Charter operators named for six Philadelphia schools

Posted: March 17, 2011

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission on Wednesday adopted School Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman's recommendations and named three charter operators to run six low-performing schools, despite the protests of some teachers, students, and community members.

Mosaica Turnaround Partners of New York City will run Martin Luther King High School and Gen. David B. Birney Elementary School, Philadelphia's Mastery Charter Schools will operate Simon Gratz High School and George Clymer Elementary School, and Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania will take over Olney East and Olney West High Schools.

All will become Renaissance charter schools in the fall. They will continue to enroll neighborhood students, but the operators will select their principals and teachers. The SRC expects to vote on the individual charter agreements next month.

Mastery and Aspira were given other schools in the first round of Ackerman's initiative. Mosaica operates schools around the country, but King and Birney will be its first city turnarounds.

In other action Wednesday, the commission - without comment - unanimously approved a resolution that nullifies past policies to give the Ackerman administration a free hand in laying off nonunionized district employees.

The district has said it plans to reduce its central office staff of 1,000 people by about 30 percent because it faces a budget gap of more than $400 million.

Throughout the five-hour meeting, 30 people weighed in on the school plans. Several lauded the charter operators' track records and said drastic changes were long overdue. Other criticized the charter conversions and complained about the selection process.

"Questions raised by students, parents, and community members at recent district-wide meetings have not been answered satisfactorily," said teacher Lisa Haver. "For these reasons alone, the commission must vote against the massive restructuring of this city's public schools."

Ackerman reminded commissioners that they had made a commitment to dramatically overhauling low-performing schools when they approved the Imagine 2014 program two years ago.

Preliminary academic results from the first-round schools have been encouraging, and Ackerman said the district could not wait until it had received state standardized-test scores this summer.

"We have no other choice," she said. "We can't wait. The kids can't wait."

Diane Castelbuono, an associate superintendent, said the six schools had been matched with the first or second choice of their School Advisory Councils.

She said the district could not allow Olney West to become a Promise Academy, and be run by the district with extra resources. She said the district, which already had 10 schools slated to become Promise Academies, could not add Olney.

Democratic State Rep. Dwight Evans, who represents part of Northwest Philadelphia and has long been involved with Martin Luther King High School, reminded the commission that King had been part of a northwest educational plan for a decade and had been working for years with nonprofit Foundations Inc.

He said King and its feeder schools should be part of a "Promise Neighborhood."

He said later that he was disappointed with the vote to hand King over to Mosaica.

"I felt like that in the direction we were moving, we were making more than progress," Evans said.

Both inside and outside the auditorium, many students and teachers stood in mute protest.

Some with duct tape over their mouths held small signs saying "Silenced" in support of Audenried High School English teacher Hope Moffett, who was removed from her classroom after she raised questions about plans to turn the school over to Universal Cos. Inc.

Some complained when they were not admitted to the packed auditorium and were directed to an atrium to watch on a closed-circuit television monitor.

Charters Taking Over Schools

Mosaica Turnaround Partners

The New York firm runs 79 school programs

in eight states and the District of Columbia

in the United States

and in the Middle East.

It gets Martin Luther King High School and Gen. David B. Birney Elementary School.


Charter Schools

The Philadelphia company operates six former district schools as charters.

It gets Simon Gratz High School and George Clymer Elementary School.

Aspira Inc.

of Pennsylvania

Part of the Aspira Association, a national Hispanic nonprofit that focuses on helping Hispanic youth, it operates Stetson Middle School.

It gets Olney East and Olney West High Schools.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or

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