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October 2011 Vol. 19. No. 2 Focus on School Turnarounds

Theme articles

Keeping it in the neighborhood

Renaissance Schools brought local families back while holding on to current students.

By by Benjamin Herold on Sep 24, 2011 09:17 PM
Photo: Benjamin Herold

After a positive experience at Universal-Bluford last year, Katrina Dear (right) was excited for her daughter Kristina Holder to begin her 6th grade at the Renaissance charter this September.

For the Notebook’s October print edition on school turnarounds, we took a comprehensive look at the city's initial group of seven Renaissance charter schools.This article looks at the extent to which the schools remained neighorhood schools . You can also read more about test score gains at the schools.

On her daughter's first day of 5th grade last year, Katrina Dear was nervous.

Since her chatty little girl was in kindergarten, Dear had sent her to a charter school with strong academics, a structured environment, and motivated families.

But after learning that the charter planned to hold her daughter back for the 2010-11 school year, Dear transferred her into the public school in her West Philadelphia neighborhood, Guion S. Bluford Elementary.

Dear knew about Bluford's troubled reputation. She also knew that Bluford was now a "Renaissance charter" managed by Universal Companies.

Dear liked that the school was now a charter, but worried about the requirement that it serve all neighborhood students. Most traditional charters enroll students via citywide admissions lotteries, which savvy and involved parents are more likely to know about.

Outside Universal-Bluford that first day, Dear saw a parent loudly curse out a child – a familiar neighborhood scene, but something she almost never saw at her daughter's former school.

It gave her pause.

"The old element was still there," said Dear. "Universal couldn't kick out the bad kids. They still had to work with those parents."

That scene illustrates both the challenge and the opportunity of Philadelphia's experiment with converting low-performing public schools to charters.

In 2010, as part of her Renaissance Schools initiative, then-superintendent Arlene Ackerman handed over seven of the city's toughest public elementary and middle schools to outside managers. This spring, she turned over six more, including three neighborhood high schools.

The hope was that new managers could transform failing schools like Bluford into safe, high-performing options for some of the city's most underserved communities.

The fear, however, was that the managers would push out the hardest-to-serve kids and prevent the enrollment of other challenging students – an accusation often leveled against charter operators.

Dear's experience at Universal-Bluford highlights the District's early success in ensuring that its Renaissance charters function as neighborhood schools.

A comprehensive review of student enrollment and retention data by the Notebook found that in their first year, the city's first seven Renaissance charters helped draw hundreds of families back into neighborhood schools.

In most cases, the schools' new managers – ASPIRA of Pennsylvania, Mastery Charter Schools, Scholar Academies, and Universal – also retained the same students at higher rates than when the schools were traditional public schools.

While setting stringent rules in other areas, the U.S. Department of Education's push for school turnarounds doesn't include a mandate that specific percentages of neighborhood students must be served or retained.

Philadelphia, however, has aggressively declared that its Renaissance charters will serve the same kids.

"It's a critical part of the Renaissance initiative that these be neighborhood schools," said Thomas Darden, the District's deputy chief for strategic programs.

David Lapp, an attorney with the Education Law Center, seconds that notion.

"We're changing the way we've done public education in Philadelphia," said Lapp. "When you do that, you want to make sure you're improving the system for everybody, not just students who behave well or don't have disabilities or speak English proficiently."

To address such concerns, the District required that the Renaissance operators serve the students who attended the school previously, prioritize enrolling students from the neighborhood, and adopt the District's student code of conduct.

It's not possible to say definitively how effective the Renaissance charters were at meeting those mandates in the absence of individual, student-level information, which the District would not release to the Notebook for privacy reasons.

And though it appears that the Renaissance charters are not "dumping" significant numbers of unwanted students, the surge of interest associated with their conversion to charter status has had a spillover effect, creating new demands on nearby schools that may be struggling themselves.

Still, the experience of a school like Universal-Bluford shows the extent to which the "neighborhood charter" model appears to be working so far.

Universal-Bluford added 90 students – each of whose families documented that they lived in the school's geographic catchment area.

Seventy-four percent of the students who attended Bluford in 2009-10 returned to the school last fall; historically, an average of 68 percent came back from one year to the next.

And 94 percent of the students who started last fall finished the year there, about the same rate as in previous years.

"Bluford was designed to be a neighborhood school," said Janis Butler, Universal's executive vice president of education. "We honor and appreciate that."

Bringing families back

For both the District and the Renaissance charter operators, there have been challenges.

Some parents, wary of charters, assumed they would now be excluded from their neighborhood schools.

So when the Renaissance charters were launched during the summer of 2010, both the District and the charter operators worked to counter that perception. Mastery staff called every parent who previously had a child on the schools' rolls and made home visits to those they couldn't reach.

Two of the new Mastery schools saw modest dips in the percentage of students previously enrolled who came back in September, while the third saw a small gain.

But the big story was a huge surge in overall demand.

In 2010-11, enrollment grew at 6 of the 7 Renaissance charters

ASPIRA-Stetson: + 68
Mastery-Harrity:

+ 167

Mastery-Mann: + 57
Mastery-Smedley: + 63
Universal-Bluford: + 90
Universal-Daroff: - 34
Young Scholars-Douglass + 129

 

At Harrity Elementary in West Philadelphia, for example, Mastery added 167 new students from June 2010 to June 2011. The growth, fueled in part by the closing of two Catholic schools in the area, took the school's overall enrollment up 25 percent, to 787 students.

It also forced Mastery to quickly hire more teachers and subdivide the library into classrooms – "a very significant undertaking," said Mastery CEO Scott Gordon.

But Mastery seemed to make it work.

Preliminary data show double-digit test score gains in both reading and math, better student attendance and fewer suspensions at the school.

"Before [Mastery], kids didn't want to listen, and the staff just got tired," said Ronae Johnson, a 7th grader last year and a Harrity student since first grade. "But now, you can see a big change in the building, in the behavior, in the academics. [Mastery] is forcing us to work more."

Continued skepticism

ASPIRA of Pennsylvania is a Latino-run organization with deep roots in the predominantly Latino community surrounding Stetson Middle School.

Though some parents were wary of charters in general, ASPIRA already had a reputation for serving kids from the neighborhood. At Stetson, they ended up bringing back almost 84 percent of students who previously attended the school, then retaining almost 96 percent of the students who started the new year – both marked increases.

Mastery now runs 10 schools scattered across the city, the result of an aggressive expansion plan, but has faced consistent skepticism about its commitment to all students. There have been persistent rumors about pushing out disruptive children.

Lawrence Martin"Initially, that's what I thought," said longtime West Philadelphia resident Lawrence Martin. "There's a way you have to keep those [test] scores going up."

But as a member of Mastery-Harrity's School Advisory Council (SAC), Martin said he saw Mastery employ an array of strategies to support challenging students.

"They have all kinds of programs to help," he said.

Sometimes, the efforts didn't work. Parents would tire of the new demands on them and their children.

"It would get to the point where [parents would say], 'This might not be the right school,'" said Martin.

Each time that happened, said Gordon, he got a phone call. Everyone from principals at nearby District schools to Ackerman herself was worried that Mastery was "dumping kids."

"Do we fail sometimes? Of course," he said. "There were times that kids were troubled and families just said, 'I'm not interested.'"

But both Gordon and Martin said that overall, Mastery made an honest – and effective – effort.

The numbers back up their assessment.

According to District data, no students were expelled from Harrity in 2010-11, and only nine students voluntarily left.

All told, Mastery retained over 95 percent of Harrity's students, compared to an average 90 percent before it was taken over. It added 160 students while losing about two dozen fewer than typical in years past.

Such positive trends are generally consistent across the seven Renaissance charters. In total, according to District data, only 38 families chose not to attend ("opted out"), and only one student was expelled.

Gordon knows that some will remain skeptical – a reality that he finds exasperating.

"All the evidence points to the fact that these are the same kids," he said.

Ripple effect

Part of the lingering skepticism is probably because the surge in demand at many of the Renaissance charters was felt at nearby District schools.

The seven schools all have enrollment caps, the result of the District's desire to contain costs and maintain safety. But when there was surprising demand, the consequence was 490 students from Renaissance charter catchments who were instead directed to nearby District schools.

For instance, Anderson Elementary, a District school located 10 blocks from Mastery-Harrity, last year received an influx of 64 students who lived in Harrity's catchment, according to District data.

Only seven of those students had opted out of Harrity. The remaining 57 were told that Harrity didn't have space.

The number of "overcrowding placements" ranged from five students transferred out of ASPIRA-Stetson, to 133 from Universal-Bluford.

The Notebook found no evidence that those families were either screened or pushed out.

But they still presented a challenge to the receiving schools.

Anderson principal Kelly Parker said many came with little or no paperwork. The increase in enrollment affected class sizes and "minimized the amount of time teachers can spend with each student."

He is expecting to deal with similar challenges this year.

Targets to meet

Mastery's Gordon has already declared victory.

"The schools have become neighborhood schools again – and schools of choice for parents in the neighborhood," he said.

This year will be the first, however, in which the District formally holds its original cohort of Renaissance charter operators accountable for meeting targets for year-to-year student retention, within-year student retention, and the percentage of public school students from the surrounding neighborhood whom they serve in their school.

Failure to meet those targets could result in their charters being revoked.

"The [Renaissance charter operators] understood from the beginning that we were dead-serious about these being neighborhood schools," said the District's Darden.

ELC's Lapp said continued vigilance is necessary, especially as the District deals with massive budget cuts and staff losses in its central office.

"We need to make sure [the schools] remain committed to serving all students," he said.

But this September, as Katrina Dear walked her daughter, now a 6th grader, to the door at Universal-Bluford, she wasn't worried.

She was just glad she had a place where both she and her daughter felt comfortable.

Monitoring student turnover at Renaissance charters

Within-year retention

Year-to-year retention

About the Author

Contact Notebook/NewsWorks reporter Benjamin Herold at benjaminh@thenotebook.org.

Notebook intern Katrina Morrison contributed reporting for this article.

Comments (9)

Submitted by Bree (not verified) on September 23, 2011 11:10 am

i feel like I need a comprehensive guidebook of the many options in which my child can be educated in the city of Philadelphia. Does such a thing exist? Can someone add a 25th and 26th hour to the day so that could have time to read this "guidebook" and have time to act on what is says. It shouldn't be this difficult to get a decent education for your kid in a democracy. I know I am preaching to the choir here but wow! This is so confusing.

Submitted by robharcehob (not verified) on November 1, 2013 12:56 pm
doudoune canada goose In November 2008, has three times the summit of Forbes China Rich List Gome founder Huang Guangyu Beijing police detain, through 13 months of investigation, the current spectrum case court date yet, there have been a new batch of officials and business persons involved in the case. Huang Guangyu case continues to ferment, Huang Guangyu fortune has sketched out the main political and commercial relationships. About Huang Guangyu case, although a lot of things still did not answer, but the release of lethal case, they can already draw roughly estimated.. doudoune canada goose femme Affected the next two days, the central and northern South China Sea, there have been 79 winds, Can have center near the sea wind up to 911 the next three days, in the eastern Jiangnan, South China most other places will have There are 35 or more hot weather, local maximum temperature up to 3738; western Inner Mongolia, western Gansu, Shaanxi, northeastern, northern Shanxi, Xinjiang, Turpan and Hami region and the southern basin would have 3537's hot weather, with temperatures in some areas up to 40 more specific predictions are as follows: 20, 08 am to 21 08 pm, the northern and southern mountainous area of 鈥嬧€媂injiang, Qinghai, Gansu Qilian Mountains, eastern Inner Mongolia, northeast, north eastern Huanghuai, JAC, Jianghan, Jiangnan north-central , most of South China, Southwest China most light to moderate rain or showers, in which most of Liaoning, Jilin central, eastern Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, northeast, north-central east Shandong and Jiangsu, Anhui, central, eastern and southern Hubei, Hunan northwest, southeast Chongqing, eastern Guizhou, Yunnan, south and northwest, southeast coast of Guangdong and other places with heavy rain or rainstorm, central Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang and other places south central and locally heavy rain; the local area and accompanied by thunderstorms winds and other severe convective weather. Xinjiang, most of the Northeast most, eastern Shandong and other places have 46 wind. Central South China Sea has 68 winds, Can have center near the sea wind up to 910, parts of the ocean gusts up 1112; northeastern part of South southeast wind 57; East China Sea north of 67 winds, gusts up to 89 parts of the ocean; There are 67 central and southern Yellow Sea, the southwest or southeast wind; Bohai Sea has 67 southerly winds turn southwest wind 46 ; the Yellow Sea north of southerly winds will be 56, gusts 78 weakened to 45, gust 6 21 08 am to 22 08 pm, Xinjiang, western and southern mountains, plateau, most, most of Gansu, Ningxia, southern Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, northeast, east, central and southern Huang-Huai, JAC, Jianghan, northern Jiangnan, South China, Southwest China and other places there are small to moderate rain or showers, which, northeast China Eastern, southeastern Henan, Anhui, central, eastern Hubei, Yunnan most, Guizhou, southwestern, southeastern Tibet, southern Guangdong, eastern Hainan and other places with heavy rain or rainstorm; these parts and accompanied by thunderstorms and other severe convective weather.. canada goose france In fact, I have more than a year ago you the same idea, maternity leave, his body had been weak enough, but on a cold day is also a late-riser N times to coax him to hold him to feed him milk, he is also a little favor do not understand is crying, crying you rush, sometimes really have the urge to throw him, that time I was simply collapse. Think more then fine hate myself so early to go when the mother is really Nabu Qi share of responsibility, work is therefore to take up, and became a mother after the people around like taking care of me like before, he was the center are . Often also because of him that I would be criticized, every day, trapped together with him, work is no longer a rich program, because I have a mother to go home with a baby.. canada goose solde According to the plan, the project will build a set of theme parks, high-end resort hotel group, Dai Xiu theater, sports park, business center, health care and housing supporting functions as one of the major tourist resort. Before the arrival of the Wanda, Century Golden Resources Group has long Lancang River in Jinghong invest 5 billion yuan to build an area of 鈥嬧€?,000 acres of orchards in Xishuangbanna shelters Riverside Resort. Reporters in the Riverside Holiday Villa sales center orchard cold saw, sand table basically sold out one after another, villas, each villa price 3000000-6000000 ranging between, is selling high-rise residential average price 4000 yuan per square meter or so.. doudoune canada goose solde BUG fiery trouble now, whether we are unhappy player or official estimates. Even if there is can scorch the tongue. 1 In the beginning I knew that the first bug plug should decelerate to open a jar, A1 do not know how many cc is the old part so come, of course, that things are not infinite zoom, only a few people know, this thing seems Not many people have been implicated, because the surface is not very wide spread..
Submitted by Former Gratzonian - Class of 80' (not verified) on September 25, 2011 11:58 am

When did going to school become so difficult?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 27, 2011 7:16 pm

As long as the crooks like Evans, Williams and Gamble continue to line their pockets through charters, nothing will improve--as a matter of fact, things will get worse.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2011 7:01 pm

Furness HS is turning it around, and we are neither a Renaissance School, nor a charter. It can be done.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 2, 2011 5:22 pm

Yes, if you fund schools fairly, things improve. When you give money to phony schools called Charters, the real schools go far underfunded and chaos follows.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2011 9:37 pm

First day at school is a tough and fearful day for the parents than the kids. I think by giving donations to these schools, for getting our kids admitted, we are worsening the situation. We don’t want to send our kids to the public schools. Why these public schools cannot give education to children like those charters do. I have read in some magazine of chrysalis school montana about how good they look after children. We don’t want to change and expecting a change from the charters.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 2, 2012 6:35 am

Are these facts true about gaming laptops? good gaming laptops

Submitted by robharcehob (not verified) on November 1, 2013 12:11 pm
doudoune canada goose In November 2008, has three times the summit of Forbes China Rich List Gome founder Huang Guangyu Beijing police detain, through 13 months of investigation, the current spectrum case court date yet, there have been a new batch of officials and business persons involved in the case. Huang Guangyu case continues to ferment, Huang Guangyu fortune has sketched out the main political and commercial relationships. About Huang Guangyu case, although a lot of things still did not answer, but the release of lethal case, they can already draw roughly estimated.. doudoune canada goose femme Affected the next two days, the central and northern South China Sea, there have been 79 winds, Can have center near the sea wind up to 911 the next three days, in the eastern Jiangnan, South China most other places will have There are 35 or more hot weather, local maximum temperature up to 3738; western Inner Mongolia, western Gansu, Shaanxi, northeastern, northern Shanxi, Xinjiang, Turpan and Hami region and the southern basin would have 3537's hot weather, with temperatures in some areas up to 40 more specific predictions are as follows: 20, 08 am to 21 08 pm, the northern and southern mountainous area of 鈥嬧€媂injiang, Qinghai, Gansu Qilian Mountains, eastern Inner Mongolia, northeast, north eastern Huanghuai, JAC, Jianghan, Jiangnan north-central , most of South China, Southwest China most light to moderate rain or showers, in which most of Liaoning, Jilin central, eastern Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, northeast, north-central east Shandong and Jiangsu, Anhui, central, eastern and southern Hubei, Hunan northwest, southeast Chongqing, eastern Guizhou, Yunnan, south and northwest, southeast coast of Guangdong and other places with heavy rain or rainstorm, central Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang and other places south central and locally heavy rain; the local area and accompanied by thunderstorms winds and other severe convective weather. Xinjiang, most of the Northeast most, eastern Shandong and other places have 46 wind. Central South China Sea has 68 winds, Can have center near the sea wind up to 910, parts of the ocean gusts up 1112; northeastern part of South southeast wind 57; East China Sea north of 67 winds, gusts up to 89 parts of the ocean; There are 67 central and southern Yellow Sea, the southwest or southeast wind; Bohai Sea has 67 southerly winds turn southwest wind 46 ; the Yellow Sea north of southerly winds will be 56, gusts 78 weakened to 45, gust 6 21 08 am to 22 08 pm, Xinjiang, western and southern mountains, plateau, most, most of Gansu, Ningxia, southern Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, northeast, east, central and southern Huang-Huai, JAC, Jianghan, northern Jiangnan, South China, Southwest China and other places there are small to moderate rain or showers, which, northeast China Eastern, southeastern Henan, Anhui, central, eastern Hubei, Yunnan most, Guizhou, southwestern, southeastern Tibet, southern Guangdong, eastern Hainan and other places with heavy rain or rainstorm; these parts and accompanied by thunderstorms and other severe convective weather.. canada goose france In fact, I have more than a year ago you the same idea, maternity leave, his body had been weak enough, but on a cold day is also a late-riser N times to coax him to hold him to feed him milk, he is also a little favor do not understand is crying, crying you rush, sometimes really have the urge to throw him, that time I was simply collapse. Think more then fine hate myself so early to go when the mother is really Nabu Qi share of responsibility, work is therefore to take up, and became a mother after the people around like taking care of me like before, he was the center are . Often also because of him that I would be criticized, every day, trapped together with him, work is no longer a rich program, because I have a mother to go home with a baby.. canada goose solde According to the plan, the project will build a set of theme parks, high-end resort hotel group, Dai Xiu theater, sports park, business center, health care and housing supporting functions as one of the major tourist resort. Before the arrival of the Wanda, Century Golden Resources Group has long Lancang River in Jinghong invest 5 billion yuan to build an area of 鈥嬧€?,000 acres of orchards in Xishuangbanna shelters Riverside Resort. Reporters in the Riverside Holiday Villa sales center orchard cold saw, sand table basically sold out one after another, villas, each villa price 3000000-6000000 ranging between, is selling high-rise residential average price 4000 yuan per square meter or so.. doudoune canada goose solde BUG fiery trouble now, whether we are unhappy player or official estimates. Even if there is can scorch the tongue. 1 In the beginning I knew that the first bug plug should decelerate to open a jar, A1 do not know how many cc is the old part so come, of course, that things are not infinite zoom, only a few people know, this thing seems Not many people have been implicated, because the surface is not very wide spread..

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