Philadelphia SRC adds enrollment to three charters, approves new pacts for four others

Posted: May 13, 2012

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission on Friday authorized 2,031 additional seats in three charter schools over the next few years and approved new five-year operating agreements for four schools.

Panelists on the five-member SRC said the expansions were part of their new effort to increase the number of spots for students in high-performing schools. One charter will be allowed to more than double its enrollment.

During the special charter session, all the schools consented to abide by enrollment limits set in their new charter agreements. In most cases, the charters will focus recruitment efforts on specific neighborhoods where district schools have a history of poor academic performance.

Commission member Wendell E. Pritchett said drawing students from designated areas — rather than from across the city — would allow the district to plan charter growth and minimize the financial impact.

The new round of charter renewals was negotiated with the charter officials under a new approach that encourages written accords on enrollment caps.

“I think it’s a big day for Philadelphia,” Mark Gleason, executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, said Friday.

Coupled with last month’s announcement that the district was adding 2,000 seats in high-performing district schools, Gleason added, “the SRC is clearly saying, ‘We want to steer dollars and kids to our best-performing schools.’?”

The nonprofit partnership hopes to raise $100 million in five years to add 34,000 more seats in high-performing schools in the city.

Charter resolutions the SRC approved Friday included specific conditions for individual schools, as well as the following changes: • The Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School in South Philadelphia, which already has permission for 1,125 elementary students, will add 1,400 students over the next few years as it expands to a high school. The school has agreed to try to put the high school in the district’s north-central or south-central areas, which lack performing-arts options. • Wissahickon Charter School in Nicetown will add 536 students as it opens a second K-8 elementary. • The SRC had previously authorized Green Woods Charter in Roxborough to add students over the next few years until it is serving 675 students in 2016-17. • Prep Charter School in South Philadelphia received a new five-year charter but did not request to add students. • Franklin Towne Elementary School in Bridesburg will add 130 students as it expands to eighth grade. It will focus its recruitment on relieving overcrowding of nearby district schools.

Thomas Darden, a district deputy chief overseeing charter schools, said Franklin Towne agreed in its new charter to follow the admissions policy set by the district and drop a $35 administration fee it had been charging newly admitted students.

The SRC delayed voting on a new charter for Southwest Leadership Academy because members want more information about the elementary school’s academic performance. The charter office has recommended adding 56 seats based on a trend of academic improvements.

But commission members said they were concerned that the charter’s students were not performing better than those in nearby district schools.

“I guess I’m having a hard time getting past your track record,” SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos said.

The SRC has scheduled special Friday meetings through June 30 to consider charter renewals and expansion requests.

Commission member Joseph A. Dworetzky, who participated in the meeting by phone, voted against all the charter renewals and expansions because he said he had concerns about language in the resolutions.

Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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