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Charters serving at-risk students plead for another chance

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 15, 2012 08:18 PM

Recent recommendations from District staff to close two charters have set up a difficult question for the School Reform Commission.

Should charters whose mission is to take in the students who are most at-risk – those in foster care, children who have suffered trauma, youth returning from juvenile placement – be shut down if their test scores don't match up to the standard applied at other schools?

Supporters of Arise Academy and Hope Charter defended their schools at the SRC meeting Thursday night. The two high schools are awaiting an SRC vote April 19 on renewal of their charter. Both learned just days ago that the District staff is recommending that the SRC not renew their charters. Such a vote would close their schools down.

Arise Academy, located in Center City, specifically focuses on serving students who have been in placement with the Department of Human Services, which includes the demographic group at highest risk of dropping out. At Hope Charter, in West Oak Lane, many of the 440 students are in foster care, and its mission is to take in students who have left or been pushed out of other schools.

Hope, which was founded in 2001, has an SPI (school performance index) score of 10, the lowest possible, and is up for its second renewal. Arise Academy, which is in just its third full year of operation, has no SPI score because there is not enough comparative data. This is the first time that Arise is seeking charter renewal.

“We are potentially being penalized for staying true to our mission,” Hope principal Eric Worley told the commission.

Worley’s statement prompted SRC Chair Pedro Ramos to ask directly whether Worley believed the school should be held to a different standard.

“We would like the possibility of being measured in a different way because of the special population we serve,” Worley replied, to applause from the school’s supporters at the meeting.

Gabriel Kuriloff, who has been the CEO of Arise Academy only since June, made a similar plea.

“The data presented by the charter office in no way does justice to what we have accomplished and will accomplish,” he said.

Arise student Mikal Smith told the SRC that the “Arise family structure and support has allowed me to grow and overcome obstacles, my biggest obstacle sometimes being me. In my opinion, Arise seems to be doing the best they can, and they have my back.”

Representatives of both schools acknowledged rocky periods in their history, but reiterated that it takes time to figure out the most effective way to deal with children who have been failed in every other aspect of their lives.

“No question that we have faced challenges and missteps,” Kuriloff  said. “But we make a promise to our students that Arise will always be there for them.”

Several community activists who work with foster-care youth also testified as to the need for schools like this.

Frank Cerbone is the director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, which organizes pro-bono attorneys for abused and neglected children. He pointed out that a 2006 report by Project U-Turn found that 75 percent of students in foster care and 90 percent of students returning from juvenile placement drop out of high school.

“This was an indictment of our failure to meet their needs,” Cerbone said. Acknowledging that Arise’s road has been as “rocky as that of some of our kids,” he said that nevertheless, “this community needs Arise.”

Lisa Hixenbaugh, a mental health professional who works at Hope, spoke about the students' academic challenges. “These students have difficulty focusing and concentrating in class, difficulty processing information, forming trusting relationships, controlling their behavior, modulating their emotions, difficulty imagining a future. They have difficulties in class and are poor test takers.”

Arise has 155 students, Kuriloff said outside the meeting, and he pointed out that a few students going missing can severely impact attendance and testing participation data.

“We had four kids go to jail over Christmas break,” he said.

Regardless, he said, “We are adding value. We had an 18-person band. These are kids who never touched an instrument before. Now they have a summer performance schedule.”

As far as figuring out a model to work for these students, Kuriloff said, “We are at the edge of this. We feel we have a unique and powerful vision.

“I know we are not doing as well as we need to, but the District isn’t doing any better [with this population of students]. But the kids love it. They want a home and a family.”

The SRC is under pressure to close low-performing charters. If the only schools targeted for closure are schools like Hope and Arise that were formed to serve severely at-risk populations, that could prove problematic.

Ramos said later that this was a "fair issue to raise."

Both Arise and Hope urged SRC members to visit before making a decision. SRC member Lorene Cary, whose nonprofit organization, Art Sanctuary, has worked in Arise, said that she is still trying to absorb and understand all the information she can before drawing conclusions.

The issue of treating the most at-risk students differently "also comes up in the safety committee," said Cary, who chairs the SRC body that is looking into school climate. "We have to be careful when we are thinking about expectations," and how expectations affect student behavior and achievement.

A third charter also has been recommended by staff for non-renewal, according to District spokesperson Fernando Gallard, who would not identify the school. All three schools have an opportunity this week to provide a written rebuttal of the District's case for non-renewal, Gallard said.

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Comments (49)

Submitted by Rob (not verified) on March 15, 2012 8:25 pm

I agree with the charters schools that they should not be penalized for staying true to their vision but this would open a a whole can of worms? What about ESP student populations? Schools that cater to special Ed? This would also prove that the SPI is useless, something that the SDP has spent a lot of time (and money) to make critical decisions

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 15, 2012 10:19 pm

I don't think SDP is ready to concede that SPI is worthless.

Submitted by David Lapp (not verified) on March 15, 2012 8:01 pm

I have no idea whether Hope or Arise are good schools, but this demonstrates the problem with an SPI that is so heavily weighted on test scores and has NO accountability measures for whether schools are serving all students. How many charters with 1-2 SPI scores, accomplish those scores by pushing out the "undesirable" students that other schools with low SPIs serving?

Submitted by Jim H. (not verified) on March 15, 2012 9:03 pm

They ALL do it, of course and STILL Charters like Imhotep cheat their way through with the pols protecting them for the kickbacks.

Submitted by James (not verified) on March 15, 2012 11:21 pm

Agreed. SPIs are not the way to go.

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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2012 5:27 am

I'm at a neighborhood high school. A few weeks ago another students from a charter - Boys Latin - with an IEP and many behavioral issues. Charters, like Boys Latin, are able to screen students before they are enrolled. (Boys Latin requires a parent to bring the student during day hours for an interview and then sign a series of commitments.)

Neighborhood high schools work with students the magnet/ site selection students reject. More and more, we are also getting the students charter schools reject. If Ramos is stating that the SPI will not be considered with "special" charters, than it is invalid for any district school which can not site select their students. How will the SRC chose its "50,000 seats" to shut down? Will charters get a pass?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 15, 2012 10:05 pm

I am skeptical of most charters, but Arise is a good school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 20, 2012 8:16 pm

How do you know? On what evidence are you making that assessment? There's no transparency, no accountability in the real world so...........???

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 15, 2012 10:02 pm

The School District does not issue SPIs for AD-4 (the alternative region, which serves a very similar population). Look at the most recent SPI list.

The AD-4 Supt wants to convert all the non-district schools that serve this population back into district schools. Look at the moves last year to close all the contracted schools except 3 or 4.

This is probably part of the plan; the charters take the "desirable" students, the public schools get Special Ed, ESOL, and disciplinary problems. Isn't that exactly what the portfolio model of the Great Schools contract prescribes?

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on March 25, 2012 8:13 pm

Exactly Right and it's all happening right in our face for all to see. They just don't care how unfair, unamerican, insensitive, corrupt and shameless it all is----making money makes it all perfectly OK.

Submitted by Phantom Poster (not verified) on March 16, 2012 1:32 am

Does anyone believe that any of these kids will wind up in "good" charters if this lifeline is taken away? Screw the scores - there's a place for humanity in public education.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2012 5:47 am

Most neighborhood high schools also have a disproportionate number of students who will never enter the door of a site select school. (Students with an IEP accepted into site selection schools do not have behavioral issues.) Central has less than 1% students with an IEP and Germantown High School has almost 33% with an IEP. Yet, both schools are judged by the SIP.

The SIP favors sites select schools. If the SDP/SRC is chaterizing and/or closing SDP schools because of SIP, then charters should be closed because of SIP. Otherwise, the measurement is invalid.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2012 5:05 am

Sorry - SPI not SIP. (SIP is School Improvement Plan).

Submitted by Alternative School Teacher (not verified) on March 16, 2012 12:30 pm

These schools (along with the AD-4 schools) serve a very important purpose and population. Many of the students at these schools were pushed out, dropped out, or failed out of traditional and charter schools. Without charters like Hope and Arise and the alternative schools, the district is effectively shutting the academic door on an entire population of young people.

While I am certainly not making excuses for students' decisions (many of my students are the first to admit that dropping out or getting put out was their own fault or choice), is it fair to allow for an adolescent decision to decide a student's fate?

Looking critically at all schools (charter, alternative, traditional, cyber) is essential, but targeting those who score low on a metric without considering their mission and population is irresponsible.
- Would we prefer that these schools doctored their attendance and test scores?
- Doesn't it make more sense to collaboratively create reasonable expectations and use that as a measure of success?

Submitted by tom-104 on March 17, 2012 12:34 pm

Thank you! Once again this points out the need for complete transparency for charter schools. As you point out, just simple management decisions based on the reasons why a school is not making targeted goals require this.

It appears that the same way public schools have been victimized by using low test scores, without taking into consideration things like the economic demographics of the student population, is now happening to charter schools. The result is going to be a segregated education system based on the circumstances of the student population.
We must wake up to the fact that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been disasters for the U.S. educational system, making an already bad situation much worse?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2012 12:31 pm

Why isn't the third charter recommended for non-renewal not being made public?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2012 10:03 pm

What third charter?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 19, 2012 2:54 pm

According to the SDP there are three charters that are being recommended not to have have their charters renewed. ARISE, HOPE and who is the other? And why isn't that public knowledge?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2012 12:43 pm

These are the students that most charters and School districts schools don't want because they hurt test scores and attendance data. Schools like Hope, Arise and the contracted alternative accelerated schools take these kids in no matter. They do the best they can when all others have turned their backs. There is no way to measure these schools against schools like Masterman, Central, Mastery or special admit charters.

Education for all not just those who have support.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2012 11:17 am

There are only 2 or 3 contracted alternative schools. This year, AD-4 absorbed/took over almost all of the formerly contracted alternative schools.

My suspicion would be that Arise and Hope don't have a chance, just as the contracted programs didn't. AD-4 decided to end those contracts long before the budget crisis hit the news.

If you look at the big picture, the district is going to become the school system for students nobody else wants, destined to fail, and the charters will take the students who will do well. Students will be segregated by ability level.

Charters that want students with troubles are standing in the way of this goal. Don't you get it yet?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2012 1:51 pm

The School District of Philadelphia is no where near perfect. We just paid close to one million dollars to get ride of Arlene so the Phila SD is in no way shape or form to judge Charter Schools who are patient enough to accept the students who the district rejects. The district is too big already so they should be fighting to keep these schools open and giving them more supports so they they can help these troubled teens stay in school. These schools are underfunded and under supported. And if these schools do get shut down, what does the district intend on doing with the new rush of under performing students? They cannot do any better a job than these Charter Schools. If anything, the charters can do more because they are smaller. Yes they haven't made AYP but who is to say why? It is not the schools fault because all they are guilty of is being too honest and not cheating on test scores like some Philly schools. If anything, these schools need some intervention but not a closure. Have the district send their people into these schools and see if they can have better results.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2012 12:31 pm

That's very funny! "Charter Schools who are patient enough to accept the students who district rejects" is an outright lie. It is the public schools, who cannot bounce out or screen out problem students, not the charters, that takes in these children. Every year I have to deal with at least one charter refugee that has been bounced out once the charter has its hands on this child's money (usually in Oct.) The public schools does not have the screening out process that charters has set up before they let parents even participate in the lottery. Public schools need to restore gifted programs so our brightest kids won't leave.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2012 1:55 pm

you are so right!!! I hope it isn't too late before parents start to wake up to the fact that Charter Schools are about making a profit on their child.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2012 1:11 pm

Richard Chapman is CEO of HOPE. You can't even get this article straight.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2012 3:11 pm

If charters with at risk students get to be measured differently, than ALL traditional neighborhood schools should be measured differently, because of the at risk populations they serve.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2012 12:31 pm

Now, these charter schools are pleading to stay open....welcome to our world in the SDP. Please, please, please keep us open, we have special at risk kids.
HELLO...isn't this what most school district teachers have been telling everyone.
But when "we" SDP teachers speak out on the reality of what we deal with every day teaching this population, all we are told is that we are complaining, or we are incompetent. I thought charters had all the money to fix these poblems?
What a joke, Charter schools claim they are better because they have more money that can fix these issues with at risk students.....doesn't sound like its working. Charters are just a cash cow for greedy people wanting to make money off of children.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 18, 2012 11:39 am

You are wrong on so many levels about charter schools and their claims of money and having the fix to all problems, at least with regard to Arise. Arise is clearly a speciality. They are building a network of resources and a program that will help a population that has been left out to dry. Arise was built because of the need for additional services that you are stating those students need. Why say they are greedy? Arise is trying to pick up the pieces for a group of students who have been through years of academic neglect. Grow up and stop complaining.

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on March 16, 2012 6:16 pm

Looks like it's getting harder to play in the sandbox. 

Submitted by mikal smith (not verified) on March 17, 2012 10:50 am

i go to Arise its a great school the s.r.c needs to come to my school and talk to our kids. Arise is more than a school i said it in my speech its a family

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2012 12:24 pm

Well so are some neighborhood schools, in the SDP, a family...but they are getting closed down too. Sorry to say Mikal, it isn't about your education, it's about politics and making money. The people who run your charter school are getting rich...since when has education been about making money?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2012 6:05 pm

Who is getting rich running Arise?

Submitted by Cya (not verified) on March 19, 2012 7:18 pm

Mikal,
You sound like a leader.
Do the other students in your school feel the same way you do?
If so, why not get a big group of them together and do video interviews. Have them tell the reasons they like the school and how it differs from their past experiences.
Ask them for their suggestions for improvements. Ask them what they hope to do after graduation.
Put together a presentation and show it to the SRC-before their vote in April.

No one knows better the challenges your fellow students face each day better than the students! Don't let a bunch of politically connected adults decide your future.
If you really think this school and its services are worth fighting for, round up your fellow students and get to work!

Submitted by mikal (not verified) on March 20, 2012 8:10 am

I'm trying and striving to keep our school open. I'm a senior and I want to see Arise grow as a whole. The SRC needs to see that they need to come out to the school and hear the stories from the voices of the students @ arise. The education is for us kids so why cant we have a say about this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2012 2:57 pm

Now they are pleading to stay open...how about the schools in the SDP that are not failing and they will be closed??

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2012 6:42 pm

Arise is one of the best schools I've heard of that embodies a "learning organization" model. The staff, recognizing the difficulties that are inherant in the population they teach, work extremely hard to create initiatives and proactively problem solve to ensure their students receive the best education possible. Like most new schools, they've had their struggles, but there's no reason to believe that they won't continue to improve - as they have for each of the last 3 years. Closing down Arise is a decision centered around doing what is convenient for some adults, and isn't based on a true, nuanced assessment of what's best for Arise's student body.

Submitted by Phantom Poster (not verified) on March 18, 2012 12:26 am

Philadelphia Regional High did a great job with kids who needed a second chance, but it, too, was closed (and never replaced).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 18, 2012 11:52 am

How can Charter Schools have more money when they receive 20% less per student from the school district?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 18, 2012 12:01 pm

They make money by using their own business to "supply" these charters' needs (look at Vahan down in Chester). If they really receive 20% then how is that their administrators receive such inflated salaries? Compare their salaries to those of the public schools. Funny how this is never brought up in the conversation.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 18, 2012 1:20 pm

Most charters pay less than unionized, public school teachers. Chester Community Charter's average teacher's salary is under $40,000/year. Gureghian's for profit firm that runs the charter gets about $5500 per student. (See today's Inquirer: http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20120318_Inside_Chester_Community...
The Chester Charter also scams the system by having a much higher percentage of students labeled "special ed." Nearly 1/2 are for speech impediment. It is a scam to get the for profit company more money. Then, the for profit company donates to politicians - including Corbett.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 18, 2012 5:40 pm

Not to mention that they have scam clauses like having to pay them $2,000 if you leave before the year is over. Do people who get fired get anything when they leave Chester Charter? A former teacher there, now in public school, had $1,300 in out of pocket expenses she paid during here one year there. Still owed $300 at this point.

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on March 19, 2012 8:24 am

The article in the Inquirer missed the issue of who owns the buildings the school is housed in? I will bet Gureghian personally profits from a lease arrangement, too. That is the "lease scam" which many charter school operators use to put money into their pockets rather than have the charter school itself purchase the building.

Also, how is Chester Community Charter School's board of trustees "elected or appointed?" Who are they and how did they get on the board? Why are they letting the good ole boy scam the children?

Gureghian is a scam artist and he gets to do it with impunity.

How can I steal from children -- let me count the ways?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 22, 2012 8:43 pm

Of course, and everybody knows it but it continues with no relief in sight. The crooks like Corbett and his charter buddy are connected at the hip for all to see. It needs to be stopped but how do we do it when the pols protect them and are complicit with all of it. They don't even try to hide it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 18, 2012 9:12 pm

Look at the in-depth story on Chaka Fattah Jr and the Delaware Valley disciplinary charter. They may only get 80% per-pupil funding from the home district, but they sure find ways to make up the difference and then some.

They also won't take ELLs, who cost more to educate but don't come with extra funding.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 19, 2012 7:14 am

Besides the other explanations above, charters often don't have the full Instrumental Music, or Athletic programs. In starting up, they get Federal funds; and they are eligible as their own LEAs for more grant funding (evidence Wissahickon Charter with nearly $100,000 for a library; and KIPP with a building financed by the Agassi foundation). What exactly is the cost of our SDP's bureacratic structure? The Regional offices, and 440? The charters don't have this expense either.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 18, 2012 5:49 pm

unbelievable that they can get away with this!!! The general public has not caught on yet.........the in thing right now is to blame teachers. I really hope that these charters will come to light, and we can all have our careers, students, and schools back.

Submitted by Arise Students (not verified) on March 19, 2012 11:55 am

Listen, we are the students of Arise. One of us (Martin Hicks!) has been honored by ESPN through this school. Arise offers a lot of opportunities where students can become a productive adults and communicate better. Arise is not only a school, it's a family. We learn more than just school work, we learn for life. Please support us by following us on Twitter @ariseacademyPHL and liking our page on Facebook.

Submitted by mikal (not verified) on March 20, 2012 8:18 am

I am trying and striving to do the best I can to keep this school open. I am a senior at Arise and I want to see Arise grow as a whole. I need the SRC to see that they must come to the school and hear the voices of the students. The education is for the kids so why can't we have a say about this.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on March 20, 2012 6:45 pm

You should have a say about this. In generally, I am not pro-charter school, but there are exceptions and Arise is one of them. It fulfills a deep need among a population of students who have already suffered more in their young lives than most of us have in a lifetime. Make sure you keep attending SRC meetings (they key is keeping it civil and respectful) - and show a large presence. See if your school's partners can become involved as well. And remember - fighting a good fight makes you a winner no matter what the SRC ultimately decides. It will make a difference.

My fingers are crossed for you, Mikal.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 26, 2012 11:20 am

Okay, so the third charter being recommended to have it's charter revoked is "Truebright Science Academy Charter School". It publicizes itself a "college prep program focused on Math and Science". It posted dismal AYP scores and has an SDI of 9. Truebright has hired attorneys and a PR firm (with tax payer dollars) in an attempt to remain open. In 2010 the teachers attempted to unionize and the three most vocal were fired or were not offered contracts. Since then there have been several on-going EEOC lawsuits alleging unlawful employment practices. The previous CEO left the country in February 2011. Truebright is run by an all male Turkish Board and it's top three administrators are turkish males, non having any PA educational credentials or certifications. Truebright is a charter school nightmare and reflects poorly on the whole choice movement.

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