Board Must Deny Perseverance Leadership Academy Charter School Application

by Lisa Haver

Once again, we hear the applicants for a new charter school–this year Perseverance Charter–raise the issue of escalating gun violence, implying that more charter schools would stem the violence.  How crass to use this crisis as part of a pitch to privatize public schools and have private entities gain control of public assets. In the 25 years since the first charter was established in Philadelphia, we have seen an explosion of gun violence and the murder of more of Philadelphia’s young people every year. More charters obviously do not mean less gun violence.

Perseverance Leadership Academy Charter School
5720 Media St, 19131 (former Bluford Building) 
5630 Vine St, 19139 (former Daroff Building)
Grades K-8; Enrollment at scale 1,296 students 
Target zip codes:  19131, 19139, 19151
Opening date:  August 2023
Bluford Current CEO Deshawnda Willimas; Principal James Thompson
Board members:  President/Chairperson Dr. Deshawnda Williams, Vice-Chair Mark Davis, Chair of Facilities Joel Seay, Chair of Human Resource Cheryl Seay.

The district Charter Schools Office evaluation shows the application’s deficiencies in all areas–academics, organization and finances. There are many reasons why the district’s Board of Education should deny a charter to the applicants representing Perseverance Charter. First is the deceptive nature of the request itself. The applicants want to operate at two different locations in two different zip codes, with separate faculties and administrations. This is, in reality, a request for two schools, not one.  (Although the applicants don’t seem to know that the buildings are in West Philadelphia when they claim that the two schools are “in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, both Daroff and Bluford…anchor their respective locations.” PLACS application, p. 10) 

The PLACS representatives, as listed on the application and seen at the official hearings, are the same people responsible for the chaos at Daroff and Bluford elementary schools in the past year.  Both schools had been already placed in non-renewal for failing to meet academic, organization and financial standards. After Universal Companies abandoned both schools, members of the individual schools’ boards took over operation of the schools.  None of this was deliberated on or even mentioned at any Board of Education meeting.  Students and families were left scrambling to find a way to get their children into a school on the first day. One parent told the Inquirer that they were being “stonewalled” by the people on the Daroff/Bluford board. 

It is disturbing to read of the many promises of “community engagement” in this application when they are the same people who refused to explain what was going on to the parents of both schools. The CSO evaluation notes that the applicants do not even acknowledge their history:  “…the Applicant does not acknowledge that Universal Daroff closed and surrendered its charter prior to the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year or that Bluford Charter School agreed to close on or before June 30, 2023.”

Looking at the applicants’ history gives the Board a rare preview of how the school would actually operate. The fact is that the people on this board have been in control and they, like Universal before them, have failed to provide an adequate educational experience to the students of this catchment area.  Both schools have been placed in non-renewal status by the board. The applicants identify themselves throughout as the Bluford/Daroff board.  Thus they are responsible for the failure to meet standards in recent years, the chaos in the weeks before the first day of school, and the stonewalling of parents.

The CSO evaluation calls out Perseverance for its edu-jargon in the opening pages :  “The Applicant utilizes buzzwords commonly used in the education field to explain the educational philosophy of the proposed Charter School.” Board of Education President Streater, in recent interviews, decried the “copy-and-paste” charter applications that the Board has rejected over the years. The CSO notes that the application often substitutes vague platitudes for detailed information. The CSO evaluation cites deficiencies in almost every part of this application: curriculum, ELL program, extra-curricular activities, school climate and culture, and student supports. The CSO evaluation concludes:  “The Applicant does not operate a charter school that would serve as a model for replication for the proposed Charter School.” 

The applicants have given the Board no reason to approve the Perseverance application.