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PSP no more: Philly education nonprofit changing its name, mission

The Philadelphia School Partnership, which has raised $134 million over 11 years, will become Elevate 215.

The Philadelphia School Partnership, led by Stacy Holland, is changing its name to Elevate 215, and sharpening its mission. The nonprofit has raised more than $100 million in its decade of existence.
The Philadelphia School Partnership, led by Stacy Holland, is changing its name to Elevate 215, and sharpening its mission. The nonprofit has raised more than $100 million in its decade of existence.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

A well-funded education nonprofit is changing its name, sharpening its mission, and attempting to move away from its lightning-rod past.

The Philadelphia School Partnership is becoming Elevate 215, officials will announce Tuesday. The organization, which has raised $134 million since its founding in 2011, had focused on expanding the number of “high-quality seats” in schools. Some critics felt this emphasis deepened inequities, favoring charter and private schools.

Going forward, Elevate 215 wants to newly focus on modernizing Philadelphia schools’ learning experience, and elevate good educational practices, officials said.

“The whole purpose of the organization is to ensure that young people actually have the best education,” said Stacy Holland, executive director. PSP focused on the numbers of opportunities that existed; Elevate 215 will focus on the quality of opportunities that exist, on the practices needed to help students thrive both inside and outside the classroom. “We’ve learned that seats are important, but not adequate, in terms of elevating academic outcomes.”

Holland took over PSP’s top job last summer, succeeding Mark Gleason in the executive director role.

Gleason was a polarizing figure, and on his watch, the organization was criticized by some for furthering educational inequities and contributing to the privatization of public education. Gleason set the tone for the organization he helped found, saying he wanted to expand high-quality schools regardless of whether they were charter, traditional public, or private.

Holland said Elevate 215 is repositioning itself after a strategic planning process and an extensive series of listening sessions.

“Another big shift — we will work with anybody that’s willing to work with us towards our goals,” Holland said. “If we’re going to move the needle in this city, we’ve got to start working together to solve problems, not work just to be right.”

The organization will spend $66 million over the next five years, giving funds to “schools that are currently beating the odds for low-income and minority students.” Elevate 215 has already identified a group of 31 K-8 traditional public and charter schools and is working on analyzing Catholic and high schools. The first group of grantees will be announced later this year.

Elevate 215 aims to support 50 schools over the five years, Holland said. It’s not focusing on turnaround schools — struggling schools tapped for rapid acceleration, often by bringing in an outside provider to run or support education — and generally not top performers.

“A lot of them are ones that people would not suspect,” Holland said. The 31 are “a set of schools that are really doing interesting things, getting really good progress. Those schools are actually tipping performance for their kids, and moving from good to great. If we really understand what they do and what conditions they need and how they’re supporting their staff, we can replicate them.”

One recently-funded project that Holland held up as an example of the type of work Elevate 215 hopes to advance: Last year, it awarded funds to Philadelphia High School for Girls, a powerhouse magnet school, to provide supports to students who might not otherwise thrive at the school. A grant paid for an intensive summer program that provided extra help that paved the way for the young people to have a successful school experience.

The work is vital, especially for children living in deep poverty, said Holland.

“School isn’t the same way you and I went to school,” said Holland. “We have to keep kids at the center and that requires us as the adults to be willing to shift our practice. We can totally make a difference for our kids, but we’re going to have to build a new learning experience. I’m not claiming we’re going to change the system, I’m saying we can help with some strategies for how to accelerate the change.”

Mike O’Neill, Elevate 215 board chair, said in a statement that the organization had learned much from its last decade.

“We’re laser focused on every child in Philadelphia having access to a great school as soon as possible, and Elevate 215 is ready to roll up our sleeves with educators and leaders from across the city to make sure that all children have that opportunity,” O’Neill said.