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Fireworks at Audenried

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 9, 2011 11:58 AM
Photo: Benjamin Herold

A raucous crowd at Audenried High School voiced overwhelming opposition to plans to turn their school into a "Promise Neighborhood Partnership" charter run by Universal Companies.

UPDATE: District officials provide more information on data used in decision to designate Audenried a Renaissance School (go to update).

UPDATE: WHYY/NewsWorks republished this piece and added an audio segment.

Pitched by the District as a “Promise,” new plans for Audenried High School were derided at the school Tuesday as a “disgrace.”

During a raucous evening informational meeting, a parade of outraged parents, students, community members, and school staff expressed overwhelming opposition to news that Audenried will be turned into a charter school run by Universal Companies – and to the new arrangement being presented to them as a done deal, decided without their input.

“If Universal wants to come help, let them come help. But why can’t [Audenried] remain a School District school, and why wasn’t the community involved in this decision?” asked parent Meela Outlaw.

Michael SilvermanAfter delivering a brief presentation explaining the District’s plans, Deputy for Secondary Instructional Programs Michael Silverman told the crowd of about 150 that “we want people to feel hopeful based on what we’ve seen at Promise Academies so far.”

But in the face of increasingly angry responses from the audience, Silverman and Thomas Darden, the District’s deputy for process improvement and compliance, did not offer any hard numbers to justify their decisions and acknowledged they did not have answers to many of the questions being asked about Universal’s role.

“This is a disgrace,” said Anna Wiggins, 75, the mother of a popular teacher and coach at Audenried. 

“You haven’t given us any data! I believe that if you’re going to present something to an audience of people, you should be better prepared than this.”

At one point, the meeting grew so intense that Philadelphia police officers were called to the school to ensure that things remained orderly.

Last month, as part of the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative, Audenried and Edwin Vare Middle School were designated “Promise Neighborhood Partnership Schools.”

Though the District has repeatedly described this new school turnaround model as a variation of the Promise Academy model, in which schools remain District-managed, Audenried and Vare are in fact both slated for conversion into charter schools.

And although it gave parents and community members significant input into the selection of new management teams at seven Renaissance charters last year and will do so again at six more so-called “Renaissance match” charters this year, the District is skipping its own process at Audenried and Vare.

Instead of seeking input from School Advisory Councils, the District has awarded management of the schools directly to Universal Companies.

“We’re trying two different models,” explained District Associate Superintendent Diane Castelbuono.

“In the [Renaissance] match schools, the SACs have a much more hands-on role in terms of selecting the turnaround team. Where the community has input [at Audenried and Vare] is as the model rolls out.”

Universal is the recent recipient of a prestigious $500,000 Promise Neighborhood Planning grant from the U.S. Department of Education – a distinction that prompted the unprecedented new partnership with the District.

With the grant, Universal will develop a plan to turn Point Breeze and Grays Ferry into a Promise Neighborhood modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone, then compete with 20 other organizations around the country for a multi-million dollar implementation grant – if Congress appropriates funds to continue the program.

The South Philadelphia-based community development corporation currently operates three charter schools – its flagship charter, Universal Institute, in South Philadelphia, and the two Renaissance turnaround schools it took over last fall. Universal also has managed E.M. Stanton Elementary under a contract with the District since 2002 and served in the same formal capacity at Vare until its contract was terminated last June.

In addition to turning over Audenried and Vare to Universal as charters during the upcoming, second year of its Renaissance initiative, the District wants Universal to partner with it in converting two other schools in the neighborhood, Alcorn and Smith Elementary Schools, into "Traditional" Promise Academies. Universal will also provide support services at the seven other public schools in Point Breeze and Grays Ferry.

Despite the award, many of those in attendance Tuesday night said they were furious that Audenried – which is housed in a new building completed less than three years ago – has already been handed over to Universal.

“All this stuff about Kenny Gamble and Universal saving the community – they ain’t done [anything] for nobody but rich people,” said longtime community activist Charles Reeves, 67.

“We ain’t part of [anything],” an emotional Reeves added. “You already did it.”

In addition to the furor over the lack of public input into Audenried’s future, many expressed dismay at the lack of information provided by District officials during the meeting.

The initial presentation delivered by Silverman, intended as a 25-minute “Promise Academy Overview,” lasted less than 10 minutes.

When he concluded, one audience member asked aloud, “That was it?”

During the question-and-answer session that followed, attendees repeatedly asked Silverman and Darden to provide more information on how Audenried was selected to become a Promise Neighborhood Partnership school.

The District officials indicated that a combination of factors, including School Performance Index (SPI) scores, AYP status, school climate data, and neighborhood characteristics, were used to identify Renaissance Schools this year but did not have those numbers on hand.

Many in attendance expressed shock that Audenried was included in part based on performance data from students at the school’s previous facility, closed in 2005. Because it just has its first class of 11th graders this year, the new high school has not had any students take the PSSA exam since its reopening in 2009.

“You shouldn’t even use that [old] information,” said Outlaw. “You should base it on these kids, not somebody that should be about 32 years old now.” 

District officials did not respond to a Notebook request for the historical data used in deciding Audenried’s fate.

Associate Superintendent David Weiner later provided further detail to The Notebook about the data used in designating Audenried as a Renaissance School.

"In general, we tried to look at schools in more of a historical context," explained Weiner, confirming that the District looked at academic performance and school climate data from the old Audenried.

Weiner also said that "leading indicators" from the new facility were cause for concern to the District. 

Over the last three years, he said, Audenried has seen significant declines in the number of students who finish 9th grade on track to graduate and has had one of the lowest average daily attendance rates in the District.

During the meeting, District officials also sidestepped many requests for more information as to what the Promise Neighborhood Partnership model will entail, repeatedly telling attendees that “there will be [another] meeting within 30 days when representatives from Universal will come out and speak to you about the details.”

Universal President and CEO Rahim Islam was in attendance for part of the meeting, but did not address the audience.

In an earlier interview, Islam described Universal’s efforts to engage the community in its efforts to improve the schools in the Promise Neighborhood area.

Islam stressed that Universal has brought a wide range of community stakeholders to the table in its planning process. But he said “it’s always going to be a challenge to have real community participation” and was clear that any specific discussions of Audenried and Vare becoming charter schools were “incidental” to the planning process.

“I think fundamentally most of the leaders in the community agree with us,” he said then. “We need change, we need drastic change, and we need immediate change.”

Islam declined to comment on the concerns raised by parents and community members Tuesday evening.

Similar informational meetings are scheduled for Vare Middle School on Wednesday evening, Smith Elementary on Thursday, and Alcorn Elementary next Tuesday, February 15. All meetings are at 6:00 p.m.

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Comments (29)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 9, 2011 1:05 pm

Good for this community standing up to the un-democratic and disrespectful process that Ackerman has designed. Our district is a disgrace. There is something eery in many of these Renaissance schools-West Philadelphia, Barry Elementary, Audenried---ALL HAVE BRAND NEW STATE OF THE ART BUILDINGS. hmmmm that must be nice. Charter providers get handed tax payer money--but no tax payer input and SHINY new tax payer funded buildings.

Submitted by Valerie Smith-Webb (not verified) on February 13, 2011 11:50 am

Thank you. We will continue this battle and win the war! It's truly sad that we were sold out by "our" Superintendent. She has never been there for us from day one. The more we reached out to her, the further she backed away. This "building" is our community promise but a financial promise to Universal. I'm outraged that we are treated with such disrespect and stereotyped in a negative manner.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 9, 2011 3:25 pm

And the community is exactly right to be outraged, a brand new building and what has Universal done for the community in South philly, Vare was a complete mess so much that the district terminated their contract. and now they get a brand new building to run a charter school. No wonder someone from the SRC just stepped down, he knew there was a lot of bull in this whole process. Ackerman is doing exactly what she is paid to do, sanction out schools. less schools for her to run. less data to see how the job is going

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on February 9, 2011 3:54 pm

I was wondering about the timing of that step-down as well. Could it be that he just could not stomach any more of this??

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 9, 2011 6:41 pm

Who was the SRC boardmember that stepped down? I notice that, like always, you don't hear anything from the PFT. Where are they in all this disaster?

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on February 9, 2011 6:44 pm

Commissioner Girard-diCarlo resigned. I imagine the PFT may issue a statement. They issued one pretty quickly after the Renaissance Schools Year II announcement. That statement said (in part): ”I want to assure my members that the PFT contract lays out a framework for an orderly system of transfers and reassignments and our staff will be in affected schools this week. The PFT will monitor the process daily to make sure that members have every opportunity to be reassigned.”

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 9, 2011 7:20 pm

As all members have been informed that there is a General PFT membership meeting (you must be a PFT member to attend) tomorrow at the Sheet metal Workers Hall on Columbus Blvd. at 7:00 PM. Mr. Jordan will be addressing the membership on some of these issues at the meeting.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 9, 2011 7:05 pm

How have all the members been informed. This has not been mentioned at my building. No one has made any announcements to the staff regarding this meeting.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 9, 2011 7:52 pm

We received emails, it is on the PFT website, and your Building Rep should have informed the members in your building in whatever way they usually disseminate information.

Submitted by Marvin K Mooney (not verified) on February 9, 2011 7:57 pm

Meeting??? What meeting? I wasn't informed by the PFT. No postcard, no posting in school, no email. When did this announcement go out?

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 9, 2011 7:41 pm

It has been on the website for a two weeks or so. Building Reps should have announced it.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 9, 2011 7:43 pm

Correction, it has been posted on the website since 1/12/2011.
I recommend that all members check the website ( a couple of times a week. I believe you can also sign up on the site to receive notification e-mails.

Submitted by Marvin K Mooney (not verified) on February 9, 2011 8:51 pm

I am signed up for the notification emails. Have been since they started using emails.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 10, 2011 7:40 am

The only thing we've heard in our building is a vicious rumor regarding the disbanding of the PFT. IS this just a rumor? We have no idea what's going on here.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on February 10, 2011 10:15 am

Your Building Rep should be going to monthly informational meetings and informing you of what is going on. If they are not doing this ask why. If you do not have a Building Rep (every school should), you should contact the PFT about holding an election to elect one. I have been going to my monthly meetings as Rep in my school and have not heard the union will be abolished. Of, course, we know the politicians (some of them) are in a Union busting mood lately. The PFT website ( states that the meeting tonight is about "Facing New Legislative Threats and Challenges". This is a general meeting, all members can attend. I suggest all who can go should go to the meeting.

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 10, 2011 3:13 pm

 The PFT is the legally recognized bargaining agent for Philadelphia teachers and school employees.   That can only be changed by a decertification election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board in which the membership would either choose another union or opt for no union.   So such rumours are groundless.   

However there are serious threats in Harrisburg to unions generally and teacher unions in particular.   Anti labor forces want to make Pennsylvania a "right to work" state which would prohibit a closed or, in the case of the PFT, an agency shop, in which all bargaining unit members would have to be union members or pay "fair share."   There is also legislations that would take away the right to strike for teachers and other public employees.  

As Kristen indicated you need to go to meetings, check out the web site, and hold building reps and union staff accountable to insure that your well informed.   Only a union with an active and educated membership will be able to stand up to the anti-labor attacks that are coming down the pike.  

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 11, 2011 5:32 pm

Thank you for addressing this, Mr. Whitehorne. I suspect that whoever heard this rumor might have heard a conversation about the desire of private interests to abolish teachers' unions. You are right; while this is not a specific threat, it is a very real, over-arching threat.

Of course, as Egypt just reminded us, there is really no such thing as not being allowed to strike.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 10, 2011 10:53 am

Has anyone noticed that in the excellent Notebook reports about West Philly and Audenreid that neither Silverman nor Nixon have any really knowledge or answers. It reminds me of Nathan Price from The Poisonwood Bible trying to baptize the Congolese in the Congo river. He had no knowledge of how dangerous that was, just as Silverman choose to not know how much damage will be done. These people should be embarrassed.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 10, 2011 11:55 am

I meant to say Silverman and Nixon

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 10, 2011 8:23 pm

I was at the meeting and it is truly willful ignorance.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 12, 2011 11:28 pm

Ackerman was a bully when she was here in San Francisco. That is why she was run out of town. School need to stop hiring these over paid bullies!!!

Submitted by Hope Moffett (not verified) on February 13, 2011 8:07 am

I take issue with the District update on data. Still no numbers and any teacher who can sign onto schoolnet will realize that an average daily attendance rate of 83.8% is only 3.2% below average for all non-Promise Academy high schools and higher than many schools noton the list for turnaround. Fels, for example, Strawberry Mansion, Rhodes, Roxborough, etc. The District needs transparency. Enough with the lies. It is certainly much higher than the old Audenried, whose data has NOTHING to do with us and should not be used in the decision process. We are already in our turnaround phase and it is working. Don't create another disaster like West.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 13, 2011 2:16 pm

Our school has made AYP twice in a row, but is still an Empowerment School. We have a new employee who came from a school that failed to make AYP four years in a row and mysteriously made AYP the fifth year. That school has never been made an Empowerment School. There is a double standard in which schools are tagged Empowerment Schools. It has little to do with academic achievement, but more to do with real estate values.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on February 14, 2011 6:33 am

I have to say you may be on to something. We are empowerment, in spite of a strong academic record of growth and AYP.
My teaching partners are very worried that we will not hit AYP this year, due to the major changes in instructional programs, general atmosphere of total chaos and stress with other major issues.
I wish I could say they were wrong, but we have kids running the halls with no consequence, teachers getting hit - yes that was a plural noun, with several kids thinking it is okay to leave the room, hit the teachers, curse, hide in hoodies and continue to get away with it, how is AYP possible??

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on February 14, 2011 7:57 am

We have some of the same fears about AYP. We made it last year, but the primary grade teachers cannot "Imagine It" this year. The program is not as good as Trophies was, and---if we made AYP WITH Trophies, why change? No one at 440 applies any critical thinking skills. Our climate is good, but AYP still hangs over our heads.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on February 14, 2011 8:46 am

The worst part of this is the damage being caused by Imagine It will not show up for a few years. If we could motivate the kids and keep them in the seats this year, we would be okay. It's the general feel of the building that has us worried. The kids do not seem to care anymore and this is going to hurt us.
Our principal's solution was to give the teachers mints to feed to the kids during the test. Seriously? Is that a good idea??
Will this really help the kids while chairs fly and neighbors scream, rant and bully each other?

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on February 14, 2011 9:16 am

Yes--by the time the current K through 2 grade group get to PSSA testing in grade 3, the damage from Imagine It will be done. Then they will wonder why the children have no critical thinking skills????

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 13, 2011 8:07 am

David Weiner is lying about Audenried's attendance. The District is either not providing data, or deliberately misrepresenting data.

Submitted by Valerie Smith-Webb (not verified) on February 13, 2011 11:58 am

I agree with your comment. Thank you so much for being able to provide proven data unlike those who think that they can "make us better". I'd like to know what's better in their eyes, what make them think that they know what's best for our children and community, and why haven't they even asked our opinion. Unfortunately, this community, especially the children have been let down in so many ways. We finally have teachers and staff members that care and who are working with what we have regardless of the broken promises and lack of resources. It's not perfect but it's working and getting better all the time.

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