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Mastery gets $9.6 million federal grant to expand

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

Updated with information on Scott Gordon interview

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has awarded Mastery Charter Schools a $9.6 million federal grant with the goal of opening 12 new schools over the next five years as a part of the department’s Replication and Expansion for High-Quality Charter Schools program.

These new schools would serve an estimated 6,800 students.

Mastery now serves about 12,000 students in grades K-12 in its schools in Philadelphia and Camden. The charter management organization operates 17 schools in the two cities, 11 of which are turnarounds of low-performing public and charter schools.

"The quality of the education and the teaching Mastery provides starts with the expectation that our kids have unbounded potential,” Mastery CEO Scott Gordon said in a press release. “The DOE award validates the effort and results our students have attained."

Mastery’s grant proposal says the goal is to have schools in Delaware and Washington, D.C., in addition to Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The money will be used to plan, design, and implement new charter programs, but Mastery said it will also be using the money to evaluate the effectiveness of its existing charters.

Under the District’s Renaissance turnaround initiative, schools are converted to charters but continue to operate as neighborhood schools with a defined catchment area. For the first cohort of Renaissance charters authorized in 2010, Mastery was the only provider that had all of its Renaissance charters renewed after its five-year review. Other providers, including ASPIRA and Universal, have had difficulties, with at least one charter not recommended for renewal or in limbo.

Gordon, in a statement, said that Mastery’s Renaissance schools “are able to bring kids back to their neighborhood school, so rather than seeing a community asset closed we are able to work with families to breathe new life back into that school. The turnaround results have been dramatic.”

In late September, Superintendent William Hite announced that he would recommend to the School Reform Commission that three additional elementary schools be turned over to outside charter providers as part of the Renaissance initiative – Jay Cooke in Logan, Samuel Huey in West Philadelphia, and John Wister in Germantown. All are within a mile of a Mastery high school, but Hite downplayed the significance of that.

A community process is underway in which the District says parents will be able to help choose a provider. Meetings so far have been contentious, and there has been pushback over making a decision to privatize school management before getting input from community stakeholders.

According to Mastery’s press release, the federal funds can be used “to expand enrollment at existing charter schools or to open new charter schools based on the model for which the eligible applicant has presented evidence of success.”

Update: Gordon spoke about plans for the grant in an interview Thursday.

In total, 12 charter management organizations and eight state agencies across the country received $157 million in grants as part of DOE’s initiative.

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