The Archdiocese of Philadelphia agreed Monday to work more closely with the School District of Philadelphia and the city's charter-school community to ensure that the city's children have access to quality schools — a decision that could increase the city's chances of winning millions of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In a ceremony at St. Peter the Apostle School in Northern Liberties, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput signed an agreement that would make the city's Catholic schools a member of the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact, a collaborative education effort backed by Mayor Nutter, state Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis, the district, and charter organizations that aims to add 50,000 seats in high-performing schools within five years across the city.
"By signing this Great Schools Compact," Chaput said, "we declare our shared commitment to providing the children of Philadelphia outstanding education that will prepare them for postsecondary education and successful entry into the workplace of the 21st century."
Catholic schools educate more than 20,000 students in the city.
Nutter called the signing "a historic moment here in Philadelphia."
He said improving educational options for the city's more than 200,000 school-age children was essential for securing the region's economic future by increasing high-school-graduation and college-attainment rates. The Great Schools Compact, he said, was essential to advancing those educational goals.
The compact plans to submit an application in May to the Gates Foundation seeking a portion of the $40 million it has offered nationally to aid schools and speed the pace of education changes in the city.
Mark Gleason, executive director of the nonprofit Philadelphia School Partnership, said the archdiocese's involvement could improve the compact's chances of winning funds.
"Gates did not make this a condition," Gleason said after the signing ceremony. "But we think this makes our compact unique, relative to the other cities. We hope it helps us, but time will tell."
Fifteen cities nationwide have signed compacts. Philadelphia has received $100,000 in Gates funds to help it get off the ground.
Officials also said they expected the agreement to improve cooperative planning. Lori Shorr, Nutter's chief education officer, who chairs the compact committee, said that after the archdiocese announced this year its plans to close several Catholic schools in the city, representatives from the archdiocese and the School District met to consider the effect those closings could have on district schools. She said that unusual level of communication helped the district plan for the additional students.
Compact representatives also said the agreement would make it easier for families to find information about schools through a website being developed.
Mary Rochford, superintendent of archdiocesan schools, said the archdiocese had agreed to make test-score data for Catholic schools public for that site.
Catholic students take the Terra Nova, a national standardized test, rather than Pennsylvania's standardized test that is administered to students in district-run and charter schools.
Rochford said the Office of Catholic Education had been working with Terra Nova tests to devise a system that would help parents compare students' scores.
Gleason, whose group has been assisting with that effort, said he hoped the Catholic school information would be ready to be posted by the fall.
With the archdiocese's involvement, Shorr said, about 95 percent of all school-age children in Philadelphia are enrolled in schools that are represented by the compact.
Chaput said it was fitting to sign the compact inside St. Peter the Apostle's elementary school. The site at Fifth Street and Girard Avenue contains the shrine of St. John Neumann, Philadelphia's fourth bishop, who is given credit for creating the nation's first parochial-school system.