This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted not to renew two charter schools, including, for the first time, one of its own hand-picked Renaissance charters Monday night.
Delaware Valley Charter High School (DVCHS) and Universal Bluford both received notices of nonrenewal.
DVCHS CEO Ernest Holiday pushed back on the numbers gathered as a part of the Charter School Office’s evaluation process, including math proficiency of less than 30 percent for the last three years.
"The recommendation does not adequately reflect our 2013-2014 graduation rate," said Holiday, who said the graduation rate for that year was higher than 98 percent.
Holiday and Commissioner Bill Green also debated that school’s $190,000 debt to the District which, according to the Charter School Office, DVCHS accrued by continually overbilling.
Ten other schools had their charters renewed: Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School, Independence Charter School, Mastery Charter High School, Mastery Charter School Harrity Elementary School, Mastery Charter School Mann Elementary School, Mastery Charter School Smedley Elementary School, Mastery Charter School Thomas Campus, Northwood Academy Charter School, People for People Charter School and Universal Daroff Charter School.
Two other schools — MaST Community Charter and Imhotep Institute Charter High School — received belated renewal notices after a back-and-forth about renewal terms.
In the long and hairy charter-authorizing process, Universal Bluford’s nonrenewal is a test case for Renaissance charters.
‘We needed a turnaround in a turnaround’
Unlike a standalone charter school, a Renaissance charter takes an existing public school and turns over the administration of the school to a District-selected charter operator. The hope, via the School District’s website, is to bring about "dramatic improvement in student achievement" through the change in a school’s administration.
The vote to not renew one of these Renaissance charters poses the question: What if that improvement isn’t dramatic enough?
SRC Commissioner Feather Houstoun drew out this point in the public discussion about the non-renewal of Universal-Bluford. "I was struck with the notion that we needed a turnaround in a turnaround."
According to that school’s administrators, they are committed to academic growth and they’ve put in measures to ensure less tangible parts of school performance already.
"We address many of the realities that challenge today’s schools and educators," said Universal’s senior executive vice president of education and former School District administrator, Penny Nixon. "Cultural disconnects, disengaged students, poverty, too much unstructured time, violence and unsafe schools," she said, are just some of what the school is trying to address.