The School Reform Commission moved forward Thursday night with plans to turn over three struggling elementary schools to charter operators as part of the Renaissance reform program, but postponed taking action on seven existing charter schools that were seeking renewal agreements.
The decisions came at the end of a five-hour meeting during which audience members at times shouted out their frustrations and suffered having their microphone cutoff when they spoke too long.
The district's five-year-old Renaissance Schools initiative, which aims to transform academically struggling schools by turning them over to charter operators, was front and center at the meeting. The three schools that will become Renaissance schools this fall are Wister, Cooke and Huey Elementary Schools.
The Great Oaks Foundation based in New York will take over Cooke. Great Oaks already operates four schools in Bridgeport, Conn., Newark, New York and Wilmington, Del.
Global Leadership Academy Charter School, which operates one West Philadelphia charter school, will take over Huey.
And Mastery Charter Schools will run Wister. Mastery's network of Philadelphia charters already includes 13 schools serving 11,000 students.
Great Oaks and Mastery still have to sign charter agreements with the district and the SRC will have to approve it.
The board granted five-year renewals to Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School in West Philadelphia and YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. Both schools were among the first four charter schools to open in the city in 1997 after the Legislature approved the charter-creation law earlier that year.
At the request of SRC member Bill Green, SRC chair Marjorie Neff withdrew resolutions to deny five-year renewal agreements to two charters operated by Universal Cos. and two charters operated by ASPIRA Inc.
Despite hearing testimony from district officials that the four schools had failed to meet multiple goals in the areas of academics, finances and organizational viability, Green said he wanted to put off the vote until after city Controller Alan Butkovitz releases a report that looks at the operations of Universal and ASPIRA.
"He can issue the report then we'll take the vote," Green said after the meeting.
The Universal Cos. schools are Universal Audenried Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter School and Universal Vare Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter School, both in South Philadelphia. The ASPIRA, Inc. schools are Olney Charter High School and John B. Stetson Charter School in North Philadelphia.
Neff also tabled resolutions giving five-year renewals for three charter schools that are operated by Mastery Charter Schools: Clymer Elementary, Shoemaker Campus, and Simon Gratz Campus. Neff explained that the resolution was awaiting Mastery's signing of a charter renewal agreement.
"The safest thing to do is to table and to withdraw until more information is available," district Superintendent William Hite Jr. said afterward.
The decisions where made in the packed auditorium of the school district's North Broad Street headquarters, where students, teachers and other community members cheered and jeered the moves, and a larger-than-usual 67 people signed up to make public statements.