Amid parents' calls for new charter schools to meet the demand of Philadelphia families, and complaints that the School District can't afford any more, the School Reform Commission on Wednesday approved one of three applicants.
During a special meeting on charters, the commission voted, 4-0, to approve KIPP Parkside school in West Philadelphia, with conditions. The opening of the K-4 school was delayed until 2019-20, and the school is required to demonstrate two years of strong academic performance before it can add grades five through eight.
"We're just elated for the families that are going to benefit from another KIPP school," said Marc Mannella, CEO of KIPP Philadelphia, which has four charters in the city. "While we believe we would be ready to open in 2018, if they want to make opening in 2019 a condition, that's something we'll work with them on."
Mannella also said he understood commissioners' concerns that academic performance had declined recently at two KIPP schools.
"Look, we are not satisfied with the performance of our middle grades, and it seems in some ways this is asking us to make a bet on our educators that we can get our game up," he said after the meeting. "I'm willing to make that bet 10 times out of 10."
KIPP Philadelphia is part of the national Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter school network.
The SRC turned down the bid of Deep Roots, which had hoped to open in the fall of 2018 in the Harrowgate/Kensington section with 300 K-4 students.
It also denied the Friendship Whittier application. Friendship Whittier, affiliated with the Friendship charter network in Washington, had applied to open in the Allegheny West neighborhood in the fall with 350 students in kindergarten through second grade. Friendship officials told the SRC on Wednesday that they wanted to delay opening until 2018.
The vote to deny both the Deep Roots and Friendship applications was 3-1. Commission member Bill Green, who said he favored approving both applications with conditions, encouraged both to strengthen their proposals and reapply.
James F. Waller, who plans to serve on the Friendship board, vowed to try again.
"We're going to look at the comments and improve the application," he said. "We'll be back."
Logan Blyler, Deep Roots' proposed head of school, said he was disappointed by the SRC's decision.
"We believe we have a model that is incredibly strong," said Blyler, who added that the Kensington community badly needs better-performing schools.
Blyler said he would take the SRC's comments seriously and refine the application.
Deep Roots will not wait until next year to resubmit, he said. He expects the SRC will consider the application again sooner rather than later.
Estelle B. Richman, Gov. Wolf's nominee for the fifth SRC seat, attended Wednesday's meeting but only as a spectator. The state Senate Education Committee has approved her nomination, but the full Senate has not considered it.
The earliest she might be seated, Richman said, is late March.
Last year, the five-member SRC voted in favor of three of the 12 charter-school applications but also made the approvals contingent upon meeting a series of conditions.
The district's existing 86 charters enroll nearly 65,000 students.