New Charter Application: Philadelphia Collegiate Charter School for Boys


The Board of Education will hold a special hearing to vote on five new charter applications, including this one, on Thursday March 4 (time TBA).  Students, educators, parents and community members need to tell the Board that the District does not need, nor can it afford any new charters. Sign up to testify in person before  3 PM on Wednesday, March 3 at https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/speaker-request-form/  Or send written testimony to schoolboard@philasd.org.


by Karel Kilimnik

 “The District Charter Schools Office evaluation concludes that  this applicant  fails to provide a cohesive, inclusive educational philosophy to support the desire to open a single-sex K-12 school.” From the CSO New Charter Application 

The Charter Schools Office cites numerous deficiencies, conflicting information, and omitted information in the application for Philadelphia Collegiate Charter School for Boys.  The list is too long to mention here; it includes:  failure to identify the name of the school in a legally acceptable form; practices that will be in violation of the Sunshine Act; Board members with ties to neither Pennsylvania or Philadelphia; significant conflicts of interest,  including one individual proposed to hold three positions–head of the school, member of the Board, and leader of a as yet unformed related non-profit.  The Board of Education cannot allow our children to be pawns in such an overt taxpayer money grab.  The CSO report makes clear the lack of expertise, commitment, and capability in this applicant’s attempted foray into Philadelphia. 

The Board cannot justify approving any new charter schools that we do not need and cannot afford. 

Philadelphia Collegiate Charter for Boys 

  • Grades K-12 at scale:  Elementary, Middle, and High School
  • Proposed Location: 7500 Germantown Avenue, 19119
  • Neighborhood: West Mount Airy
  • Management Company: Application states that the non-profit Five Smooth Stone, based in Baltimore,  “will lead this application as The Collegiate Schools Foundation (TCSF) managers until their newly created Pennsylvania non-profit,  the Philadelphia Collegiate Charter School for Boys, (PCCSB) takes control”.
  • Projected Enrollment:  Collegiate’s plan to reach scale is confusing and lacks a coherent rationale. Year 1: Grades K and 1, 48 students each grade; Year 2 adding grades 2, 4 and 5 with 392 students total; Year 3, adding grades 3 and 6, 564 students total;  Year 4, K-7, 652 total; year 5, K-8 with 740 students; at scale K-12, 1268 students. 
  • Note: Instruction section of application contains conflicting information about when grades begin in Year One. 
  • Estimated Cost to District for 5-year term:  $41,329,781
  • Estimated Stranded Cost to District over 5-year term: $14,302,144      
  • Founding Coalition Members: Toby David Castle, Lesley Esters Redwine, Clayton Justice, Beth Zhang, Khari Shabazz, Jack Johnson Pannell Jr, Mark Sellers
  • Proposed Board Members: Edwin V. Avent, Brian D. Holeman, Jack Johnson Pannell Jr, Mark Sellers, Michael Spain.

Charters Schools Office Finds Application Inadequate

The CSO  executive summary notes that this application lacks adequate information, or contains conflicting information, in most areas, including curricular materials, leadership and  governance, and the relationship of the school to its Charter Management Organization  (CMO). Actually, Collegiate submitted a management agreement between the proposed school and an organization that does not currently exist. Collegiate showed insufficient evidence of parent demand and no description of how any of that information was collected. The 5-year budget and financial plan are not adequate for the operation of a charter school; there is a misalignment between staffing levels in the narrative and the budget. In addition, the budget assumes over $900,000 in philanthropic donations that is not substantiated with letters of support. There is no letter of intent or proposed lease for the facility in which the applicant proposes to locate the school, nor did the applicant submit letters of support from any Registered Community Organization.  The organization with which the proposed school plans to be affiliated operates an all-boys charter school in Baltimore that was renewed for only three years–not the usual five years– with conditions as a result of deficiencies in academics, climate and governance. The CSO states that Collegiate  does not clearly establish a rationale for the single-sex model or provide a research basis for specific design elements. In addition, the applicant’s use of  “stereotypical gender roles and identities that assume a heteronormative universal experience of what it is to be a boy and man”.

Academics

With the exception of the ELA curriculum, most of the submitted curricular materials do not fully align to the PA core and Academic Standards .  The Math materials submitted consisted of a “collection of worksheets and assessments, rather than a proper curriculum that outlines planned instruction.” .  Several of the materials submitted were copies of curricular materials and scope and sequences  from other states that did not align with PA. standards. The Applicant does not establish Academic Goals that are aligned to the proposed Charter School’s mission or design.  The goals laid out are firmly rooted in standardized tests and do not have a direct connection with the mission and vision of the Charter School.  This application, like most charter applications, reads as if they have invented the educational wheel. However, Collegiate’s  academic program employs the familiar data-driven program,  relying upon several layers of testing. In addition to the state-mandated PSSA, PCCSB will also administer  the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) and the  MAP (Measures of Academic Progress), an online assessment paired with the Common Core Standards.  The submitted assessment plan provides what the CSO describes as “only a vague set of goals aligned to specific assessments”; the assessments are not aligned to the school’s mission or targeted community.  The applicant’s standards for promotion , the CSO notes, “include both quantitative and qualitative requirements that are neither realistic nor measurable. Most importantly, a review of character  “lacks a clear rubric or process has significant potential for bias.”

Organization

The projected enrollment varies throughout the application, and the accompanying chart confuses rather than clarifies. The opening Narrative states that kindergarten and first grade will enroll in Year One. Year Two adds fourth and fifth grades. The chart goes up to Year Five,  with no data entered for ninth through twelfth grades. However, the CSO evaluation shows grades kindergarten, first, and fourth in Year One.  The CSO concludes that Collegiate presents   “inconsistent staffing levels and does not provide a clear explanation of how the staffing plan will support the academic program.” Again, the applicant’s staffing model in the narrative does not align with the personnel budgets in the Attachments.   Collegiate’s proposed school calendar indicates that there will be 180 days of instruction, but as CSO notes, “the applicant fails to clarify what elements of the school program are instructional hours vs after-school enrichment, making it difficult to determine whether the appropriate hours of instruction will occur”.  The CSO notes that “the application does not include substantial, clear and relevant non-academic  goals supported by the school’s model. This includes having a passport without any other discussions of reasons or its use. The CSO could not find a rationale for why reading, writing and math above grade level is presented as a non-academic goal; nor is ‘above grade level’ defined.”

The CSO notes several deficiencies in the application’s plan for supporting students into high school and beyond. In fact, they point out that the application states that “high school programming will be included in the first renewal if the school is approved, but postpones until then any discussion of how students will navigate the high school election process. There is no reference to supporting diverse learners in this process or any discussion of the LeGare process or how the school will support students entitled to such support. There is no discussion of high school graduation requirements or how to ensure that students remain on track to graduate from high school.  Considering the school is touting its “mission to open a pathway to college” this lack of inclusion suggests an incomplete mission concept.  This applicant’s lack of understanding or knowledge comes from never having operated a high school. The Baltimore school has no high school component, nor is there any indication of whether they had planned for or applied to include a high school component at that site. They are bringing their high school experiment to Philadelphia, where their history of mediocrity is not known. The CSO notes that there have been concerns at the Baltimore school regarding student scheduling and grades, as well as in the school’s ability to meet the social-emotional needs of some student populations.” The CSO cites numerous deficiencies in presenting programs and accommodations for students with special needs. There is a dearth of knowledge of specific obligations to support students with disabilities,  an understanding of the requirements spelled out in Individuals with DIsabilities Education (IDEA),  obligations to  the public school code, PA Charter School Law,  and Federal laws governing students with disabilities, especially regarding evaluation, procedural safeguards and Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  The application proposal for supporting English Language Learners is not in compliance with PA Dept of Education guidelines.

The CSO states that, beyond a general statement,  the application does not describe how their educational program will support and celebrate students from diverse backgrounds. Collegiate presents a list of disjointed goals with no rationale, including having a passport, international travel, swimming, and an Annual Capstone project. Collegiate wants every student to be able to swim 200 meters in 8 minutes, but the building has no pool, nor is there any mention of where students could go to swim during the school year.

Collegiate Charter’s Record Does Not Justify Expansion in Philadelphia

This Application presents a tangled web of management connections that appears to start in Maryland and drift to Philadelphia. However, the Application does not list any  actual contracts with Five Smooth Stones or the non-profit Collegiate Schools Fund (TCSF) that the founders have established in Pennsylvania. The relationship among the three entities is never clearly spelled out. The Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys (BCSB) is operated by the Five Smooth Stones Foundation (FSS) based in Baltimore. 

Jack Johnson Pannell, founder of the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys (BCSB), states that “our school was a chance to prepare the next generations of Black and Brown male leaders in Baltimore and around the world” (p. 1). The application refers to PCCSB as an “expansion school”, indicating possible plans to open other schools in Pennsylvania. The Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys ( BCSB) consists of grades 4 to 8. This proposed school represents an experiment in which Collegiate would use Philadelphia’s children to test their ability to operate an elementary and a high school.  The applicant states in the introduction that  they are  “looking to expand the Collegiate Model to Philadelphia.”  The founders appear to be building a portfolio of schools in Pennsylvania despite having a less than stellar evaluation from the Baltimore School District, who only renewed the school for three years, not five, and under several conditions. Collegiate Baltimore garnered only two stars on the Maryland DOE five-star rating system. Several entries indicate that they have cut-and-pasted their way through this application. 

The CSO states that “there is no evidence of applicant experience in the stated mission to prepare boys for admission to a competitive college of their choice”. The Baltimore charter is a middle school.  At the District’s January 20 hearing, founders claimed to support their graduates but offer no evidence in this application that they did so at their Baltimore school. In fact, the Baltimore School Parent Survey shows a disturbing decline in parental participation. In 2017-18, 242 parent surveys were returned out of 437; in 2018-19,  67 were returned out of 475.  The application claims that members of the founding coalition spent a “full year in conversations” with political leaders and families, but they include no letter from any elected official in the letters of Support (Attachment 31). Letters do include one from their proposed landlord and some from organizations affiliated with the founding coalition members. The Intent to Enroll (Attachment 32)  includes one Elkins Park resident, three people using the same address in Folcroft, one from Darby, and one from San Francisco. Also included is a generic  letter (sent to all 2020-21 new charter applicants) from the Philadelphia School Partnership  urging the Charter School Office and the Board “to be supportive” while admitting that they have not vetted the application. The Maryland DOE cites high suspension and expulsion rates at BCSB (2018-2019 SY), with 100 total suspensions and expulsions.  Only three other elementary/middle schools in Baltimore reported higher numbers, and all have significantly higher enrollments.

The PCCSB application contains numerous sections cut and pasted directly from the Baltimore school documents.  One example appears in the Code of Conduct (Attachment 26) describing the structure into Five Houses:  “The Five Houses at PCCSB are named after prominent African American men who lived in Maryland during their lifetime”. Why does this list not include African American men from Pennsylvania? Collegiate Teaching Fellows appear throughout this application as important “constituents”.  However, there are few details concerning these teaching fellows. The narrative says that they will function as Math and ELA tutors and will come from Americorps. At the application hearing on January 20 it was acknowledged that they will receive a stipend and subsidized housing for being tutors. They are college graduates, but not education majors. There is no information on how they will be trained to tutor in Math and ELA.  If PCCSB seeks to be a college-preparatory charter school (page 1) for Black and Brown “gents”, why are the Collegiate Fellows not receiving a salary with benefits? What message is Collegiate sending its students by providing young college grads with a stipend instead of employment with a living wage?

Who Is Behind Collegiate Charter?

In June 2020 , The Collegiate Schools Foundation (TCSF), a non-profit corporation,  signed a contract with the Philadelphia Collegiate Charter School for Boys.  TCSF will act as the charter management company for PCCSB (Attachment 11). Per PA Charter School Law Section 1724-A, School Staff, (a): “ The board of trustees shall determine the level of compensation and all terms and conditions of employment of the staff except as may otherwise be provided in this article.”  Attachment 11 indicates either ignorance of the law or intention not to comply, with teachers and staff working not for the school but for the management company: “All teaching, instructional personnel and non-instructional personnel performing functions on behalf of the PCCSB shall be employees of TCSF. Compensation of all employees of TCSF shall be paid by TCSF.” TCSF would receive a management fee of 7%.  PCCSB appears to be an extension of  BCSB as noted “…Mr. Jack Johnson Pannell, will lead the charge to open the new campus in northwest Philadelphia.”  Mr. Pannell is the executive director of the Five Smooth Stones Foundation that will provide support to their new location. Attachment 12 presents the following Allocation of CMO administrator’s  time:  Mr. Pannell (50% at PCCSB, 25% to other network schools, 25% centraal office administration; Ms. Lesley Esters Redwine, Deputy Executive Director (45% PCCSB, 15%,40%0: Mr. Toby Castle, Managing Director: Research,Strategy,Partnerships (50%,30%,20%); Mr. Mark Terranova, Head of Foundation (40%,30%,30%). The Charter School Law  stipulates that   “… person who serves as an administrator for a charter school shall not receive compensation from another charter school or from a company that provides management or other services to another charter school.”

The Application mentions eight Founding Coalition members, but only five resumes are included in Attachment 5. The sixth document is a flyer listing services and clients of the Lavinia Group which is named as a provider of academic materials.  Two of the Founding Coalition members are either staff or consultants for the Lavinia Group; neither appears to have a connection with Philadelphia. Toby David Castle, Managing Director of Partnerships, Strategy and Research at the Five Smooth Stones Foundation, has been with the BCCSB for less than a year. Lesley Esters Redwine resides in Michigan and serves as the Deputy Executive Director of Five Smooth Stones; she is  founder and operator of LER Strategist Consultants and Advisors in  the Detroit Metropolitan Area. Justice Clayton resides in Philadelphia and works as a personal trainer.

Malik Russell, Founding School Principal, is named in the application as a part of the Founding Coalition, but the attachment does not include his resume. His close affiliation with Success Academy is noted. Neither Khari Shabazz nor Beth Zhang have Philadelphia connections. Both worked for Success Academy in a variety of positions.

The application proclaims, “Nearly all members of the Founding Board are residents of Philadelphia”, but only two of the eight persons listed live in the city. The Founding Coalition members have little to no connection to Philadelphia. Mark Sellers is listed on the Baltimore Collegiate Charter School for Boys as a Board member, yet there is no mention on his resume. Their Application states, incorrectly,  “A Pennsylvania corporation with civic leaders from Pennsylvania has been formed named the Philadelphia Collegiate Charter School for Boys.”  

Of the five proposed Board members only two actually have Philadelphia connections. Edwin Avent is a “longtime resident of the Baltimore community”. Brian Holman’s resume states that he has worked with Comcast since 2012 but there is no indication where. Michael Spain has taught  at several Philadelphia colleges and universities. According to his resume Jack Johnson Pannell was a Middle School teacher for one year. None of the proposed Board members have any substantial teaching experience. Pannell is president of the Five Smooth Stones Foundation as well as Founder and Executive Director of the BCCSB. 

Proposed School Principal Malik Russell has worked at several charter schools in recent years. Since attending the Success Academy Fellows Program, he spent one year at Ascend Charter school and one year at Hudson Yards Success Academy Charter School (HYSA). Russell’s resume indicates that his last position with Newark KIPP ended in May 2020.

Parents at HYSA sent a letter to Success Academy CEO Eva Moskovitz stating that  “HYSA faculty broke our children’s spirit and erased their self confidence in less than 3 weeks.” The list of issues included fear of retaliation for speaking up  along with concerns that “Principal  Russell’s one year of experience managing Cobble Hill 5th grade (Middle School that since then was discontinued) may not have sufficiently prepared him for starting a new Middle School. At this point in time there is so much bad blood between the parents and the principal, a new jump start is a necessity for this school to succeed.” That is less than a ringing endorsement for the proposed principal of a new school.  

Russell is a corporate lawyer and investment banker who enrolled in the Success  Academy training program.  The Success Academy is noted for its “No Excuses”  approach to education and harsh punishments that often violate students’ civil, educational and privacy rights.

Location

Collegiate refers to the loss of Germantown High School and Fulton Elementary School to the Germantown neighborhood. Not mentioned is the role that charter expansion played in those losses. Collegiate intends to recruit from  Germantown and give the school’s location as Germantown. Actually, the proposed location at 7500 Germantown Avenue is West Mount Airy.  West Mount Airy is home to strong neighborhood elementary schools, including Henry and Houston.  Approving PCCSB would cost these schools in both resources and students.  PCCSB intends to recruit from North and Northwest neighborhoods initially but see themselves becoming “a city-wide school” with no further details as to how and when this would occur.