Shereda Cromwell stood in front of an auditorium, tears in her eyes. She didn't know where else to turn.

She wanted people to know what was happening at Kenderton Elementary, the North Philadelphia school her three children attend: the fights and the children walking the hallways, even first graders. The mess. The deep academic problems.

"Our school needs help," Cromwell told the School Reform Commission. "These kids need help."

Kenderton has ping-ponged between operators multiple times in the last two decades, a product of the Philadelphia School District's myriad reform initiatives. For a time in the early 2000s, it was operated by Edison Schools, a for-profit education firm. In 2013, the Philadelphia School District gave it to Scholar Academies Inc. to run.

But the charter operator abruptly abandoned Kenderton in June, blaming the high cost of educating the school's large special-education population. For a time, Mastery Charter Schools was in talks to take over Kenderton, but Mastery was unable to handle the full school population, and it reverted to district control.

The school system had less than 90 days to get Kenderton up and running before the start of classes.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is well-aware of the rocky transition at the Tioga school: He has visited multiple times, ordered a long list of supports, and has directed the assistant superintendent responsible for the school to visit daily.

"We realize that something significant has got to change, and we are working to do that," said Cheryl Logan, the district's chief of academic support.

But for now, Octavia Abney worries about sending her two daughters, a third and a sixth grader, to Kenderton, at 15th and Ontario.

"It's complete chaos," Abney said.

The K-8 school has struggled to get basic rules in place, some parents say: Some of its 450 children have walked out of the schoolyard and often roam the hallways; dismissals are chaotic; and incidents often go unreported. The rooms are often not cleaned.

"My son has never been in a fight in his life," Cromwell said. "He got jumped by three students last week."

The atmosphere is affecting even the youngest children.

"My daughter came home and said, `How can we have an orgy?' " Abney said. The little girl, a third grader, told her shocked mother she had learned that word at school.

Joseph Daniels, father of a second grader, just got hired to help keep order at Kenderton.

"Kids just leave class," he said. "They need to know what to expect."

Lorraine Falligan has a grandson in second grade and two foster children in fourth grade. She worries about the kids' safety, but she's also concerned about academics. Nearly two months into the school year, some children have not had homework.

"We ask, `What did you learn,' and they say, `Nothing,' " Falligan said. "Our children deserve better. Just because we're in the heart of North Philadelphia doesn't mean we don't want to learn."

Children are also getting discouraged, parents say.

One of Abney's daughters didn't get a permanent teacher until last week; her class was split up until then, and the third grader spent her time in a first-grade classroom. Teacher vacancies meant that a number of classes were broken up and scattered across the building.

There are still some vacancies.

Falligan, Cromwell and several other parents took their case to the SRC this month. Perhaps speaking out publicly would make a difference, they figured.

Hite said, then and now, that righting things at Kenderton is a top priority.

By the time the district knew it would take back Kenderton, it was late June, four months after officials began hiring for open jobs at other schools. They had to find all new teachers and a new administration.

"The school naturally had some challenges as it started," the superintendent said. "It's a completely new staff, and those individuals are all learning to work together."

Training on how to manage student behavior is being provided, as is teacher coaching and administrative support.

And Logan, the chief academic officer, said that Kenderton will have more staff per child than almost any school in the district.

First-grade teacher Katie Frankenfield, an educator in her second year in the district, said that the school year "started off rocky."

But, she said, a supportive administration and a bevy of interventions for students and staff  a mix of new and veteran teachers  are moving the needle.

"I think that things are starting to improve," said Frankenfield. "We're really working hard to get everything squared away."

The parents say they feel whiplashed, that they have been making suggestions about safety for months, and that their suggestions often fall on deaf ears. Originally opposed to the idea of their school becoming a charter, they became more comfortable with it, Cromwell said. Then, Scholar Academies backed out.

"The school was better last year, but I don't think the argument is charter or public," she said. "We just want a good school."

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