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More Renaissance charter schools planned for the fall

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

Updated | 2:40 p.m.

The Philadelphia School District plans to designate two additional schools, likely K-6 or K-8 elementaries, for conversion to charter schools in September, Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said Tuesday, making this the fifth straight year of the so-called Renaissance Charter Schools Initiative.

But the process will be significantly different this time. In the past, the District has chosen the schools to be converted and approved a set of providers, each of which made pitches to the school communities. Each School Advisory Council (SAC) then voted on which provider to accept.

For this round, the District will match a provider with a school, and the "school communities" will then vote on whether to accept the choice or remain under District control. Athough the schools will have SACs, the goal is to have all parents at a designated school participate in the vote, Kihn said.

In a call with reporters, Kihn said that the changes in procedure were made in response to feedback from parents and community members involved in past Renaissance conversions.

"We heard it was difficult for them to draw fine distinctions among the operators, and the more meaningful choice for them was whether or not to be a Renaissance charter conversion," Kihn said. Now, "the school community will have a choice of a particular operator or remaining a District-run school."

If the community votes down the conversion, "it will remain a District-managed school, but that’s not to say the school is going to be the same, or business as usual," he said.

The District has asked charter school operators to submit their Request for Qualifications by March 24 and said the affected communities would vote in April. The exact procedure for the voting is still to be worked out, he said.

The District has not yet named the schools, but expects to do so within the next two weeks. "We are in the process of reviewing the lowest-performing schools," Kihn said. Because of the way the finances work, only schools with at least 550 to 600 students will be considered.

The School Reform Commission will vote on the matches and the charters at its May 15 meeting, Kihn said.

The community will have at least two opportunities to interact with the designated operators and will also be able to visit other schools run by the same operator. He said that anyone can apply, but only those operators "with a proven track record of success" will be considered.

Kihn acknowledged that because the process this year is getting off to a late start, "at this point in the year, we are not sure which operators have the capacity and the willingness to engage" in the process.

Since 2010, when the initiative was launched, 20 District schools enrolling about 15,000 students have been converted to charters.

In a statement, Superintendent William Hite said the Renaissance initiative has worked, providing "good neighborhood options to students and families in some of our lowest-performing neighborhood schools."

A report evaluating the Renaissance initiative that was released late last year determined that only two providers, Mastery and ASPIRA, seemed "to be on track for achieving substantial improvements in reading and math proficiency."

The report showed that since 2010, when the program started, all 20 schools have improved climate indicators, increasing attendance while reducing serious incidents and student suspension rates.

Eleven of the 17 schools in the first three cohorts have achieved double-digit increases in math proficiency on state tests, the District said, but the first cohort has been the most successful. Those schools have average increases in proficiency of 13 percent in reading and 19 percent in math.

David Limm contributed to this report.

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