April 23 — 4:47 pm, 2012

Archdiocese joins Great Schools Compact

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has officially joined the Great Schools Compact, with Mayor Nutter calling it a "historic" move toward cooperation by two once-rival systems – both of which face shrinking enrollment, excess buildings, dwindling resources, and questions of quality.

Instead of considering themselves competitors, the two systems will cooperate in an effort to increase the number of “high quality” seats in neighborhood schools, Nutter said, and give parents more choices. For instance, they will try to learn from each other in areas of academics and safety and will consult on neighborhood changes, building use, and other matters.

“This is about keeping the middle class in the city,” said Nutter, who graduated from St. Joseph’s Prep.

Both of the systems have lost students to charter schools. Leaders of charter school umbrella groups have also signed on to the compact.

The compact has received a planning grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is seeking a much larger implementation grant.

Mark Gleason, the executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, said that as far as he knows, Philadelphia is the only city competing for Gates money that has its Catholic schools on board.

“We think this makes us unique compared to other cities,” he said.

As part of the agreement, the archdiocese has agreed to release school-by-school test scores, which it had stopped doing a number of years ago.

Mary Rochford, superintendent of the archdiocesan system, said that the Catholic schools, which educate 20,000 students within the city, are now looking for ways to compare results on the Terra Nova, which it administers, and the PSSA, taken by District and charter school students.

Those results will be available on a website comparing city schools that the Philadelphia School Partnership is scheduled to launch in September.

Beyond that, she said, the archdiocese has signed on to the Common Core Standards. Assessments related to those standards, which look to raise the academic bar in all states to international benchmarks. That will begin in the spring of 2014. The District is also preparing to implement the standards in its academic overhaul.

Speaking at the press conference, held at St. Peter the Apostle Church, Fifth Street and Girard Avenue, were Nutter, city Chief Education Advisor Lori Shorr, and Archbishop Charles Chaput. St. John Neumann, whose body is in a shrine at St. Peter the Apostle Church, started what was once a massive Catholic school system in the Philadelphia archdiocese and is considered a driving force behind the development of Catholic education in America.

Shorr pointed out that students move back and forth among Catholic, charter, and District schools regularly. One-third of charter students come from archdiocesan schools, she said, while 30 percent of students who start District schools each September went to a different school the year before.

Parish schools, which in their heyday were free to registered parishioners, now charge tuition, limiting them as choices for many families.

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