Four of the 10 teams looking to "turn around" a second group of low-performing schools are familiar; others are newcomers. Here's a look.
by Benjamin Herold
After managing a relatively smooth transition of seven low-performing public schools into neighborhood charters, all four of the School District of Philadelphia's current "turnaround teams" have been invited back to compete for more schools during the second round of the Renaissance Schools initiative.
But this year, they will face an expanded pool of competitors, including three new providers with national profiles.
"We proactively reached out to national organizations and encouraged them to apply," said District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. "We believe the transparency we strived to achieve in the first year of the Renaissance Schools process gave national organizations a good perspective on working with the District."
Included in this year's crop of 10 approved candidates is Mosaica Turnaround Partners, a division of New York-based for-profit education management organization Mosaica Education, which currently operates more than 80 schools. Also new is Green Dot America, a nonprofit attempting to go national with the reform model used in 17 Green Dot charter schools in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.
The District has moved its deadlines up this year. During the first round of the Renaissance process, the District did not identify "Renaissance-eligible" schools until late January and did not request full proposals from "pre-qualified" turnaround teams until late March. This year, there is more time in each stage of the process, although the District has not yet revealed when the next batch of "Renaissance-eligible" schools will be made public.
The District has also not announced how these schools will be selected this time. Last year, the District used its school performance index to identify the lowest-performing schools in the city and target them for turnaround.
So far, District officials have given positive reviews to the efforts of the initial four turnaround teams – ASPIRA of PA, Mastery Charter Schools, Universal Companies, and the newly renamed Scholar Academies.
"We were very impressed" with how they have done so far in round one, said District Associate Superintendent Diane Castelbuono, who is part of a team that has done regular site visits at each school. "They have really developed some nice school cultures." The seven schools are "visually and physically nicer places," she added.
In testimony before the School Reform Commission on November 17, Scholar Academies CEO Lars Beck claimed early success at Young Scholars-Frederick Douglass Elementary School.
"Our enrollment increases and low attrition rates are a big sign" of success, said Beck. "We're [also] seeing early signs of academic progress. In our first round of interim benchmarks, we're seeing higher than expected levels of standards mastery."
Spokesperson Gallard said that while the "prequalification" of all four existing providers to compete for more schools amounted to a preliminary endorsement of the groups' capacity to take on additional schools, each group's full proposal would be needed to make a final determination.
"We're excited," said Alfredo Calderon, executive director of ASPIRA, which now manages Stetson Middle School. "We know we can do more than one school, but it depends where the schools are. We have made a commitment to Eastern North Philadelphia."
The 10 prequalified turnaround teams now must submit full proposals to the District, due on December 21. Finalists are to be selected on January 17.
Rounding out the field of 10 are two local organizations, Esperanza Academy and Foundations, Inc., and two additional candidates from outside of Philadelphia.
New York-based Global Partnership Schools, Inc. is a for-profit company headed by Manny Rivera, a former superintendent in Rochester, N.Y., and former member of the management team at Edison Schools, Inc.