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SRC hearings on new charter applications continue on Monday

Four applications will be up for the second round of review at public hearings this month.

Exterior of the Philadelphia School District building.
Photo: Emma Lee/WHYY

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

The School Reform Commission will hold a second set of public hearings on four new charter applications this month, after the initial hearings in December. If all are approved, they would create more than 2,600 new charter seats over five years.

During each two-hour hearing, the District’s Charter Schools Office will present its evaluation of the charter application. Applicants will be questioned by District staff and a representative of the SRC before making a final statement. Although the public is invited to attend, attendees will not be able to participate or ask questions of the applicants.

The second set of hearings began Thursday, Jan. 5 at the Education Center, located in District headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. Those hearings will resume on Monday, Jan. 9, also at the Education Center, at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

The first applicant is Metropolitan Philadelphia Classical Charter School Inc., which seeks to open a K-12 school in Cedarbrook that would grow to 674 students in its fifth year. It would open in 2017-18.

The application states that the school’s mission is to give students “a rigorous classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.” The application does not provide a definition of moral character or civic virtue.

At all grade levels, the school places an emphasis on using the Socratic method — learning through asking questions and discussing as a group. Students will have music, art, and gym available as electives and can take Latin as a foreign language.

The high school curriculum includes one course at each grade level in “composition, civics, and philosophy:” composition as freshmen, an elective as sophomores, American government and moral philosophy as juniors, and 20th-century American history and economics as seniors.

Moral philosophy is described in vague terms on the application, which states the course will “shed light on the desirability of right living or the consequences of wrong living.”

The economics course would teach 18th-century classical economic theory rather than modern theories.

“The perspective of the Founders will serve as the guiding light,” the application states, referring to the Founding Fathers of the United States. The application describes the importance of teaching the benefits of private market transactions, and the consequences of transactions involving the state, which it refers to as “coercive transactions.”

The sequence of high school English courses would be Classical Literature for freshmen, then British, American, and Modern Literature over the next three years. The first two years of history are called Western Civilization; the first covers ancient Greece and Rome, and the second covers medieval and Renaissance European history. Juniors learn about U.S. history, and seniors about modern European history.

The curriculum does not include world history. Also notably absent is Philadelphia’s widely known year-long African American history course.

The second applicant is Deep Roots Charter, which applied to open a K-8 school in Harrowgate, just north of Port Richmond, serving 540 students by its fifth year. It would open in 2018-19 and says it is committed to closing racial and economic achievement gaps in a meaningful way – not only as measured by elementary and secondary standardized tests, but also through post-secondary degree attainment.

“Teachers will be coached more than 10 times as frequently as at even the highest performing schools around the country,” the application states, although it does not specify how many professional development hours this would entail.

Students will receive 60 to 90 minutes of targeted intervention — one-on-one time with a teacher — four days a week.

The curriculum is based on Pennsylvania Core Standards and includes extra time on math and literacy in the elementary grades. Students will also be able to take electives in visual arts and martial arts.

The third applicant is Friendship Whittier Charter, which seeks to open a pre-K through 5th-grade school in west Allegheny serving 695 students by its fifth year. Like Metropolitan, it would open next school year.

The application states that the school’s goal would be to have all students performing at “grade level mastery, regardless of socioeconomic status.”

They plan to do this using “research-based curriculum and instructional methodology that engages learners.”

The inquiry-driven curriculum requires teachers to assess the needs of individual students. “Students are guided through hands-on activities that emphasize curiosity, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking while working through the Common Core curriculum standards. Staff carefully monitor student achievement and build differentiated learning opportunities based on each student’s growth.”

The school will also create a Staff and Student Support Team, to “proactively identify and assist students struggling academically, socially, and emotionally.” The team includes teachers, parents, and related social service providers such as health care providers.

The school’s operator intends to subcontract its “non-academic support” to 4th Sector Solutions, a private company that would provide “operational oversight and training, a finance team, human resources support, high-level accounting including accounts payable, and other operational services as needed.”

The last applicant to have a hearing is KIPP Parkside Charter, which applied to open a K-8 school in the Parkside neighborhood of West Philadelphia. The school would serve 770 students by its fifth year, making it the largest of the four proposals. It would open in the 2018-19 school year.

KIPP runs a network of more than 200 schools nationwide. It already serves 1,780 students at its four schools in North and West Philadelphia and wants to add the new school to that network.

The new school will “serve as the foundation for a K-12 feeder pattern for children residing in the neighborhood, as it is our intention that students who promote from KIPP Parkside are able to matriculate to KIPP DuBois,” KIPP’s high school in West Philadelphia.

The application states that the provider’s “vision” is to have the network serve “over 4,400 students” in Philadelphia.

Like most others, KIPP’s application states that its goal for the school is to produce as many college graduates as possible.

“This starts with holding students to the most rigorous academic standards, while providing intense support for students who need it. With an extended day and year, we provide 60% more time for learning above the state minimum,” the application states. This creates more time for differentiated small-group instruction.

The school has support programs designed to target special education students, English language learners, and student who are economically disadvantaged, homeless, and below or above grade level. After the first year of operation, KIPP will hire a full-time social worker for the school.

Students will have an elective multiple times each week, choosing from music and art in the elementary grades, jazz band in middle school, and visual art in high school.

KIPP is known for its strict policies around grade advancement, and the new school will be no exception. Students with more than 30 excused or unexcused absences may be held back a grade, as well as students “not meeting expectations in one or more subject areas.”

The schedule of hearings:

Jan. 5:

9:30 a.m. – Metropolitan Philadelphia Classical Charter

1:30 p.m. – Deep Roots Charter

Jan. 9:

9:30 a.m. – Friendship Whittier Charter

1:30 p.m. – KIPP Parkside Charter

Location: Room 1075 in Philadelphia School District Headquarters, 440 N. Broad St.

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