As I come into Universal Audenried Charter High School after a meeting, I hear banging and the piercing sounds of electric saws. I walk into our automotive and electrical shop, and from a distance I can see our senior construction class working away on a food truck for a local community member. The teacher waves and shouts: “Hey, Principal Diavua.”
Motivated by a late spring deadline, the students and their teacher are making progress. Later that day, during lunch, students in our culinary program will deliver pizzas to teachers and faculty. The previous two days, the students budgeted, took orders, and made meals for the “café.” After lunch, I assist with transition on the third floor, home to our STEM Academy. A group of young ladies joins me, and we discuss the details of the leukemia walk they are planning through their class on health-related technology, where many of them have earned their certified nursing assistant credential. As we walk downstairs, we pass a group of freshmen rushing to class for fear of being late. We stop near the main office, where the photos of over 50 seniors who are matriculating to four-year colleges and universities hang.
There are several arguments to be made around the renewal of Universal Audenried Charter High School. Though what I have described is a typical day at Universal Audenried, it is important to remember that the school is not a typical charter school, because there is no lottery. We operate as a neighborhood school. Our students come to us grade levels behind in math and English, and more than a quarter receive special education services.
Despite these challenges, we have made gains that most other neighborhood schools have not realized. Our scores on the Keystone literature exam rank 6th out of 23 neighborhood schools. Our average SAT scores have increased 100 points in the last year. On the 2016 NOCTI exam for students in career and technical education programs, we had 56 out of 105 students score competent or advanced. For comparison, Dobbins High, a District-run technical school that screens students citywide for admission, had 62 out of 106 competent or advanced in 2015. We have increased both college-going rates and certifications that make students employable immediately after high school, like our cohort of students who earned their certified nursing assisting credential and those who have their OSHA 10.
The most compelling argument to renew Universal Audenried is made by the School District of Philadelphia itself. The District’s report card, called the School Progress Report (SPR), ranks Universal Audenried’s SPR score 8th out of 26 peer schools on measures of academic achievement and progress, school climate, and college and career readiness. Those peer schools include a mix of city neighborhood schools and citywide career and technical education schools that admit scholars based on criteria. Furthermore, one of the Renaissance charter high schools being recommended to receive a five-year renewal is ranked 14th out of 26 schools in the same peer group.
We think this raises numerous questions about SPR as a valid tool for evaluating and comparing schools. If the charter office uses SPR data in making its renewal recommendations, it should not have offered renewal to a school ranked lower in its peer group than Audenried. That to us is evidence that our recommendation should be changed. On the other hand, if the charter office doesn’t rely significantly on SPR in evaluating charters for renewal, then we think that shows that the SPR is an extremely flawed measuring tool – and the charter office knows it. With that in mind, we ask that the School Reform Commission take a deep look at the inconsistency with which Universal Audenried, which has made progress in multiple areas, has been rated.
Universal Audenried is not simply a school, but a community of students, parents, teachers, and community members who want to see our students have more and do better. As our scholars say, at Universal Audenried, “We do the most!” Universal and the leadership team at Audenried have created opportunities for our scholars in the Grays Ferry and Point Breeze communities.
Help us continue to tell our story. We ask that you call the SRC office at 215-400-4010 and come to the SRC meeting on Thursday, April 28, to express support for Universal Audenried. We will have buses to take community members to the meeting at 2:30 p.m. outside the school at 32nd and Tasker Streets. We ask that you use the hashtags #fightforaudenried and #riedmystory on social media. Finally, visit www.riedmystory.com and learn more about how we are impacting the community.
Blanchard Diavua is the principal of Universal Audenried Charter High School