It has taken a while, but finally, the School District has elaborated somewhat on what a Promise Academy will look like.
As schools were submitting applications last month indicating whether or not they wanted to be Promise Academies, there was little in writing about the model. When the District announced on March 30 which schools would be turned over to outside providers as Renaissance Schools and which were selected as Promise Academies, the draft press release said a fuller description of the Promise Academy would be attached, but it was not.
Mastery Charter has the most experience in turnaround, after taking over three District middle schools and boosting test scores by focusing on school climate and skill-building. Its first charter high school, Mastery at Lenfest, opened in 2001.
Universal Companies runs a charter school, founded in 1998, and operates two other South Philadelphia schools as an education management organization (EMO). The schools are part of a broader community development strategy for South Philadelphia.
In announcing on Tuesday that all 14 Renaissance Eligible schools would be slated for turnaround, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman explained that she couldn’t justify leaving any of them alone to continue on the path they were on.
Based on poor conditions and low academic outcomes, “It was hard to decide which schools would not move forward” with some form of radical intervention, she said.
Five of the six successful Renaissance applicants – all but Universal, which did not respond to interview requests – talked to the Notebook about what schools they were interested in managing and what they thought they brought to the table.
All but one plan to convert their school to charters.
The School District has approved just six of 28 providers who applied to lead "turnaround" efforts under the Renaissance Schools initiative at low-performing schools:
A total of 28 potential managers have applied to run one or more of the 14 potential Renaissance Schools in Philadelphia next school year, in what is one of the most aggressive and fast-tracked turnaround projects in the nation.
In addition, more than 330 organizations have applied to be support partners in these schools, according to District officials.
The Innovation School model was one part of the Renaissance Schools plan that I thought might offer a real way for teachers, students, parents, and community members to come together and create plans to transform their schools together.
I thought this could be a great way to show that with the right resources and flexibility, public schools, with public school teachers can really work. Unfortunately, after reading the plan more carefully, I am not sure that that opportunity exists.
One of the options in the Renaissance Schools process is the so-called Promise Academy, which will be a "turnaround" school under the direct control of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, or a team of staff in her office.
While that might seem like a contradiction in terms - how can it be "turnaround" if the same people running the District are running this school - it isn't, according to the way officials describe it.
The District is looking for more than a few good “turnaround teams” to lead the work in Renaissance Schools and is recruiting both lead applicants and support applicants.
“We are looking for people who can demonstrate in some quantitative and qualitative way that they could fix one of these schools,” said Benjamin Rayer, who heads the District’s effort. Lead applicants must have a proven track record of successfully operating urban schools.
Here’s a look at a few potential players who’ve expressed interest.
In an effort to widen the pool of potential operators of so-called Renaissance Schools, the District is holding two information sessions in December - one on Wednesday at 5 p.m. - detailing how to do business with the District.