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

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Student turnover at the high schools

By by Benjamin Herold and Katrina Morrison on Sep 21, 2011 09:17 PM

Three of the District's Renaissance charter operators are taking on their biggest challenge yet: transforming a neighborhood high school.

Audenried High in South Philadelphia is now managed by Universal Companies. Olney East and Olney West have been re-merged into one school under ASPIRA of Pennsylvania. Simon Gratz High in Nicetown is now run by Mastery Charter Schools.

In addition to curtailing violence and increasing test scores and graduation rates, the three Renaissance charter operators are expected to serve the same students who have historically attended these schools.

Skeptics worry that they will seek quick results by weeding out the hardest to serve students, starting with discouraging them from coming back or enrolling in the first place.

To get an early read, the Notebook spent the summer reaching out to dozens of students who were enrolled at Gratz last year.

We ran into many of the challenges Mastery has encountered, including families with ever-shifting contact information and a tenuous connection to school.

Through intensive neighborhood canvassing and outreach – as well as radio spots and billboards – Mastery managed to re-enroll roughly 450 students from last year, said Mastery CEO Scott Gordon. Including incoming 9th graders, they've also enrolled roughly 550 new students, 65 to 75 percent of whom Gordon estimates are from Gratz's catchment area.

The Notebook ultimately spoke with 14 students, most of whom had previously struggled with attendance and behavior at Gratz. Ten said they intended to re-enroll. As of September 19, 10 of the 14 were on Mastery-Gratz's rolls.

The stories from our decidedly unscientific sample – including the three below – illustrate how challenging this mandate will be.

Final enrollment numbers are yet to be determined, and Renaissance charters' use of accelerated and alternative placements bears watching. But, so far, Mastery appears to be honoring its charge.

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