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District releases Renaissance charter recommendations

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 18, 2012 05:23 PM

District staff members have recommended new managers for four recently designated Renaissance charter schools.

Their proposal, to be voted on Thursday night by the School Reform Commission, would award Mastery Charter the school it wanted, introduce two new providers to the District's aggressive school turnaround initiative, and overrule a vote by Creighton Elementary's School Advisory Council (SAC) to keep the school under District control.

The District recommends that:

On Monday, a majority of the 15-member Creighton SAC voted in favor of an unorthodox counterproposal from the school's current staff that called for Creighton to be run by a team of teacher leaders, parents, and community members instead of a principal.

District staff rejected that vote, but endorsed the first choices of the SACs at the three other new Renaissance schools, said Thomas Darden, deputy chief for strategic programs.

Mastery is the District's largest turnaround provider, operating two traditional charters, five Renaissance charters, and three other schools that were formerly under District control. Consistent with its strategy of creating K-12 clusters of schools, Mastery sought only Cleveland Elementary among this year's schools. Cleveland, located in the city's Tioga section, sends its students to nearby Mastery-Gratz High School.

The two turnaround providers that are new to the District, American Paradigm and String Theory, are associated with charter schools that already operate in the city. The founders of American Paradigm operate First Philadelphia and Tacony charters, while String Theory is affiliated with the Performing Arts Charter School in South Philadelphia.

Universal operates one traditional charter and four Renaissance turnaround schools.

Darden said that the teacher-developed proposal for Creighton was rebuffed despite the SAC vote because it "did not have an instructional leader and did not rise to the level that would produce dramatic change."

As part of the Renaissance charter process, potential providers present their proposals to a school's SAC, a committee of parents and community members, who vote on their preference. Their vote is nonbinding on District leadership.

The District, while allowing schools to offer their own turnaround counterproposals in the Renaissance process, has never accepted one. Last year, the Olney West SAC preferred a plan to keep the school under District control. The SRC awarded both Olney East and Olney West to ASPIRA, which has since combined the two into one high school.

The Creighton proposal, largely developed by art teacher and 30-year teaching veteran Regina Feighan-Drach, would eliminate any principal and vice principal. Instead, it called for a seven-member school council made up of three teacher leaders, two parents, and two community members to make decisions about the budget and programming.

A contingent of Creighton parents has protested from the start the decision to target the school for turnaround and make the school a Renaissance charter, arguing that it has a stable staff and has been denied the resources it needs to do better. Although the school has shown relatively low academic achievement, the parents argued that other schools with worse records are not being considered for charter conversion.

Feighan-Drach, who has a National Board Certification in art, said her proposal would follow the District's curriculum but allow teachers to be more creative and innovative in the classroom than has been the recent practice.

"We would use the District's curriculum and use their budget," said Feighan-Drach. "But we would operate the school and decide how to spend the money. Our hands would not be tied to teach the way the District has told us to teach." The proposal included such plans as expansion of art and language programs.

"We’re bringing back project-based learning, cooperative learning, which we had when we made [federal learning goals]," said Feighan-Drach, who has taught at the school for 14 years.

Delores Brown-Waters, president of the Creighton Home and School Association, said that the SAC clearly favored the teachers' proposal, with Universal coming in second.

If the school is converted to a charter, all teachers would have to reapply for their jobs. Brown-Waters said she worried about the effect on students if most of their teachers are gone.

"Teachers know exactly what a child needs, and we have some great ones here," Brown-Waters said.

The District is still in legal negotiations with Universal, which has been operating cost-free in the new, $55 million Audenried building since July due to failure to come to terms on a facility licensing agreement.

First Philadelphia and Tacony, which are operated by the founders of American Paradigm, were both due to come up for a charter renewal vote this month. But according to a report Darden presented to the SRC on Monday, both schools only recently submitted all the required documents for their renewal, and so they are among five charters out of 25 for whom the District has not yet made a recommendation on whether to renew. The renewal process started in October.

"We requested information as part of the renewal process; it didn’t come in as fast we we would have liked," Darden said.

He added that they "run fantastic schools" and that the District is working to complete the evaluations. 

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Comments (42)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 18, 2012 11:17 pm

Mr. Darden, I guess what you are saying is that the district doesn't "run fantastic schools" But yet all the people who run the district aren't losing their jobs now, are they?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 4:22 am

This is a farce. How can Universal be given yet another school - far from its "base" in South Philly - while it owes the SDP millions? Universal also has not proven itself at any of its "Renaissance" schools? Then, the SDP is giving a school to another charter which can't even submit its paper work on time? Mastery, as usual, get what it wants.

Darden was brought in by Ackerman - he needs to go! He is an insult to every taxpayer in Philadelphia!

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on April 19, 2012 8:08 am

Yes, you are right. This is a prime example of the ridiculousness of the "charter operators" scenario and the corruption of the processes used. The SRC is not creating charter schools at all. They are privatizing our schools to politically connected privately run companies that have never shown any success at running schools, except for Mastery. And of course, Mastery's "operator" Scott Gordon is on that charter compact committee which is a clear conflict of interest and is similar to illegal "insider trading" of stocks. Is that the "portfolio model" of education?

What is the rational for Universal getting Creigton? Is that the quid pro quo for Robert Archie resigning from the SRC? What is the rational for any of this? The SRC needs to explain to us publicly their rationale for giving these schools to these organizations.

This isn't about the children. It is obviously about the "players" who profit off of our children -- and the privatization of our schools.

Our children are still "Beneath the Wheel" of politics. Who does the SRC owe its allegiance to????????

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 5:15 pm

Start with Corbett, Bill Gates, ALEC and Randi Weingarten. We are doomed unless the PFT and other unions start to mobilize. Where's Jordan during all this--It's not raining today!!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 5:15 pm


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 8:26 am

I didn't pay my taxes so the city gave me a free house.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 9:56 am

So much for listening to and engaging the parents of students. What a disgrace by the SRC. If any of those teachers at Creighton actually want to stay there, I hope they only have 1 year experience, because Universal actually told teachers at Audenried last year that they had too much experience to be brought back because they would cost too much. Farce, farce, farce.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 11:00 am

The thechersand ms. Waters need to think about the real future of Creighton the teachers would still be expecting the same system to fund them that gave up on them Universial can offer our children a better tomorrow

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 3:52 pm

Did you attend Universal? If so, great writing skills and excellent grammar! Please use spell check and proofread. Thanks! ~A Teacher

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 1:49 am


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 12:13 pm

How is Universal going to offer the children a better tomorrow? What changes will be made, aside from hiring all inexperienced teachers? What will change?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 5:36 pm

Gamble and his cretins will be able to buy another set of cars. Disgraceful, to be sure but until we stop it, it won't stop--why should it??

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 12:48 pm

The proposal suggested that three teachers, one National Board certified, and all three senior careet teachers with administrative certificates, act as instructional leaders on the proposed school council. Funny, how when contract negotiations happen, the school board considers these categories of teachers as 'instructional leaders' and campaigns to obtain the right to place them anywhere they see fit, but when the same group of teachers exercise their expertise to actually step up and run a school, suddenly we do meet the criteria of 'instructional leaders'. Hope the PFT is listening...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 12:49 pm

meant 'do NOT' meet critera...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 12:54 pm

should be 'do NOT meet the criteria'... sorry

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 1:43 pm

I find it funny that the National Board Certified teachers are prep teachers at Creighton. All I have ever heard is there are no rules being followed there. Students can do what they want!

Submitted by teacher: a "highly qualified" professional (not verified) on April 19, 2012 2:51 pm

Yes, the conspiracy continues! The "foreigners" who make decisions about our "public" schools, again decide the fate of 4 schools which they realize it is more cost efficient to barter out to "private" sources than to maintain them under the district. Wake up, everybody!!! This is not about educating our children. It is about the best deal for the buck! How can Universal still operate in our city, when they clearly have their own agenda, and they are based upon a "Muslim" philosophy, which clearly violates separation of "church and state?" This city is not 100% African-American, and our schools are very diverse, which makes them so "unique" and challenging. When are we going to rid ourselves of this "SRC," which clearly has it's own agenda, and is fueled by state interests, who would like our city to disappear from their radar rather than invest funds in their children.. Parents, you are the only voice that matters!! Speak up, and show that you care about what happens to your children in this system that is broken and refuses to get "fixed."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 4:16 pm

All schools converted to charters are already on a strong trajectory for improved student achievement. Cleveland is not even eligible for the turn around model even though the District is because it has been in Corrective Action for years. This charter school scheme can be seen in cities across the nation. Philadelphia is using Chicago's compact model to destroy public education as we know it, turn it over to charters then for profit companies. The broader goal is public dollars being sent to the private sector with elected officals selling out our communites and students. Charters do not save the district money they cost the district. The Attorney General,s report showed the funding formula is seriously flawed. When will Philadelphia's citizens, community organizations, and teachers recognize that what is going on is intolerable. Unfortunately we are not as politically literate as people in countries like Greece.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 5:09 pm

Jerry Jordan, where are you???????????????????

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 6:32 pm

I taught at Creighton and all I can say is that it was awful! The administration and teacher "leaders" were a disgrace. They only cared about themselves and about resources for certain people. If you were a new teacher they gave you nothing and threw you in with the worst students in the school. They never resolved any issues, then blamed the teachers when it blew up in their face. If the School District got rid of those people then the school would do better. The problem is that Creighton is run by corrupt people. It is run by people who DO NOT care about the students. But it does need an overhaul to improve. The School District let a failing "administration" and "leadership team" run it into the ground. Why didn't they change the administration a long time ago? Therefore, many great teachers got out as soon as possible. It was that bad!!! I would not trust the teacher leaders to run that school, then it wouldn't change because they are a huge part of the problem. They set teachers up to fail. Every teacher should have the same opportunities and be given the same amount of resources for the STUDENTS, no matter what.

Submitted by Bekim Abazoski (not verified) on April 19, 2012 9:29 pm

KEEP CHARTER OUT OF CRIEGHTON. For those who think Universal is a good start, how about they should pay back the debt that they owe the P.S.D. - than they can maybe try to persuade us into thinking they will help our kids. For the person that said she was a teacher at Creighton said it was a bad place, how about next time you post something without staying anonymous, because all I can see is Lies in your post. I at least put my name which many teachers at Creighton know me. I have yet to meet a teacher at Creighton that is as you say selfish. For those that pushed for Universal all I have to say is how much did they pay you. I motion for Thomas Darden and all those of the "Ackerman Era" to resign immediately, since they were never teachers in the first place, and all they think of is the money in their pockets and how they can make more, while hurting the rest of the kids, because of their greed. My last thought would be STOP blaming the teachers and the school about the students failures, and try to put an effort in helping your kids succeed. Check out what students say about Creighton Elementary School on Facebook -

Proud Parent of a student at Creighton Elementary

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 20, 2012 7:17 am

To be fair to all commenters: How much time do you spend in (not just visiting) the school? Have you read your school's SIP? What is your school's Title I funding being spent on? Did the principal involve you in creating the school's budget? I found (at my school which is not Creighton, but which had the same complaints) some teachers that did a good job "smiling the smile" and then going out of their way to remove you if you actually bothered to think critically about what was going on. Even better, they found a way to block improvements that they did not initiate. Imagine that.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 2:05 am

Unfortunately Jerry Jordan is the worst union president at the worst possible time. His inaction on many issues, is the reason the District currently and for previous years got away with whatever they want.

Realizing that there are many corrupt politicians and greedy, selfish businesses destroying the SDP the lack of ability on the PFT's behalf is another reason that allows the District to play out why they illegally disregard contracts, policies, rules, precedent,documents,past practices, verbal agreements, human compassion,etc.,etc.,etc.

Most if not all members of this union sadly are going be without a decent contract or job in the not too distant future as the PFT sits there and continues to act "shocked" by what is going on. However, Jordan and the PFT officers will be retired (since many are at or very close to retirement age now) by then.

The PFT needs honest, caring, focused, strong leadership --which is lacking presently.

Just like the song, "This Is It," this is the overdue time to do everything in your and members power or it's all over and no members left to represent. At that point, the greedy, for profit, private managed and charter operators will be laughing all the way to the bank knowing they dissolved the District and PFT, along with other affiliated SDP unions, while making million$ at the expense of children, teachers and other staff workers.

You can win this battle if you fight hard now in survival mode only.

(I am not a teacher, but know many that are.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 8:10 am

I do not believe PFT members really understand how poorly they are represented and how incompetent they are. PFT members need to file a complaint with the PLRB about how he failed to hold a valid and ethical election process.

By the way, since we are talking about the "transparency" of educational organizations, do you know how much money he makes for sitting on his behind not representing you? How about his generals?

Now how about the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers? What have they done for you lately? Teddy bear Kirsch is sucking up his money from you in silence, while your "once great profession" is getting destroyed.

But they all get their paychecks from YOUR money, don't they?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2012 11:59 am

Jerry Jordan is the Neville Chamberlin of unions. We need a Churchill. His "one school at a time" protest is not going to work. We need to shut down the district until the jackasses running things start listening and acting on our ideas.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2012 2:09 pm

teachers need to reach out district wide to each other and sign a PETITION demanding a meeting with him to discuss strategies that you feel would benefit your membership. Just saying....teachers need to be more proactive in general. Remember--you pay the dues. It is the teachers union not the Jerry Jordan union. PETITION is the key!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 4, 2014 1:08 pm

You are so accurate.I've been saying this for 7 years and not a thing has changed and will not until Jordan and his ineffective cronies are out of the union business.They have not represented their members in a very long time. Just their kiss-ups and plants who they bend over backwards for.Email Kirsch, Jordan and Weingarten and tell them to stop the  lame words and do something that works.Jordan would never make it as a classroom teacher today he doesn't have a lesson plan or know how to execute  one,, tkirsch@aft

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 4, 2014 2:31 pm

You are doing exactly what the powers that be want you to do.  Divide and conquer.  The real enemy is the SRC and all the people who want to profit off of our children.  

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 27, 2012 9:01 pm

I been in Grover Cleveland and I personally think this charter scheme is a mess The teachers and staff care about the children that went to Cleveland since pre k til 8th grade and also all of the new transferred children that just started going there. Cleveland parents try to blame their child's poor academic skills and behavior on the teachers but to be honest it all comes from home! What their parents teach them and what the kids see their parents do! Teachers at Cleveland are there to teach not babysit nor be wrap arounds or behavior specialists unless you majored in that field! I give all of the teachers and staff at Cleveland their props because they hold their children down and teach them the rights and wrongs

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on May 28, 2012 6:59 pm

As a parent, I teach my child right from wrong. I would not want my child to learn values from anyone else! I expect a teacher, principal and a school to teach my child according to PA Ed dept's standards, which includes, lesson planning, transitioning with out a teacher being disorganized and unprepared, actually assessing a student on the academic performance, not their behavior, and documenting how the grade was arrived at, and help a parent understand what level the student needs to get to.

Any teacher who blatenly blames all parents for kids not learning, is a red flag for me. My dad's mom had children out of wedlock with multiple men, did not raise a single one of her children but my dad was not a horrible kid, and he is now a college professor.

If you are saying that the teachers in cleveland do not scream at kids, they set clear and age appropriate expectations, they allow the kids to get water, eat and go to the bathroom with dignity, they right up lesson plans, transition well, they differientiate among the different types of learners, they include activity based lessons, and cooperative learning, treat the students and parents with respect, grade on academic performance not behavior, the behavior problems should be few, for the children with emotional or pyschological issues that have not been treated or for the highly gifted or special needs children who still need additional suppport.

At least the research I read seems to say when those things aren't done in a school, then yes you will have many behavior problems.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 4, 2014 9:06 am

how when contract negotiations happen, the school board considers these categories of teachers as 'instructional leaders' and campaigns to obtain the right to place them anywhere they see fit.  OP Third

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