January 11 — 4:17 pm, 2016

Hite recommends two schools for charter conversion, reverses course on a third

In a surprise move, Wister Elementary in Germantown will remain under the District's control.

Wister meeting Bastiaan Slabbers/NewsWorks
Updated 

Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite has selected two charter school operators to take over operations at two district elementary schools through the Renaissance initiative.

Hite’s recommendation matches West Philadelphia’s Huey Elementary with Global Leadership Academy and Logan’s Cooke Elementary with the Great Oaks Foundation.

Hite originally pitched converting Wister Elementary in Germantown as well. Mastery Charter applied to operate the school. Monday, in a surprising reversal, Hite recommended the school remain under district control.

The School Reform Commission will make final determination on Cooke and Huey at a Jan. 21 meeting.

Of the four charter organizations that applied for consideration this year, only Mastery has a track record doing neighborhood-based conversions in Philadelphia. It’s been by far the top performer among city charter providers who engage in turnaround work.

Hite said each of his decisions were influenced by community input, as well as last week’s release of School Progress Report data – which weights "progress" most heavily.

Wister saw a large jump in its "progress" score. It rated 29 out of 59 in its citywide group and scored 10 out of 20 among schools considered to be peers. Overall, this bumped the school up from "intervene" to "watch."

Hite didn’t believe he should greenlight intervention at a "watch" school when so many others fall into the "intervene" category.

"That school is moving in the right direction," said Hite. "We only have finite resources….we felt that there are schools that are lower-performing than Wister that would need this level of investment."

Hite said his decision was very difficult given Mastery’s reputation, and the fact that the school evaluation committee rated it highly.

"Mastery has shown strong evidence of success, had a very good application for this school," he said. "This was more about what was happening at Wister, and the fact that we saw evidence of growth there."

Hite said all other options for intervention at Wister will be considered – including in-district turnaround, partnering with outside agencies and/or reconstituting the school or its staff.

"Everything is on the table except for renaissance charter conversion," said Hite.

School Progress Report data also influenced Hite’s thinking at Cooke and Huey. Overall, both rated "intervene."

Cooke’s "progress" score rose slightly. Its rankings in "achievement" and "climate" fell. It was rated 135 of 140 in its citywide group and last in its peer group.

Huey saw "climate" ratings rise slightly, "progress" flatline, and "achievement" drop. Overall, it rated 99 of 140 in its city group, and 21 of 46 in its peer group.

The district measures "progress" using the state’s "value added" metric, PVAAS, which tracks year-to-year student performance on state standardized tests as compared with peers.

Complicating this, though, is that the state tests changed dramatically between this year and last. The Pennsylvania Department of Education says the most recent scores should be considered the "new baseline." Based on this reasoning, PDE decided not to assign school performance profile scores this year.

Toggling between 2015 and 2014 data on the state’s PVAAS site shows how wildly growth scores can swing from year to year.

Hite defended the decision to use PVAAS in the district’s ratings this year and restated his commitment to the integrity of the SPR data.

"Because the assessment changed does not mean that you cannot measure growth," he said.

Reactions

The proposed conversions have been the topic of fierce debate at School Reform Commission meetings in recent months. Each school has seen parents and advocates pushing both for and against conversion.

Wister was home of the most coordinated campaign to keep the school within district control.  Community member Coleman Poses correctly pointed out that the district relied on faulty enrollment data in its pitch to convert the school.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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