For the Notebook’s October print edition on school turnarounds, we took a comprehensive look at the city's initial group of seven Renaissance charter schools.This article looks at the extent to which the schools remained neighorhood schools . You can also read more about test score gains at the schools.
On her daughter's first day of 5th grade last year, Katrina Dear was nervous.
Since her chatty little girl was in kindergarten, Dear had sent her to a charter school with strong academics, a structured environment, and motivated families.
But after learning that the charter planned to hold her daughter back for the 2010-11 school year, Dear transferred her into the public school in her West Philadelphia neighborhood, Guion S. Bluford Elementary.
by Bill Hangley, Jr.
As Philadelphia digests the scathing report prepared for Mayor Michael Nutter on the political pressure surrounding Martin Luther King’s ill-fated charter, the question becomes what to do with the troubling findings?
The report, written by Nutter’s Chief Integrity Officer, Joan Markman, concluded that last spring, former School Reform Commission Chair Robert Archie helped state Rep. Dwight Evans mount a “sustained back-channel effort” to secure King’s charter, worth a possible $12 million a year, for Evans’ longtime associates at Foundations, Inc.
[Updated 6:00 pm] Former School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie has fired back with a statement in which he "emphatically" rejects Markman's findings, and state Rep. Dwight Evans has also slammed the report. The District has offered a brief statement.
[Updated 2:26 pm] The mayor's chief integrity officer has come down hard on state Rep. Dwight Evans and recently resigned School Reform Commission chairman Robert Archie in a long awaited fact-finding report released Thursday afternoon.
Summer 2008 Arlene Ackerman joins the Philadelphia School District as CEO. She brings with her leadership experience in D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle. Ackerman was selected from among three finalists for the position.
Spring 2009 Ackerman unveils her five-year strategic plan, Imagine 2014. The School Reform Commission approves the plan with an estimated first-year budget of $126 million.
Teaching and learning approaches in Renaissance charter schools and Promise Academies are mostly variations on a similar strategy: articulate high expectations for students while using teacher-directed instruction focused on reading and math.
In nearly all these schools, teachers follow a curriculum that is centrally established, either by the District for Promise Academies or by the provider for the Renaissance charters. Teachers also, for the most part, deliver prescribed lesson plans and are expected to closely adhere to a prescribed timeline as well.
Three of the District's Renaissance charter operators are taking on their biggest challenge yet: transforming a neighborhood high school.
Audenried High in South Philadelphia is now managed by Universal Companies. Olney East and Olney West have been re-merged into one school under ASPIRA of Pennsylvania. Simon Gratz High in Nicetown is now run by Mastery Charter Schools.
Told that Martin Luther King High's multimillion-dollar charter school deal ran aground on a reef of Philadelphia politics, Jeffrey Henig could only joke: "I'm shocked! Shocked!"
Henig, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College, specializes in urban education reform. He won't say that cronyism and corruption are inevitable where charters and other "turnaround" models are concerned. But the risk is always there, he said, and the antidote is transparent, accountable governance.
Jerome King has a knack for avoiding negativity.
"I squash trouble really quickly," he said.
That's part of why King had a good experience and positive relationships last year at Gratz, despite the school's troubled reputation. "Teachers were willing to help if students needed it," he said.
King found out early on that Gratz was being awarded to Mastery Charter as part of the Renaissance Schools initiative.
UPDATE: The District is planning to develop a proposal to start School Advisory Councils at 115 of the lowest-performing schools.
The problem – students being bullied going to and from school – wasn't that unusual, but the school community's response was.
We're into the second year of the School District's Renaissance Schools plan. At 22 long-struggling schools, drastic action has been taken to turn things around – clearing out the old staff and either bringing in a charter operator to manage the school or making it a District-run Promise Academy.
At some Renaissance schools, data and personal observation show dramatic improvements. District officials and outside providers are proclaiming success, citing preliminary numbers that show improved attendance, discipline, and test scores. Some charters boast double-digit gains.