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SRC vote okays 5 of 6 SAC first choices

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

[Updated 9:30 pm] Mastery, Mosaica, and ASPIRA are the winners in this year’s process of matching six low-performing Renaissance Schools with turnaround managers. All six schools are slated to become charters after a Wednesday vote by the School Reform Commission.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and District staff recommended the first choices of the School Advisory Council at five of the six schools slated for turnaround.

At the sixth school, Olney West High School, the School Advisory Council expressed their preference against the turnover of the school to an outside manager and recommended converting it to a Promise Innovation school still under the management of the School District. The District went with the SAC’s second choice and recommended Olney West to be matched with ASPIRA, as was Olney East, next door.

The SRC voted to approve the recommendations Wednesday at a marathon meeting that extended into the evening.

One dramatic development was the decision of the District staff and then the SRC to support a SAC recommendation to have the for-profit firm Mosaica take over running Martin Luther King High School, which since 2003 has been managed by Foundations, Inc.

The schools and their matches are:

  • Birney – Mosaica
  • Clymer – Mastery
  • Gratz – Mastery
  • King – Mosaica
  • Olney East – ASPIRA
  • Olney West – ASPIRA

The SRC met in a packed auditorium, with an overflow crowd watching on a TV monitor set up in the atrium at District headquarters. A list of 45 speakers signed up to give public testimony. Prior to the testimony, the SRC heard a report from District staff on the proposals for the Renaissance Match schools and posed questions on the proposals.

Asked by Commisioner Joseph Dworetzky to explain why the District is pushing ahead with a second cohort of Renaissance Schools when there are only preliminary results on the first cohort, the superintendent emphasized the urgent need for improvement at the District’s struggling schools.

"We have no other choice. We can’t wait," Ackerman said. "And the preliminary results we have seen so far are encouraging."

Into the evening, the SRC heard testimony from the public, some supportive and some critical of the District’s Renaissance Schools process. State Representative Dwight Evans, in his testimony, seemed to chide the District about how it handled the Renaissance plan for King, repeatedly saying, "We must have an inclusive process."

When a speaker representing the Teacher Action Group read testimony written by a teacher harshly criticizing the current Promise Academy model, about 30 teachers and students stood, holding signs accusing the District of silencing and intimidating teachers.

Four provider finalists came up empty in the matching process: Foundations, Inc., Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now, Nueva Esperanza, and Universal Companies. However, Universal is in line to be awarded two charters by the SRC next month – to take over management of Audenried High School and Vare Middle School. A succession of speakers at the SRC praised the work that Universal has done at its existing schools.

Bettye Brown, chair of the council at Bluford Universal Charter School, which was part of the first cohort of Renaissance Schools, commented, "We’re very proud to say that Universal really has done everything they said in the proposal. We are proud of what is happening there."

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