Philadelphia School District's charter head stepping down

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The Philadelphia School District headquarters at 440 N. Broad St.

The head of the Philadelphia School District’s charter office is stepping down after prolonged conflict with many of the city’s charter schools.

DawnLynne Kacer will leave her position as executive director of the Charter Schools Office on Monday, according to the School District. She will become executive director of the district’s Opportunity Network, overseeing alternative schools.

Camera icon Philadelphia School District
DawnLynne Kacer

“At the School District of Philadelphia we routinely make shifts among our talented staff,” Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said in a statement. “We are pleased with the hard work DawnLynne Kacer has done … and we are also excited that she is taking her skill set to another vital role within our District.”

Kacer’s impending departure and new role were first reported by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

A district spokesperson said Kacer “has a deep and longstanding interest in opportunity youth” and applied to lead the Opportunity Network. The spokesperson, Megan Lello, said criticism from charter-school leaders did not play a role in Kacer’s move.

According to the Washington-based Corps Network, “opportunity youth,” sometimes called “disconnected youth,” are defined as people between ages 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working.

Kacer joined the Charter Schools Office in 2015, tasked with overseeing the city’s 84 bricks-and-mortar charter schools that enroll about 70,000, or one-third, of Philadelphia public school students.

In Pennsylvania, school districts are responsible for authorizing charter schools, generally for five-year terms. Kacer implemented changes in how the district evaluated charter schools, and oversaw annual evaluations of schools in addition to renewal recommendations.

Kacer, who came in as the district was working to improve its authorizing practices, “certainly brought experience and leadership,” said School Reform Commission member Bill Green.

But charter-school leaders complained the measures were unfair. Some have refused to sign new agreements with the district, arguing that the district is trying to hold them to standards that many of its own schools would not meet. Meanwhile, a pro-charter group sued the district in April over a new policy that the group said unfairly restricted charter operations.

“This wasn’t a good relationship,” said David Hardy, the founding CEO of Boys’ Latin Charter School who now advises the group that filed suit against the district, Excellent Schools PA. He said he wasn’t surprised by Kacer’s departure: “There’s been enough complaining.”

Hardy said charter-school operators resolved many of their disagreements about the office’s latest approach to evaluating charter schools by working with the School Reform Commission. Leaders of 25 charter schools still haven’t signed on, however, as the new school board prepares to take over.

“There should have been a way to get those things done,” Hardy said. While Kacer alone wasn’t responsible for the contention, Hardy said, “she was the face that we dealt with. And she was the one who bore the complaints.”

After the final SRC meeting Thursday, Kacer told reporters that “every school has the opportunity to negotiate” organizational terms and conditions with the charter office.

Charter schools “still have a very high level of autonomy,” Kacer said.

Kacer will be replaced by Christina Grant as interim chief of charter schools. The district said that Grant, currently assistant superintendent for the district’s Innovation Network and Opportunity Network, “brings many years of experience from the charter sector.”