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Mastery to compete for Gratz, Clymer

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Mastery Charter will be competing for just two of the six recently named “Renaissance match” charter schools – Simon Gratz High School and George Clymer Elementary School.

Mastery CEO Scott Gordon described his organization’s strategy as "high-risk."

"The only way we feel that we can be prepared to open with excellence in September is to focus on one high school," wrote Gordon in an email.

"[But] we could put all our energy into Gratz and Clymer and then not be selected by the [School Advisory Council.]"

Last year, District-approved providers were required to make presentations and field inquiries from School Advisory Councils (SACs) at all eight Renaissance schools slated for external overhaul.

The District has not indicated that there will be any changes to that process this year, but Gordon wrote that the only way he felt Mastery could adequately prepare to turn around a comprehensive high school for the first time was to begin focusing on it as soon as possible.

"The timeline in terms of hiring staff, developing programs for special populations, [and] engaging alumni and parents requires that we start now, not wait til the selection in mid-March," wrote Gordon.

While there are no guarantees, Gordon added, Mastery will start preparing as though it is going to be selected.

"It’s the only way we feel we can be successful," he wrote.

Mastery currently operates seven charter schools, including four serving grades 7-12.

During the first year of the Renaissance Schools initiative, Mastery was awarded three elementary schools. Preliminary District data from each school indicated increased enrollment and attendance, and initial monitoring reports submitted by the SACs described high levels of parent and community satisfaction.

This year, the District designated six low-performing schools to be overhauled by one of seven “pre-qualified” turnaround teams.

Mastery had indicated in its response to a District "Request for Qualifications" that it was interested in competing for schools that would allow it to create K-12 patterns, which it is also attempting to create with its existing schools.

Clymer, which serves grades K-8, feeds into Gratz.

"We think Clymer and Gratz are gems in the rough," wrote Gordon.

"If we ‘win’ Clymer, that would be the beginning of a K-12 system, which we think will enable our students to achieve at the highest levels," he added.

"We are also interested in working more deeply in the community – by hopefully turning around middle or elementary schools or opening new charters in the Gratz cluster in the coming years. There are no guarantees in this regard, but we’re in it for the long run."

The original Gratz was erected in 1927, and an addition was added in 1967. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Jewel McLendon, who graduated from Gratz in 1965 and is the president of the school’s alumni association, said in an earlier interview that he was upset about the school’s designation as a Renaissance School and worried about what any potential changes would mean for the school’s rich history.

"We have a legacy at Gratz, and we have pride in that legacy and history, and we don’t want to let that go," said McLendon.

The District is currently recruiting parents and community members to serve on the SACs at Clymer, Gratz, and the other four "Renaissance match" charters. The councils are scheduled to begin vetting potential turnaround teams later this month, with a recommendation due to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman in mid-March.