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SRC renews 12 charters and denies 2 in May vote

Photo: Benjamin Herold

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

The School Reform Commission on May 11 renewed the operating agreements of a dozen charters and denied renewals for two, including a Renaissance turnaround school.

At a special meeting, the SRC voted 4-1 not to renew the charter of Universal-Bluford Elementary, a 600-student Renaissance school in West Philadelphia operated by Universal Companies. Founded by music mogul Kenny Gamble, Universal runs six turnaround schools in Philadelphia plus Universal Institute Charter School. SRC members expressed concern about slow academic progress at Bluford.

The other charter not renewed was Delaware Valley Charter High School. The SRC cited poor academics and questionable finances.

Of the seven schools in the first cohort of Renaissance schools that were turned over to charter managers five years ago, just four have had a clear path to renewal. The SRC voted to renew three elementary schools operated by Mastery – Mann, Smedley and Harrity – plus Daroff, another Universal charter.

Votes were delayed on two others – Stetson Middle School, operated by ASPIRA, and Young Scholars Frederick Douglass – amid indications that the charter office is recommending nonrenewal for both of them.

The other schools that the SRC voted to renew are Folk Arts Cultural Treasures; Mastery Charter High School; Mastery-Thomas; Northwood Academy; Independence; People for People; Mathematics, Science & Technology (MaST); and Imhotep Institute.

The SRC, on the advice of its charter office, imposed conditions on almost all the renewals that address such issues as admissions policies, services for English language learners and special education students, and the operations and transparency of their governing boards. In the case of Imhotep, whose renewal decision was long overdue, the SRC required turnover of the board and staff to the team at Sankofa Freedom Academy. Imhotep had been under investigation for standardized test cheating.

The nonrenewal vote is the first step in a process that can go on for years as charters exercise their right to appeal to the state Charter Appeal Board and to the courts. With the addition of Bluford and Delaware Valley, six of the 84 charters in the city are now in a closing process. Truebright Science Academy, Imani Education Circle, and New Media Technology are contesting the non-renewals, while Arise Academy, founded to educate foster children, has agreed to close in June.

Another charter that the SRC sought to close, the 1,200-student Community Academy, won its case with the state Charter Appeal Board in May after a lengthy legal battle with the SRC over its operations and academic performance.

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