Schools land on the list based on the ratio of enrollment and reported "dangerous" violence. Two years worth of data are considered.
Reported violence was down in the Philadelphia School District overall in 2011-12, officials said - the rate of violent incidents per 100 students dropped slightly, from 2.72 to 2.66. The number of violent incidents decreased 4 percent, to 4,059.
The district has struggled for years to keep its schools safe. In 2011, The Inquirer's investigative series "Assault on Learning" found that violence in district schools was widespread and underreported, with more than 30,000 incidents over five years.
District officials have introduced multiple changes since then - from altering the way incidents were reported to putting more emphasis on violence prevention.
Chief Inspector Myron Patterson, head of the school police force, said the message has been clear.
"Consistent, sound leadership," Patterson said. "The principals set the template at the beginning of the school year - expectations for the students. And we can't diminish what the students did. The vast majority of the kids are very compliant."
One school that came off the persistently dangerous list chalked up the change to a culture shift. Gratz, which the district gave to Mastery Charter Schools to run last year, was consistently one of the city's most dangerous schools under district management.
But now, "we're strict," Gratz principal LaQuanda Jackson said Wednesday. "We're not going to be ashamed to say that. We told the students that we believed they were better than what the numbers show."
That means no hall walking during instructional time - use the bathroom during class change or wait. That means show up to class on time, or face consequences. It means come to school in uniform, or go home. (That was the policy last school year. This year, students out of uniform will be taken to a room with extra clothes and asked to change.)
There were rules at the old Gratz, students said, but they felt more like suggestions.
"Now, it's more than just a rule on a sign, just saying it," said Alexus Hill, a Gratz senior. "They mean it."
There was plenty of push-back from the school's 1,200 students, administrators said. They didn't get to a good spot right away, and more progress is needed.
Gratz still has metal detectors, unlike most Mastery secondary schools. It kept the devices at the request of parents, but the intent is to get rid of them when the community feels comfortable.
The change wasn't just about rules and metal detectors.
"We had high expectations, but we also had high support," Jackson said - social workers, counselors, community outreach specialists, a social emotional learning class, after-school activities such as lacrosse and student government that didn't exist under district management.
Mastery schools rely on private fund-raising to supplement their per-pupil allotment, so Gratz has resources not always found in district schools.
In her first two years at Gratz, Briana Jackson, no relation to the principal, would routinely fight, cut class, walk the hallways, mouth off to teachers. On the first day of her junior year, at Mastery's orientation, she got thrown out for bad behavior.
"Reality smacked me in my face. It's not worth it anymore," said Jackson, who now has plans to study nursing at Howard University.
Senior Dane Washington can hardly believe the change in his school. "I was so used to seeing fights every day," Washington said. "Now you turn the corner and people are really trying to get to class, not just hanging out."
Mastery, at a news conference Wednesday, highlighted its gains, both in safety and academics.
Both Gratz and Clymer - Mastery's other first-year Renaissance, or district turnaround, school - posted state test-score jumps of about 10 points each in reading and math. (At Clymer, 43 percent of students met standards in math, for instance, up from 32; at Gratz, 20 percent of students hit state goals in reading, up from 11 percent.)
Mastery CEO Scott Gordon said the organization has "closed the achievement gap" at Harrity and Mann, former district schools that Mastery took over in 2010. There, he said, students' math scores are now the same or better than the state average.
"To have this type of progress is amazing," Gordon said. "Yes, it can be done."
Critics of the charter movement argue that organizations like Mastery and others have much more flexibility to get rid of problem students, but Mastery said there was less turnover on its watch.
At Gratz, Mastery said, 23 percent of students withdrew last year, fewer than the 36 percent who withdrew in 2011 under district management. And at Clymer, 8 percent withdrew, compared with the district's 19 percent 2011 figure.
Universal officials are also proud of their schools' progress, they said.
At Audenried, long a trouble spot for the district, "I think they had lost control of the school," said Rahim Islam, chief executive officer of Universal Cos. "They allowed a few people to take over and create a negative situation."
Universal's approach, Islam said, is clear - rules, consistency, support, compassion. There are fewer out-of-school suspensions, more listening to student input, town-hall meetings to discuss issues.
"You can't change the climate in one year," Islam said, "but we're moving in the right direction."
Read The Inquirer's "Assault on Learning" series, which won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, at: www.philly.com/schoolviolence
Contact Kristen Graham
at 215-854-5146, email@example.com,
or follow on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly
School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.