Deep Roots Charter School

by Deborah Grill

All page numbers refer to the Deep Roots Charter School application.  You can access the application by clicking on the link embedded in the first sentence in the section below.

Catchment Area (p. 72)

The Deep Roots Charter School (DRCS) application states that it intends “to be a community school serving the needs of the Kensington community.” It intends to serve 540 students in grades K to 8.   The school will be located  in the Sheridan West Academy, 3701 Frankford Avenue, 19124, which was closed by the district in 2013.  DRCS catchment area includes the following zip codes: 19134, 19124, 19125, 19133,19122.   This charter intends to draw students from the same population as the following district schools:  John H. Weber, Richmond, Lewis Elkin, Phillip Sheridan,    H.A. Brown Academics Plus, William McKinley, John F. Hartranft, William H. Hunter, John Welsh, Francis E. Willard.

Concerns:  If Sheridan was closed for under enrollment in 2013, why open a charter school in its catchment area just 3 years later?  How will this effect enrollment at surrounding public schools?

We do not have access to the  many attachments with more detailed information.

Recruitment  (pp.74-78) 

DRCS has already started to recruit heavily from that area using a variety of grassroots and traditional marketing, and building relationships with community organizations and businesses.

Concerns:  The Charter School Office, at its hearing, questioned the authenticity of the parent and community signatures. In fact, the Hearing Officer said that the handwriting of the signatures on all of the interest forms looked the same.


The stated mission of the school is to is “…to teach motivated learners and to empower them to grow and serve in their community, in college, and beyond. We will work tirelessly to ensure that  all of our students are prepared to reach,  attend, and graduate from highly selective colleges and universities.” (p.1)

Although there is mention of Restorative justice, this appears to be a cookie-cutter no-excuses charter that relies heavily on the philosophy of charters like Uncommon Schools, Success Academy and KIPP.  The founders believe that excellent teaching is the single most important factor driving student achievement; therefore the focus will be on intensive teacher training using a coaching model developed by Jounce Partners.  The model is based on work being done at Relay GSE, Uncommon Schools and the Math Teacher, Paul Barnbrick-Santoyo’s Levering Leadership and Doug Lemov’s Practice Perfect.  Teachers will be coached several times a day.  In addition, they will receive 4 weeks of summer training plus additional staff development during the school year (p.44).

DRCS will make use the TNTP Core Teaching Rubric to define excellent teaching.

“Deep Roots Charter School Four Part Goal, describing the results of excellent teaching, is as follows: (1)Every student (2) observably engaging in (3) high quality thinking (4) at all times.

We expect that all students are engaged in thinking tasks at all times during class, we push for the same to be true even during non-class times like transitions and lunch, and we relentlessly train our teachers to make this ambitious goal a reality.” (p.46)

DRCS will be a Jounce Partner  school.  Jounce is an organization that provides a training program for school leaders and school teachers in “high needs schools.”  Jounce came into existence in 2012, and has work with existing schools on a partnership basis.  Jounce opened its first school in 2016.  DRCS will be the second school Jounce opens if the application is approved.  Local Jounce Partner schools include KIPP West Philadelphia Prep, Belmont Charter School, Wissahickon Charter School, and Vare-­‐Washington Elementary.  Jounce also partners with schools in Delaware, Washington, D.C. and Memphis.

DRCS has a Facebook page and a web page with little information on either.

Concerns:  “We expect that all students are engaged in thinking tasks at all times during class, we push for the same to be true even during non-class times like transitions and lunch, and we relentlessly train our teachers to make this ambitious goal a reality.”  Is there any down time EVER for kids?[1]

Teacher and Leadership Recruitment

DRCS intends to recruit its teaching staff with the help of MF Consulting (founded by a former director of HR for Mastery); Teach for America, Greater Philadelphia;  Relay GSE, Philadelphia/Camden; TNTP and PhillyPLUS; Teach For America, Delaware; and the local Jounce partner schools. (p.37)  The application mentions TNTP’s research on teacher training.

Concerns:  DRCS will rely on the questionable research of TNTP and Relay GSE for its teacher recruitment and training.  Their recruitment from PhillyPLUS also raised questions about the Philadelphia School Partnership’s involvement since it is a partnership between PSP and TNTP.

Founding Coalition and Board (pp. 32-33)

Logan Blyler, the proposed School Leader and founding coalition member, is a former Teach For America corp member with a total of  4 years, 3 months teaching experience at Eastern University Charter,  Freedom Prep, and Young Scholars Frederick Douglas. He is currently employed at Jounce Partners as a Partner and a Jounce School Launch Fellow.

Other founding Coalition Members consist of 2 parents of prospective students (Shelsy Espada, Karla Mercado); a community member who is affiliated with Cornerstone Community Church(Jonerik Santiago); the founder of Jounce Partners (Paul Dean); a teacher (Jon Garr).

Founders also include a number of  people with significant connections in the political and business communities in Philadelphia: 
Richard Binswanger, a Philadelphia School Partnership Board member ;
Sophie Bryant, a Program Director with The Reinvestment Fund and a former Chief of Staff to the SRC and former Chief of Staff to Bill Green when he was on City Council;  Brandyn Campbell, a Senior Manager for  Philadelphia’s Sister Cities Program;
Casandra Dominguez, Manager of Business Retention and Retail Attraction at the Center City District;
Jason Tucker,  Vice President of  Acquisitions and Development at the Goldenberg GroupSean Gallagher, founding CEO of a New Orleans charter and former Deputy Superintendent for Camden City Schools;
Steve Stoute, an associate at Philadelphia firm Dechert LLP

If the application is approved eight of the founders will transition to the Board of Trustees: Espada, Garr, Bryant, Campbell, Doninguea,Tucker, Gallagher and Stoute.    The remaining members will sit on an advisory board to provide technical assistance to DRCS.  the application states that the Board may choose to select a 9th member after the application is approved.

Concerns:  The proposed school leader, Logan Blyler, has had less than 5 years classroom teaching. He stated at the hearings that he does not yet have a principal’s certificate, but will enroll in a certification program so that he will have the certificate when the school opens.

 Sophie Bryant’s past employment with Bill Green and the SRC present a possible conflict of interest.  However, DRCS’s Conflict of Interest policy is an attachment to which we have no access. 

 We also question why board members of agencies that partner with the city are working to bring more charters to the city, thus further undermining the financial viability of the School District of Philadelphia.  The Center City Business District manages Dilworth Park on the West side of City Hall and  Sister Cities Park near Logan Circle.  The Sister Cities programs fosters relationships with Sister and Partnership cities in 10 different countries.

Curriculum and School Culture

DRCS will use “Eureka Math” and “Wit and Wisdom” ELA, both of which are used in other KIPP  schools (pp 9-10). The curriculum for Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, Visual Arts, Foreign Language and Martial Arts is briefly explained, but the details are contained in attachments to the application (pp. 6-9). These attachments are inaccessible on the Charter Offices website.  The  application states that DRCS will serve Special Education students as well as ELL students.

All students will be screened at least four times a year with the online literacy assessment program STEP, and online math CBMs ( Curriculum Based Measurements) and writing CBMs.  All students will also take the MAP test three times a year. (pp.16-17)  At risk and special-needs students we be assessed more frequently. (p. 78)

Weekly academic and behavior reports will be sent home to be signed by parents and “school-level, grade-level, and homeroom-level data will be shared during breakfast and lunchtime ‘shout-outs’ and presentations as well as in-class teacher-led presentations and data walls posted throughout the building.” (p.78)

 Deep Roots’ rallying cry for its students is to get “Temple Tested”  with the intent that all students will have the skills necessary to be accepted by a “highly selective post secondary institution by the time they finish high school.” This again mirrors KIPP whose Philadelphia KIPP schools use “Penn Tested” as their rally cry.  DRCS will use the ACT college readiness thresholds as a guide, but will add 2 points to each goal as their intent is to over-prepare their students. (pp. 25-26) Keep in mind that DRCS will be a K-8 school.

DRCS will develop students’ values and non-cognitive skills using the cognitive behavior methods of Dave Levin (co-founder of KIPP) based on the research by Martin Seligman (learned helplessness and positive psychology)  and Angela Duckworth (grit), and intends to focus on building student character through their martial arts and service learning programs. (p. 24)

Concerns:  Much of this seems to read like a page out of KIPP.   The research of Seligman and Duckworth have come under criticism.  There is controversy whether Seligman’s theories have been used to perfect torture techniques and questioning of Duckworth’s findings on the importance of grit to academic success.

The sharing of student data through breakfast and lunchtime ‘shout-outs’ and presentations as well as in-class teacher-led presentations and data walls posted throughout the building may result in the shaming of classes and students who are not doing well.

DRCS will use the following practices to develop a core culture: (pp. 21-22)

Deliberate Practice: “Students form habits by repeating very specific routines, with deep attention to details of execution, until those routines become automatic…All DRCS teachers are trained to lead students effectively through hundreds of repetitions of each of these routines in the most efficient and most joyful way possible, ensuring that each behavior becomes automatic and time for focused, engaged learning is maximized.”

Positive Rewards: “For grades K-2, students move up or down a ‘color chart’ based on their behavior and engagement. In grades 3-8, students receive a weekly ‘salary’ and can earn bonuses or deductions to that salary based on behavior and engagement…Teachers will be trained – through extensive repetitive practice and real-time coaching – to provide the appropriate messaging with these systems.”

Immediate and Logical Consequences:  “even the smallest behaviors that are not aligned with academic engagement and learning are addressed with standardized consequences…  All teachers practice delivery of these consequences to the point of automaticity, so that they are delivered without hesitation and without negativity.”

Urgency:  “Moving fast, getting a lot done in a little time, making every second count…Teachers and leaders use strategies of Positive Framing and “speaking challenge and aspiration” from Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion and “Let’s Try It” from Jounce Partners Key coaching Skills framework to infuse positivity into the constant push for urgency”

Martial Arts: “DRCS’s martial arts program will focus on fostering a student’s self-discipline and self-esteem through physical activity.”

Teaming with Families: “At DRCS, we will form a strong team between school, student, and family that is focused on a shared goal of preparing each student with the academic skills and habits of mind to reach, attend, and succeed at a top-tier college.”


Concerns:  Students and teachers are to be trained with the same repetitive practices method  resulting in automatic actions as opposed to thoughtful educational practices and thoughtful learning experiences.

While DRCS mentions restorative practices, the application describes a no-excuse culture similar to KIPP.  During the second application hearing Dawn Lynn Kaser, Director of the Charter School Office, stated that the school culture created by restorative practices  was the diametric opposite of that created by a no-excuses philosophy and ask how they reconciled that.  Paul Dean replied that they intended to take the best aspects of both.  For example, a student who was misbehaving would be removed from the classroom, taken to a dean and made to practice an acceptable replacement behavior until it was automatic (no-excuses practice).  The student would then be returned to the  classroom and apologize to the teacher and/or class or student committee (restorative practice).  He then stated that the no-excuses was intended more for the adults in the building.

 “Students with special needs will be held to the same high standards for behavior as all other students . . . . They will be supported . . . in successfully meeting those behavioral expectations.” (p.55), but will take student’s IEP into consideration.  No student will be excluded for longer than 15 days without a formal hearing (p. 56)—NOT IN COMPLIANCE??/[2]

Management/Service Providers (p. 61)

Jounce Partners—will provide support for school leader, coaches, teachers at no cost for 3 years.

EdTec—will provide back office support in finance, operations, facilities and student information and will be paid as follows for years 0 to 2: $9K in year 0, $115K in year 1, $125K in year 2.

No assumed non-public financial support except for a $240,000 in start up funding from Jounce Partners. (p.66)

Concerns:  Jounce Partners (jounce is a physics term dealing with acceleration) will provide in kind support fur 3 years at no cost—p. 61  What happens then?[3]

DRCS states that they have no non-public financial support other than the Jounce start-up funds.  Do they intend to solicit outside funding in the future?  If so, from whom?

[1] DeJarnatt, Susan.  “Preliminary report on school charter applications.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.