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Health sciences, dance-focused charter schools proposed for Philadelphia

The city's school board, which didn't approve any new charters last year, is expected to hold public hearings on the proposed schools within 45 days.

The Philadelphia School Board will decide whether to approve two new charter schools proposed this year for the city.
The Philadelphia School Board will decide whether to approve two new charter schools proposed this year for the city.Read moreFILE PHOTO

The Philadelphia school board has been asked to consider two new charter schools, one aimed at preparing students for careers in health care and the other focusing on dance and creative arts.

The proposed High School of Health Sciences Leadership says it has support from area universities and colleges including Thomas Jefferson University, Temple University, Drexel University, and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The second applicant, Joan Myers Brown Academy, is named for the Philadanco founder and pitched by charter operator String Theory Schools. The school’s backers first applied to open the charter last year but failed to win board approval.

The two schools were the only applicants for new charters by Friday’s deadline. The board will hold hearings within 45 days and must vote within 75 days after the hearings.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, educate about one-third of Philadelphia’s public school students. About 70,000 students are enrolled in 89 city charters.

Advocates say demand for charter schools hasn’t yet been satisfied, with nearly 30,000 applicants reported last year. Supporters of traditional public schools say the city can’t afford more charters, which are funded by school districts based on their enrollment.

» READ MORE: ‘We never thought we’d get in’: The tense wait for a Philly charter school seat

In a departure from its predecessor — the state-appointed School Reform Commission — the city’s mayoral-appointed school board did not approve any new charters last year.

Tim Matheney, leader of the coalition proposing the health sciences charter, said it would prepare students for jobs in the city’s largest economic sector.

“It’s been said Philadelphia could become the Silicon Valley of health care and medicine, and we would like to be a part of that,” said Matheney, a former executive director of the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders, which runs the Neubauer Fellowship program.

Its backers say the school would open in September 2021 and grow to 600 students, offering five pathways for students, including pre-nursing, biomedical research, and medical technology. It plans to lease the school building that until this fall had been occupied by Cristo Rey High School, a Catholic archdiocesan school on North Broad Street in the Logan section.

Matheney said the school also aims to increase the ranks of black educators and would work with the Center for Black Educator Development and former Mastery Shoemaker charter principal Sharif El-Mekki to prepare students to teach science, technology, engineering, and math.

The school received a $75,000 planning grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership, a nonprofit that funds charter, district, and private schools.

The Joan Myers Brown Academy seeks to open next September in West Philadelphia, emphasizing dance and creative arts in grades kindergarten through eighth.

The board denied its application last year, citing concerns about its curriculum, relationship with the String Theory management company, and the record of String Theory’s schools in the city.

» READ MORE: Philly charter operator String Theory, turned down by school board, now consulting for another charter, CHAD

Jason Corosanite, a cofounder of String Theory, said the proposed charter “retooled” its application, but acknowledged there is “really not much difference in what we’re submitting.” He said he doesn’t anticipate that the board will approve the charter this time, but that its backers are really hoping to make a case before the state entity that can review and overturn such denials.

“Our audience is really the Charter Appeals Board,” Corosanite said. With Philadelphia’s school board, he said, “we don’t believe there’s much appetite for new charters at this point.”