Life at Mastery : In the News : Candidates named to take over 3 Philly schools

Candidates named to take over 3 Philly schools

Wednesday, March 27 2013. By By Kristen A. Graham, Inquirer Staff Writer

Some familiar names will vie to run struggling city public schools being handed over to charter organizations, officials said Monday.

Mastery Charter Schools, Scholar Academies, and Universal Cos. are candidates to take over three Philadelphia School District elementaries: Alcorn in Grays Ferry, Kenderton in Tioga, and Pastorius in East Germantown.

Each company currently runs at least one "Renaissance" school - a low-performing district school given to a charter organization. The schools must still accept students living in their geographic boundaries.

This is the fourth consecutive year the district has given away some of its toughest schools to charters; this year, it is focusing only on elementary schools.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the companies all meet the district's requirement of having "a track record of successfully addressing the urgent needs of our chronically low-performing schools."

All of the charter operators posted improved performance in test scores and nonacademic measures at district elementaries they took over.

Two of the three companies have ties to schools previously converted to charters. Most of Mastery's schools are in North Philadelphia, near Kenderton, and Universal has done work in the Alcorn community.

Scholar Academies runs one turnaround school in North Philadelphia. CEO Lars Beck said the company applied to run one school, but that "we are excited for any of them."

No company is guaranteed to get any school, the district said, and all will make presentations to each of the schools.

Mastery already has five Renaissance schools, plus multiple freestanding charters. CEO Scott Gordon said Mastery had applied to run up to two of this year's crop of Renaissance schools, but that "there's a lot of informal relationships with families at Kenderton," which is the school closest to Cleveland, another turnaround school it runs.

It also runs Mastery-Pickett, a former district school taken over before the Renaissance process began. Pickett is near Pastorius.

"We don't have any relationships with Alcorn families, but we look forward to meeting them," Gordon said.

Scholar Academies runs Young Scholars-Frederick Douglass in North Philadelphia as well as one stand-alone charter school in Philadelphia, plus turnaround schools in Washington and Trenton.

Rahim Islam, Universal's CEO, said he was pleased the district was continuing a program begun under Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman.

Islam said that "Alcorn is a priority," but that Universal had no "magic number of schools" in mind. "We will follow the wishes of the parents."

Universal, Scholar Academies, and Mastery were chosen from among a field of eight companies.

Finalists will now make presentations to advisory councils made up of parents and community members from each school.

Those councils ultimately make recommendations to the district on who they want to run their school beginning in September. The district, in its fourth year of Renaissance schools, historically endorses the council choice but in a few cases has overruled them.

The School Reform Commission makes the final decision on matching school to turnaround team; that vote is expected in late April or early May.

In addition to giving three schools to charters, the district will also overhaul six schools itself.

Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at