41 pm

This much-awaited decision yet does little to abate the confusion and questions of parents, teachers, students, and community members. To distinguish between "Renaissance Schools" and "Promise Academies" when neither is adequately delineated is outrageous. What is this distinction we still have no information about approved providers and their matches? What is this distinction when we have no clear conception of the vision of a "Promise Academy"?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 30, 2010 6:16 pm

Stetson needed a change! After several attempts at reform and still performing at the lowest levels imaginable, Stetson needs a strong change to help the community it resides in. Teachers are tired of the constant "teach to the test" attitude and the shady administration.

Submitted by Keith Newman (not verified) on March 30, 2010 11:25 pm

Just what is it at Stetson your expecting will change? As I recall Stetson was already under EMO management. Edison I believe. So what will be different, SRA instead of SFA?

Submitted by Luke forward (not verified) on April 8, 2010 9:43 am

There will be change, that is for sure. It is unfortunate that this process has moved so quickly there has been little time for parents and community members to find out what is going on. For one thing, there will be major changes to the teaching staff. Also, look for curriculum changes, and more support services, and more outside funding support for things like after-school and summer programs. We can criticize the process, but the status quo is doing nothing for these kids.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 31, 2010 8:30 am

Isn't it interesting that this is announced an hour before everyone goes on Spring break? Are they so afraid of protest and opposition that they try to sneak it past everyone by doing it at a time when they hope everyone is distracted?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 31, 2010 10:06 am

How many charter schools are there in Philadelphia? How are they administered compared to how these 14 schools being turned over to private managers will be administered?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 6, 2010 8:36 pm

Those community members and parents @ West Philly High are FOS. where were they when the kids were failing? This school has a 40% graduation rate. whats happens to those kids who don't graduate? they end up as 1 out of 4 people in this city who are on some sort of public assistance.
A school's job is to get kids educated and to graduate. i know for a FACT that some of those community partners are PENN professors with their own little vested (their academic) research in the school. It kills me that these people try to pretend it's really about the kids. The school, principal cruz, and the community have not been able to get those kids to graduate -period. end of story. let's try something new.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2010 12:20 am

Wow...40 percent graduation rate...the Philly schools' official line is that 50 percent of the students graduate in the district...

No wonder the public across the state are fed up with school taxes...taxes, altogether...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 18, 2010 6:25 pm

My granddaughter started at University City (Promise Academy) on the first day of school. We bought the vest and sweaters as well as the uniforms. We left her in there for a week before removing her from that school. The children were out of control, all kinds of language being used, and no control in the classrooms. Although my granddaughter is on the waiting list for other schools, we feel safer with her at West Philadelphia High School. She started there this week and said the classes are calmer and she's not nervous about being there. Maybe this will work out better for her.

Submitted by anonymous teacher (not verified) on September 19, 2010 7:00 am

How are Promise Academies doing at other locations? This blog should be a good please to hear the truth from ground level (which we probably won't hear from Dr. Ackerman's PR people).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 19, 2010 9:23 pm

good place

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 20, 2010 1:31 am

Interesting - and thanks for the comment. West came a long way in the previous 3 years, and with some stability of the teaching staff may retain the positive climate that it had. Hopefully, the new administration will recognize that there were systems in place and caring staff that enabled the school to be a safer place and one in which students were beginning to value learning. Keep it going!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 20, 2010 9:16 pm

I am quite familiar with the principal who is now there. I studied Tae Kwon Do under him for years. I know how effective he was when I trained under him. My prayer is that he will be just as effective at West Philadelphia. He is no stranger to the Philadelphia public school system. I will be attending a meeting there this Wednesday to see what direction the school is going in.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 4, 2011 11:54 pm

yay! but this is very confusing

Submitted by maria (not verified) on June 4, 2014 5:04 am
It's not a comfortable process, but if it needs to be done, then it needs to be done. Change is never easy. despre asigurari

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