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Students and others plead for charter renewals and expansions

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

A parade of students and charter officials appeared before the School Reform Commission on Thursday advocating for the renewals or expansions of their schools.

Three schools – Hope Charter School, Arise Academy, and Truebright Science Academy Charter School – have been recommended for non-renewal by District staff.

Arise serves students in the care of the Department of Human Services. Hope takes in dropouts and others who are at-risk. Both show poor results on the traditional academic indicators used to rate schools.

Truebright is a more traditional charter that showed a sharp drop in academic indicators, especially in reading, last year. Nevertheless, several students testified, the school served them well. Truebright has a travel abroad program, among other things.

"Please understand that different students need different kinds of schools," said 10th grader Shawn Hunter. "It has a special way of making us want to learn."

Officials from Hope and Arise told the SRC earlier in the month that they should not be punished for their mission. But Thursday night they said they agreed that their students should be held to the same academic standards as others.

"We agree with the standards to which we are being held," said Steve Wanner, chairman of the Arise board.

Both also said that they are making progress with a difficult student population that has problems with truancy, mental health and other issues.

Gabriel Kuriloff, the CEO at Arise Academy, said that within its "unique" mission, "we are delivering results and resolve to deliver more."

Students from the schools also said they had found lifelines there.

"Do you really think we would be happier in a school with thousands of students and no intentional support?" asked student Kalea Baker, who said she had been there since the school opened in 2009. "This is a school designed for students like us."

State Rep. Mark Cohen joined parents in reiterating vociferous opposition to converting Creighton Elementary School to a Renaissance charter.

"Conversion might make sense when supported by parents, teachers and students, but that is clearly not the case here," Cohen said. "Creighton should get additional resources and more time to raise student performance."

On the other hand, Lisa Perry, who said she was on the School Advisory Council of Cleveland Elementary School, said that parents there favor the school’s conversion to a charter.

"Administrators and teachers there, they tried, but it didn’t work," she said. "We need to move forward with this Renaissance program."

The SRC is scheduled to vote on charter renewals on April 19.

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