5 Charter Schools Proposed In City Their Focuses Vary From Culinary Arts To Construction. The School Board Will Vote On Each.

Posted: July 18, 1997

The recently enacted legislation allowing the creation of charter schools has spawned five proposals that could begin to alter the face of public education in Philadelphia.

One would be the ultimate consumer high school, offering medical care and social services, plus a solid academic load to city students who have been expelled or have otherwise fallen through the cracks.

Another would cater specifically to drop-outs, getting them back into the classroom and at the same time giving them on-the-job training in construction.

Still another would serve youngsters interested in the culinary arts, using social studies to determine how diet reflects economic class, or mathematics to figure how to expand a recipe intended for five into one that can be used for 500.

Such is the vision of what could be Philadelphia's first-ever group of charter schools. On Monday, five groups that have applied to open charter schools in the city this September will present their cases to the school board.

At the meeting, scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., the board will hear from those seeking to open the full-service high school, the construction-training charter school, the culinary arts school and two others: one designed around science and technology, the other emphasizing communications.

Charters are publicly funded schools that are organized and managed by private businesses or individuals and are free to ignore many mandates that govern traditional public schools. Over the last several years, they have been hotly debated among educators and lawmakers alike.

As the public wearies of chronic, widespread failure in public schools, states have been forced to consider new ways of doing business. And Pennsylvania has increasingly been part of that debate, just last month passing charter school legislation.

Now, efforts are under way in many of the state's 501 school districts to set up charters, tailoring them to the needs of the children in their communities.

``The model for the comprehensive high school was developed in 1957 . . . but, as you

know, things have changed greatly in those 40 years,'' said Tim Daniels, the State Department

of Education's charter school specialist ``Society's different, now our schools are

different. . . .

``It's a way to reconfigure schools to meet the needs of the students,'' said Daniels.

In Philadelphia, the five charter plans offer five different ways to meet those needs.

They are:

The Community Academy. Already a private school that serves some of the district's most troubled students, the academy would expand to include more students, more intensive college prep course work, and a host of services, including medical care and social services, for its students. Currently known as the Community High School, the nonprofit school has been serving youngsters in the city for 18 years.

Harambee Institute of Science and Technology. Produced in conjunction with the 24-year-old Harambee Institute - a nonprofit West Philadelphia community organization - the institute would focus on science and technology for grades K to 8. Designed by John Skief - a history teacher at West Philadelphia High School - the school would also focus on citizenship and community service.

The Philadelphia Academy of Culinary Arts. As a cousin of the JNA Institute, an associate-degree program that teaches culinary skills to recent graduates, the academy would do the same for high schoolers. The core curriculum would include a culinary arts theme. Students in a history class might learn Stephen Girard's introduction of French cuisine in Philadelphia; in mathematics, they would learn how to expand recipes.

YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. Founded in 1993, YouthBuild Philadelphia, a South Philadelphia organization, would offer on-the-job training in construction to those who have dropped out of high school.

World Communications Charter School. This charter school would focus on helping youngsters learn how to use technology and communication in the changing world. The Delaware Valley Alliance of Black School Educators is sponsoring the school.

The applicants will not know whether their schools have been approved until the board meets again to vote on the proposals Aug. 21. State law dictates that the applications cannot be approved until at least 30 days from the date they are first publicly presented.

At that time, the board could approve one or all of the schools or ask for more specifics on the plans. The public may find out more about the schools at a special hearing scheduled for July 28 in the board's chambers at the School Administration building, 21st Street and the Parkway.

Statewide, Daniels said, 97 groups applied for $25,000 charter school planning grants; 60 were awarded. Of those, 16 were from Philadelphia, and planners of only five of those thought they could have a charter up and running by the new school year and submitted applications by the district's July 15 deadline.

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