This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
At a contentious meeting marked by angry outbursts and high drama, the School Reform Commission approved five new charter schools Wednesday night, rejecting 34 of 39 applications.
The five members were caught between a rock and a hard place — between a Democratic governor who wants no new charters and a Republican legislature that does, and facing a sharply divided community. Charter advocates and charter opponents both claimed to have the best interest of students and families at heart.
While charter operators fervently made their cases for creating new and better choices for some students, others said any money spent on charters would deprive others in already depleted District schools of more vital services such as nursing and counselors. Anti-charter activists regularly disrupted speakers, and four were arrested and cited for disorderly conduct for their part in a planned protest at the moment the SRC took its first vote to grant a new charter. The SRC ordered all signs removed, spurring cries that First Amendment rights were being breached.
The SRC walked a fine line between considering each application on its merits — as the law requires — and acting with the District’s financial condition in mind. The commissioners said that their decisions would not negatively impact the budget next year and would do so minimally after that, but added that financial impact did not enter into decisions on individual charters. They approved 2,684 new seats, close to the number in two charter schools that closed this year. Detailed rationales outlining the deficiencies they cited for each application were not made public, but are due to be released Thursday or Friday, District officials said.
Other activists not so dead set against any charter growth urged the SRC to tell Harrisburg it would consider no new charter applications until there was a fair state school funding formula and Harrisburg put back in the state budget a line item to help charter-heavy districts defray some of the costs.
The SRC’s vote ended up satisfying no one. While the activists blasted the SRC for approving five new charters, representatives of the Philadelphia School Partnership walked out of the meeting in stony silence, refusing to comment. PSP is the privately funded group that offered $35 million to the District to approve more charters, saying the money would defray some of the "stranded costs" that come with the creation of each new charter school. Anti-charter activists called the offer a "bribe," and it is still not clear what will happen now regarding the offer.
Following is the live blog of Wednesday’s meeting.
Midnight Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan issued a statement saying that the five new charters "are still five more … than the District’s budget can handle." He said that the approvals "will increase the amount of the current budget deficit. … The SRC’s decision will make conditions in our schools even worse."
He noted that the SRC, citing budget constraints, sought to cancel the PFT contract and unilaterally change health benefits. Yet it has "made a decision that will cost millions of dollars and could negatively impact our city’s children and communities for years to come."
10 p.m. Three women and one man were arrested, and each was given a summons for disorderly conduct for their part in the protest in the front of the room after the SRC’s first vote to grant a new charter. Their identities were not immediately available.
In total, the new charters will have 2,684 new seats, said District spokesman Fernando Gallard. But the fiscal effect will be minimal, because two charters closed this year with nearly that amount of students, and the approved KIPP school was, in effect, already operating.
Charter applicants left disappointed and mystified, and the SRC is likely to face several appeals.
Marc Mannella of KIPP called it a "sad night" and "a good night for lawyers." He said that the board would have to decide whether to appeal to the state Charter Appeal Board.
In effect, KIPP was not granted a new school, but allowed to maintain and grow enrollment at a school that already exists. It originally sought to open KIPP DuBois in 2010, and after that was denied, the charter operator opened it as an annex of KIPP North. It now enrolls 280 students over KIPP’s allotted cap, seats that are being paid for directly by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. With its action last night, the SRC certified this as a separate school that can grow its enrollment to 500 in three years. This was not a win for KIPP: "We can’t serve any additional students," Mannella said. "We will serve the students we’re already serving [so] there’s no relief.”
All four schools proposed by String Theory were denied. Said CEO Angela Corosanite, "We have 4,800 children on a waiting list, and we did our best for them. There is nothing we can do. We received 8,100 support messages in the past four days.” Added Jason Corosanite, the chief innovation officer at the charter organization: "I felt that we had four excellent applications, and we look forward to the appeal."
David Hardy, CEO of Boys’ Latin, sought to open Girls’ Latin. The application was denied. He told WHYY/Notebook reporter Bill Hangley that he definitely planned to appeal the decision.
Dr. Malika Savoy Brooks, a founding member of Innovative Dimensions STEAM Academy, said, “We all worked for the School District at one point; we’re not a company, we’re educators who wanted to do right by the children.”
Representatives of the Philadelphia School Partnership, which offered the SRC $35 million to approve "high-quality" charters, left without commenting. PSP executive director Mark Gleason was on the speakers list and in the room, but he did not speak during the often raucous meeting.
9 p.m. SRC chair Bill Green says that the financial impact of approving five charters next year is none: Most of the charters won’t open until 2016 and total seats don’t exceed the seats in charters that closed this year.
Green repeats that each application was considered on its merits. The charters were all for three years; that is plenty of time to see whether they are successful, Green says. He wants to evaluate charters annually.
Asked about potential appeals, Green says: "We believe we ran a high quality and thorough process, and our decisions will stand."
Marjorie Neff, the only commissioner who voted "no" on all charters, said that she found deficiencies in all of them. She said that she did not consider financial impact on each individual vote, but said: "We elaborated over and over again about need for a full fair funding formula, charter reimbursement comes back, and charter special education costs are handled fairly. These things all exist, regardless of what we did tonight."
Green elaborates that "we absolutely need" more funding to implement Superintendent William Hite’s plan.
Green said that he hopes "we won’t be in this situation every year."
8:45 p.m. The meeting adjourns. Out of 39 charter school applications, five have been granted with conditions: Independence Charter West, KIPP Dubois, MaST Roosevelt, Mastery Gillespie, and TECH Freire.
7:45 p.m. First three charters are denied: ACES and two American Paradigm — in Oxford Circle and Port Richmond. Votes unanimous, except SRC chair Bill Green votes yes on American Paradigm in Port Richmond.
ASPIRA Betances charter: Unanimous to deny.
Belmont Charter High School: 3-2 to deny, Green and Farah Jimenez vote to grant.
Congreso Academy Charter HS: 3-2 to deny, Sylvia Simms and Jimenez vote to grant.
Esperanza Elementary: 4-1 to deny, Jimenez votes to grant.
Franklin Towne Charter Middle School: Unanimous to deny.
Friendship Charter: Unanimous to deny.
Germantown Community Charter: 4-1 to deny, Simms votes to grant.
Girls’ Latin: 4-0 to deny, Jimenez abstains.
Global Leadership: 3-0 to deny, Jimenez and Green abstain.
Green Woods at Overbrook Farms: 4-1 to deny, Jimenez votes to grant.
Independence Charter High School: 4-0, Jimenez abstains.
Independence Charter School West: There is a motion to grant with conditions. It would serve 800 students K-8. Conditions include: slower growth plan, with 500 students by third year. There are other conditions not enumerated. Vote is 3-1, with Neff voting no and Jimenez abstaining.
At this first yes vote, a contingent of opponents moves to the front of the room and chant: "SRC, we’re no fools, you’re destroying our public schools." Disruption continues for several minutes; protesters escorted out of the room.
Innovative Dimensions in Education STEAM Academy: 4-1 to deny, Simms votes to grant.
Keystone Preparatory Charter School: Unanimous to deny.
KIPP DuBois Charter: Feather Houstoun makes motion to grant with conditions: three-year agreement, serving 9-12, not K-12, begin with 280 students and have 500 students in year three. KIPP wanted K-12 school with 1,380 students. The proposed opening is 2015. Vote is 3-1, Jimenez abstains and Marjorie Neff votes to deny.
KIPP North: 4-0 to deny, Jimenez abstains.
KIPP West: 4-0 to deny, Jimenez abstains.
Leon H. Sullivan Opportunities Charter: Unanimous to deny.
Liguori Academy: Unanimous to deny.
MaST Community Charter School — Roosevelt: Motion to grant with conditions, including a three-year agreement beginning in 2016-17, serving only K-5 in third year, and overall lower enrollment with 400 students in year one and 600 in year three. It would locate in Lower Northeast. MaST wanted K-12 with almost 3,000 students. Vote is 4-1, with Neff voting no.
Mastery Charter School — Gillespie: Motion to grant with conditions, it will serve K-5 rather than K-8, enroll 504 students by year three, not 756 as proposed. If Mastery is given a Renaissance charter, it will surrender this charter. Vote is 3-1, Neff votes no and Jimenez abstains.
Mastery Charter School — North Philadelphia: 4-0 to deny, Jimenez abstains.
New Foundations Charter School — Brewerytown: Unanimous to deny.
Phase 4 America Charter School: Unanimous to deny.
Philadelphia Career and Technical Academy Charter: Unanimous to deny.
Philadelphia Music and Dance Charter: Unanimous to deny.
Philadephia Career and Technical Academy: Unanimous to deny.
String Theory Charter School — East Falls: 4-0 to deny, Green abstains.
String theory Charter School — Grays Ferry: 4-0 to deny, Green abstains.
String Theory Charter School — Port Richmond: 4-0 to deny, Green abstains.
String Theory Charter School — Southeast: 4-0 to deny, Green abstains.
Sustainable Roots Academy Charter School: Unanimous to deny.
TECH Freire Charter School: Motion to grant with conditions. Three-year charter beginning in 2016-17 for grades 9-12, slower student growth, but to full request of 580 students. 4-1 to grant, Neff votes to deny.
Partnership School for Science & Innovation – MaST: 4-1 to deny, Jimenez votes to grant.
Pavilion Charter School for Exceptional Students: unanimous to deny.
Urban STEM Academy Charter School: unanimous to deny.
7:30 p.m. Like many of the other speakers, John Tremble focused on the economics of the situation. “I’ve got nothing against charters. … I’m going to ask you to defer your decision until you actually have the money, the fair funding formula, the problems with the charter funding mechanisms are fixed, and you get the charter tuition reimbursement restored.” He alluded to “other forces at work” beyond students, parents, and staff, and warned the SRC that “when you make your vote, we’re all going to understand what side you’re really on.”
7:15 p.m. Peggy Savage of the Caucus of Working Educators asks that the SRC return to bargaining table with the PFT. She calls opening charters the latest fad, saying they go years without accountability. Savage says the District needs to equip schools with the resources that prominent schools have. Why is the SRC turning over a District building to anyone willing to slap a fancy name on it? she asks.
Bridgit Walsh, a 5th-grade teacher at West Philadelphia Achievement Charter, says that “after 13 years, our charter school has established itself in the community.” She says it “feels like more than just a school; we’ve grown to become a family.” Walsh adds that she’s “heard so many parents say that they wish West Philadelphia Achievement had a middle school.” Entrepreneurial Academy, she says, will teach students things no other school will: how to start, operate, liquidate their own businesses from 6th to 12th grade.
Laurada Byers, chair of Philadelphia Charters for Excellence, urged unity at the meeting. “I am pro-public education. I am not for or against charter or District schools. Instead, I am in favor of great schools — period. we should not spend our time and energy quarreling amongst ourselves. There are too many good, smart, and passionate people in this room who essentially have the same goal in mind. … We should be just as aggressive in supporting and expanding schools that have a [good track record]” and “we should be united in our efforts, not divided.”
Jana Muhammad, a parent with one student in a “a great charter school” and one in “a great District school” said that the solution is simple: "We should invest in the excellent schools and allow them to expand, whether they are District or charter, and we should fix or close the schools that are failing, whether they are District or Charter.”
Aaron Bass, the founding school leader at KIPP Dubois, spoke about KIPP’s successful track record on improving graduation rates and student performance. He said that “we have been joined today by over 200 students, parents, faculty in support of our schools here and outside” and urged the District to approve new charters immediately. “The time to wait is over, the time to act is now. We have viable solutions.”
7 p.m. Helen Gym, activist and at-large City Council candidate, says the SRC “pleaded poverty to abrogate the contract and undo collective bargaining.” For it to even consider the reckless expansion of charters in the backdrop of school closings, no libraries, and the loss of other services is “morally repugnant and economically insane. … We are not asking to pit schools against one another, we are asking for a common sense approach” to managing city schools.
Gym notes that students have been “tragically thrown out” of charters that suddenly closed and decried charter expansion as a “zero-sum game.” She also urges an end to allowing charters to target certain zip codes because that “pits charters with private funding against disinvested public schools struggling to keep their families and keep confidence.” To cheers from members of the audience, she urges the end of the Great Schools Compact. “Call Harrisburg’s bluff. There should be no expansion without full fair funding and [state] charter reimbursement. We need to see leaders stand up for this school system.”
Gym, who has been endorsed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, gets the first standing ovation of the night, with PFT president Jerry Jordan visible up front.
6:50 p.m. Adam Weaver of Lea Elementary says his kids love it there, but he gets bad feedback from other parents. He says the school has diverse classes and great resources, but has been challenged with absorbing new students due to the closing of Wilson Elementary and having three principals in three years. It is rebounding with dedicated staff and parents, but might look like a failing school if new schools open in West Philadelphia. A new charter will draw students away from Lea, and it will lose students, teachers, and resources. “District schools have many challenges, but the one thing they need is stability.”
Hanna Nunez has a son at Global Leadership Academy charter and praises the school. “He has had experiences he would have never been exposed to at other schools.” She says the school, which includes student trips, has opened her son’s eyes and provided a very healthy and safe environment. She urges the SRC to approve its application to open a high school.
6:33 p.m. Bob Previdi, a Masterman parent, said that he is concerned that charters are a “distraction from fixing current schools.” The offer of $35 million from the Philadelphia School Partnership is “perpetuating a bad situation.” He says that while there are plenty of examples of good charter schools, they don’t represent minority or ELL students like District schools. “My vote is to say no, because I don’t see where this ends.”
Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) urges the SRC not to approve any charters, because that will not ensure a thorough and efficient education for students who remain in District schools. He says charters don’t fully serve students who need special education services. “Until or unless the District can ensure that charters serve all students, even those with disabilities, you shouldn’t approve any. … There is no need under current law to grant charters under this situation. Doing otherwise would betray students.”
Tom Sauerman, a volunteer at Mifflin Elementary, speaks against a new String Theory school in East Falls. The proposed site, he says, is located on a dangerous road, putting neighborhood children who walk at risk. “It’s difficult for me to imagine there are adults who would select this school site knowing that child are forced to walk in the road with cars nearby.” Three dangerous elements: lack of sidewalks, so that children are forced to walk in the street; narrow railroad crossing that all pedestrians have to pass through; and children walking near a SEPTA line may be tempted to try to beat the train.
Karel Kilimnik, a member of the Alliance for Philadelphai Public Schools, asks Green why security took away signs. But Green has left the room. She also asks why the SRC members are even there, inmplying that the SRC has already made a decision. "Where are the public deliberations that the SRC had on the expansion?” She asks what PSP’s donors are hiding and says the SRC should not approve any applications. She challenges Green on saying the SRC “will follow the law." "Show us where charter apps have to be accepted?” she says. The SRC needs to stand for the District and needs to be as courageous as schools who stood up last year and refused to turn into charter schools, she says. She urges the SRC to ask Green why they took the signs. She waits for answer, but doesn’t receive one from the SRC.
6:20 p.m. Deborah Grill of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools said that public schools are the cornerstone of democracy and that any money put into charters would be the death of public schools. Schools like Munoz-Marin rejected charter takeover last year, she says, and the SRC is pressured to open more charters, citing the offer from PSP. No more than bullying and bribery, she says — the interest of outsiders has more to do with money and power than the good of students. “If you approve charter applications, you will have turned your back on public school children.”
David Lapp of the Education Law Center tells the SRC that neither the charter law nor the case law regarding it requires the SRC to approve all charter applicants that meet basic requirements, as SRC chairman Bill Green has said. To the contrary, he says, since the District was declared fiscally distressed and the state constitution requires that the state provide all students with a thorough and efficient education, “the impact of charter expansion on all students should be the most important consideration of all.” Anything else, he says, is an “absurd” interpretation of charter law. He said that there has never been a judicial holding that a fiscally distressed district cannot consider its fiscal condition in considering charter applications. There has never been a case involving a district “that has been fiscally distressed, had to cut resources, shut down neighborhood schools, had inadequate counselors, and had to bear the burden of stranded costs” caused by charter creation.
Lapp runs out of time, but he says to the SRC that there is “no risk” in taking into account fiscal considerations. “If you lose, you lose nothing, you are just back where you started.”
Timothy Boyle is a teacher at Chester Arthur Elementary, one of four schools selected for internal redesign. He questions which students a new String Theory school would serve, noting that its current demographic composition doesn’t match the District’s. “Who does the school intend to serve?” He says that there will not be community support for a charter near the school.
Lauren Summers, a parent of a 1st grader at McCall, started the Facebook group Philly School News and has been working hard to improve neighborhood public schools. “We don’t need charters to send the message that ‘Philly’s schools aren’t worth it.’ The SRC should invest in schools where children “experience fear and neglect … that charters won’t fix.”
6:05 p.m. Karen DelGuercio, founder of MaST and former longtime principal of Strawberry Mansion, is a change of pace from the mostly anti-charter speakers on the list. She says that she originally wanted to do the MaST model in that neighborhood. She says that a new MaST in the Lower Northeast would have a diverse population, drawing from a changing neighborhood. “By approving MaST Roosevelt, you will be improving the diversity in that area of the city.” She adds: “I worked for the District for 30 years, I empathize with what is going on. I don’t understand why still in Sysyphean context, where no one wins and only the kids lose."
Public schools activist and retired teacher Lisa Haver starts: “Charter schools are not better than public schools.” She complains about security taking away signs and says that the SRC has violated the Sunshine Act by meeting in private. “Tonight we witness another example of the SRC failing to deliberate in public.” She says that voting tonight will be “all for show” and a vote for charters “violates the wishes of the community.” She ends saying: “The SRC cannot in good conscience vote to destroy the public school system. No SRC member can make any choice that would result in the destruction of this school system.” Invoking the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King, she says, “The SRC cannot follow a law that is an unjust law.”
Molly Michel has a daughter at Southwark and is neither pro- nor anti-charter, but thinks SRC needs to provide fair education for all students. She moved from New York City and had no thought of feeder areas for elementary schools, but heard over and over that charters were better or she should move to suburbs. She heard about a dual-immersion language program at Southwark, 20 minutes away, and decided to switch there. “I found Southwark remarkable, because I had been conditioned to believe that public schools were not good enough. The school is thriving,” she said, adding that middle schoolers are learning coding with community partners and her daughter learning to read in two languages. "Word is spreading that we are investing in our school.”
Melissa Wild is a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and a mom with two children at Jackson Elementary. She repeats the mantra of most of the speakers: “There is one obvious conclusion: The School District cannot afford any more charters. SRC should vote no on all new charter applications, because anything else is financially irresponsible.” She says the budget cuts left Jackson with a nurse once a week, no assistant principal, low supplies. “I cannot stand by and watch my children’s education be threatened any more.” She formed Friends of Jackson “to create schools that everyone can be proud of." She pleads to the SRC for no more charters so other children’s education won’t suffer.
5:55 p.m. Chairman Bill Green almost forgets about the public speakers. First up is Carolyn Adams, a faculty member at Temple and immediate past president of PCCY, who said that many of the applicants for new charters have existing schools that serve fewer minority and ELL students than the District as a whole. “Today the most urgent issue is the funding implications that any charter expansion with have … Conditions in the School District of Philadelphia have hit an all-time low.” Students have suffered with layoffs and budget cuts, creating larger classrooms and lower supplies. The cost-benefit analysis doesn’t work, she said: If the benefit is giving more choice to some students, “the cost will be paid by a whole different group of children.”
Susan Gobreski of Education Voters PA: “We must reject the notion that some people care more about children than others. … As a community, we have to stay together to figure out how to benefit all kids. As someone who believes charter schools can pay a positive role, we have to say no right now.”
Gobreski says that the District “has to assert its right to plan. … We need a longer-term educational plan in conjunction with the city. … We cannot lurch from decision to decision based on who just won a leadership position in Harrisburg. … This includes saying no when it’s tough.”
She warns the SRC: “You cannot please and cannot appease Harrisburg. … There is no decision you can make … if you think you can throw them a bone and they’re going to do anything for us, you’re wrong. They think our kids are not what their kids are worth.” Her time runs out. As audience cheers, she tells SRC members to approve new charters only after Harrisburg comes up with a new, fair education funding formula.
Retired teacher Rich Migliore comes to speak for all public school children and Philadelphia as a whole. He asks the SRC to "do the responsible thing and reject all chart applications, because we can’t afford them." Says approving new charters will deprive children of necessary resources for years to come. He asks the SRC to listen to PCCY, educational voters, and APPS advocates: “What they say is compelling and logical.” He ends by saying, “The essential question is and will always be: Whose school is it?”
5:47 p.m. Dr. Arlene Holtz, the former principal of Wilson Middle School in the Northeast and board chair of Mariana Bracetti Charter in the Frankford neighborhood, is involved with the K-12 Sustainable Roots Academy Charter School in the Kensington neighborhood. The new school would serve mostly low-income Latino and African American students. The new school would serve a similar demographic in the 19125 zip code. “We will improve the life chances” of students. Cohort graduation rate was 91 percent. “We make a positive difference in the lives of our students. … Our community knows us, trusts us, and supports us.”
Anthony Harris, a parent of a student at Freire Charter, speaks for the proposed 9-12 school TECH Freire Charter in Glenwood, Northeast Philadelphia. He says Freire has a state SPP score over 70 and sends students to college. It is holding its lottery today and has 900 applications for 9th grade, but only 80 spaces. “Without access to quality education, what are the prospects for our city?” he asks.
Ben Persofsky is a Center City resident that has asked MaST to open a school there for the 2015 school year that will help keep middle class parents in the city. He says that a new school can be socioeconomically diverse. In Philadelphia, 237 of more than 300 city schools have low-income populations above 70 percent, and only 22 of them get high SPP scores, he says. "While inconvenient financially at the moment, the time is now…this could pave a new future for the city.”
Ayannah Fitzgerald speaking for Urban STEM Academy, which will affiliate with the national organization, USA charter. The new charter would serve grades 5-12 in the West Oak neighborhood. Fitzgerald makes another plea for a more STEM-focused school. “We as nation, city have to afford more roles. We are here because USA charter can create leaders with mobile apps, 3D printers.” She says being technologically proficient is especially important for students of color. Her son attends a STEM program and says young children who attend a session on Saturday ask that it be extended to their daily learning. “We need USA charter so children can compete with the rest of the world.”
5:30 p.m. Michael Adler is board chair for the proposed K-12 Philadelphia Music & Dance Charter School in Walnut Hill. Adler said their vision is to nurture high-level artistic talent and they will partner with Lionel Richie, who has “chosen Philadelphia” for his first performing arts school. It would be located in the old West Philadelphia High School. He said students’ “varied needs” would be served while they pursue artistic endeavors. It would have a “pre-professional” track for which students would audition, but would not be required to follow.
Wendy-Anne Roberts-Johnson speaks for the PHMC Preparatory Charter School, a K-12 slated for the Spruce Hill neighborhood, which would work with students who have learning differences in literacy and math. It would use blended learning and strive to be the “go-to” school for students with learning differences. The school would support the “whole needs” of students and their families. She says it would serve 1,000 students and be located in the 19143 zip code and also use project-based learning and an “umbrella of services,” including a health center and on-site psychologist.
String Theory wants to open four new K-12 charter schools — in Port Richmond, Southeast, Grays Ferry and East Falls. Founder Angela Corosanite is speaking for all of them. The District’s arts and science schools had “10 times the demand than capacity,” she said, and because they have criteria-based admission requirements, many students have been excluded. “We can help increase capacity for these programs.” String Theory already partners with the District and got a 1,400-student expansion in 2012. The four schools would enroll 600 students in the first year in K-5, eventually having 1,300 K-12 students by 2022. String Theory has turned around Edmunds Elementary, she said, and operates a K-8 school in South Philadelphia and a high school in Center City.
Audience seeks to interrupt her presentation. Dan Symonds, PFT building representative for Munoz Marin and the Caucus of Working Educators, shouts “Free speech still applies.”
5:15 p.m. John Swoyer of MaST cites the academic results of the existing MaST school in the far Northeast, including a “top SPP score.” He says that the new school in the Somerton neighborhood would potentially serve 485 low-income students and could be potentially the most diverse K-12 in the city. “MaST is Philadelphia. We have achieved despite growing poverty. … We want to be part of the solution, if you will allow it.”
Scott Gordon now up for two new Mastery elementary schools in North Philadelphia. The new schools would create a K-12 pipeline in the neighborhood. Gordon cites increased test scores in 10 turnaround schools that Mastery already runs. “There is a strong need in the areas we would like to serve,” he says. Says that Mastery seeks to be a partner both to the community and the School District and to operate schools as Renaissance schools in order to minimize the financial impact on the District.
Parent Claire Richardson says that she homeschools her autistic son, a 4th grader, and refuses to send him to a District school. Her son started at Meade, and it was “failing,” she said, and has since been on a desperate search for a school. “A thriving neighborhood school will not only help my son but transform the neighborhood,” she says. She asks the SRC for “help…we are the parents on the waiting lists.” She says that the vote will make a difference for thousands of families.
Paul Stadelberger, founder of New Foundations Charter, wants to open a new school in the North Philadelphia area of Brewerytown, the 19121 zip code. The existing school is not just a school of academic success, but nurtures the “whole child.” This neighborhood has been underserved, he said.
Ronald Burling is chairman of the board of trustees for the proposed PHASE 4 America charter school. He wants students to be “confident and connected.” He describes himself as a entrepreneur and says he is “passionate” about hiring the right people to work with the students. He gives very few specifics.
Darrell Caston of Redemptive Enterprise speaks for Philadelphia Career & Technical Academy, which would be located in Germantown. “We know what the need is. Philadelphia’s future is at stake.” He says that there only two viable high school options for students in 19144 and 19140 — most students must travel either to Martin Luther King or Roxborough, both of which he says are underperforming. He says the team behind the school has experience raising money and he is sure the school “can meet every financial challenge.”
4:52 p.m. Dr. Claudia Lyles speaks for Keystone Preparatory Charter, a K-12 school in Tacony. She says that 3,000 signatures from local residents are on a petition and that the local councilman and police district are in support. Lyles said the new charter would replicate the current Keystone Academy, which has an SPP of 81.8.
Danielle Freeman, a senior at a KIPP school, speaks in favor of opening KIPP Dubois Charter. She chokes up as she describes her time as a homeless student. She says that KIPP leaders helped her “get through this time.” She says she is now 21st in her class and has taken five Advanced Placement classes.
Parent Toya Algarin speaks in favor of a new KIPP North. “I knew the staff would treat my children as if they were their own. … I never experienced a partnership like that.” When her son was hit by a car, she said, KIPP stood by her and her son, who needed more services to be successful after a traumatic brain injury. “He has improved beyond the expectations of many.” She reports that her son has received a high enough score on the ACT test to attend Morehouse.
After the personal stories, Marc Mannella, CEO of KIPP, tells the SRC that as he sees it, the law requires that it approve new KIPP schools based on its record. Among KIPP’s accomplishments: More students are on the wait list than enrolled, parents are satisfied with quality of education, students are more likely to attend and complete college. “Our data show the more time students spend at KIPP, the more academic gains they make.” Mannella cites the “legislative intent to improve learning, increase opportunities, and expand choices.” The final criteria is that a charter be a model for other public schools; he says that KIPP “invented the longer school day” that has been widely copied. He concludes: “Everyone knows that we are a qualified provider.”
John Chapman speaks for the Leon H. Sullivan Opportunities Charter. “We chose the 19121 zip code, because that is where the pain is.” He said they have successfully operated my programs, including those in a women’s prison, and would plan community investment programs, which would be used to fund scholarships. “The community knows who they are and what we mean to them.” He is interrupted by singers of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” standing around a man holding a “Freedom of Speech” sign.
Michael Marrone, who has taken a leave from the priesthood to run Liguori Academy as a charter rather than the originally planned Catholic school, says that the school will help students who have “less than 1 percent chance of graduating high school.” He says that this “mission has chosen us,” and that the school hopes to work with the School District to provide new and unique services to the “most disengaged students in the city.”
While he is speaking, audience members are noisy and dismissive.
4:40 p.m. Disruption continues through the beginning of speaker for a proposed new Independence Charter High School. The speaker touts “hands-on experience” and a seasoned staff. She also speaks on behalf of Independence Charter School West, which would be a new K-8 school in West Philadelphia. Independence now has a popular charter school in Center City, which has a dual-language immersion program. The new school would also have such a program, she says.
Tracy Scott speaks on behalf of Innovative Dimensions STEAM Academy, a proposed 6-12 school that would open in the fall of 2016. The mission is to empower female students and impact their “intellectual and social needs” and focus girls on science, technology, and arts. Audience members begin disrupting her proposal.
SRC member Farah Jimenez asks to speak and chastises people disrupting presentations. “We will listen with great intensity to every speaker, but if this is the model for what public discourse should look like," they might want to contain the outbursts. Audience member shouts: “You want to open more charter schools while we don’t even have toilet paper.”
Chairman Bill Green asks for respect. People shout even louder. Most are from Action United.
4:30 p.m. David Hardy, CEO of Boys’ Latin, seeks to open Girls’ Latin, an all-female K-12 school proposed for the 19143 neighborhood. He urges SRC not to look only at test scores, but on ability of students to get into and succeed in college. “We send more African American boys to college than any high school in Philadelphia,” says Hardy. “We have changed the game for college enrollment for African American males in Philadelphia.” His time runs out before he is finished.
Naomi Booker speaks for Global Leadership Academy International Charter, a K-12 in the Overbrook neighborhood which she said would send students on international trips. She says it will build on the success of its existing charter and that parents need other options besides private schools. Action United woman shouts at her from the audience, trying to drown her out.
Stephanie Kindt, an attorney and parent, speaks for Green Woods Charter School in Overbrook, a K-8 school proposed to open in the 2016 school year. Audience patience starts to break down and the noise begins to drown her out. Describes environmental focus of proposed new school. The existing Green Woods school is much more White and has fewer students of color than the District at large.
4:15 p.m. Barbara Moore Williams, a former District principal, is the first speaker on the proposed ACES Business Entrepreneur Academy Charter School. At this school, which would serve grades 6-12 in the 19151 zip code, she says, “literacy, mathematics, and science will take on a new importance” for students by connecting them with the real world. They will work with business mentors.
Second speaker is Jurate Krokys, founder of Independence Charter. Now with American Paradigm, she speaks for two proposed schools, one in Oxford Circle and another in Port Richmond. The Oxford Circle school will will help overcrowding in Carnell Elementary, she said, and will be willing to develop a partnership with Carnell. The Port Richmond school would be K-4 and would like to feed into the existing, American Paradigm-run Memphis Street Academy. She tells SRC that they amended the application and would be willing to become a Renaissance charter school.
Krokys said American Paradigm schools have a “proven track record in capacity to upgrade urban schools.”
Michael Karp, CEO of Belmont Charter in Mantua, cites the great success of his school in one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. He took over Belmont Elementary before there was a formal Renaissance program. He wants to open a high school charter serving grades 9-12.
Cynthia Figueroa speaks for Congreso Academy Charter High School, which she says will provide a full educational continuum, starting with elementary school and going through to college. “We believe we are a unique applicant.” Congreso runs Pan American Academy in the 19133 zip code, a neighborhood that the proposed high school would also serve.
David Rossi of Esperanza, which now runs a high school, says that the organization wants to open an K-5 elementary school. He cites the school’s high rating on the School Performance Profile.
Patrick Field speaks in favor of Franklin Towne, which now runs a high school, to open a middle school that would serve grades 5-8. Field notes that the existing Franklin Towne charter has a high SPP score.
James Waller introduces the Friendship Public Charter School, a K-6 that would serve the 19132 neighborhood. This is a national organization that has worked in several other cities since 1998, including Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. He says that the schools have a high graduation rate. “Friendship Schools are well managed schools.” He is a Philadelphia native and a Central High School graduate.