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Steel, Muñoz-Marin elementaries chosen for possible Renaissance charter conversion

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 1, 2014 06:00 PM

Updated | April 2, 4:49 p.m. 

The Philadelphia School District is proposing handing over two additional elementary schools to charter operators, assigning Muñoz-Marin to ASPIRA and Edward Steel to Mastery.

If the school communities approve, the two will be the 21st and 22nd low-performing District schools to be converted to charters under the Renaissance turnaround initiative.

This year, for the first time, parents at the schools will decide whether to go through with the charter conversion process. In the past, the District designated which schools would be converted, and the community's role was to decide on a charter provider.

In designating Mastery and ASPIRA, the District is relying on the two Renaissance providers whose current schools, according to an internal study released late last year, are performing the best -- in fact, the only two Renaissance providers whose schools were found to be "on track" to achieving the kind of rapid turnaround that the District is seeking. 

The District’s Office of Accountability and Assessment concluded that all seven of Mastery’s current schools were on track for their students to exceed 60 percent proficiency in math, and five of the seven in reading, by 2016. ASPIRA now operates two schools -- Olney High and Stetson Middle. Olney was on track in both subjects and Stetson in math.

Although almost all the Renaissance schools have showed marked improvements in climate, academic progress has been spottier. And the study showed that the most successful schools are the ones that were converted during the first year of the initiative, in 2010-11. Most of the schools converted more recently were struggling.

In general, elementary turnarounds have been more successful than high schools. Only three high schools have been converted to charters since the initiative began in 2010, and this year's focus again is on elementary schools.

“We selected these schools because we believe that the performance this year, last year, and the year before doesn’t meet our standard of what we expect for neighborhood schools,” said Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn.

At both Steel and Muñoz-Marin, more than 90 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and proficiency rates in reading and math have been declining. Muñoz-Marin is also one of 53 District schools being investigated for possible adult cheating; its scores plummeted in 2011-12 after stricter testing protocols were put in place. About one-third of its students scored proficient in reading and math.

Steel also has about one-third of its students scoring proficient in reading and math.

In the new Pennsylvania School Performance Profiles, Muñoz-Marin scored 46 and Steel score 51 out of a possible 100, both well below the standard of 70 set for schools that are “moving in the right direction,” according to state Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq.

ASPIRA has come under criticism for financial practices. City Paper reported that it obtained an audit last year showing that ASPIRA was moving money meant for the charters to its parent organization, which the District has no power to audit.

Kihn said that the District “has no reason to believe ... there has been any financial impropriety or any reason not to partner with them. We are currently looking into this and if anything comes to light, we will take necessary action.”

Several teachers at Olney have also spoken before the School Reform Commission, accusing ASPIRA of unfair labor practices in thwarting attempts to unionize, which ASPIRA's board chair has denied.

In any case, the approval process this year promises to be interesting. The District plans to hold a vote of the entire parent community – in past years, the charter-matching decision was made by a small group of parents on the School Advisory Council (SAC). Forces are already mobilizing to prevent further charter conversions at a time when the District is in dire financial straits.

“It’s our experience that each time we’ve done this, and at virtually every school, there have been some contentious elements in the process,” Kihn said. “That’s understandable. ... I don’t think that this year is going to be any different.”

The process will start this week, when parents, staff, and leadership teams get basic information and hear about the process and justification for selecting these schools and these specific operators. Next week, there will be school-based parent meetings with senior District officials, and after that the providers will make their presentations.

The SAC will vote to make a recommendation during the last week in April, and the parent “elections” on whether to convert each school to a charter will occur on May 1, Kihn said.

Kihn said that each school is in the middle of its own improvement planning, and that those proposals will also be presented before a vote. It is not yet clear whether the schools will get any more resources to implement their own plans if they vote against the charter conversion.

If the community votes against the charter conversion, “which is a real option," Kihn said, "we’re hoping the school community can use it as a rallying point to accelerate their own transformation."

Charter conversions generally cost about $4,000 more per student. Clarification: District spokeswoman Raven Hill said that the approximately $4,000 per student represents "stranded costs," primarily for personnel such as school psychologists and speech therapists who may have reduced caseloads but remain employed. She said it is not necessarily more money spent on the students in those schools.  

Kihn said there would be very little money available to invest in a community-developed plan that would keep the schools District-operated.

“We don’t have the expectation that we’re going to be offering increases in the budget to these schools, but we remain open to contributing something additional if there is a strong evidence base for the plan that is put forward,” he said. “What we’re not going to do is invest in untested ideas or in plans that are just plans.”

Steel is near Gratz High School, which is already run by Mastery, so adding the elementary school would move the operator closer to setting up a K-12 charter network. Kihn said that this is not an explicit goal, but added that it is an “interest” of the District to test out the approach.

“When we look at other jurisdictions, many of the charter operators have their own versions of schools, which include approaches to climate and culture and academic programs,” he said. “In many ways it is easier for families not to have to transition in and out of those to be successful.”

Alfredo Calderon, executive director of ASPIRA, did not immediately return a phone call asking for comment.

Sheila Ballen, spokeswoman for Mastery, said, "We're delighted to partner with the School District of Philadelphia on the Renaissance school initiative and look forward to meeting with Steel parents."


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Comments (42)

Submitted by anon (not verified) on April 1, 2014 6:56 pm
imagine that - mastery charter. what a surprise.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 2, 2014 7:40 am
The question is -- How is the district going to determine "if the school community approves?" Who gets to vote and how? Is there going to be a "one family -- one vote" process which we have used in the past to vote on local school councils? Exactly how is that going to be done? Is that process going to be a credible process? A transparent process? Is it going to be, ultimately -- a democratic process?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 8:08 am
Even if it were transparent and involve all the parents, it makes no sense to allow a group of people who happen to be using a school at a given time (of crisis, cuts, and austerity, no less) the decision to hand a public school and a new building constructed with public funds to a private organization. That said, they have no idea how the "vote" will work, despite this all happening in 30 days. "The district will consider the results of both votes before making a recommendation to the School Reform Commission at its May 15 meeting, Kihn said. There is still some uncertainty about how the process will unfold, he noted, including whether a second vote will even be held. 'The reality is that there is a lot of information we won't have until this actually occurs,' he said." Read more at
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 8:06 am
The public won't have the information so the shot-callers can manipulate the story to achieve their ends no matter how thinks "unfold".
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 2, 2014 8:42 am
Disinformation is part of the play book of the Broad foundation and the corporate reform movement. This is not about choice at all. It is "forced privatization." The question I have for the district's leadership, and Paul Kihn, is exactly what are the contract terms of the contract with Mastery? Can you present that contract publicly before the SRC resolves to approve that turnover so citizens can make appropriate public comment? There is a crucial legal difference between a "charter school" and a school operated by agreement with a "charter operator." Even in the charter school community, there is a beginning dissension that Mastery, and certain charter operators are given "special treatment" by the SRC and the district.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 9:08 am
And you actually believe the SRC would change course? This is what should ENRAGE the public. The SRC will not change course no matter how undemocratic the process is. If we continue to suggest otherwise we participate in the LIE that there is any place where citizen voices will legitimately be heard. I did not say that means we should not attend SRC meetings. We should WITNESS the sham and work to FIGHT BACK!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 9:20 pm
Hey Rich, I think you would agree after visiting a Mastery School that Steel is definitely in much better hands with Mastery than with the District. So, special treatment is well deserved.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 3, 2014 11:42 pm
Yeah, but Steel could do just as well if they had small class size like Mastery does, plenty of support specialists, school nurses, and had the walls painted anew, new furniture, brand new computers, and a good principal with A.P's and a decent plan. It is no secret on what makes a good school. Even Mastery, as a Charter Management Organization, has to create a collegial, collaborative culture, or it will fail. While I have you -- What kind of conditions would you suggest that the SRC put in the management agreement? Do you think there should be in the agreement a statement of student, parent and community rights? A transparency clause? Something forward looking? Like an "actual operations" clause?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 2, 2014 8:16 am
Yes, you are right about empowering a present school community to vote on a decision which will affect all school communities in the future. Essentially what is happening is that the school is being closed as a public school, and reopened as a private business. That should invoke the highest level of "due process" in public decision-making and rule making. All parents, and all Philadelphians should be openly apprised of all the issues and ramifications. The bottom line is that this is "the privatization game."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 8:30 am
"Essentially what is happening is that the school is being closed as a public school, and reopened as a private business. That should invoke the highest level of "due process" in public decision-making and rule making." Yes. And the fact that our top leaders clearly intend to do otherwise is the clearest demonstration yet that they have abdicated responsibility to act on behalf of the public good. I believe that it is justified to call for resignations, and for new governance and accountability from the people who are running the district. The "RFP" process that was announced three weeks ago is merely to create a veneer that this is not simply motivated by private lobbying by Aspira and Mastery to be gifted with the feeder schools they want. In no way can this be said to be motivated by public interest or the good of the district.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 9:15 am
An in no way will this trend be stopped without significant public pressure and significant response from the PFT members and the parents working together to fight back. Every PFT member needs to respond as if this was their school, their beloved community.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 2, 2014 9:35 am
Rich------------Yes, a game indeed with huge money now completely ignoring all sense of fair play, democratic principles, community input, union contracts etc. and Obama allows it make no mistake about it. For the life of me, I don't understand why Jordan is waiting and for what he is waiting? I believe he has "The Slows" as Lincoln liked to say.
Submitted by tom-104 on April 2, 2014 9:05 am
And if you missed it: "But in a new wrinkle, Muñoz Marín and Steel parents will have the final say over whether the schools become charter schools or remain part of the public school system. That creates a tough choice for families: The district would spend an extra $3,000 to $4,000 next year per student if the schools become charter schools. But if parents vote to remain in traditional public schools, there would likely be no additional investment, officials said." Also, have we forgot this?:
Submitted by gloriaendres (not verified) on April 2, 2014 5:53 pm
This is what makes all this a farce, Tom. Telling parents that they have a "choice" between an underfunded public school and a well funded privately managed charter school is no choice at all. I am wondering if these families have been told that they will have to apply for admission the same as any other charter school. Of course teachers will have to reapply and agree to contract changes like longer days with lower salary. Completely outrageous.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2014 7:55 pm
The plans has been for Aspira to continue taking over the North Philly schools. Stetson, Olney with an eye on Edison as a next step. Now Marin would be perfect to keep expanding. Noting that they already have Pequenos Pasos and the Pantojas charters. I would question the on-track record though.. they treat those kids as if they were Marines.
Submitted by Danielle Murray (not verified) on April 1, 2014 7:54 pm
As a former teacher at Munoz-Marin, my heart breaks for the staff and families at this school. I left not because I took a new position with-in the district and because of "seniority" was not allowed to stay at Marin. I remember back on 2009 Aspira lurking around, giving extra supports because they "wanted" Marin as a charter. The building is less than 20 years old (in terms of school district buildings this is young) and in good shape. Solidarity!!!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2014 7:39 pm
Parent trigger comes to Philadelphia! The choice we are giving to parents: choose to turn your school over to a private provider, or you get nothing! No district-led turnaround, no other assistance. Vote is in a month! Do all parents get to cast a ballot? What about random passers-by? Maybe we can do other decision-making the same way. How about the SRC makes its decisions by polling meeting attendees? Lord. What a joke.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2014 8:23 pm
So we are in a budget hole, but we keep spending money on these boutique private interests (three new high schools the year after we closed 23 schools, at an extra cost of $3 million per year). What a joke! There's not even a fig leaf of pretense that this plan is driven by the public interest. These conversions cost money. As Dworetsky said the last time we were considering doing this: While praising all three educational models, Dworetzky said that the additional cost to the District to maintain these schools and their unique programs will eventually be nearly $8 million a year, averaging out to almost $5,000 per student. This is in a district where current per-student instructional cost ranges from about $6,000 to $8,000, depending on the school, according to Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski. In making his objections, Dworetzky raised sensitive questions about equity within the District in this time of austerity. “You've got to keep track of where the money's coming from, and this money is coming from everybody else!” Dworetzky said. “It’s not like it’s just coming out of the air. It has to come from the other students.” Dworetzky was the only one of the five commissioners to vote against accepting the money from PSP for the three schools. The entire meeting, attended by about 50 people, was a painful exercise as SRC members faced pointed, difficult questions from members of the public about whether they feel they are fulfilling their responsibilities to assure a "thorough and efficient" education for all students. Commissioners engaged in unusually frank public debate among themselves over how to improve schools and assure equity when they are constantly scrambling for resources
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2014 8:18 pm
No matter what you think about charter schools, how can we just blink away the fact that there are major legal differences between public and privately run institutions when we talk about converting catchment schools that are parents' only guaranteed schooling option? Read these posts by Rutgers professor Bruce Baker:
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 1, 2014 8:49 pm
What a surprise, Steel feeds into Mastery Gratz.... Regarding Munoz-Marin, what is the plan for the approximately 40 students in Life Skills Support classes? According to the Facilities Master Plan, there were 40 students in Life Skills Support classes at Munoz Marin last year: It's unclear whether LSS refers to Life Skills Support or to Multiple Disabilities Support or both. How will this turnover affect them? Will ASPIRA utilize a different curriculum for these students, as the SDP does? Will the LSS program accept new students under ASPIRA? If ASPIRA does take over the school, will the LSS program be phased out? Citizens need to ask TOUGH questions about what is happening to the students who receive services in the Complex Support Needs programs at Renaissance "charter" schools. Are these students receiving services? Are the schools maintaining the programs? I don't understand how Renaissance "charter" schools could maintain CSN/low incidence programs long-term because these schools are considered separate LEAs from the SDP. What has happened to students in the Multiple Disabilities Support classes at Mastery Clymer and Life Skills Support classes at Universal Daroff? There needs to be close scrutiny of what has happened at these schools to the students with significant disabilities. What criteria factored into the selection of these two schools. This information should be made public.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2014 9:40 pm
"What criteria factored into the selection of these two schools. This information should be made public." CAN SOMEONE RIGHT-TO-KNOW THESE COMMUNICATIONS/DOCUMENTS PLEASE?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2014 10:18 pm
ha, ha. You're funny. There will be no different curriculum for those kids or ELL kids. . .ASPIRA will do what all Charter schools do with the few of those kids who they allow to enroll, they will keep them in the building long enough to get the Federal Dollars for them and then find away to "counsel them out" back to a remaining neighborhood school
Submitted by activist (not verified) on April 1, 2014 9:22 pm
please let EDISON be we dont want the ASPIRA dictatorship keep that nonsense at olney ... let them have kensington but not the only real CTE school in the area ... frankford even ... hell send to Bartram lol what a joke ... new slaves
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2014 9:40 pm
Why are Mastery Renaissance schools enrolling students from all over the city? I thought they were neighborhood schools for neighborhood students.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 1, 2014 10:34 pm
Anonymous, Out of curiosity, how do you know that Mastery Renaissance schools enroll students from all over the city? At the Mastery school at which I spent time, the vast majority of the kids were from the neighborhood. I'm not saying you're wrong, just wondering why you asked the question. (I mean no disrespect.)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 9:07 am
Let me say this, after working in a Mastery Charter school (Gratz) they have the same disrespectful students who curse and disrespect teachers, fight after school and perform poorly on Keystones. The difference is the culture they try to create within the school. They have numerous "Deans of Culture" , a principal for every grade, assistant principals for every grade and a merit/demerit system that is enforced on a daily basis. If a student is not in uniform, they can not enter the building, if a student does not have their lanyard with their identification and demerit/merit cards around their neck, they are sent home. If a student needs to see the nurse, the nurse does triage over the phone to determine if a visit to the nurse is necessary. Students are escorted every place they go during class time. There is no going to lockers during class time. They have people sitting at every end of their hallways monitoring climate throughout the day. Their hallways are clear during classtime. If Philadelphia public schools adopted their practices, public schools climate would improve. Hite does not enforce climate, he will not support principals who send students without uniforms on, home. The paraprofessionals in schools have been cut, to staff his cabinet of puppets. He will not support a principal who implements consequences for misbehavior and disrespect. Can not wait until they send him packing to his next assignment. He is the worst.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2014 11:26 pm
No charter is a neighborhood school. The SRC wants to eliminate community schools. They didn't ask anybody. They're just doing it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 12:40 am
To clarify Renaissance charters. They are not "charter schools" in reality. They are schools operated by "management agreements" versus a charter grant. Since the inception of the Renaissance initiative back in 2010 many union jobs were lost to these managed schools.Jordan got sideswiped by Ackerman by allowing this. Jordan totally messed up and failed to not make sure that these "management agreements" schools were union affiliated -keeping the jobs in the PFT . The SDP did this back about a dozen years of so with management firms like Edison, Foundation and others. They were all keep union jobs , just managed by "management agreements". Jordan dropped the ball on this one by not saving many union jobs here. I doubt the push would be so forceful to open more Renaissance schools if they had to pay a decent salary and benefits. Since now they can open these schools and pay a lot less to teachers, staff, with no job security, due process, etc.they have more of an incentive to do so. More importantly , the PFT union would be more powerful with more members left in the fold and more schools represented. The "management agreements" schools should turn them over to the District when the schools reach a certain academic level ,not be in operation forever.Operate them for about five years to see if a difference is made, if not, turn them back to the District.Either case there should be a five year cap to manage them-period. The million dollar question here is- why the SDP can't do what the charters are doing ? This way they could just to keep them traditional District schools .What most of these charters do for achievement is crack down on discipline,behavior.Unlike the SDP that has a school code of conduct that isn't enforced. Basically, what Hite, Green, SRC,and Ackerman (back in her day) among many others are saying I can't run / manage these challenging District schools properly- so let's release them to charters or "management agreement" schools. That would classify the SDP leaders as being more incompetent, than there already are, and just passing the buck. That's not doing their jobs .Anyone can walk away from a challenge -to make their jobs easier. An effective person takes it head on.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 6:06 am
They have no idea what process they are even using to justify this handover, despite announcing an "RFP" three weeks ago (can anyone find it?) and planning to make a decision in one month: "The district will consider the results of both votes before making a recommendation to the School Reform Commission at its May 15 meeting, Kihn said. There is still some uncertainty about how the process will unfold, he noted, including whether a second vote will even be held. 'The reality is that there is a lot of information we won't have until this actually occurs,' he said." Read more at
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 7:17 am
Why is the SDP giving up a newer building? It doesn't take care of the older buildings.
Submitted by activist (not verified) on April 2, 2014 7:56 am
these are civil right issues its obvious that europeans had no idea or care to educate africans since brown vs board... where is the new MLK when you need them? Mastery keeps a lot of life skills students however, the disciplinary problems they roll over to Camelot and does ASPIRA... where camelot treats the kids like prisoners ... what a mockery of education
Submitted by Steph G (not verified) on April 2, 2014 10:23 am
Honest question, if a neighborhood school changes into a charter school, what happens to the neighborhood kids who the charter schools decide they don't want? Are they now forced to travel out of their neighborhood to go to another public school?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 10:28 am
Both ASPRA and Mastery send their more difficult students to Camelot.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 2, 2014 10:45 pm
Yes, this is true, and the ELC or PILCOP has taken legal action over the use of these private placements. I don't understand how Mastery and ASPIRA can get away with using Camelot and still be in compliance with IDEIA. Use of Camelot's services is not Least Restrictive Environment.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 11:53 am
So the common thought here is that it's better to have a school that keeps kids who stop everyone else from learning. Who here would want that for your own children? All you folks ranting about civil rights are really talking about job security. You would have real job security if you would teach the kids in the seats in your school. Your position is a selfish one and that is why you don't get parental support.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2014 12:47 pm
Everyone wants schools that work. District neighborhood schools have far fewer resources than ASPIRA and Mastery - Renaissance schools cost $3000 - $4000 more PER PUPIL (not "seats"). They also have far more administrators and support staff. If ALL schools had the same staffing level and rules, then it would be more equitable. Another neighborhood schools just received students from Freire and Mastery. It won't happen in the reverse.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 2, 2014 5:36 pm
No--You are completely wrong. Most people and all people with a conscience want "schools that work." The charter lie folks and their pol buddies want chaos and failure for the real schools and that's why Gleason and his peeps, align themselves with Corbett in starving the real Public Schools. They feel more and more confident as evidenced by their brazenness and overt abuse and corruption. As always, it won't stop until we stop it !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 11:57 am
"The condition of Philadelphia's schools are a tragedy. But the greatest tragedy is the students who have a chance to break from the vicious poverty cycle because they're smart enough or dedicated enough, but are denied that chance" - from article 'We allowed Bartram to Happen'. Finger pointing, charter hating, job security, union/non-union. LOTs of talk. What is NOT going on in Philly is education of our children. It would be great if district schools were given funds & supplies and restored to houses of education - but sadly, in the midst of all the posturing and sable rattling, that hasn't happened. If that could happen perhaps desperate parents wouldn't choose the 'dreaded' charter school in hopes that their child may avoid the chaotic waste land that some Philly schools have become. In quiet corners of Philly some education is taking place, children are learning and succeeding. Don't hate the ones getting something done, find a way to make it happen all over the city. Is saving a system that hasn't worked in decades rather than changing it really in the best interest of the children? When you keep doing the same thing and expect different results ...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 12:34 pm
Well, firing certified teachers with years of experience to make way for the corporate bottom line isn't going to help either!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 6:17 pm
WOW are we lucky to have you around (everywhere?)! Do you mind if I use your comment when teaching my students "omniscient" point of view? Of course I'll take the liberty of changing "sable" rattling to "saber"….
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 8:33 pm
Sure since I'm sure your students will be some of the lucky ones whose 'sabers' will lead them to victory. Good catch, see, being educated in a crumbling system doesn't produce good proof readers either. LOL
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 8:41 pm
Obviously you were taught how to paint with a broad brush.

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