OVER THE years, fans of Oprah Winfrey have said that whatever the media mogul touches usually turns into gold. But during a taping of her show yesterday, the TV icon honored those who have made a difference in the one thing she said she treasures the most - education.
Mastery Charter Schools was one of six educational institutions Winfrey recognized for their work in educating America's youth. And to show her thanks, Oprah's Angel Network awarded each a grant for $1 million.
As part of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's Renaissance Schools initiative, Mastery operates three newly converted elementary schools. With the grant money, Scott Gordon, Mastery's founder and executive director, said he intends to add more schools to his roster. Mastery now operates six schools in the city.
News of the grant, kept secret from most of the Mastery schools' staffs until yesterday, was broken as members gathered at different venues throughout the city for viewing parties.
Munching on chicken wings and nachos at Chili's on City Avenue, faculty of Mastery's Shoemaker Campus in West Philadelphia watched as Oprah interviewed Davis Guggenheim about his documentary on schools' failing education system, "Waiting for Superman."
Winfrey also interviewed Michelle Ree, head of schools in Washington, D.C., and music artist and Penn grad John Legend on school reform. She later recognized each of the charter schools with a prerecorded segment.
Mastery was the first to be profiled, and cheers and howls erupted as clips of Sharif El-Mekki, principal of the Mastery Shoemaker Campus who was also at the taping, said his staff is worthy of the praise for going above and beyond its call of duty.
"It's super exciting for the staff to see this," he said. "Oprah takes it to another level. . . . I never worked with this large of a dedicated group. They're all amazing to watch as they find out what their kids' deficits are, whether it's academic work, behavioral or personal. They're all over it."
April Thomas, assistant principal of school culture, agreed.
"This is a validation of all the hard work that I witnessed in the classrooms at our campus on a daily basis," she said. "And it just makes the work we're doing, the business of changing lives, so worthwhile."
The Shoemaker Campus will graduate its first class this year. The school, chartered in 2006, is one of six campuses.
Mastery, which has operated a charter high school since 2001, was also recognized by President Obama in July for its academic gains. Mastery's model is college prepratory behavior modification.
"We're working on a productive year," Gordon said. "This has been a fantastic year. Being recognized by the president, you can't get any better than that, and now Oprah. It felt good in the soul."