As Mastery Charter School at Thomas prepares for its first graduation next month, good news is pouring in to its South Philadelphia campus.
In a neighborhood where district high schools send 16 to 24 percent of their graduates to college, 93 percent of Thomas' seniors will attend.
It has been only five years since Mastery took on Thomas and became the first operator in the city to convert a troubled middle school into a charter. Yet Thomas was one of 22 charter schools nationwide lauded this spring by a New York educational-reform group for achieving dramatic academic gains with low-income students.
What's especially sweet for Mastery is that this year, for the first time in its nine-year history, Mastery students have cracked the Ivy League ceiling. One Mastery-Thomas grad will attend the University of Pennsylvania; another is bound for Columbia University.
"I'm thrilled," said Scott Gordon, Mastery's founder and chief executive officer, who recalled nervously handing hoagies to students at lunch on Mastery-Thomas' opening day in 2005.
"I remember how scared we were," the businessman-turned-educator said. "This was our first turnaround. It was a big deal."