Charter operators slated to take over 2 district schools

Posted: April 03, 2014

TO BE a charter school or not to be: That is the question facing parents in two North Philadelphia neighborhoods during the next month.

As part of an ongoing effort to turn around its lowest-performing schools, the School District of Philadelphia yesterday recommended placing Edward T. Steel Elementary and Luis Munoz-Marin Elementary into the hands of Mastery Charter Schools and ASPIRA of Pennsylvania, respectively. As part of the process this year, parents will vote on whether the schools become Renaissance charters or remain district-run.

District officials said Steel, on Wayne Avenue near Rowan Street in Nicetown, and Munoz-Marin, on 3rd Street near Westmoreland Street in North Philly, failed to meet expectations in several areas.

Those include standardized-test scores, the number of serious incidents reported and other growth measures. The schools were matched with operators based on the kinds of neighborhoods in which they have had success.

During the next month, the charter operators will meet with parents to present their plan, and parents will be encouraged to visit schools run by the operator. Meanwhile, the school's current leadership team will also share their turnaround plan to parents as an alternative.

Parents will then get two chances to vote, the first of which will be open to members of the School Advisory Council. The second vote on May 1 will be open to all parents.

"I think that our objective is to try to ensure that as many parents have a voice in what happens to their school and their school community as possible," Assistant Superintendent Paul Kihn said.

The district will consider the results of both votes before making a recommendation to the School Reform Commission at its May 15 meeting, Kihn said. There is still some uncertainty about how the process will unfold, he noted, including whether a second vote will even be held.

"The reality is that there is a lot of information we won't have until this actually occurs," he said.

Mastery and ASPIRA, which were among three Renaissance charter operators who responded to a request for qualifications, were chosen based on their proven track records in other district turnarounds, Kihn said. In Mastery's seven Renaissance charters, the percentage of students scoring advanced or proficient on standardized tests in reading and math has increased at least 9 percent. The two Renaissance schools run by ASPIRA have seen test scores rise at least 7.5 percent.

The news sparked mixed emotions from parents and staff at the schools. Kendra Brooks, president of the advisory council at Steel and co-founder of Concerned Neighbors of Nicetown, said she hopes to get as much information as possible from both groups to help parents make an informed decision.

"I'm really trying to stay neutral. I don't want to go one way or another," said Brooks, a longtime resident who has two children at Steel. "I want to have an open discussion with parents on best practices, whether it be a district model from the teachers or the Mastery model, which we've seen."

Steel, she noted, is Nicetown's only remaining noncharter elementary school. She called it "an injustice" for Steel to be considered low-performing given the school's lack of resources.

"They're taking teachers away, we don't have enough support staff, we don't have enough supplies," she said.

Natividad Rodriguez, a support-service assistant at Munoz-Marin, said the school's first-year principal has not had enough time to implement changes.

"She [needs] a little time," Rodriguez said. "She . . . just started. It's not as simple as people think it is."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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