No one disputes that John Wister Elementary, where few students learn to read or do math on grade level, must improve.
The thorny question is: How best to elevate performance at the Germantown K-5, part of the Philadelphia School District?
Earlier this school year, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. recommended that Wister, along with two other district schools, be given to charter companies in September.
But this week, Hite reversed course, saying that on the basis of progress evidenced in new district data, Wister was eligible for an in-house turnaround instead of the more radical overhaul. (The other schools, Huey and Cooke, will likely still become charters after a School Reform Commission vote next week.)
Some cheered the Wister move, declaring victory for traditional public schools too often deprived of resources and then labeled failing.
Alisha Grant, mother of a second grader, is furious. She worries that her daughter isn't getting an adequate education at Wister, and welcomed the interventions of Mastery Charter Schools, the nationally recognized organization that had been poised to take over.
"If you know Mastery has a good track record," Grant asked, "why wouldn't you let them come in and get the job done?"
Hite pointed to Wister's 2014-15 growth, but Grant said she was not impressed with slight gains in math. Three percent of Wister students made the grade in math on the 2014-15 state exams; 19 percent scored proficient in reading.
Grant and other upset Wister parents plan to deliver petitions to Hite on Thursday, asking the superintendent to reconsider his recommendation.
Scott Gordon, Mastery's CEO, said he was disappointed to lose the opportunity to run Wister.
"We are deeply concerned that Wister will be in a similar place in the future, and that another generation of children will have missed an opportunity, and that's what's heartbreaking," Gordon said.
He alluded to "well-organized political forces" that fueled the movement to keep Wister in the district fold.
Kenya Nation-Holmes, one of the Wister parents who was opposed to the school's becoming a charter, dismissed that notion.
"We picketed and we protested, and knocked on doors and talked to parents, and everyone listened," Nation-Holmes said.
Though her boys, a kindergartner and a second grader, have flourished at Wister, she says, she now realizes that the school has not served others so well. What most upset Nation-Holmes is the sense that the district wanted to impose change on parents without any input.
Wister parents are awake now, Nation-Holmes said, and the district has pledged to work with them to fix things, building on the activism spurred by the potential charter conversion.
"We're going to make sure that Wister is never in this position again," Nation-Holmes said.
Dionne Hubert, for one, is skeptical. She's not happy with the school's academics or staff, she said, and had been trying to get her two children out.
"Mastery was a glimmer of hope that my kids would be able to go to school in their neighborhood," Hubert said. "I'm devastated."
Each day, Hubert drops her son and daughter off at Wister and worries about the lack of resources and a tough school climate.
She's holding out hope that either Hite changes course again or that the SRC gets to weigh in on Wister.
"That's all we can ask," Hubert said. "Let it go to a vote next week."
Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the district, said that officials would meet with Wister parents at the school at 6 p.m. Wednesday to begin the process of developing a comprehensive plan for the school's improvement.