District rejects charter school applicants near Main Campus

In a tense marathon meeting Wednesday that featured several passionate outbursts, shouts of protest and Chairman Bill Green repeatedly calling the meeting to order, the School Reform Commission heard applications for 39 charter schools, including three near the Cecil B. Moore community. Ultimately, five were approved, but the remaining 34 have a chance to appeal their rejection in Harrisburg.

According to the Inquirer, the five schools are the TECH-Freire Charter School, Mastery Charter School: Gillespie Campus, Independence Charter School West, KIPP Dubois Charter School and MaST Community Charter School: Roosevelt Campus.

This comes following an effort by the School Reform Commission to delay the vote, citing an “unprecedented” number of applications in an email to all charter applicants appealing for a delay, which was ultimately defeated.

The closest applicant to Main Campus was the New Foundations Charter School-Brewerytown, located west of Main Campus.

“This is one of the several ZIP codes that the School District of Philadelphia identified as in need of quality school options,” the school’s application read.

The applicant already operates a K-8 school and a high school in Holmesburg. The Brewerytown campus proposal called for K-12 education with emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math, in addition to a college and career development program.

Members of the School Reform Commission have called into question whether or not the charter could replicate the academic successes of its existing location to another with a stark difference in demographics. Less than 1 percent of students fall into the English-language learner category at their existing program, in addition to other social and economic differences.

Megan Reamer, program manager from the district’s Charter School’s Office, said at a meeting in January that New Foundations has been serving a community “historically less disadvantaged than an average district school.”

Another applicant near Main Campus, Leon H. Sullivan Opportunities Charter School, also looked to operate in the 19121 ZIP code, which the district has designated as lacking in high-quality school options. An application on behalf of the charter was denied in 2009 for not best meeting the district’s “strategic objectives,” former Commission Chair Sandra Dungee Glenn told the Inquirer.

Similar to New Foundations Charter School-Brewerytown, the focus of its application centered on STEM programs, alongside career and college preparation. Sullivan Opportunities Charter School would be able to accommodate nearly a thousand students, and would teach with a philosophy of “students [as] tax-payers and not consumers,” according to its application to the district.

Northeast of Main Campus, in the 19133 ZIP code, Congreso Academy Charter High School also tried to earn the SRC’s approval. Congreso opened the Pan American Academy Charter School in the Fairhill section of North Philadelphia in 2008 with a focus on the lower-income Latino population. With plans to use the building of the former Fairhill Elementary School, which closed its doors in 2013, Congreso looked to serve the Latino populations in eastern North Philadelphia and the 19122, 19134 and 19140 ZIP codes.

“This is the historical and cultural heart of Philadelphia’s Latino community,” Congreso’s application states. “[It’s] also a region where poor outcomes for children and youth persist.”

Founding Principal and CEO of Pan American Wanda Novales told The Philadelphia Public School Notebook that her goals for the new school would be a “graduation rate of 75 percent, an attendance rate of 90 percent or more, and a targeted 80 percent family engagement rate with the community school model.”

The vote comes just over a week after a proposed donation of $35 million from the Philadelphia School Partnership was made in an effort to expedite the process of increasing the number of charter schools in Philadelphia.

“More than 30,000 kids could have an opportunity right at their footstep if the School Reform Commission makes the right decision and PSP is trying to help support that,” State House Speaker Mike Turzai said in a recent radio interview with KYW Newsradio, supporting the acceptance of the donation. “We are expecting the School Reform Commission to approve those quality charters in those applications, because families want it.”

Rob DiRienzo can be reached at robd@temple.edu or on Twitter @RobDiRienzo.

Joe Brandt contributed reporting.

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