by Karel Kilimnik
At the Board’s inaugural meeting last July, many new Board members made a commitment to transparency and community involvement. Agenda Items, alas, do not reflect these promises. In September 2018, the Board posted documents related to Action Items, including a list of new hires and terminations, City of Philadelphia documents on Authorization of Keystone Opportunities Zone, and the conditions for approving the new MaST Charter School. The Action Item descriptions were much fuller and more descriptive than the paltry information presented since then. The fact that the Board posted Contract Summaries, which we had asked the SRC to post many times, seemed to be a fulfillment of their commitment to transparency. Unfortunately, that was the first and last time anything resembling a contract was posted. In October, the Board presented another Agenda format that actually had fewer details in Action Items. Also, despite our protestations, the Board has stopped providing paper copies of anything but the agenda at Action Meetings, making it impossible for the public to follow the discussions (if any) and votes on Action Items. The Board places three binders at the back table with a warning not to remove the materials. So are members of the public supposed to sit in the back if they want to know what is going on? Is this their idea of transparency? These are public documents and the public has every right to take them. The Board should provide adequate copies. Unfortunately this parsing of information continues today resulting in a lack of transparency. Their descriptions are uninformative and we continue to question what few nuggets of information are provided to the public.
Superintendent Hite continues to outsource services to vendors instead of building the capacity of District staff. We continue to remind him and the Board that there is a wealth of experience and knowledge within both the teaching and the school support staff. Building on these strengths would lead to greater teacher retention. When people feel respected and listened to, they do not feel the need to leave. Many ESOL teachers have come to both Committee Meetings and Action Meetings to praise the professional development provided by WestEd QTEL (Action item 34). Hopefully the Board will listen and approve this Action Item.
Three charter school applications are going to be considered for approval at this meeting (Action Items 4,5 & 6). The District’s Charter Schools Office has issued reports which enumerate significant problems with all of the applications. The District cannot afford to spend almost $119 million over the next five years on unnecessary charters. Our aging school facilities are in dire need of repair. Those millions could make a dent in the estimated $4 billion needed to bring every building up to code. The charter law makes it difficult–but not impossible–to shut down a failing charter, so approving a charter would mean at least a ten-year financial burden on the District. If the Board takes its promise to improve the opportunities for the schoolchildren of the city, then they have an obligation to vote no on these applications. (See the APPS charter reports here).
The next Board Action Meeting is Thursday February 28th at 5 PM. The community must come out to urge the Board to vote no more charters! If you cannot attend please submit written testimony by 5 PM Feburary 27 to email@example.com, telling the Board what your school needs but will not be able to afford if the District sinks another $120 million into new charters. To sign up to testify call 215-400-4010 by 3 pm on Wednesday Feb. 27th.
Click here to read the rest of the report
By Lisa Haver
Frederick Douglass Charter High School
700 North Broad Street and 1415 Fairmount Avenue 19130
Enrollment: Year 1, 2019-20— Grades 9-10, 250 students; Year 5— 500 students in grades 9-12
Cost to SDP for 5-year term: $29,741,677
Members of the People for People (PFP) organization have applied to open an additional high school, Frederick Douglass Charter High School (FDCHS), at two different locations—700 No. Broad Street and 1415 Fairmount Avenue.
The opening narrative of the application enumerates issues that hinder student achievement, including “pervasive poverty…poor housing conditions….single parent households”, then goes on to imply that granting this application would solve those problems: “…FDCHS will be founded to serve as the innovative high school educational arm of People for People, Inc.—a community development corporation devoted to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty in the lives of North Central Philadelphia residents by providing them with positive alternatives to gangs, drugs, welfare, and crime.” The application states that allowing PFP to open a new charter will help to “break the cycle of intergenerational poverty”. It’s a lofty goal, and one that its existing charter, in operation for 17 years, has not made a dent in. The narrative asserts: “FDCHS will enroll students of all abilities and needs. Our goal is to ensure our students’ academic growth is consistently higher than the national average during the charter term.” That is doubtful in light of the fact that PFP has failed to do so in its existing school.
Concerns cited by the Charter Schools Office at the January 22 hearing include:
- Application lacks specific detail in many sections
- Text-messaging program is not coupled with human social workers
- Insufficient evidence of clear academic approach to subgroups
- Budgetary concerns
- Use of two addresses: 1415 Fairmount and 700 N. Broad
- Neither building is ready for use as a school
- Three members of Founding Coalition are employed by existing operator or related entities
- Section on Founding Coalition in application not complete
- There is no gym in the proposed floor plan
- Amount of credits required for graduation would be hard for students to complete
- In general, application failed to present compelling case for new charter
Click here to read the rest of the report
by Deborah Grill
Location: 3905 Ford Road (former Wordsworth Academy)
Neighborhood: Wynnefield Heights
Projected enrollment: 600 in year 1 (K-5); 900 (K-8) by year 4
Management Company: String Theory Schools
Cost to District for 5-year term: $49, 253, 959
String Theory Charter Management Company (STS) has applied to open a new charter school, the Joan Myers Brown Academy (JMBA), a K-8 school focusing on the performing arts in the Wynnefield Heights Section of Philadelphia. The school would be located in the former Wordsworth Academy building at 3905 Ford Road and would recruit students from the 19131, 19151 and 19139 zip codes. String Theory expects to enroll 600 students in year one in grades K-5 and 900 students by year 4 with the addition of grades 6-8. String Theory already operates the District’s largest charter–Philadelphia Performing Arts charter, a K-12 school located on 3 different campuses in 2 separate neighborhoods, in buildings owned by DeMedici Corporation and DeMedici Corporation II, companies that are described in a 2017 financial statement as “legally separate, tax-exempt component units of the School.”
The application for the for the new charter school states that “JMB Academy, as a K-8 String Theory Charter School, is dedicated to Growing the Next Generation of Creative Leaders. This new charter will build upon the successes of the foundational models of Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School and the Philadelphia Charter School for the Arts and Sciences at H.R. Edmunds.” The application also says, “In order to maximize the availability of quality education options in West Philadelphia, it is our belief that it is essential to have a local enrollment preference and due to the high demand of our school model believe there will be more than enough interest to meet enrollment estimates.”
Some of the concerns presented by the Charter Schools Office Staff at the January 22 hearing include:
- Materials omitted in Science and Social Studies curriculum
- No curriculum for the Arts or Technology despite the presentation as a school focusing on the Arts and STEM
- Inadequate details regarding geographic enrollment
- Inconsistent relations between String Theory Schools CMO and the proposed charter school
- Budget/salary/authority/health insurance details contain inconsistencies
- Inconsistencies on services to students with Special Needs and English Language Learners
- Insufficient information on renovation readiness
- Flawed analysis of the community and its needs
- Lack of inclusion of the 14 public and charter schools in the targeted zip codes
- Inconsistencies in staffing plan
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by Diane Payne
Tacony Academy Charter School at St. Vincent
7201 Milner Street 19136
Management Company: American Paradigm Schools
Proposed enrollment: 900 students at scale
Proposed cost to SDP for 5-year term: $39,837,160.
APPS members have attended all hearings and reviewed all applications and attachments on this year’s new charter applications, as we have done in years past. APPS is a member of the Our City Our Schools Coalition (OCOS). Both APPS and OCOS are advocating for a moratorium on the creation of new charters and the expanding of existing ones. The District cannot afford and does not need any more charters. Charter Schools represent the largest single item in the District’s budget–⅓ of the budget goes to fund charters. This causes direct harm to public school students as fewer resources are available to fix toxic buildings and hire more support staff. The Board has read and heard the legal opinions of several local attorneys, including Susan DeJarnett from the Beasley School of Law at Temple University, on the expense of charters, the many problems with the PA Charter Law, and the responsibility of the District to weight the financial health of the District when making decisions on charter expansion. APPS members have cited the opinion of David Lapp, who represented the Education Law Center and is now with Research for Action, in his testimonies; links to the opinions of both attorneys have been made available to the Board.
This report is on one of the three applications submitted this year: Tacony Academy Charter School at St. Vincent. There are several reasons the Board should reject this application, most importantly: negative financial impact on existing public school students, poor academic success over time in existing American Paradigm schools, and pressing financial questions and concerns that affect District stakeholders and all taxpayers.
American Paradigm Schools (APS) operates 4 charters in Philadelphia: First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter (K-12) in Bridesburg, Tacony Academy Charter in the lower Northeast (K-12), Memphis Street Academy at Jones in Kensington (5-8), and Lindley Academy Charter in Logan (K-8).
To read the rest of the report click here.