Who wants to run three struggling schools that the Philadelphia School District plans to give away to outside companies?

Four firms - a local charter organization, a West Philadelphia charter school, and two outside companies that run charters elsewhere - raised their hands, submitting proposals to manage city schools, officials announced Tuesday.

Mastery Charter Schools, which runs 13 schools in Philadelphia and five in Camden, wants to manage Wister Elementary in Germantown.

The Great Oaks Foundation, a New York-based company that runs charter schools there as well as in Newark, N.J., Bridgeport, Conn., and Wilmington, wants to take over Cooke Elementary in Logan.

And two outfits will vie to run Huey Elementary in West Philadelphia. One, Global Leadership Academy Charter School, runs a stand-alone charter school in West Philadelphia. The other, SABIS Educational Systems, has its U.S. headquarters in Minnesota and runs 12 charter schools throughout the country. It has roots in Lebanon, and administers public and private schools around the world.

The three schools were designated by Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. to be among the district's lowest performers. Hite wants to turn the schools around using the district's Renaissance process, which involves taking failing schools and giving them to charters to operate. In the last five years, 20 schools have been turned over to charters under this model.

Protests made

The process has drawn protests this year from community members, parents, and teachers, who say they are being shut out. Last year, Hite allowed the two schools he had proposed turning over to charters to decide whether they wanted the turnaround. Both rejected becoming charters.

This year, Hite said, the process should be different. Parents will be part of a committee that evaluates the applicants, then makes recommendations to Hite, who retains final say over whether the School Reform Commission will vote on handing over the schools.

Mastery CEO Scott Gordon said that a year ago, his group planned to explore expanding its presence in Philadelphia if the district offered the Renaissance program.

Wister was the natural choice, he said, because Mastery already operates Pickett Campus, the Germantown middle school Wister children attend after graduation.

The shock of hearing that a school is underperforming often builds some difficulty around the process, Gordon said, but he said Mastery is committed to the work.

"What we've found is that people are excited when they see what else is possible when they visit Mastery schools or other high-performing schools," Gordon said. "Enthusiasm begins to build. Hope begins to build."

Great Oaks is new to Philadelphia, but its chief academic officer, Rashaun Reid, is not. Reid attended Temple University and has administrative experience at two district Renaissance schools, Mann and Cleveland - both Mastery schools. He also lives in Philadelphia.

Tutoring effort

Reid said Great Oaks distinguishes itself by building one-on-one tutoring into the school day. Its tutors are recent college graduates who work in Great Oaks schools in exchange for housing and a small stipend.

He acknowledged that Great Oaks is likely to face opposition from community members who are upset by the way the Renaissance process is being run.

"You have to listen to the wants and needs of the community, and that's something we're prepared to do," Reid said. "If a partnership does come from this process, we want to make sure it's something parents feel they have a voice in."

A SABIS official, in a statement, said its work turning around schools in other urban areas prepared it well to appeal to the Huey community, and that it was prepared to listen to what families in West Philadelphia need.

"SABIS and its educational system have achieved significant results with students similar to Huey's, and, if deemed the right partner, the same program that is being successfully implemented in private and public schools throughout the global SABIS network will be brought to the school," spokesman Jose Afonso said in the statement.

SABIS, according to its website, is rooted in a uniform curriculum, "cutting-edge educational tools," and "a safe, disciplined and positive environment," among other things.

Naomi Johnson Booker, Global Leadership's CEO and a former district administrator who specialized in turnarounds, said the school was well positioned to take over Huey. Booker grew up in West Philadelphia and attended Huey.

"I like changing organizations to the good, and we have a good model here," Booker said. Still, she said, "I'm not trying to go in and change everything and say, 'Everything is bad about Huey.' But once people see what we're all about, I think they'll want to work with us."

Fernando Gallard, School District spokesman, said that the three schools' vetting teams are in place and will begin the work of evaluating companies' applications. The teams' recommendations are due to Hite the last week in December.

The SRC is scheduled to vote on the Renaissance schools in January.

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