Mastery’s CEO talks about expansion plan and Renaissance turnarounds
Mastery Charter Schools CEO Scott Gordon said Thursday that a new $9.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education would be used to open new schools in the city and across the Delaware River.
"We’re expecting to open schools in Philadelphia and Camden," Gordon said in a telephone interview. "New schools or Renaissance schools. Our preference has always been Renaissance schools, because that is the quickest way to address kids who are trapped in struggling schools."
Gordon said that Mastery would definitely participate in the District’s restarted Renaissance schools initiative this year, but is still considering which schools to apply for.
The schools designated by Superintendent William Hite for charter conversion are John Wister in Germantown, Samuel Huey in West Philadelphia, and Jay Cooke in Logan.
He called it "unlikely," however, that Mastery would apply to operate all three.
Today is the deadline for the District to release a "request for qualifications" for Renaissance providers. And significant pushback is already evident against turning over any more neighborhood schools to charter operators.
A protest before today’s School Reform Commission meeting was planned, led by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which argues that the District should invest more money and resources in the schools instead of outsourcing them. At meetings held with the affected school communities, parents, and activists have spoken out against conversions.
But Gordon says that his organization has successfully turned around the Renaissance schools it operates, and that enrollment has gone up in the neighborhood schools that Mastery has taken over.
"We are proud that our schools have gotten stronger in serving kids with the highest needs," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to revitalize neighborhood schools.
"We believe passionately that every familiy can have a high-quality school children can walk to. We believe Mastery has demonstrated that every neighborhood school can be high quality."
He contended that "what’s missing from the conversation is parent voice – parents who are not paid by advocacy organizations, parents who are busy trying to make sure they can provide for their families and not worry about whether their kid is in a safe school that will support their child."
Once "a school begins changing," he said, "those parents get engaged. … If we’re really talking about paying attention to parents, we should talk about parents voting with their feet" and coming back to the neighborhood school after it has become a charter.
Among charter organizations, Mastery has been considered the most successful Renaissance school operator, with its schools posting gains in test scores and climate indicators. All three of its Renaissance schools eligible for renewal have been renewed.
Other Renaissance providers have had issues. Young Scholars gave up its Douglass campus to Mastery rather than go through a non-renewal proceeding. Universal-Bluford was recommended for non-renewal, and Stetson, run by ASPIRA is in limbo.
The $9.6 million award is a result of a competitive grant. Mastery was among 12 charter organizations recognized by the Department of Education, and it received the most money.
The grant will underwrite leadership training and teacher support, including the ability of teachers to work with each other.
Among the resolutions on tonight’s SRC agenda is one in which the District accepts a $45,000 in-kind contribution from Mastery for teacher training. Mastery’s work with District teachers has also generated opposition.
The grant proposal mentioned expansion in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. These areas have expressed interest in having Mastery schools, but Gordon said that there were no immediate plans to expand into Delaware or D.C.