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Philadelphia school board to consider three new charters

The charter applications will be the first considered by the new school board, after the city took back control of its schools from the state this summer.

Charter school supporters gathered at City Hall earlier this year to demand representation on the new school board.
Charter school supporters gathered at City Hall earlier this year to demand representation on the new school board.Read moreMICHELLE GUSTAFSON / For the Inquirer

The Philadelphia school board will consider three applications to open charter schools this year, all affiliated with at least one school already operating in the city.

The applications were due Thursday and made public Friday. They are from String Theory Schools, which is seeking to open a K-8 school in West Philadelphia; the People for People community development corporation, which is applying for a high school in Francisville; and American Paradigm Schools, which is proposing another K-8 school in Tacony.

If approved, the three proposed charter schools would add 2,300 students to the city's charter enrollment.

How the new board will address charter schools, which serve 70,000 pupils, or one-third of students in the district, has been an open question. Opponents of the schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, have accused them of siphoning valuable dollars from a cash-strapped district while not meeting standards.

Supporters, meanwhile, say that demand for charter schools has not yet been met, that many district-run schools are also falling short, and that parents and students deserve options.

The district had received eight letters of intent from applicants proposing new charter schools, including two from Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania, a Latino community organization that manages four Philadelphia charter schools and a cyber-charter school. Two of those Philadelphia schools are facing nonrenewal, and the state auditor general earlier this year blasted Aspira's financial management.

Aspira did not submit an application — and neither did other groups that had expressed interest in opening new charter schools in the city.

The applications from String Theory, People for People, and American Paradigm will be the first considered by the new board, appointed this year by Mayor Kenney as the city took back its schools from the state-controlled School Reform Commission.

Last year, the SRC approved three new charter schools while denying four others. At the time, the district and many charter schools were at odds over new regulations.

String Theory's proposed Joan Myers Brown Academy — named for the founder of the Philadelphia Dance Company — would feature a dance and creative arts program and be modeled after String Theory's Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School. The K-12 school has three campuses in South Philadelphia and Center City, an expansion funded with the help of a $55 million bond. It has an authorized enrollment of 2,525 students and 5,000 students on its waiting list, according to its application.

String Theory also manages the Philadelphia Charter School for Arts and Sciences at H.R. Edmunds, a former district-run school.

People for People is seeking to open the Frederick Douglass Charter High School, which it proposes to locate at Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue. The application describes a "trauma-sensitive" high school that would offer college-level classes and teach entrepreneurial and business skills.

A nonprofit in the Francisville section of the city, People for People runs a K-12 charter school that shares the organization's name. The school is approved to serve 540 and is located one block north of the proposed Frederick Douglass site.

The third proposed charter school, Tacony Academy Charter School at St. Vincent's, would be a K-8 school run by American Paradigm. The education-management organization operates four schools in North and Northeast Philadelphia, including Tacony Academy Charter School. The proposed Tacony Academy would be a replication of the original, which "has 2,835 student applications for fewer than 200 available seats," according to its application.

One of American Paradigm's schools, Memphis Street Academy in Kensington, was recommended by the district for nonrenewal last year but was ultimately renewed by the SRC before it disbanded this year.

Public hearings on the charter applications are expected to begin in December, Christina Grant, interim head of the district's Charter Schools Office, said at a recent school board meeting. The office hopes to evaluate the applications and present recommendations to the board by February.

This article contains a correction regarding the number of charters the school board approved last year.