This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
In a break from recent practice, the Philadelphia School District will require this year’s three potential Renaissance charter operators to compete for the right to manage each of the traditional public schools that have been designated for turnaround.
"We didn’t want a situation where we had specific operators targeting specific schools," said District Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn.
As a result, Mastery Charter Schools, Scholar Academies and Universal Companies will all formally vie to manage Alcorn, Kenderton and Pastorius elementary schools as charters beginning next school year.
Process not yet known
It remains unclear, however, how the District’s new policy will play out in practice.
A Mastery official, for example, made clear that her organization would not agree to assume management of all three schools, even if that’s what parents and District officials recommend.
"We have been very clear with the District that we only have the capacity to [manage] one, maybe two, schools next year," said Mastery chief innovation officer Courtney Collins-Shapiro.
At each of the three prospective Renaissance charters, School Advisory Councils (SACs) consisting of parents and community members, will vet proposals from each group before making a non-binding recommendation on which outside manager they’d prefer to assume control of their school.
In the first year of the Renaissance initiative, all prospective turnaround teams were required to present to each of the schools slated for conversion. But the result was situations where groups like ASPIRA of PA, which is based in the Latino community of Eastern North Philadelphia, told SACs at heavily African-American schools in West Philadelphia that it was not genuinely interested in managing them.
In 2011-12, Mastery caused a chain reaction after announcing that it would only compete for the schools it preferred to manage.
Last year, the District changed its policy, allowing prospective turnaround teams to identify which schools they were interested in managing before determining the final schools and final turnaround teams.
But the District’s new leadership is vowing a tough new approach with Renaissance operators this year, including reverting back to the District’s original system for matching schools with managers.
"We wanted to make sure that parents had a broader range of choices," said Kihn. "Under the terms of the application, the operators have effectively agreed to take the schools that they’re matched with."