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The Main Scoop

Rules for Renaissance Schools courtship modified

By by Dale Mezzacappa

Six potential turnaround teams are selling themselves to nine school communities this week and next, vying with each other for the chance to transform low-performing schools into high achievers.

In a recent change to the process, the School District is now requiring all six pre-selected outside providers for the so-called Renaissance Schools to make a presentation at every school for which they are qualified, rather than just pursuing their preferred schools.

Between now and May 8, the School Advisory Councils (SACs) and interested community members are attending meetings at which providers, in a panel format, present their cases and answer questions. Individuals and groups are also going on tours of the schools that the providers already operate. Councils will get to recommend which provider they prefer, with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman making the final decision, subject to ratification by the School Reform Commission.

This procedure is a shift from the District’s initial emphasis on finding mutually desired matches between providers and school communities.

The provider applications asked them to list the schools where they would like to work.

“We didn’t ask the providers to pick schools, but we asked for their preferences,” said Benjamin Rayer, who is overseeing the Renaissance process for the District. “We like and respect that, but we want all school communities to hear what everybody has to offer.” He said that Ackerman felt that this was fairer, putting to rest any impression that some providers had an “inside track."

He added, “This is our first time doing this.”

In the application process, all but one of the providers had indicated the schools they were interested in managing. Providers had begun visiting the school or schools for which they thought they were the best suited, and organizing in those communities.

Scott Gordon, the CEO of Mastery Charter, listed three preferences initially: Bluford and Dunbar elementaries, and Vaux High School. But two, Dunbar and Vaux, were chosen by Ackerman to become Promise Academies – turnaround schools over which she will retain control.

So then it offered a new list of preferences -- Bluford, Douglass, and Mann – all elementary schools, all with a rationale: they were close to existing Mastery middle and high schools, like Shoemaker, and students could feed into them.

“Initially, we were interested in the schools closest to us, but now we’re seeing folks from all over the place,” Gordon said. “We understood it was important to the School District and Ackerman that if the local SAC was interested in X provider, she wanted X provider to go there, and that our initial preferences were just informational.”

Now, he said, “We have shifted gears and are trying to engage anyone interested in us. Any community that is interested in Mastery, we’re interested in them.” He also said that Mastery, which has already begun hiring staff, might consider taking over as many as four schools.

Lars Beck, the principal of Young Scholars Charter School, another potential turnaround provider, said that he liked the format of all the providers presenting to all potential schools.

“It’s valuable to the community,” he said, adding that he felt the community members were able to get a sense of how each provider would be different. Questions covered school culture, teaching and staffing, and special education, among other subjects.

There is a possibility that some providers will be chosen by more schools than they can handle, while others may be chosen by none.

Rayer said that this is one reason why the District reserved the right to make the final matches.

“It will be a challenge when too many may want the same choice, and we’ll figure out the best way to work through this,” Rayer said. Still, he said “the District should be comfortable” with the community’s wishes. The SACs are being asked to rank their top three choices, giving reasons for favoring each and any additional questions they have.

To accommodate the school meetings, the timeline for matching schools with providers has been extended by more than a week. Originally, the final decisions were to have been made by the end of April. Now, the SACs will make their recommendations to the District by May 11, and Rayer said he expected a decision from the superintendent the next day, when there is a regularly scheduled School Reform Commission meeting.

The District is organizing the school visits. In one case, it hired a tour bus to take people from West Philadelphia High School and Stetson Middle School to Baltimore to visit a high school operated there by a team from Johns Hopkins University, one of the possible providers for their schools.

Only Johns Hopkins and Mastery were qualified and approved to work with a high school. Stetson is being wooed by those two, as well as ASPIRA and Congreso de Latino Unidos, both of which want to work in predominantly Latino environments.

But under Ackerman’s system, Congreso and ASPIRA are also making presentations to the other elementary schools, which have few Latino students. Young Scholars and Universal Companies are going to all seven elementary schools, along with Mastery, Congreso, and ASPIRA.

Gordon said that in its original application it would do K-8 or a high school, not a middle school, but was nevertheless asked to present to Stetson. He also said that Mastery would not be equipped to take over West Philadelphia in September because, after Vaux was named a Promise Academy, it made no moves to hire upper grade teachers. He said Mastery would need a year for planning, but added, “if West is interested in us, we’d see what we could do.”

Several parents have gone to School Reform Commission meetings to raise concerns about the matching process, while at least one has spoken up in favor of it. All the providers except for Hopkins plan to convert the schools into charters.

During these two weeks, Ackerman is also meeting with SAC members from the five Promise Academies.

At a meeting with parents Wednesday morning, she and other District officials elaborated on what a Promise Academy will look like. Teachers will be asked to follow a dress code, students will have uniforms, and parents will be asked to sign contracts “binding them to the school’s rules and other non-negotiables.” Each Promise Academy will have a Parent University on campus, at which parents can take courses to continue their own educations.

Members of the School Advisory Councils for the Promise Academies will also be visiting comparable, higher-performing District schools.

“There are a lot of naysayers that already want Promise Academies to fail, but they’re not going to fail,” Ackerman vowed to the parents. “In a year, other parents are going to want to send their kids to Promise Academies.”

Ackerman has said she would consider allowing Potter-Thomas to become a Promise Academy in response to requests from a group of parents at the school.

About the Author

Contact Notebook Contributing Editor Dale Mezzacappa at dalem@thenotebook.org.

Comments (21)

Submitted by dkbog (not verified) on April 30, 2010 11:43 am

Just a heads up for any teachers out there or administrators. Bluford is set to start September as a Charter School. My wife has spoken with 3 teachers from that school and guess what??? They are having an open house for hiring teachers and no one is interested. Apparently, since 9 schools will become "Charter" Schools in September, there are over 200 Forced Transfers, meaning, not enough openings in schools to put them. The district has now backpeddled and wants those unionized teachers to now work in those schools. Who would give up their union rights, benefits, time off benefits, to work in a Charter School???? I knew this would happen as I have mentioned in previous posts. The Charter Schools who have only non-union teachers now can't get enough applicants to go to Bluford, therefore, are wanting unionized teachers because they can't staff that Charter School. It will get interesting in this District because Ackerman wants to turnaround a total of 76 schools but even with 9 that are being converted, it leaves the District with over 200 Forced Transfers to deal with. I don't think they thought hteir game plan out too well!!! Good luck Ackerman!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 30, 2010 2:32 pm

Wow, it seems that the district knows who will run what school but they keep dragging their feet for this horse and pony show. So if they have unionized teachers working at the schools then the model is the same as when they tried this several years ago. What a mess.

Submitted by Bobbie Cratchit (not verified) on April 30, 2010 3:33 pm

A dog and pony show it is! I am sorry for the SAC's. They believe that they are doing good work for children. However, administrative staff at some of the so called turn around charter models have been notified that they will remain at their schools....by whom you ask.....the Charter organizations that will run them. This was determined far before the SAC's were in place. Just like Child's relocation, no parent/community input will factor into Ackerman's agenda. The decisions are made. And, on that matter, we were told administrators and support staff will be removed. How then, do the same "failing school" administrators retain their positions and all the instructional staff is forced transfered? That is not the Renaissance way! Perhaps there is a loophole in the system, those who are chosen to remain at their schools would no longer be considered district administrators and therefore could be 'hired' by the Charter organization and now considered a 'new' administrator. If I were a forced transfer at one of these schools and taking the blame for the "failing school" I would be outraged if my administrative staff was able to remain in their positions! It's becoming quite obvious that the only people in this district without an agenda are the teachers, parents and students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 30, 2010 6:51 pm

It definitely is true that there are currently over 200 Forced Transfers. And even if you are a unionized teacher and asked to stay in the school as a Charter, I don't know many teachers that would give up their benefits for a chance at uncertainty.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on April 30, 2010 8:00 pm

There are a few inaccuracies in the above info.  First of all, the Notebook and others have come up with a tally that there are about 500 total teaching positions in the 14 Renaissance Schools and Promise Academies. All of those teachers are now force transfers. Some fraction of those will ultimately be hired back at those schools, whether they end up charter or District. Some will surely be leaving the District altogether (many of these are high-turnover schools full of novice teachers). So there are likely to be at most a few hundred teachers displaced and looking for jobs at other schools.

In a typical year the District has about 800 teaching jobs open up due to turnover and retirements, so District officials have been saying that the force-transferred teachers will be easily absorbed into the system. This is entirely plausible. In fact the District just sent out a press release about an all-day teacher recruitment fair tomorrow, so they appear to be still concerned about the possibility of teacher vacancies for the fall.

As far as the charter managers that are hoping to operate schools in the fall, some like Mastery have already started lining up their staff. It is possible that others will be scrambling.

If somebody thinks the outcome of which manager will run which school is entirely predetermined, lay it out there.  Our impression from covering this story is actually that the ground keeps shifting from week to week.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 30, 2010 11:28 pm

Hi Paul,

The information given was from 3 teachers who teach at Bluford and are seasoned veteran teachers with a total of 75 years teaching between them. They spoke with my wife who has also been teaching in the Phila. School District for the past 12 years. They told her that NO ONE want sto come back to that school period. They have had countless meetings amongst the teachers in that school. That school will be a "Charter" school meaning no unionized teachers at all. They have an open house this weekend at Bluford to try and finding teachers to teach in that school. My wife was told that they are continually having open houses because they cannot get teachers in that school. There are a total of 60 unionized teachers in that school ALL of which are remaining in the union and not going to back to that school. They are all taking the route of Forced Transfer. That is 60 from just that school alone so the numbers are high. I do not feel that Ackerman and staff have figured this whole thing through. Also, because a teacher is a Forced Transfer, does not mean they have to take whatever school is thrown at them. Under the Forced Transfer method, each teacher is allowed to choose the school he/she wants to go to provided there are openings. If I were a teacher living in Northeast Philly, I certainly would not choose a school in Southwest Philly due to the distance and time taken to get there. Eventually, this whole process will flop just as it did in Chicago and San Francisco. Ackerman has 3 years left on her contract, Charter Schools are being investigated for stealing money, and so and and so on. I still say it all the time and will continue to do so--Even though State law prohibits teachers in Philly to strike, if I were them, just to make a point that they are still united, I would take all 10,000 teachers and protest against all of this Renaissance School nonsense---Really, there is no way they would find 10,000 teachers to replace them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 1, 2010 12:53 pm

Unfortunately it make a total collapse of the whole system to wake Philadelphia up to the mistake called Ackerman. Replacing 10,000 teachers would be hard in any district, but even hard In Philadelphia. Philly was one of the few big cities that was still opening up with teacher vacancies despite being in the middle of a recession. Nothing has happened since that time to make this school district anymore appealing since then.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 24, 2010 12:11 am

I remember sitting at the union meeting when the "vote" was taken to accept the new union contract. I believe that the "nays" had the greater volume on this voice vote, but the PFT pushed yet another one through, touting the raise for teachers as the central point of the success of the negotiations. My guess is that the PFT didn't even count the paper votes. As I recall, one PFT officer was quoted as saying that even Arlene Ackerman felt that the new contract was a solid commitment on the part of the District to "reward" teachers by ensuring both the continuity of their jobs and an increase in compensation. Folks, do we not get this yet? If Arlene likes it, then you KNOW that there is a scam in progress. And, as for the PFT, we all ought to understand that our dues have been wasted for years now. The forgoing comments by others should have brought you to an understanding that you aren't in Kansas anymore. The teachers in this District have been bullied into submission by the very administration whose job it is to support them, as teachers remain the backbone of any school district. "Hey! You're lucky to still have a job." How many times have you heard that when you voiced an objection in your school? How many teachers do you think are feeling lucky these days? Teachers in Philadelphia have the power to change the course of events in the District, though, and they don't need to strike to do it. What they do need to do is to stand up collectively and internally, because their union has abandoned them. They can do what they (presumably) are teaching their students to do: stand up for the right thing and do NOT accept bullying. It saddens me to think that many of these "lucky" teachers will probably continue to cower while their district and schools are being torn apart by a megalomaniac who will take the money (plus bonus) and run, just as the last one did before the financial paperwork caught up with him. They can think about it while they are working extra daily hours, on Saturdays, and forced to work through the summer. They can think about it as they watch veteran teachers, in many cases their long time colleagues, forced out of the District because of a lack of positions. But they have the power. Our Constitution gives that power to every American. Get out from under that rock! Write a letter to the editor. Email the Superintendent! Speak up at a school or SRC meeting. Vote in a new union or change the leadership. It's your right and you obligation to your colleagues and to your students----and to yourself. We can stop the nonsense any time WE want.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on May 24, 2010 7:38 am

You speak very well, but do not seem to have any faith in what you are saying. If you did, your post would be signed.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2013 2:32 pm
YEAH... good times!
Submitted by Bobbie Cratchit (not verified) on May 1, 2010 10:25 am

The information in my post above came to me from the brother of an assistant principal in a renaissance school. When I inquired about his brother's plan for the next school year he stated that his brother would remain at his current school. When I stated that I believed all of the principals as well as the teachers would be removed he stated that the current principal and his brother were asked to stay on. I then asked who had told them that they would stay and he replied that the "Charter School" told them. I can not name names here as I wouldn't want to see any administrator as well as teachers removed, however I found it very interesting that any Charter provider was talking with or promising staff employment. It speaks to the predetermined agenda of Dr. Ackerman. As stated above, I believe the SAC's are being made to believe they have a say in this when it appears that they do not.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on May 24, 2010 7:23 am

If they stay on, they do so without the union's backing, right? Are they losing pay and benefits by staying in a school that is becoming a charter?

Submitted by Laura Boyce (not verified) on May 1, 2010 6:56 pm

Just to clarify: does this mean that the final matches will be announced May 12? We had previously heard May 27.

Submitted by Mrs. G (not verified) on May 2, 2010 7:26 pm

Does anyone even know what a "low performing" school is? What those in charge fail to understand is that just because a school doesn't make AYP doesn't mean it is failing. A school that has more than 60 percent of its students proficient/advanced on PSSA could be labeled failing under the current system. By the same token, a school where 20 percent are P/A could be making AYP. Additionally, the system compares how students perform in a given grade, not how student improve over time. That means this year's eighth grade class is compared to last year's eighth grade class without taking into consideration that demographics may change from year to year. What's wrong with this picture? Maybe we need to rethink how we determine which schools are really failing and then we might be able to start fixing the problem. Charter schools are clearly not the answer.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 3, 2010 4:23 pm

My understanding is that Mastery will not be hiring administrators from the schools that they take over. I believe that they will interview current teachers, if there are any interested and if they haven't already hired everyone they need, but they will not necessarily be given any preference over anyone else.

I think Young Scholars' approach is to leave some staff in place and to basically try to improve the school primarily through staff development approaches, so maybe that was the charter school that "Bobbie Cratchit" mentioned that will retain some current staff members.

Submitted by Bobbie Cratchit (not verified) on May 3, 2010 8:23 pm

It was not Young Scholars. However, the point is that the Charter School is already talking about keeping staff in a school that they DO NOT/SHOULD NOT have knowledge about managing. The process (dog and pony show) is to have the SACs participate in the decision of what Charter may fit best with their school, then the SACs are to present their recommendations and then Dr. Ackerman considers these recommendations and makes the final decision. If a Charter is already telling administrators that they will retain staff then the KNOW what school they will mange!
Additionally, Young Scholars should not be able to keep any existing staff, administrators included. That, in the twisted renaissance world, is how how school turn around is done.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2013 2:45 pm
Good Times :)
Submitted by Slim Shady (not verified) on April 2, 2013 2:00 pm
i am doing a class reasearch project on the rennasance schools and education. do you guys know any rules perhaphs?
Submitted by Slim Shady (not verified) on April 2, 2013 2:45 pm
yeah they were good times

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