Four more Phila. schools to become charters

Despite the fact that it’s nearly broke and in the middle of a major organizational shakeup, the Philadelphia School District is moving forward with plans to turn failing schools over to charter organizations.

Four low-performing Philadelphia schools have been targeted — Cleveland, Creighton, and H.R. Edmunds Elementary Schools, and Jones Middle School. 

They will all become charters in September, the district said in a news release Wednesday.

Six potential providers will vie for the contracts to run them.  Four currently run so-called Renaissance Schools: Mastery Charter Schools, Mosaica Turnaround Team, Scholar Academies and Universal Companies.  Two would be new to the program — American Paradigm and String Theory Schools.

American Paradigm was formed in July to “achive and maintain academic excellence, to reduce persistent patterns of inequity, and to create culturally diverse and caring learning communities,” but its leaders founded two successful charters in the city, First Philadelphia Charter School for Literacy and Tacony Academy.

String Theory Schools runs the well-regarded Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School.

All six providers “have demonstrated success in managing high-performing, diverse urban public schools,” district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

The four schools to be turned over were identified based on years of poor performance.  Other factors, including "school climate, feeder patterns, and neighborhood characteristics" were also considered, according to the district.

Cleveland is located at 3735 N. 19th St. in the city's Tioga section; Creighton is at 5401 E. Tabor Rd. in Crescentville; H.R. Edmunds is at 1191 Howarth St. in Frankford; and Jones is at 2950 Memphis St. in Port Richmond.

School Advisory Councils at each of the four schools will meet with the possible providers over the next few months and recommend their picks to the district.  The School Reform Commission is expected to formally match the schools in April.

This is the third round of Renaissance schools.  In 2010 and 2011, the district gave some schools to charters but also designated "Promise Academies," turnarounds run by its own central office and allocated greater resources than typical district schools. 

There are currently 13 Renaissance charters with about 11,000 students enrolled.  Nine more schools are district-run Promise Academies.

But with a severe money crunch - the district must cut $38.8 million by June and faces a shortfall of more than $269 million already for next school year - it will not add new Promise Academies this year.

Besides its fiscal problems, the district is in the middle of reinventing itself.  Thomas Knudsen, a temporary chief turnaround officer, is overseeing the decentralization of the district. 

But both city and district officials have said they cannot use organizational turmoil or cash flow problems as reasons to halt school turnarounds. 

"Reform, restructure, replace. That's where we are. That's where we're going in public education in Philadelphia," Mayor Nutter said in January.

Both he and School Reform Commissioner Pedro Ramos have signed on to the "Great Schools Compact," which promises to transform 50,000 seats in failing public schools through school closings and charter conversions.

By virtue of its compact, Philadelphia has already won $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  It hopes to secure more Gates money.

A recent study gave high early marks to both Renaissance K-8 charters and Promise Academies, saying both produced gains in student achievement.  Climate and attendance also improved as a result of the turnarounds, the study found.