by Aaron Moselle and Zack Seward for NewsWorks
Cheering fans, cheerleaders, and mascots filled Temple University's Liacouras Center on Monday afternoon.
None of them was there for a game.
Instead, thousands of students, staff members and parents traveled to the North Philadelphia arena for Mastery Charter Schools' first-ever College Signing Day, an event patterned after National Signing Day for high school athletes.
The Philadelphia School District is vowing to take a hard line on two issues that have caused confusion when charter operators take over traditional public schools: special education and facilities costs.
Even as the District tries to convert three more of its schools into charters, officials and parents alike are wading through confusion over “exceptions” that past administrations granted to outside managers in previous years of the District’s Renaissance school turnaround initiative.
When Mastery Charter took over Simon Gratz High School in 2011, the organization was getting into territory it had never been in before.
Mastery’s prior experience with 9th graders had been in the school they started – Lenfest – and in schools they had built up from the 7th grade.
But Gratz was different – a 9th-through-12th grade comprehensive high school that had recently hit a low point in its storied history. When converted to a Renaissance charter in 2011, Gratz was listed by the state as “persistently dangerous,” with a graduation rate under 50 percent and student proficiency rates in the teens.
Philadelphia's independent Renaissance school operators are bringing families back to struggling neighborhood public schools that they have "turned around" -- with one notable exception.
Universal Companies, the city's second-largest manager of Renaissance charter schools, is lagging behind its targets for serving students from the surrounding community at most of its schools.
As part of its Renaissance Schools turnaround initiative, the School District of Philadelphia has outsourced management of 17 struggling public schools over the past three years.
The result is a transformed educational landscape in which a patchwork of seven independent charter school management organizations has replaced the traditional school system in large sections of the city, as shown in this graphic by NewsWorks, the Notebook, and geospace analysis firm Azavea.
In Philadelphia, gaining admission to a charter high school sometimes involves a scramble to gather burdensome paperwork – not to mention the luck of the draw.
But obstacles or not, thousands of students pursue the charter option. Notebook data show the city’s 35 charter high schools this year expected to enroll more than 15,000 students in grades 9-12.
The School Reform Commission held one of its in-the-round monthly strategy meetings Monday evening, looking at District academic performance and Renaissance Schools. It was the first such meeting for new Superintendent William Hite, who praised the format.
The Accountability Review Council (ARC), which has tracked student performance in District and charter schools since the state takeover and creation of the SRC in 2002, reported on its findings for the year.
Briana Jackson said her life changed when Mastery Charter took over Gratz High School a year ago.
The self-described former troublemaker, now a senior, said that the transformation isn't yet complete; she still gets detentions now and then. But the person who was regularly suspended has turned into a serious student, athlete and student-government member with her sights set on attending Howard University and becoming a nurse.
By Benjamin Herold
for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner
Like a hurricane predictably making its way up the coast, the financial storm that battered the Philadelphia School District last year is now taking its toll on the city’s 80 charter schools.
Some charter leaders are now speaking out about the damage.
The two-year-old Philadelphia School Partnership, at the center of the city's strategy to support "great" schools regardless of who runs them, announced Thursday that it was more than halfway to its goal of raising $100 million from area foundations, corporations and individuals.
At a press conference attended by Mayor Nutter and School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos, PSP executive director Michael Gleason said that his group has commitments for $51.9 million.