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9 schools to undergo Renaissance overhaul

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

Nine struggling schools in Philadelphia will be remodeled as Renaissance Schools this year, the District has announced, with three of them facing conversion to charter status.

Two high schools and seven elementary schools will be transformed under the now three-year-old initiative, a signature program of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman that seeks to turn around the District’s worst-performing schools.

Alcorn, Kenderton, and Pastorius elementary schools will become Renaissance charter schools to be run by outside managers as neighborhood charters.

Slated to become Promise Academies are Barry, Bryant, Cayuga, and McMichael elementaries, as well as two high schools, Edison and Strawberry Mansion. McMichael and Mansion just came off the school closings list this week.

"When examining schools that continually fall short on a variety of performance measures, it was clear that these nine schools needed interventions and additional support," said Superintendent William Hite in a statement.

In its announcement, the District describes the Promise Academy model as including "an extended school day, intensive supports for struggling students, as well as increased professional development opportunities," with hiring of teachers via site-based selection.

One new element in the Promise Academy model this year is an "incubation period" for the high schools, giving them a full year to build support for the approach and to hire staff.

The District earlier this month invited charter operators interested in running a Renaissance school to apply. The deadline for submitting a proposal is March 5.

The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote on which operators will be matched with which schools sometime in late April or early May.

This year, the District focused on K-8 schools with the logic that targeting students at an earlier stage has a more lasting impact on student outcomes. The schools selected for Renaissance remodeling were chosen, according to the District, because they were persistent underperformers for years on top of being among the lowest performers last year.

Venard Johnson, an educational consultant and activist who has worked with Alcorn, said he was pleased by the decision to convert the school to a charter.

"Over the past two years, the District hasn’t shown the ability to turn around the school on its own," he said.

At an SRC meeting Thursday, the commission voted to approve $66,000 that the school would use for teacher training. Johnson complained about the school’s existing faculty. "Hopefully they will get teachers who want to be there," he said.

Johnson says he thinks that Universal Companies, which operates nearby Audenried High, has the "inside track" to take over the school.