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Creighton supporters stave off charter conversion - for now

By Benjamin Herold on Apr 19, 2012 11:18 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks
 

Responding to passionate support from parents, community members, and teachers for an “outside-the-box” plan to keep Thomas Creighton Elementary under District control, the School Reform Commission decided Thursday evening to delay a planned vote to convert Creighton into a Renaissance charter.

“I agree with my colleagues that we should table this motion at this point,” said Commissioner Wendell Pritchett.

“We have a lot of schools to turn around, and we need to take advantage of every opportunity to engage with our teachers to do that.”

 Listen to Benjamin Herold's radio report for WHYY from Thursday night's meeting.

 

Before an overflow crowd, the four commissioners present did vote unanimously to award Cleveland Elementary to Mastery Charter Schools, H.R. Edmunds Elementary to String Theory Schools, and Jones Middle to American Paradigm. Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky was absent.

“We were overwhelmed by the show of support for Mastery” by the Cleveland School Advisory Council, said Mastery CEO Scott Gordon. 

“We will take great care to live up to their expectations by serving their children with no excuses.”

The number of low-performing schools converted to charters as part of the District’s Renaissance Schools Initiative will rise to 16 as a result of Thursday's vote. Cleveland, Edmunds, and Jones will remain neighborhood schools, continuing to serve the students who are currently enrolled and those who live within the school’s geographic boundaries.

Cleveland will become Mastery’s sixth Renaissance school. Both American Paradigm and String Theory run independent charters in the city, but are newcomers to the District's turnaround program.

But it was the SRC’s surprise decision to rebuff the recommendation of District staff to award Creighton to Universal Companies that drew the most attention.

On Monday night, the majority of Creighton’s School Advisory Council (SAC) voted in favor of an unorthodox proposal developed by the school’s staff that calls for Creighton to be run by a council of three teacher leaders, two parents, and two community members, instead of a single principal.

“We would break the school down into [grades] K-3, 4-6, and 7-8 as small communities,” longtime Creighton art teacher Regina Feighan-Drach told the SRC. She spearheaded the development of the proposal.

“We would be the decision-makers within the school.”

Feighan-Drach said that Creighton used to meet its federal performance targets, but that a string of instructional mandates from District administrators in recent years had handcuffed the staff and led to poor academic performance.

“We want to go back to the things we know work for our children,” said Feighan-Drach. “We want to go back to using novels. We want to go back to integrating arts. We want to go back to integrating music.”

Universal Companies, which now operates four Renaissance charters, was the second choice of the Creighton SAC. 

“Out of the five choices they gave us, Universal was the only one that had everything the teachers provided,” said Lillian Hentz, the grandmother of a Creighton student and a member of the SAC.

“But our first choice was the teachers,” Hentz stressed.

Universal officials declined to comment on the SRC’s decision not to act.

Universal has been operating cost-free in two of its current Renaissance charters, Audenried High and Vare Middle, because they have not yet come to terms with the District on a facilities agreement – an issue raised by Commissioner Feather Houstoun during the SRC’s deliberations.

Houstoun described herself as “torn” about the future of Creighton.

“I’m not entirely convinced that a council-led school is as easy a lift as the … faculty and parents believe,” she said. 

“But I’d like to know a little bit more before I vote."

Other commissioners also expressed skepticism about the teacher-led model for Creighton, but none of them was prepared to convert the school to a charter, which would force all teachers at the school to reapply for their jobs.

After Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon told the SRC that her staff could engage the staff at Creighton in reviewing their proposal, the Creighton supporters erupted in thanks, then poured out of the auditorium and into the halls of 440 North Broad, singing and chanting.

“We believe that we can create a Creighton that is a great educational system for our kids,” Feighan-Drach said.

The majority of speakers on the three newly approved Renaissance schools supported the conversion of their schools to charters. 

“I used to beg my mom every day to take me out of Edmunds,” said 7th grader Kardala Mohamed. “But if String Theory takes over, I will be anticipating coming to school next year.”

The leadership of String Theory is associated with the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School in South Philadelphia.

String Theory representative Mary D’Anella said her organization was “thrilled and gratified” to be awarded management of the school.

“We feel a deep sense of obligation to get in there and improve conditions for the students,” she said.

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Comments (47)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 7:47 am

Creighton is looking to oversee the school with a council of three teacher leaders, two parents, and two community members instead of a single principal. Has that ever been proposed before? I have never heard of that, a school building with no admin.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 20, 2012 8:01 am

Having seen the way power played at my school which is not Creighton, I would be very skeptical. Right away I would anticipate issues with the rest of the teachers and parents who might be "shut out" of the decision making. Power becomes its own gratification and often displaces the best interests of the children. There should be a trial period using this council, to see if the achievement level (PSSA scores), and conditionally the SPI (must have over 2/3 surveys returned) improve.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 20, 2012 10:23 am

School councils have been in existence for many years in many school districts across America. They have varying power and authority. And, of course -- results.

In Philadelphia in the early 1990's, we were the leaders along with Chicago in that movement. Back before the state takeover, Harry Gafne, a long time Philadelphia administrator and deputy superintendent, wrote an absolutely well thought out set of bylaws for school councils.

Our original SRC led by Jim Nevels had in their goal statements that every school would have a school council. That never came to fruition because Paul Vallas ignored the school councils that existed then, and of course, our last SRC was not about democracy in education so true school councils were not part of their paradigm.

In my book, Whose School Is it? the Democratic Imperative for Our Schools, I explain the law and dynamics of such councils, and present an organizational structure for their viability. I also presented an organizational chart for such council governed schools.

That is just "one way" the teachers can be given the control of the learning program of schools which by the way, was the intent of the charter school movement and the "legislative intent" of our Charter School Law -- to give teachers and community members the opportunity to control the learning program of the school.

We need to come out of the 18th century in our notions of school governance and come into the 21st century.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 7:59 am

Creighton is looking to run the school by a council of three teacher leaders, two parents, and two community members instead of a single principal. I have never heard of that. Is that wise to run a building with no admin.?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 8:27 am

By state mandate, you cannot run a school without an administrator. I think a community/teacher based council to assist in making the decisions and to oversee a school is wonderful. However I do not know if this particular model is fully functional. I give the teachers credit for taking things into their own hands, however I think there needs to be much more planning and development before such a thing could take place.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 8:14 am

Adding an administrator is still better than Universal Co. Universal lost Vare because it was a failure under their leadership. They should not run any other schools. Universal also needs to pay their debt to the SDP.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 11:10 am

Universal Companies still has Vare and the school is showing improvements daily.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 1:46 pm

Universal Co. lost Vare and Ackerman and Archie gave it back to their friend, Gamble when they gave him Audenreid.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 8:32 pm

Gamble--stop posting your lies--there's nobody left to lie to. If EVER the fix was in, it was YOU and Archie and Nutter. You know who I am.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 20, 2012 11:07 am

That is easy. The school council chooses their own principal. They can call that person the "lead teacher." A more progressive way of doing it would be to have the "lead teacher' be a different person every year or every so often.

It is a collaborative approach and it is legal.

Take the lead from Ros Chivis at the High School of the Future -- she calls herself the "Lead Learner."

Is it the principal's school or the school community's school? Whose school is it?

Running a school by a school council is no different than having a school run by a board of trustees. A charter school, by law, must be run by a board of trustees. Every school district in Pennsylvania is run by a school board -- which is a type of school council.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 20, 2012 8:57 am

I'm sure that the model will have to be changed in some way in order to get a more broad base of support. But I also give them a ton of credit for what I 'm sure was a ton of work putting together a proposal like this. Why don't we continue with this current trend of "expanding successful district run programs" and have the SAC spend some time at school that do this well. If they want to focus on project-based learning, there's no better place than SLA. Obviously, a high school is different. But they could this could be a great opportunity for the collaboration that everyone keeps talking about.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on April 20, 2012 9:02 am

Congratulations to the Creighton staff and parents for organizing a fight back against the privatization of their school and coming up with an alternative that can empower teachers and parents.   Teacher run schools can and do work.   See this articile in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/07/education/07teachers.html?pagewanted=a...

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 20, 2012 10:01 am

Thanks Ron. Everyone should read that article. Especially the SRC members.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 3:49 pm

all of the teacher lead schools in other state have union and or some source of getting money what financial backing will creighton teachers have they are relying on the phila. school district for money and resoures good luck I am glad my child dosn't attend it's scary. I hope the SRC reads that artical and ask the right questions

Submitted by Samuel Reed III on April 21, 2012 8:59 pm

Ron;

Thank you for contsant rallying to empower teachers and students.

The article you shared provides credence that teachers, students and parents can be major players to guide school lead turnarounds.

It looks like a concept of teacher lead school turnarounds may gain some traction in Philadelphia schools.

Folks should register to attend the TAG Education for Liberation Curriculum Fair and Citywide Summit to support and leverage the "Greatness on the Ground". 

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dHlDSTBjT1Vjc1hraGN...

 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 10:27 am

I fully support the Creighton teachers proposal of a council lead school. It has worked before in other cities. It is a little out of the norm but I know the teachers at Creighton can make it work.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2012 8:38 pm

I agree, "it is a little out of the norm" but that might be what this school needs. I am in support of Creighton being run by a school council. Thank you to the teachers who took the time to write a proposal to keep their school a PUBLIC School for the students at Creighton.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 10:05 am

Some times I wonder why some aduts only want what they want. these are children we are taking about our future. the teachers and parents at Creighton that are proposing to run Creighton are the same gang that partisipated in its failure and lack of parental involment Creighton has over 750 students and tho they were loud the croud of bullies at last nights src meeting was not representive of the teacher or parent population and for the person making cracks about universial paying there bills get a job and pay yours and stop using tax payers money to do so

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 10:11 am

As for the last post, if you didn't feel like the parent population was well represented then you have to ask yourself why that is and if there were recommendations that were discussed with the parent groups? The bottom line is that the teachers obviously care about their school, the schools' future and the students or they wouldn't be fighting so hard to give it a fair chance. The failure can't just be blamed on teachers or parental involvement in solidarity. The bottom line is that it takes a village- literally. The parents need to be involved, the administration needs to be strong, the teachers need to be involved and the students need to be involved. The worst thing that can happen to any school especially a struggling school is one group is being blamed for the wrongs and failure. The teachers at Creighton seem to have a plan for the future and that is what matters- they want better and they are not giving up.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 5:28 pm

Every teacher and every parent needs to be polled about this proposal at Creighton. There are many parents who want the school to be taken over. The proposal is being pushed by the team of teachers who were on the leadership team that has made the decisions that led to failure. These teachers were buddy buddy with the administration that they now blame for all the problems. I know because I had the worst experience of my life teaching there. If the art teacher helped all the students jump up from grade 2 to grade 8 in reading, why is she teaching art? I hope the teachers that work hard every day have a say in the matter.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 6:37 pm

The art teacher is teaching art because she has an art certification as well as a middle years English cert. as well as a grade teacher cert, as well as an administration cert. and is national board certified. From your blog, you seem to think that the arts are not important. My understanding is she moved over to art because it was her first passion and second , she saw the need to bring a quality art program back to Creighton.
Second, from what I heard about it , it is collaboration design where all teachers will have a voice and isn't that what we all want!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 11:54 pm

Creighton had a quality art program that was cut by the current leadership. Just glad I've moved on to greener pastures.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 21, 2012 7:28 am

Notice what the blog said - wanted to bring quality art program BACK to Creighton

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 6:34 pm

ALL teachers and parents had the opportunity to attend all the meetings and voice their opinion. All staff members had the right to either support the take over or oppose it publicly. Every SAC meeting was open! and anyone could have joined the SAC team.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 6:34 pm

ALL teachers and parents had the opportunity to attend all the meetings and voice their opinion. All staff members had the right to either support the take over or oppose it publicly. Every SAC meeting was open! and anyone could have joined the SAC team.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2012 8:34 pm

Parents and teachers had the opportunity to voice their opinions about the school becoming a turn-around school and the school's future. All parents and teacher were asked to join the SAC.

Submitted by MBA to M'ed Mom (not verified) on April 20, 2012 11:42 pm

This sounds exciting, and I am hopeful this is a win for the teachers, students and community the school is in!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 21, 2012 7:16 am

I applaud the parents and teachers at Creighton. They didn't just sit back and let it happen! I That's the problem in the world today - we are too afraid, too busy or too unsure of ourselves that we shy away from voicing are concerns and getting involved. We need to unite together and take a stand for what is right!
If Rosa Parks had sat in the back of the bus as was required of her - I, for one ,would still be sitting in the back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 21, 2012 9:08 am

You are so right. Is it that PSD teachers don't care that our schools and jobs are being given away to Charters? I don't get it. I go to the rallies and can not believe how few teahers are there. I'm not sure what it will take to get the message across....our schools and jobs are literally being given away to corporations, not educators. Most of the teachers are just watching it happen.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2012 8:21 am

Why did it take so long for them to wake up? Why couldn't they have tried to do something sooner? While I applaud their efforts, it seems too little, too late.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:56 am

I agree the teachers and adminatration at Creighton had years to act, if they were so passionate about what they as "Teachers," and are so devoted to the student body at Ceighton, then why wait so long to take action to propose a better plan. Why didn't they go out into their school community and build funding and get the families of Creighton school involved the best they could.
I just dont really see where the techers really care, all they care about is there job and the comfort of where they are now. If they are so passionate to each and every student then it really shouldn't matter who they work for, but making sure each and every student gets the education that they deserve.
I want to see them making aa change and from what I see they are still hiding behind their desks!
I hope the SRC makes the right decision for the students in Creighton.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2012 8:51 pm

By the teachers writing a proposal to keep Creighton a Public School and not turning it over to a charter school shows that they care about what happens to the students and families at Creighton. I support the teachers. I’m glad you didn’t give up on our children!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2012 8:33 pm

Keep your head up Creighton teachers; we know that you are with us!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2012 8:02 pm

As a parent, I hope the SRC makes the right decision for my children. The right decision for my children is to accept the teachers' proposal.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 27, 2012 7:16 am

To be a good teacher, you have to care about the kids first!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And for teachers to stand up against this and not just sit back and let it happen, is showing that they care!!!!!!!!!!!!

Submitted by gabriela (not verified) on June 4, 2014 6:58 am
It's very nice to see so many people getting involved and caring about these schools. Their passion and drive will make things better for future generations. faceti asigurari
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 5, 2014 2:40 am

From your blog, you seem to think that the arts are not important. My understanding is she moved over to art because it was her first passion and second , she saw the need to bring a quality art program back to Creighton.  riverbend treasures

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