Charter companies have found a friendly home in Philadelphia. They are often granted charters over parental and neighborhood protests. Charter companies are more likely to be approved over parent-teacher groups wanting to focus on trying new educational ideas. Until recently, Philadelphia rarely refused to renew contracts with charter companies even when the schools they ran had not made significant progress. What I have not seen happen before is a charter company with a five-year charter announce that it is leaving a school in mid-charter.
In 2010, the School District of Philadelphia made the decision to create a Renaissance program for a number of schools that were not performing well. Turning these schools over to charter companies was determined to be the best way to improve the school environment and educational performance. Renaissance charters were added each year. It should be noted that most of the Renaissance charters are in poor areas of Philadelphia where the majority of the school population is African American and Hispanic.
The Renaissance schools are neighborhood schools where the school building and students enrolled are turned over to a charter company. Part of the transformation includes removing the faculty that works for the School District of Philadelphia and replacing it with an entirely new staff hired by the charter company. There is input from the parents and district as to which company to choose but sometimes the companies that receive charters do not have enough of a background in running charter schools to make the decision an easy one.
Kenderton Elementary School Becomes Young Scholars Kenderton
In 2013 Kenderton Elementary School (a K-8 school) was chosen for conversion. With parent input Scholar Academies, which runs a total of six schools in the U.S., was chosen as the provider. They began preparing for the new school year by painting and repairing the physical plant. Scholar Academies was awarded a 1.8 million dollar grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership to aid in the transition.
During the first year after becoming part of Scholar Academies, Kenderton parents seemed to be pleased with the changes at the school. The hallways were quiet. Disruptive behavior was down. Actual learning appeared to be taking place. It seemed like Kenderton was making improvements.
Fast Forward to Spring 2016
Scholar Academies called an emergency meeting for parents of students at Kenderton Elementary School in Philadelphia. The CEO of the company informed parents that the company would be ending their association with the school at the end of this school year. This information came as a complete surprise to the parents in attendance because Scholar Academies has a charter to operate Kenderton through 2018. The explanation given by the CEO who led the meeting was that Scholar Academies was not receiving the money needed to continue to provide the learning environment that Kenderton students need. This is partly due to the increase in the number of students who are receiving special education services. The parents asked for an explanation as to why there was not enough money for next year but did not receive a clear explanation.
At this time, Scholar Academies is accepting proposals from other companies to take over the running of Kenderton in Fall 2016. It is not clear if a new provider will be approved or if Kenderton will revert back to being a School District school.
And What about the Students?
Any parent who has a child at Kenderton must have concerns about what effect a second transition in three years will have on children. Students who are in 4th grade and above have had to deal with losing the teachers they loved when Kenderton was under District control. Now they are losing another set of teachers who they are getting to know. Whether the school is turned over to another charter company or goes back under District control the students at Kenderton will find themselves with new staff and new administration in September 2016. In addition, they will quite probably have an entirely new learning program to deal with.
If the aim of education reform is to improve schools and give students a quality education then we must work to make sure that everyone involved has the same goals. When a charter company leaves a school in the middle of a charter contract, especially one that handed over an entire school to be “reformed” we need to rethink what we are doing. Research shows that a stable staff is one of the most important things for students living in poverty. Two complete staff and administrative changes with a third one on the way is not the stability students need.
Has your school district run into any problems like this?