Life at Mastery : In the News : Crowd Urges SRC to Approve Charter Renewals, Expansions

Crowd Urges SRC to Approve Charter Renewals, Expansions

Wednesday, April 17 2013. By Martha Woodall

"Hold up your posters. Make some noise!" Naomi Booker, president of the Philadelphia Charters for Excellence, exhorted the crowd massed for the upbeat after-school rally outside district headquarters at 440 N. Broad St.

Booker, also the chief executive of Global Leadership Academy Charter School in Parkside, said the city's charter community was tired of the SRC's repeated delays in acting on expansion requests when 40,000 students are on waiting lists.

Charter school officials said they had been told that the SRC would act on their pending requests this month, but the action has been postponed.

The district said in a statement Monday that it was reviewing charter applications but was not sure when the SRC would consider them.

Laurada Byers, cofounder of the Russell Byers Charter School in Center City, said in an interview that her elementary charter has requested 245 more seats to add seventh and eighth grades.

Although the charter would not add the seats until 2014, Byers said, the school needs permission from the SRC now to obtain financing for building improvements.

"People talk about adding 50,000 seats in high-performing city schools," she said. "We'd like to be part of that. We believe we deserve to be."

Organized by Philadelphia Charters for Excellence, the rally featured energetic speeches by parents and students, including Jonathan Jackson, a 2008 graduate of Mastery Charter School's Lenfest campus and a member of Pennsylvania State University's Class of 2012.

"It's because of Mastery that I am where I am and who I am today," Jackson told the crowd. "I came back to Mastery at Simon Gratz to teach because I believe in Mastery's message: 'Excellence. No Excuses.' "

Cheerleaders from the Discovery Charter School in West Philadelphia shook black-and-white pom-poms. Global Leadership's drum line provided a beat for the slogans and chants.

And four juniors from Tacony Academy Charter School performed "Musical Chairs," a spoken-word piece about charter lotteries and waiting lists that included the refrain: "My education should not depend on a game of musical chairs."

According to district spokesman Fernando Gallard, 14 of the 16 charter schools whose operating agreements are up for renewal have asked to add grades and seats. Seven other charter schools have asked to expand as well.

The district statement said: "As the district moves forward in making financial decisions for traditional and charter public schools, it will be guided by the financial reality that it currently faces," including a shortfall of about $304 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Eighty-four charter schools operate in the district, enrolling more than 55,000 students.

Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 orĀ martha.woodall@phillynews.com.