Defenders of Public Education speak at the New Charter Applications Hearing, December 20, 2019

Click on the individual’s name to read a transcript of his or her testimony

 Topic: High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter School Application (HS2L)

Monique Adkins

Susan L. DeJarnatt

Lisa Haver

Angela Iovine

Maddie Luebbert

Erika McFadden

Bob Nelson

Sally O’Brien

Coleen Orr

Ilene Poses

Emanuel Ramos

Lynda Rubin

Topics: HS2L and Joan Myers Brown Academy

Karel Kilimnik

Stephanie King

New Charter Application Hearing: Friday, December 20, 2019

by Lynda Rubin   

This hearing presented two new charter applications to the Board: Heath and Science Leadership Academy Charter (HS2L) to be located at 5210 Broad Street, and String Theory/Joan Meyers Brown (JMB) Charter School to be located in Wynnefield.

Despite the fact that this was the first of only two hearings on these applications, and that this was the only one of the two at which public testimony will be heard, the date for this hearing was set for Friday, December 20th, at 4:00 pm–for many the last day before the extended Christmas holiday. APPS members, in testimony at the December Board meeting and in emails to the District, protested this date. The Board did not accede to this request, stating that they were hemmed in by the State’s deadline and that public testimony could be submitted in writing.

Community Fights to Be Heard

Real public engagement means not only allowing educators, parents and community members to attend meetings and speak on important issues, but encouraging them to do so. Putting a banner on the website (2 clicks in) is hardly a substitute for real outreach from the Board.  Being heard and seen as a unified force is far more powerful, obviously, then sending in written testimony seen by a few people. Organizing by APPS and others brought out local school principals, District staff, neighborhood organizations and others who spoke in opposition to both new charters.

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People for People Applies for Second High School: Frederick Douglass Charter High School

By Lisa Haver

Frederick Douglass Charter High School
700 North Broad Street and 1415 Fairmount Avenue    19130
Francisville
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

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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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