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Finalists for Renaissance charter providers announced




[Updated 3 p.m.]

Mastery, Universal Companies, and Scholar Academies will vie to operate three additional Renaissance turnaround schools put on the list for next year, the School District announced Monday.

In making the announcement, Superintendent William Hite said in a statement that all three had made progress in the elementary-level turnarounds that they now operate. Mastery has five, Universal three, and Young Scholars one.

The District said that eight organizations had submitted applications.

“We know that reversing years of low performance takes time and a special set of skills,” said Hite in a statement. “We are confident that these three Turnaround Teams can significantly improve academic performance and stabilize school climate while meaningfully engaging parents and communities in our shared mission of providing high-quality education for all students.”

The District announced in February that three habitually struggling schools -- James Alcorn Elementary in South Philadelphia, Kenderton in North Philadelphia and Pastorius in Germantown -- would be converted into Renaissance charters.

Both Kenderton and Pastorius have failed to meet federal benchmarks for "adequate yearly progress" the last decade.

Between now and mid-April, a matching process will take place in which advisory councils from the Renaissance schools rank their preferences among the charter providers. Hite makes the final recommendation to the School Reform Commission, which will vote on the matches in late April or early May.

Seven charter operators now run 17 Renaissance schools. Eleven of them are managed by Mastery and Universal.

The five applicants who were not chosen are American Paradigm, Creative Minds Partnership, CMSI Academies, Mosaica Turnaround Partners, and String Theory.

Three of them now operate Renaissance turnarounds. Two are in their first year: String Theory at the Philadelphia Charter School for the Arts and Sciences at H.R. Edmunds, and American Paradigm at the Memphis Street Academy Charter School at J.P. Jones. Mosaica has operated the Birney Preparatory Academy since 2011.

CSMI is the for-profit management company that operates Chester Community Charter School, which educates more than half the elementary-age children in Chester-Upland. That charter school, described on the company's website as "one of Pennsylvania's great educational success stories," last year was among those investigated by the state for suspicious PSSA test score patterns, including high numbers of wrong-to-right erasures, and was required to impose much stricter test security protocols in 2012. After the measures were adopted, student proficiency rates in math and reading plummeted by 30 points. A school spokesman attributed the decline to reduced funding from the state.

The company's founder, Vahan Gureghian, was Gov. Corbett's largest single campaign contributor. He has consistently declined to release information on CSMI's fee structure and profits from operating Chester Community, repeatedly arguing in court that as a private company, CSMI is not subject to Pennsylvania Right-to-Know laws.

Creative Minds Partnership was formed by musicians Carvin Haggins and Carol Riddick. According to their website, they sought to open the city's first African American Renaissance elementary charter school for both arts and STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). They said they were inspired in part by Kenny Gamble, who founded Universal Companies.



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Dale Mezzacappa

Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.