by Lisa Haver, Deborah Grill, Lynda Rubin
Clearly Inadequate Application Should Result in Board Rejection
High School of Health Sciences leadership Charter School (HS2L)
Proposed Location: 5210 North Broad Street (former Holy Child School)
Enrollment: 150 students Year one; 600 students at scale, Year 5
Estimated cost to District for first 5-year term: $29, 111, 817.
Estimated stranded costs to District: $11, 524, 500.
Founding Coalition Members
- Tim Matheney, Charter School Consultant, CEO Spire Leadership Group
- Sharifa Edwards, Manager of School Investments, Philadelphia School Partnership
- April Gonzalez, [consultant] Spire Leadership Group
- Kenric Chua, Creative Arts Director, Spire Leadership Group
- Geordie Brackin, CEO, Brackin Placement Group
Proposed Board Members
- Laura Siminoff, Dean, School of Public Health, Temple University
- Geordie Brackin, CEO, Brackin Placement Group
- Janine Yass, Vice-chair, Center on Education Reform
- Sharif El-Mekki, CEO, Center for Black Educator Development, former Mastery Charter administrator
- Candace Kenyatta, Managing Partner, Grovider
- Tim Matheney (ex-officio), CEO, HS2L
Does the District Need A Health Sciences Charter School?
Once you get past the flowery rhetoric of the opening narrative, it quickly becomes clear that this application contains very little of the advertised creativity and innovation. The High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter School (HS2L) would be yet another data-driven school measuring success by standardized test scores, with a curriculum that includes blended learning and test-prep to boost those scores. It invokes rigor, grit and differentiated learning. The curriculum relies more on packaged learning products than the expertise of teachers. HS2L proposes a CTE (Career and Technical Education) program that differs little from the CTE schools and programs offered in District public schools. And how innovative would any school be that offers “Building Grit through Art and Music”?
The application itself provides many reasons for Board denial, but serious issues arose even before the application was submitted. Principal Nimet Eren and teachers from Kensington Health Science Academy, a neighborhood high school, testified at two separate meetings at the Board of Education in December that representatives from the applicant’s front group, the Philadelphia School Partnership, had come into their school under false pretenses, and through repeated deception, took information about the school’s methods and programs to use as the basis for its application. Is stealing ideas from another school “innovative”? In addition to denying the application, the Board of Education should be considering legal action for theft of intellectual property against PSP and the members of HS2L’s founding coalition. The institutions named as partners–including Jefferson, Temple, Community College, and PCOM–should disavow these fraudulent tactics.
Longtime charter observers at the December 20 charter hearing were not surprised to hear HS2L Coalition leader Tim Matheney open his remarks by decrying the city’s poverty rates and repeating the timeworn suggestion that opening another charter would reverse the trend. Of course, the establishment of almost 90 charter schools over the past 20 years has not moved the needle on poverty in the city–to the contrary. From a recent Philadelphia Inquirer editorial:
According to a 2017 report by the Center City District and the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation, the poverty rate of predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods in West, Southwest, and North Philadelphia increased — by up to 29 percentage points between 1970 and 2015. An analysis of the Vera Institute of Justice found that the jail admission rate for Philadelphians has tripled over the same time period. The 2010 Census revealed that Philadelphia is the sixth most racially segregated city among the cities with the largest black populations. A recent analysis by the Washington Post of racial segregation of school districts found that Philadelphia’s public schools are not integrated.
The obvious question is why the large “Eds and Meds” institutions, such as Temple, Jefferson, and Drexel have not used their financial and political influence as employers and property owners to organize an all-hands-on-deck effort to alleviate those conditions. Public schools have been in crisis mode for years, not just because of underfunding and state budget cuts, but because of the massive diversion of public funds into privately run charter schools. Putting resources into neighborhood public schools, not privatization of public assets, serves to alleviate poverty,
But witnessing yet another charter investor invoke this trickle-down approach was not surprising to those who had heard one PSP/Excellent Schools PA lobbyist quote free-market proponent Milton Friedman at a Board committee meeting last year.
This APPS report focuses on the costs to the District and to the community, the problems with the program and curricula proposed by the HS2L application, and the many deficiencies noted by the District’s Charter Schools Office. See the full CSO report here.
PSP A Major Financial and Political Supporter of HS2L
Although the application’s opening narrative names many prominent hospitals and universities, and wrongly infers that they will play an integral role in the school’s operation, HS2L is very much a PSP-driven project. The Philadelphia School Partnership has provided a $75, 000 startup grant to this applicant and hints at more if HS2L is approved. But PSP is more than just a financial backer. An examination of their connections here shows PSP’s deeper involvement. PSP acts as a distributor of private funds from wealthy individuals and corporations to local schools, mostly charter and parochial.
The Philadelphia School Partnership—whose past and present boards have been composed of investment bankers, realtors, hedge fund managers, philanthropists and lobbyists—has lobbied for the privatization of public schools since its inception in 2011. In 2015, PSP offered to give the District $35 million if the School Reform Commission agreed to approve almost 40 new charter schools, which many saw as the public offering of a bribe. The SRC declined to take part in the quid pro quo.
HS2L’s application identifies Drexel as a partner in HS2L’s operations. Drexel President John Fry served on the PSP board for many years, and PSP has funded many Drexel projects. HS2L founding coalition member Janine Yass was a founding member of PSP and has served on its board since its inception. Her husband Jeffrey Yass is a founder of the Susquehanna International Group, a hedge fund that donated heavily to the failed gubernatorial and mayoral campaigns of pro-charter PA State Sen. Anthony Williams.
Sharif El-Mekki is the CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development whose website identifies both Mastery Charters and Temple University as major donors. The CSO evaluation raises concerns about a potential conflict of interest as HS2L identifies the Center as a “partner” in the application but does not make clear whether the organization will provide services on a paid or pro-bono basis. El-Mekki served as principal of Mastery Shoemaker after it became a Renaissance charter in 2008; he resigned earlier this year. PSP has contributed millions to the Mastery charter chain over the years; Mastery CEO Scott Gordon was also a founder of PSP. El-Mekki currently serves on the board of Excellent Schools PA, PSP’s lobbying organization. Excellent Schools PA’s Board also includes Janine Yass and PSP Director Mark Gleason. El-Mekki also served as principal at Edison Learning from 2003-2008, just after the community organized and defeated this for-profit company’s attempt to privatize the entire District.
Sharifa Edwards, named as proposed principal in the HS2L application, currently works at PSP as Manager for School Investments. The CSO raised questions about this conflict in its evaluation. Just prior to coming to PSP, she was principal at KIPP school in Memphis.
Tim Matheney’s Founding Resume, Attachment 5 to this application states that he is currently “Lead consultant for career education initiative for the Philadelphia School Partnership.”.
Who is Behind HS2L?
- Tim Matheney
- April Gonzalez
- Kendric Chua
- Geordie Brackin
Tim Matheney is slated to be the CEO of the proposed school. Matheney and Gonzalez worked concurrently in South Brunswick, NJ. Matheney moved into a NJ Department of Education position as Chief Intervention Officer; in this capacity, he promoted a new teacher evaluation system, Achieve NJ, which he praised as encouraging collaboration among educators. The claim of collaboration was debunked by New Jersey educator, researcher and blogger Mark Weber, known as “Jersey Jazzman”: “When the NJDOE says that SGPs [Student Growth Percentiles] will create a collaborative environment they are dead wrong: SGPs are predicated on competition, because some children must be ‘above average’ and some must be ‘below’. AchieveNJ is, therefore, a competition between teachers to get the best from SGP: it moves the incentives away from collaboration.” In this article,Weber provides analysis to support this statement. The founding coalition, in the same way, promised collaboration with KHSA—and other public schools—while in reality setting up a competition for District resources and students. Matheney was the founding Executive Director of Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders, developed and supported by the Neubauer Family Foundation, built on the fortune of the former Aramark CEO Joseph Neubauer. Matheney then went on to found the Spire Leadership Group, an educational consulting firm.
Kendric Chua is the only other staff member listed on Spire’s webpage.
Chua, the Creative Arts Director, oversees brand development for Spire. Online information indicates that Chua has no background in K-12 education.
April Gonzalez’s LinkedIn page lists her as self-employed but currently working with Spire, but nothing on Spire’s page notes her involvement.
Geordie Brackin seems to have had one foot each in two very different professions. Just out of college, he was a columnist and associate editor for Men’s Health magazine. Brackin’s topics included how to get your wife to have more sex with you and how much porn is too much porn. Brackin became Director of Global Innovation with the for-profit Bridge International Academies (BIA) after a brief stint with Teach for America in Africa. The BIA website states, “We work in partnership with governments, communities, teachers, and parents to support and deliver quality education for primary and pre-primary children in developing countries.” In Bridge’s case, “partnership” means profiting off children in desperately poor African countries. In 2019 Brackin founded a head-hunter consulting firm, Brackin Placement Group.
Proposed Board Members
- Geordie Brackin, Educational Consultant
- Laura Siminoff, Dean, School of Public Health, Temple University
- Janine Yass, Vice Chair, Center on Education Reform
- Sharif El-Mekki, CEO, Center for Black Educator Development, Member of the Board of Excellent Schools PA (lobbying organization of PSP)
- Candace Kenyatta, Managing Partner, Grovider
- Tim Matheney, ex-officio/non-voting. CEO, HS2
Candace Kenyatta is currently a managing partner at Grovider, “A Knowledge Management Consulting Firm”. Grovider’s client list includes the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders. Her resume shows 5 years in teaching and many in educational management and consulting, including 3 years at a Trenton, NJ charter school.
The CSO evaluation notes that the HS2L Curriculum for most units will be developed using “backwards design” with the Rigor, Relevance and Relationships Framework created by Dr. Willard Daggett and the International Leadership in Education. This packaged curriculum is hardly innovative; it is a top-down, corporate method-based model which quashes creative teaching and learning. This Framework is actually a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, one of the nation’s largest textbook and testing companies. The application shows heavy reliance on testing, test prep “blended learning”, and test-taking strategies in both core subjects and electives. The ELA curriculum, in particular, will embed direct instruction in standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. The Arts and Humanities course “Building Grit Through Music and Art” is perhaps the clearest indication of the lack of innovation in the HS2L mission.
The ACT WorkKeys program will provide framework for 9th grade Career Education. Five career pathways will be offered to 9th graders; they must select one by the end of 10thgrade.
The applicants say that “in order to inspire the next generation of African-American and Latino scientists and STEM teachers, schools need more teachers who reflect the diversity of the city. The Center for Black Educator Development and its Executive Director Sharif El-Mekkhi have pledged their support and partnership in shaping this program.” There are no specifics about the program or explanation of how the HS2L board would support this pledge. In addition, the CSO evaluation raises the possibility of a conflict of interest in doing business with an organization headed by an HS2L board member.
Academic/Non-Academic Data and Goals
The academic program and assessment methods include no innovative practices. In fact, HS2L follows the same evidence-based, data-driven model in most District and charter schools. The application states that academic goals “will reflect a combination of a proficiency, standards-based model as well as a growth model. Applying both of these models is proven to be of greatest value to measure learning…[I]n order to measure the growth and effectiveness of the school, numerous points of data will be collected, formally and informally, to ascertain areas of need and areas of strength.” CSO concerns in this area include: failure to align goals with ESSA Consolidated Plan; failure to provide subgroup goals for Keystone proficiency; failure to include goals for college placement.
CSO finds HS2L’s non-academic goals “vague and non-quantifiable”.
Assessments and Data-driven Instruction
The CSO evaluation states that HS2L’s “ proposed assessment plan does not align with the mission of the proposed Charter School with a focus on health sciences.” The application lists the standardized tests to be used, including SAT, ACT, and PSAT, but the CSO found that HS2L “did not provide any justification for how these assessments connect to the health sciences.” In addition, HS2L “did not include information on how data will be reviewed and will inform instruction”.
As in many other areas, the CSO cites several deficiencies in the area of professional staffing, most notably that “the proposed staffing model does not align with proposed Charter School’s mission”. The CSO finds problematic the fact that HS2L would not employ either a Director of Career Experience or Career Experience Coordinators until Year 3 of the proposed Charter School’s charter term, and the fact that the Application does not explain “who will be responsible for developing workplace experience partners and supporting students in their career exploration for the first two years of the charter term. Considering the health sciences career mission of the application, failure to address this function until Year 3 is a significant weakness of the application”. [bold added]
Promotion, Retention, Graduation
The CSO evaluation states: “The Applicant did not provide adequate information to allow for its promotion and retention plan to be evaluated. The Applicant neither defines progress nor includes quantifiable requirements, standards, or processes for promotion and retention.” Although HS2L proposes a 27-credit hour requirement for graduation, the CSO notes that the application does not include any exit standards or requirements for grade promotion or graduation , “nor did the Applicant address the new Statewide high school graduation requirements to begin in the 2021-22 school year in compliance with Senate Bill 1095.”
The CSO finds that HS2L’s discussion of student persistence “includes limited details and references Internship and Community Service Center, a non-existent organization, as a key component of the proposed strategy.” [bold added] The CSO concludes that HS2L’s failure to provide information on what would trigger a student to require credit recovery, how that program would be implemented, or any possible cost to be “a serious weakness for a proposed high school program which is supposed to provide a comprehensive learning experience for students.”
Diverse Learners: Students w Disabilities/ English Learners/ Supporting regular education students not making progress/ Gifted students
The CSO evaluation cites several deficiencies in HS2L’s proposed plan for supporting students with Special Needs, English Language Learners (EL), and Gifted students with differentiated instruction. Although the application quotes sections of PA State Law and cited Child Study Team procedures, applicants’ knowledge and understanding of State and Federal laws does not go beyond the written word. There are many references to assisting students in these categories, but no actual plans. The CSO also questions why no reference was made for EL student support for those participating in the internship programs.
Student Supports and Health Services
The CSO evaluation states that the proposal for School Culture and Climate “includes elements that will build a positive school community; however, the application references resources that do not appear to actually exist.” Again, the CSO evaluation notes that while the applicants cited a “robust system for student health and supports…it failed to provide supporting evidence of the ability to actually achieve its goals.” The CSO is also skeptical of HS2L’s stated reliance on “the resources of its health care partners” without any written agreement with any of those institutions identifying the supports and how they will be accessed.
While the backgrounds of the Founding Coalition may seem impressive, the CSO notes that “it is evident that the experience of the Founding Coalition members is out-of-state, international, or in suburban school settings.” The CSO states that there was no mention of “how the background experiences of the Foundation Coalition members would be applicable to the operation of a charter school in North Philadelphia” The CSO also questions what, if any, services the Founding Coalition or their firms will bring to the charter school.
Board of Trustees Creation and Governance/Proposed By-Laws
The application’s section on transfer of governance from the Founding Coalition to the Board of Trustees is incomplete and confusing. The CSO raises concerns about possible conflicts of interest in that “a proposed Board member leads a proposed partner organization”, referring to The Center for Black Educator Development and its Director, HS2L board member Sharif El-Mekki. The CSO also notes there was no mention of whether this company, or the firms of any Board members, will provide services to the proposed charter school and whether that would be on a paid or pro-bono basis.
Among the several by-laws of concern to the CSO, two are most notable. First: “Trustees may be removed for any reason by a majority vote of all Trustees then in office”. This is not a customary provision in charter by-laws since it could potentially quell full discourse and dissent by Board members. Second: “A Trustee who fails to perform his or her duties as outlined in the Charter School Law shall be removed from the Board by a majority vote of the Trustees then in office.” The CSO notes that the wording of this by-law presumes to know the outcome of the vote before it is taken and that there is no process to determine whether a board member has violated his or her duties under the Charter School Law.
The application states it will contract with Charter Choices, Inc. to serve as business manager, but no contract or letter of intent for CSO evaluation was included and “no funds were allocated in the planning year budget for business services.” Charter Choices, Inc.’s website states that they are involved with 40+ charter schools.
The Leadership Team at HS2L will consist of the CEO, Principal, Director of Operations, Director of Career Experiences, and Director of Student Support Services. Other administrative positions are Director of Security, Assistant Principal, and Counseling Chair. The CSO evaluation notes that no evidence was provided that the proposed CEO and principal have a Pennsylvania Instructional Leadership certificate; that they only have had experience in out-of-state or or suburban schools; and that the application does not provide details on how that experience would be applicable to the operation of an urban high school nor describe what training and licensure process they would complete to serve as school leaders in Pennsylvania.
Staff development will be conducted by the leadership or consultants including Jounce Partners, Relay Graduate School of Education and TNTP. Essential practices may be adapted from Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, Relay and other sources. School leaders and/or coaches will visit classrooms twice a week and provide real-time feedback. The coaching model is yet to be decided upon. The CSO evaluation states that the PD plan does not state which partners will be providing the professional development, does not discuss specific health sciences work environments or experiences to which teachers will be exposed in order to properly prepare their students, and is not clear as to whether it will include all training mandated by law.
While the application speaks in the opening narrative about partnerships with Temple University, Drexel University, Jefferson University, Community College of Philadelphia and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the CSO evaluation states that it “failed to provide Memoranda of Understanding (“MOUs”) that indicate what, if any, formal relationships would exist between the proposed Charter School and the organizations. The failure of the Applicant to provide actual evidence of community partnerships is a significant weakness of the application since internships for the proposed Charter School’s students with health services organizations are integral to the mission of the proposed Charter School.” [bold added]
The CSO notes that the HS2L application states that students will have at least 90 hours of internship experience per year but did not indicate how those hours would be worked into the school day: “The Applicant did not indicate if internship hours will count towards required instructional hours. Further, the Applicant does not explain the selection process for certain Grade 9 students to spend a day in a healthcare setting nor why all Grade 9 students are not given the same opportunity.”
The application also states that HS2L founders met and engaged with Penn Medicine, Philadelphia Works, Princeton University Teacher Prep, The Lenfest Center, The Economy League, the Convenient Care Association and 1199c Training and Development Fund to discuss school design plans. However, the application did not include letters of support from any of these programs except Princeton University Teacher Prep. (Tim Matheney is a Princeton graduate). In fact, false statements were made about one alleged partner. A letter sent in December 2019 from 1199c leaders to PSP requested that PSP and the founders “cease and desist including the District 1199c Training and Upgrading Fund in any other applications, grants or similar writings…”
HS2L will collect applications through ApplyPhillyCharter.org. Applications will be accepted for a 90-day period in the fall. Admissions will be citywide with preference (50%) given to HS2L’s adjacent zip codes–19141, 19140, 19120, 19133–and to children of founding members of the Charter. If student applications exceed the number of spaces available within a grade within the school, HS2L will then conduct a public lottery. However, the CSO evaluation states that the application “is not clear whether the 50 percent zip code preference is for all seats every year or only 50 percent of seats selected through the lottery.” The school will only backfill in grades 9 and 10; no new students will be admitted in grades 11 and 12. The CSO evaluation also indicates that the applicant does not specify whether it would admit or backfill any students after the 90-day period.
Student Discipline, Code of Conduct and Due Process
The CSO evaluation finds many deficiencies in this area. Mr. Matheney admitted in the January 22 hearing that the application’s Code of Conduct was copied from a school in New Brunswick, NJ where he had served as principal. The CSO says that “…as a result, there are inconsistencies between the Code of Conduct and the Narrative…it does not align with Chapter 12 of the Pennsylvania Code governing charter schools in Pennsylvania…it does not differentiate between different levels of infractions and potential consequences a student could receive.” The CSO also states that “the discipline process does not appear to be fully formed since the application states that once students are selected in the first lottery the school will form a focus group of students, parents and teachers to give feedback on the Student Code of Conduct—the one from a New Jersey high school.”
HS2L’s application states that it has received 137 Letters of Intent to Enroll from the parents of current 7th graders who would be 9th graders in the fall of 2021 and directs the CSO to Attachment 28 for copies of those letters. But Attachment 28 includes only budget information. While Attachment 27 includes community support information, it does not include copies of these Letters of Intent from 7th grade parents nor the mentioned Letters of Intent to Enroll from 37 parents of students outside of grade 7.
The HS2L application also states that they have engaged with elected officials representing families and students, namely State Representatives Danilo Burgos and State Senator Art Haywood, and that they have been “in contact” with staff of Councilwoman Bass, Councilwoman Youngblood and Senator Street; however, the application contains only one letter of support from any those elected officials. That was from Rep. Burgos.
According to the CSO evaluation HS2L “did not provide evidence of family engagement that led to a clear demand for students in this neighborhood to have access to a school with the proposed Charter School’s mission and does not make clear how they understand the proposed charter school to fit in relative to the specific schools it lists that are within a 1.5 mile radius.”
Location/Cost to District
The school will be located in the former Holy Child school recently vacated by the Cristo Rey Mission High School, which was also supported by PSP. HS2L has a rental agreement from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. According to the submitted budget, the rent will cost the charter school $2,154,458 over the 5 years of the charter. During those 5 years, HS2L anticipates revenues of $167, 328 from a state rental reimbursement subsidy to which all charter schools are entitled. Taxpayer funds will be used not only for tuition, but also for a portion of the school’s rent.
Total estimated tuition costs: $29,111,817.14
Total stranded costs: $11,524,500.00
Total cost to SDP $40,636,317.14
Parent/Guardian/Family Engagement and Contact
As with recruitment and marketing plans, parent and family engagement plans appear to be based on an idealized student and family body. The application states that they had already identified parents to form an Initial Advisory Committee during canvassing despite their holding no informational forums for feedback. The CSO finds that there was no meaningful role identified for parents. Included throughout the application are such terms as “diverse composition of students and neighborhoods” and “all families will be able to participate”, particularly through the provision of translation services. The CSO once again found that stated proposed investments in a student Information System that would enable parents to access their child’s record online is not listed in the budget. Their statement that “teachers will be required to communicate with parents, at least weekly” is diluted because this communication will be done via “group email or newsletter about upcoming assignments.” Actually, this last promise is not innovative as it is already widely used by District teachers.
Finance and Operations
The CSO’s detailed analysis of the application’s five-year budget shows that it fails to account for, or provide documentation for, many of the proposed expenditures. The budget for Year 1 anticipates a significant budget deficit of 12%. Thus the budget relies on hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, donations and grants from private investors. Again, the application Narrative speaks in superlative terms about their “deep experience, a demonstrated track record of raising funds for educational causes”, but it provides little specifics of any defined support or strategy for how most of the funds will be raised.
Many claims are made about the program’s level of staffing and program offerings. However, there is a disconnect between these claims in the Narrative and the lack of budget support for them. For example, the CSO points out that the Narrative includes a Security Director for all five years and two special education teachers in Year 4 that do not appear to be included in the budget for those years. For teachers alone there is a projected cost of an additional $110,000 in salaries and $41,650 in benefits. Specific amounts of funding for the recruitment of teachers are also not included in the budget. Workers’ Compensation Insurance amounts are either under-budgeted in Year 1 or not provided for in the budget at all in Years 2-5. The large range and number of extracurricular activities are not supported for salaries or stipends for coaches, etc. in the budget. Financial costs and responsibilities for the rent, utilities, janitorial costs, etc., while in the budget, are not in sync with their “proposal to lease” agreement. Documentation of the terms and conditions of the actual lease are not provided. The lack of alignment of financial costs and/or accountability practices with the budget continues throughout the financial policies and procedures.