9 more city schools to be overhauled; 3 to charters

The schools clearly needed intervention, said Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite. (TOM GRALISH, File / Staff Photographer )

Three more low-performing city schools will be given to charters in the fall, and six more will be overhauled under Philadelphia School District management, officials said Friday.

Alcorn Elementary, in Grays Ferry, Kenderton Elementary, in Tioga, and Pastorius Elementary, in East Germantown, will become Renaissance charters given to organizations "with a proven track record in both turning around low-performing schools and operating high-achieving schoolsThe eligible providers have not been named.

Barry, Bryant and McMichael elementaries, in West Philadelphia, Cayuga Elementary, in Hunting Park and Edison and Strawberry Mansion high schools in North Philadelphia will become Promise Academies.  They’ll get longer school days and some extra resources, plus must turn over at least half of their staffs.

State test scores, academic growth, average daily attendance, truancy rate, suspension rate and violent incidents were all considered in choosing the schools, district officials said.  For high schools, graduation and college matriculation rates were also considered, as was on-track to on-time graduation rate.

It’s the fourth consecutive year that the district has deliberately shrunk itself, turning over some of its toughest schools to outside organizations to run. 

Since 2010, 17 schools have been given to charters.

Critics have said it’s a deliberate move to privatize public education, but district leaders have said it’s a management strategy, that they are committed to public education.

Overhauling schools, both as charters and Promise Academies, comes with a pricetag, which wasn’t immediately clear.  Although the district is in dire financial straits — it faces a $1 billion deficit over five years without drastic action — leadership and the School Reform Commission have said that continuing the Renaissance program is a priority.

Research shows that the Renaissance schools have performed well.  Growth in student achievement and attendance both at Promise Academies and Renaissance charter outstripped gains at comparable city schools, according to a 2012 study conducted by Research for Action, a Philadelphia nonprofit.

The schools tapped to become charters or Promise Academies have struggled for years.  All had fewer than 30 percent of their students meeting state standards in reading and math; at one school, Edison, 12 percent of students hit their mark in reading and 8 percent in math last year.

Many have struggled with violent incidents, as well.

The announcement will affect staff, of course.

If they choose to stay in their current schools, teachers in the soon-to-be charters would have to leave the district and apply for jobs with the new charter organizations, which have not been named. If they opt to remain with the district, they would be eligible for other open jobs in the school system.
Every Promise Academy teacher would have to re-apply for a spot in their current school, no more than 50 percent could be re-hired. The others would also be eligible for open district jobs.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., in a statement, said that it was clear these nine schools needed interventions.

“We believe that we have the capacity to support certain schools
through the Promise Academy model and will engage our external partners with
successful track records to advance others," Hite said in the statement. "Ultimately, our goal is to get the best outcomes for all students."

Advisory councils made up of parents and community members at the three schools picked to be Renaissance charters will provide recommendations to the district on who they want to run their schools, but the district can overrule those recommendations.  The SRC is scheduled to vote on the Renaissance charter providers in late April or early May.