Friendship Whittier Charter

By Karel Kilimnik

Friendship Whittier Charter School (FWCS) is a proposed K-5 elementary school to be located at 3001 No. 27th Street in the former Whittier Elementary (closed by the SRC in 2013 due to under-enrollment).

Overall concerns include missing Attachments; the lack of connections to the West Allegheny community; the lack of parent involvement; funding of their School Leader/Principal with a grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership; this Charter School Management Company is clearly based outside of Philadelphia in Washington, DC.

Friendship Whittier will open in August 2017 with 350 students K to 2nd grade; 450 in K to 3rd grade in FY 2019; 570 in Pre-K to 4th grade FY 2020; 670 Pre-K to 5th grade FY 2021; and 695 Pre-K to 5th grade FY2022(pg 44). Whittier Elementary was closed in 2013 for being under-enrolled, raising the obvious question of where will this charter’s  students would come from.

Catchment and Public Schools Affected

FWCS defines its area as North Philadelphia (pg. 44). The only named school is T.M. Peirce.  FWCS claims to be working with a group of parents from Peirce who “are dissatisfied with the school results and are afraid it will close”. The other elementary schools in 19132 include Ethel B. Allen Elementary, 3200 W. Lehigh Avenue; Richard Wright Elementary, 2700 W. Dauphin; and Rhodes Elementary, 2900 W. Clearfield Avenue.

Philosophy and Curriculum

According to their application  (p. 3), “…the curriculum of Friendship Philadelphia has three primary components: 1) a solid foundation of core academic subjects, 2) a world exposure program to prepare students for both extended learning and participation in the global community, and 3) college level coursework connected to career study.  Instilling students with a strong core education is considered crucial so use of research-based core curriculum materials is partnered with deep training for teachers in a standards-based curriculum implementation process.” [Bold added]

FWCS’s emphasis on college completion at such a young age leaves no room for students with other interests and abilities.

Concern: Why would an elementary school, Pre-K to fifth grade, put an emphasis on college level coursework? This is not developmentally appropriate.

Friendship plans to use Wit & Wisdom, supplemented with guided reading, phonics and phonemic awareness for its Reading program; Eureka Math;  and Zula Science.

The application refers to assessments that are described more fully in Attachment 4. This Attachment is missing as is every Attachment listed in this Application.

The application (p.5) states: “Teachers in schools supported by Friendship are trained to apply the current research on instruction to best meet the needs of the students in their classrooms. “ However, there is no description of how this training will happen. (pg 12)

On p. 15, Friendship states that it will involve several third parties in afterschool activities but gives no specifics.

Founding Members Backgrounds and Connections

“The founding coalition has been made up of local founding governing board members, Friendship Education Foundation (FEF) foundation staff, FPCS staff, Philadelphia parents, community based non-profit organizations, and business owners, churches, and local partners” (p.26) .  There are no specifics given as to who these people are nor who FW has connected with. No details are provided and no parents or neighborhood members are on the Founding Governing Board. This coalition of participants is especially puzzling when they use terms such as “community school”.  There are no clear links to the Whittier neighborhood.

Donald L Hense, founder of Friendship Charter Schools, made over $350,000 in 2013  for overseeing 3,800 students. Can we expect this kind of inflated administrative salaries for their Philadelphia school?  Hense is well connected – he was Director of Development for the Children’s Defense Fund; VP for Development at the National Urban League (NY); and on the Board of Directors of the Center for Education Reform.  He founded Friendship Public Charter Schools with the help of Chris Whittle, founder of Edison Schools.

Also listed is Joe Harris, the Chief Operating Officer and National Executive Director of the Friendship Education Foundation. Their website provides limited information. Patricia A. Brantley, recently appointed CEO is also listed as a Founding Board Member. All three reside outside of Pennsylvania.

Community Stakeholders

The FWCS definition of  “Community Stakeholders” is perplexing.  Community Stakeholders usually have a direct connection to the community. Neither the Chicago-based Citizens Group nor the Louisiana-based 4th Sector Solutions, both listed as Community Organizations (p. 28), appear to have ties to this North Philadelphia community. Charter Management will be subcontracted to 4th Sector Solutions (p. 41). According to its LinkedIn page, “ 4th Sector Solutions was founded on the idea that 4th sector organizations — that combine elements of private, public and non-profit entities — have unique capacity needs that can best be served by an organization focused on supporting their non-core activities. Charter schools are 4th sector organizations. They are non-profit corporations that receive public funding, but operate much like private sector organizations.”

Joe Kenney, Founder and CEO of 4th Sector, worked at Edison Schools and in 2010 served as a peer reviewer in The Race To The Top Competition for federal funding. 

Concerns: Why are these called Community Stakeholders when they will be charging for their services? Community stakeholders include The Citizens Group, a pro-charter group in Chicago founded by Joseph Butler, a former Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) staffer and 4th Sector Solutions.

Board Members Backgrounds and Connections

There are three Founding Governing Board members. At the January 9th Charter School Hearing, held at school district headquarters, Friendship declared that Issac Ewell is no longer on the Board. However, the “founding coalition” includes not only the three Founding Governing Board Members but Friendship Education Foundation ( FEF)  staff,  Friendship Public Charter School (FPCS )staff, and the following unidentified groupings – Philadelphia parents, community based non-profit organizations, and business owners, churches, and local partners (p. 26).

Gregory T. Burrell is President and CEO of the Terry Funeral Home in West Philadelphia.  He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Urban League of Philadelphia.  He has been involved in major financing, helping to raise more than $6,000.000.00 to fund the acquisitions of funeral homes for a Wall Street firm. He does not live nor work in the Whittier community.

Reverend Cathy M. Johnson is a native Philadelphia resident who has served as Assistant Pastor of Triumph Baptist Church in Germantown for twenty years; she does not live or work in the Whittier neighborhood.

Issac Ewell sits on the boards of Boys Latin Charter School and Big Picture (Big Picture has been chosen to operate Vaux High School as a Contract School); he is Chair of the Wissahickon Charter School Board. Ewell served eight years as director of the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunities (BAEO). Funding for BAEO comes from the Gates Foundation as well as the Walton Family. They are staunch supporters of charter schools, vouchers, and other privatization schemes in the name of parental choice. Presently he leads the High-Quality Black-Led Charter School Initiative of BAEO.

Means of Teacher and Leader Recruitment

No Principal is named in this application. There is a statement that the School Leader’s position will be funded by a start-up grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership (p. 29).  The selection of the “school leader/principal will be conducted by an outside HR firm.” There is no mention of how much this will cost or where the money will come from once the PSP grant ends. 


FWCS appears to be very top-heavy in management positions, and it is unclear where this item fits into their budget. Who is paying? Remember that the recently retired CEO Donald L. Hense made over $350,000 for managing a school with 3,800 students.

“FEF will employ three local staff to support their CMO work in Philadelphia. FEF staff will include: State Executive Director, Director of Academic/Performance, and a School Resource Coordinator. The Executive Director will be responsible for: responding to governing board needs; overseeing contracted work/support services vendors; supporting the school leader/principal in the day-to-day operations of the school and staff; fundraising, external communication/marketing; and developing and managing strategic partnership partnerships. The Director of Academic/Performance will provide curriculum; data management/reporting; instructional staff professional development; and leading classroom/teacher observations and performance evaluation. The Resource Director will be responsible for: supporting school administration; board communication and meeting support; fundraising and development; communications and marketing (website, social media, and press/media); enrollment management; and, managing strategic partnerships and funder relations. The FEF staff will be housed on-site at the school, if space permits. If not, they will maintain professional offices in the Philadelphia”  [sic]

4th Sector Solutions is also named as a Community Stakeholder, yet on p. 41 the application states that FEF intends to subcontract with them for non-academic support to include “provide operational oversight and training, a finance team, human resources support, high level accounting including accounts payable, and other operational services as needed”.