This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A coalition of seven community groups serving the Grays Ferry neighborhood of South Philadelphia has finally weighed in on the School District’s plans to award Audenried High to Universal Companies for conversion to a charter.
“We were never asked for our support, so we’re not going to decide either way,” said Jim Helman, a representative of the Grays Ferry Partnership.
Helman, 65, is the president of the Grays Ferry Committee of Concerned Citizens. The other groups in the Grays Ferry Partnership include the Forgotten Bottom Neighborhood Association, Grays Ferry Community Council, Martin Luther King’s Village Neighborhood Association, Neighbors United for Change Town Watch, Point Breeze Community Development Coalition, and South Philadelphia Rainbow Committee.
The partnership has signed on to Universal’s larger Promise Neighborhood planning initiative, which includes a host of community redevelopment strategies, but had been withholding judgment on the specific plans for Audenried pending an opportunity to discuss their concerns with District officials.
That meeting never happened, according to Helman.
“The School District of Philadelphia is never going to receive any awards for community relations,” he said.
Nevertheless, Helman said that his own assessment was that most Grays Ferry residents either “support [the plan for Audenried] or have no opinion either way.”
“Except for a small number of activists, I really don’t think there’s going to be too much objection,” said Helman.
“Should Audenried be converted to a charter school, there isn’t going to be an uprising in the streets of Grays Ferry.”
The District plan calls for Audenried and nearby Vare Middle School to become “Promise Neighborhood Partnership” schools as part of its Renaissance initiative. Both schools will be managed as neighborhood charter schools by Universal, which stands to receive roughly $9 million in charter school payments.
In uniliaterally awarding Audenried and Vare to Universal, the District bypassed its process of soliciting community and parent input at other Renaissance schools being paired with outside providers. Universal recently received a prestigious federal Promise Neighborhood planning grant, which District officials have described as presenting a “unique opportunity” warranting creation of the new Renaissance turnaround model.
The plans have stoked intense opposition from some Audenried staff, students, and community members, who have argued that Audenried is not a failing school and questioned Universal’s track record managing schools.
The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote to approve the plans and authorize the charters later this month.