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SRC votes not to renew three charters

By the Notebook on Apr 19, 2012 02:41 PM

by Oscar Wang

The SRC took a first step tonight to shut down three charter schools: Arise Academy and Hope Charter, both of which have a mission to serve severely at-risk students, and Truebright Science Academy.

As representatives from the three schools made their cases for renewal, the SRC asked tough questions. The answers provided did not persuade the commission to reverse the three non-renewal recommendations made by the District's charter school office.

Commissioner Wendell Pritchett challenged all three charters to clearly outline a plan to turn their schools around. Implementation of good ideas is key to success, he said, not just the ideas themselves.

Hope Charter administrator Cassandra Russo mainly disputed the District’s use of state standardized test scores to assess the academic accountability of the school. The charter focuses on students who were expelled or voluntarily left other schools, and includes some foster children and those returning from incarceration. Up for renewal for the second time, it received the lowest score possible on the District's measure of quality, the School Performance Index.

The commissioners’ questions centered on the school’s priorities, student retention, and attendance trends.

Ultimately, commissioners were unconvinced that Hope deserved another five-year charter, voting 4-0 for non-renewal. Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky was absent.

“This should have been taken care of when the school was created,” Commissioner Pritchett said, referring to the school’s recently developed turnaround plans.

"You have a track record, a long period of time, so it's harder to say you haven't had the time to figure some things out,” added SRC Chair Pedro Ramos.

Truebright was looking for its first renewal. It was asked to explain a drastic drop in performance indicators. In 2010, the school registered an attendance rate of 96.18 percent; the following year, the rate dropped to 81.12 percent.

In terms of academic performance, Truebright met six out of six performance targets under No Child Left Behind in 2010. In 2011, it missed all six entirely.

Bekir Duz, CEO of Truebright, spent his three-minute testimony taking issue with an article in Thursday's Inquirer that focused on his school’s alleged ties to a Turkish religious group. Calling the report “hearsay,” Duz said that the story “waste[s] everybody’s time.”

Truebright board member Baki Acikel contended that an Inquirer story in March 2011 damaged the school’s atmosphere last year and caused low morale among students. He blamed that for the low test scores.

SRC members questioned the Truebright administrators about the test scores, attendance data, and erroneous reporting of data to the state. Ultimately, they voted 4-0 not to renew the charter.

Duz told the Notebook that his school plans to appeal to the state. Schools can stay open during the appeals process.

The recommendation not to renew Arise Academy's charter was clearly the most controversial decision of the three for the commissioners.

Commissioners expressed interest in giving the school time to improve, but said they were not willing to give the school a five-year renewal.

Arise, in partnership with the city Department of Human Services, is the nation's first charter to specifically serve foster children. Beyond its academic program, the school offers social support services to guide students toward graduation -- and eventual emancipation at age 18. Seeking its first renewal, the school does not have enough data available to be given a score on the School Performance Index.

Student Myliesha Baker told the SRC that she felt like a “mute” before matriculating to Arise. “At Arise,” she said, “I felt like it was safe to speak.”

Arise CEO Gabriel Kuriloff touted his school’s value-based program, individualized support for each student, and teachers and staff specially trained to care for foster children.

Students like Baker, he said, are “not victims of the system, but empowered agents of systemic change."

“Invest heavily in our success," he told the SRC.

Ramos said that Kuriloff "couldn't be more compelling in stating the need for a school [like] Arise." But he expressed concern that despite the “best intentions and successes,” the school would not be able to implement its strategy.

After a discussion on attendance, intensive skill remediation, engaging curriculum, and Arise’s finances and leadership, members of the SRC seemed to be willing to give the school another chance.

However, Commissioners Ramos and Pritchett both said they did not believe Arise deserved a five-year charter.

Commissioner Feather Houstoun expressed the same concerns as her colleagues, but said she felt “really uncomfortable with the options” in front of her. If the SRC issued a non-renewal notice to Arise, Houstoun was concerned that Arise would be “putting a lot of human resources and energy into an appeal while they can spend it on their school.”

State law does authorize the SRC to grant one-year renewals of charters in situations where there is insufficient performance data on a school, but the SRC did not publicly consider that option for Arise.

In the end, the commissioners voted for non-renewal, 3-1, with only Lorene Cary dissenting. However, Ramos said that the SRC would be willing to work with the school.

“The process triggered here [with the non-renewal notice] is a beginning, not an end,” he said, mentioning the possibility of a “mutual agreement” that would help Arise improve and continue operating as long as there was sufficient evidence that the school was implementing real changes.

On Monday, the District posted documents summarizing its review of each charter renewal up for consideration, including the staff recommendations against renewing the charters of the three schools.

Supporters of those schools, however, have been vocal in arguing against closure ever since word of the non-renewal recommendations surfaced in mid-March.

The non-renewal vote kicks off a formal hearing process that could take months. Any school that is not renewed can bring its case before the Pennsylvania Charter Appeal Board. Former District charters Germantown Settlement and Renaissance did that in 2008, but their appeals were ultimately unsuccessful.

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Comments (28)

Submitted by Roxborough19128 (not verified) on April 19, 2012 3:52 pm

I think the district should postpone their vote on charters recommended for renewal. At least one of them, Green Woods, has shown they have no plan in place. Knowing their charter is due for renewal this year and that the lease on the facility they currently have is also up, they have tried unsuccessfully for several years to procure another location for their school. The SRC approved the application to expand their numbers without a proper facility being available. Wih their lease up in June, they plan to split their current student body population between two catholic school facilities they plan to rent for a year while supposedly building a new facility. Where are they planning to get the money to build? They plan to sell $20,000,000.00 worth of bonds. $20,000,000.00. What happens when they aren't able to do that? Their zoning has been postponed. They've been working on his for years and still have no stable plan in place. Doesn't this reflect some short sightedness on te board of trustees? How they even know they'll be able to support the school? They don't have he money now. Why recharter if they can't ensure the viability of the school? Especially went he district will have to make up an even bigger shortfall next year. Don't renew he charter. Have he students that are affect go to their meighborhood schools and invest in those schools. The viability of he district as a whole is more important than just one or two schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 8:28 pm

There's NO easy money made in that model and that's why all of this charter farce continues. Lots of easy money for the operators and the slithering politicians who set them up to steal. That's why we're Philly !!

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 20, 2012 7:41 am

This is an interesting dilemma. The PSD's traditional schools are strategically placed in all neighborhoods. With its inability to "mandatorily reorganize" its own administration, it (the PSD) is resorting to creation of and conversion to charters which then leads to the capital investments needing to be reorganized (closed, "right sized"). Shawmont I'm sure has plenty of room for the current Green Woods students. Where does that leave Shawmont if Green Woods can find the capital investment funds to establish a new facility? These funds would not come directly from taxpayers, but taxpayers would be paying for the "shortfall" that Shawmont would be left with. One has to wonder if it might not be more "to the point" to convert Shawmont to Green Woods?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 8:21 am

The influx of charters has also impacted South Philly high schools. The SDP is expanding a magnet school - Academy at Palumbo - because it is labeled "high performing" which is should be since it has the same admission criteria as Central. There are at least 4 charter schools which take the "middle" students. The neighborhood schools, apparently, are suppose to be for students who are not accepted - or kicked out of - charters and magnet schools. Meanwhile, we are all judged by the same standards. I know the mantra - "no excuses" - but the SRC has to realize it takes a lot longer to move students who are academically behind than those who are academically prepared.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 20, 2012 9:59 am

We must continually remind the SRC that a high achieving school is not one that only admits high achieving students, but rather one that can show improvement (yes it would still have to comply with existing standardized tests right now) in its students. The improvement/change should be the judge; and the stats should follow the students - that is if the school is to be judged, only be for students that remain in the school, not incorporating new students who then adversely affect the schoolwide statistics.

Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on April 20, 2012 9:28 am

Exactly. Any school that can teach all children is the one that should be funded. Not the special interest, political backed Charter Schools

Submitted by Anon, anon, we must go anon.... (not verified) on April 20, 2012 9:00 am

You are so very right! If we went by improvement only, the "high achieving" schools would not do well at all. They take in kids in the top 10 percent in grades and test scores and keep them in the top ten percent. Not a bad thing, but big deal! I have much more respect for the schools and teachers who move a child with a reading level that is two years below grade level towards proficiency year by year.

Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on April 20, 2012 9:11 am

Seriously, you must be a Green Woods Board Member. I have not heard good things about Green Woods, but wonderful things about Shawmont and Cook. Shawmont and Cook are both "full" but are also taking students from the closing Levering. Becasue both are such good schools, they will make it work and welcome those students and families without worry.

As a taxpayer, I am concerned most about how Green Woods is planning on raising this money? My understanding there is a $20 million bond issue on the table. Who is going to be responsible for selling those bonds? The parents? That will go over well. Who is going to buy them? The City? Not gonna happen, as there will be a huge lawsuit if that happens.

Additionally, Green Wood's board has lied to the RDC, the neighbors and the politicians. They told people that they want to expand to include HS. However, they put in their charter application that they want to do that in this charter period? They are trying to convince the RDC and the neighbors that this will only give 5 additional school busses. If that is the Math they use, I defintely wouldn't want my child learning math there!

Submitted by jws (not verified) on May 8, 2012 10:34 pm

Presently Shawmont is almost at capacity with maybe enough space for thirty to forty students. Shawmont is a very viable public school with as exceptional teaching staff and good leadership. It parent base as also a positive! So to "convert" Shawmont to Greenwoods, I don't think, will ever happen!

Submitted by ziquon brown (not verified) on December 11, 2012 3:02 pm
I'm a student that goes to truebright science adcamdemy charter, this school is a bunch of bs doesn't even teach us anything don't even lie and say keep it open close this school down. And the people that were saying keep this school open it wasn't none of our parents that where people that work their and there friends
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2012 11:20 pm

Thank god. Universal would have run it into the ground like the other schools. If only people saw then for what they really were!!! Scam artists who don't care about the students. They just want there money!

Submitted by Joseph Proietta (not verified) on April 20, 2012 10:32 am

The arrogance of this attack on charter schools is mind blowing. Whether it is the SRC or the Great Schools Compact, what it comes down to is that a group of elites, wealthy and powerful are going to tell 40,000 Philadelphia parents what school to send their children to after promising them a choice. A choice the parents took for their own reasons. It was the monopoly and lack of choice in government-run public schools that caused public charter schools to exist in the first place: let the parents choose. What factor they like about the school is the parent's choice and the parent's business not the nanny states. However, now the forces of the government want to take that choice away and make every charter school just another government-run public school in the same model, same rules. It's a way to save money and keep the dough in their coffers, take away choice from parents, break the public school unions, and give business control of the public school system. I think some believe they are doing good; they don't see they are only pawns in stripping the people of the little glimpse of empowerment they had over their kids' education.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 10:56 am

How is shutting down charters a way to "break the public school unions"? Pray tell! If charters are going to use public funds then, yes, they will have to follow the "same rules" as public schools. Look at the nonsense that the three charters, who were not renewed, were pulling. Is "choice" suppose to mean attending corrupt charter schools set up to make their administration and school boards rich?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 11:10 am

Stop your whining. Everything you stated is happening to public schools right now. You just want to make sure your pockets can remain filled with taxpayers' money. Tell the truth about who your school is leased from and that you were investigated by the FBI in 2010. I think you have gotten rich enough off the students of this city.

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on July 17, 2012 7:34 pm

Hey Joseph, how did that federal investigation into your mismanagement of public funds go?

You are a shining example of what exactly is wrong with charters.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 10:19 am

Interesting post about charters

Submitted by Joseph Proietta (not verified) on April 20, 2012 11:48 am

The union comment referred to parental choice and the SDP's penchant for chartering its own schools, as if, a charter is just a SDP school by another name. Two of the three schools are schools that specialize in high-risk kids, and it's a disgrace that the SRC would go after ARISE Academy a school that educates foster children. There is no room in this phoney, game playing, one-test fits all world for serving the needs of individual children and families. It's just one big race to the bottom by a steamroller that is running over every kid and family in Philadelphia that needs help and doesn't fit the mold G. W. Bush established in 2001. I'd ask how can people be so blind, but follow the real money; the consultants, the book publishers, the whole industry of test makers and trainers.

Submitted by Anonymous J (not verified) on April 20, 2012 12:08 pm

I was a student at Arise and i can really say that it changed my life and how i look at the world because. It made me realize that i can do something great or be something great even if i came from foster-care, I can be one of the kids who made a better life for myself and not get stuck in the life of stereotypes about kids who have no one to call family or that comes from foster-care.That i can be someone in life and i think that if the SRC was to shut Arise down it would be closing down a great place of opportunity and stability for kids like me. It would be taking away the hope of something better or even a better future for foster kids who have no hope. I just believe in my heart that if they would give Arise a little more time to show and prove that they can make a difference and a change then all the hard work wouldn't be for nothing.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 9:09 pm

God Bless you and good luck. I believe they will give Arise a little more time, they left the door open for that. If charter schools are meant to do anything, it seems to be fulfilling a mission such as this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2012 2:29 pm

All these schools may say they are Gulen Inspired ( TrueBright) and they have followers of Gulen (Cult Members)but let us look closer at the knucklehead they are inspired by. To quote Gulen's own words.

"You must become a bomb and explode against the USA..."
"You must move through the artery of the systems until conditions are ripe..."
"The Vatacin is a den of snakes and the Pope is like a Cobra...."
"You must build a web(Madrassas-Schools) and lay with the patients of a spider. We do not consume their bodys but breath new life into their souls..."

He placed a fatwa on the kurdish people last month and from that 35 Kurdish children were slaughtered and in Au. A Kurdish woman was beaten by two of his followers. Some were arrested and tossed into prison.

Not really anyone who should be around children. In my opinion they are monsters who pretend to be nice. In fact it is just plain creepy.

Gulen Insprired Charter Schools - Teachers with guns.

Gulen Charter Schools Whirling Dervish & Occult Sufism

In case you missed it here is the origanal news article about the FBI investigations.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 21, 2012 2:13 pm

To be fair to TrueBright, there are Philadelphia charters run by clergy (Rev. Palmer) and others with strong affiliations with churches. While I think TrueBright should not have used relied on visas to hire Turkish staff, the fact that the school has ties to a Iman should not disqualify the school. Otherwise, we should disqualify charters with any ties to clergy.

Submitted by Andrea (not verified) on April 22, 2012 4:31 pm

You have a point. However, Truebright is a non-secterian school. They don't religion and they don't have any other agenda in their curriculum other than state standard. If that would be the case, parents wouldn't support the school:

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 21, 2012 3:05 pm

It is very unfortunate that Philly residents have no clue about the real purpose of these institutions such as Truebright Science Academy! These are Islamic fundamentalist Abdullah Gülen founded organizations for solely making propaganda and spreading poison throughout the nation... open your eyes and start investigating.
There are about 150 to 200 Turkish charter schools such as Truebright operated by an islamic cult managed by Imam Fetullah Gulen all over the US. Imam Gulen's well known statement to his followers goes as follows "Travel within the arteries of the system without being noticed, and wait for the right time for action. Bride the courts, bribe the judges to win your case even if you need to spend milllions of dollars to do so. This Imam expelled by the Turkish government now lives in the US. They abuse the immigration system to get 100s of Turkish teachers to teach at these charter schools while the American teachers fkip burgers unemployed. Turkish teachers pay a percentage of their salaries back to the cult, seems voluntery, yet mandatory. So American tax payers pay these Turkish teachers in the school district. And the money eventually support the Gulen cult that had a secret agenda. The idea behind these Islsmic charter schools is to create an American generation who are close to Gulen's islamic movement in ideology. The cult further identifies the most succesful kids in the system and trains them as the leaders of the future. I am very glad that finally the secret agenda of the Imam Fetulla Gulen cult surface.

Submitted by Andrea (not verified) on April 22, 2012 4:11 pm

You have no idea what you are talking about. Hear the Truebright succes from the first hand:

If you want to hear from the Truebright parents, click this:

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 17, 2012 5:58 pm


Are you being paid to make these comments? I taught at Truebright. I was there when they first opened. Many staff members and parents have made numerous calls to the district regarding their unethical practices. As teachers, we were forced to falsify data, change grades, etc. It is factual that as certified teachers with a long teaching history, we were paid far less than the Turkish staff.

In addition, although some parents may be happy with Truebright, those are the parents who are clueless as to what a real education is. Truebright appeals to parents/students by offering things such as fancy school trips, international trips, etc. Many of the students/parents at Truebright have never traveled past the immediate localities of the inner city. Therefore, they see all these extra things as what defines a great school.

Submitted by tom-104 on April 21, 2012 6:58 pm

Vouchers will bring more charter operators who have a religious objective for starting their school. Millions of dollars are being given to pro-vouchers candidates nationally who want to promote religious schools. Vouchers will futher undermine public schools.

Unfortunately, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia have bought into this attack on public education:

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2012 5:46 am

Thanks for your post. The attack on Roebuck is because he won't support vouchers. The Black Clergy of Philadelphia, with vouchers, will launch many more religious schools funded with public money. Religious schools already receive public money (Title 1, special education funding, transportation, etc.). Vouchers will further segregate schools in Philadelphia by adding religion.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 30, 2013 2:24 pm

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