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Two charters now facing termination, including the city’s oldest

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

The School Reform Commission voted unanimously Thursday night not to renew the charters of Community Academy and Truebright Science Academy Charter School. Both remain open pending expected appeals to a state board.

All four commissioners present voted to terminate the charters. SRC Chair Pedro Ramos was not in attendance.

Both schools have been in bitter battles with the District.

The commission had previously voted to start the non-renewal process at both schools. Thursday’s SRC action followed months of hearings in which Truebright and Community Academy got to present a case for why they should stay open.

Community Academy is the oldest charter in Philadelphia, and grew out of a school that started more than 30 years ago. Originally a high school that operated under contract with the District, it was founded to serve near-dropouts. After becoming a charter it expanded to a K-12 school.

Grounds for the non-renewal include academic underperformance and a questionable financial history, which founder and CEO Joseph Proietta has vociferously disputed.

When the non-renewal process started with a vote by the SRC in January, Proietta vowed a long legal fight. He was not present Thursday night. He has been in court with the SRC since 2011, when only two of the four sitting SRC members voted to renew the charter, which the school contends was a majority.

The resolution adopted Thursday night said that if a court determines that the charter was renewed through that vote, the SRC now intends for the charter to be revoked.

Truebright has been facing closure since an initial non-renewal vote by the SRC 18 months ago.

A contingent from Truebright was present. Two teachers and the school’s attorney, Brian Leinhauser, disputed the reasons for terminating the school’s charter.

“As a faculty member I have never felt as valued as I do at Truebright,” said teacher Nicole Thuestad.

The school intends to appeal to the state Charter Appeal Board (CAB).

"Truebright will remain in operation and continue to enroll new students up to and beyond our vindication at CAB," said a statement from the charter’s board.

He said that other schools with similar or even worse records have been allowed to stay open.

"Truebright is being treated differently," he said. Truebright is one of more than 130 charter schools that have been linked to a controversial Turkish imam. Many of its board and staff are Turkish.

Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky countered that even if it is true that charters of comparable performance have been renewed,"we would not compound that error. Our job in each case is to make the best call for each school. … If we made errors in the past, that doesn’t mean we are bound to make them in the future."

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