After an outcry from the community - and from an influential politician in Harrisburg - the School Reform Commission on Tuesday took off the table a measure that would have denied a new school for a high-performing charter.
Folk-Arts Cultural Treasures Charter (FACTS), a National Blue Ribbon winner, applied last year to open a second school, but the Philadelphia School District's charter staff expressed concerns about the application in recommending denial.
That recommendation drew more than 100 supporters to beseech the School Reform Commission to reconsider a school that is a haven for immigrant students and those learning English. And it also drew a sharply worded letter from state House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), who will be key to the district as it enters budget season.
Turzai extolled FACTS's virtues and reminded the SRC of its duty to consider new charters.
The district's concerns about FACTS seemed technical, Turzai wrote, but "really may be designed to just prevent approval of this charter school and a policy of slowing down or preventing the approval of charter schools going forward. We hope that this is not the case, but the decision at hand here raises such a question."
Pheng Lim, principal of the K-8 school at 1023 Callowhill St., said there is an urgent need for more schools like FACTS.
"After such a divisive election, people in our community are afraid," Lim said.
SRC Chair Joyce Wilkerson said the charter office would work with FACTS staff about applying for an expansion of their existing charter instead of an entirely new charter. That decision drew cheers from the crowd.
Commissioner Bill Green said FACTS was "one of the best" charter operators in the city. "I want to see you expand your seats," Green said.
The school has about 450 students.
Still, the FACTS denial recommendation remained troubling to some.
Mike Wang, executive director of Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners, the lobbying arm of the Philadelphia School Partnership, said he was pleased that FACTS's denial was taken off the table.
But "the charter school office's evaluation suggested they are simply not able to evaluate schools objectively," Wang said.
The SRC also voted to approve calendars for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. Those calendars will mean an earlier start and finish for the school year, but also a shorter spring break.
Thursday also marked the final meeting for Commissioner Sylvia Simms, who was appointed by former Mayor Michael A. Nutter. Mayor Kenney has indicated he will name a new commissioner.
Simms, who has drawn some controversy during her term, was praised for her activism concerning including parents' voices in school decisions. At her urging, a new policy for school advisory councils was developed. She said she would continue pressing for family involvement even after her term ends.
"The struggle continues," Simms said, "and it's real."