New Charter Application from String Theory Charters: Joan Myers Brown Academy

by Deborah Grill

Location:  3905 Ford Road (former Wordsworth Academy)
Grades:   K-8
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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