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Group wants to raise $140 million for city's charter, parochial and public schools

The Philadelphia School Partnership's goal is lofty. Its influence on city charter, private and traditional public schools has been significant.

“We need more programs that are intentionally preparing teachers,” said PSP Executive Director Mark Gleason.
“We need more programs that are intentionally preparing teachers,” said PSP Executive Director Mark Gleason.Read moreJack Dugan

The Philadelphia School Partnership, a powerful nonprofit that has raised and distributed $80 million to city charter, parochial and public schools since its inception in 2011, wants to raise $60 million more, it announced Thursday.

The nonprofit (PSP), already the Philadelphia School District's largest private funder, aims to expand its reach. Its investments have already affected 25,000 students, the organization says; the new initiative would reach 15,000 more.

It has launched a new fund still centered on its initial goal — creating and expanding educational opportunities for low-income students, with an emphasis on rewarding innovation. But it is now investing in different ways — in career and technical schools; in teacher development and retention; and in helping growing schools and charter networks scale up with management expertise.

PSP is clear that it means to create an educational tipping point for change in the city's schools, many of which still struggle, officials said.

To date, $15 million has been pledged for the new fund, which is expected to be fully endowed by 2019, PSP executive director Mark Gleason said.

Gleason announced $2.5 million in initial grants from the fund, including $835,000 to Vaux Big Picture High School, a partnership among the Philadelphia School District, Philadelphia Housing Authority and Big Picture Philadelphia; $650,000 to Russell Byers Charter School to fund an expansion of the Center City school; $300,000 to Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School to fund expansion; $690,000 to KIPP Philadelphia Charter Schools to help the organization add the expertise to manage the five new schools it will add; and $75,000 to Science Leadership Academy at Beeber to fund planning for a middle school.

Mayor Kenney and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. attended a Thursday news conference announcing the new grants.

The organization took lessons from its six years of work in Philadelphia's schools, Gleason said. Officials found that teacher recruitment was a problem in the schools it invested in; some of the new money will go to help develop a broader and deeper pool of teachers to work in schools across the city. PSP has worked on the area of principal development; it will also spend money to help schools equip teachers to be leaders as well.

"We need more programs that are intentionally preparing teachers," said Gleason.

Helping schools adjust to the Common Core — the new national standards for teaching K-12 students — is also a focus.

"Common Core has really challenged our portfolio and the whole city," Gleason said. "Everyone's struggling with the transition. It's one thing to get a new curriculum, but it's another for teachers to become really facile in it."

Before the Thursday announcement, PSP had invested in 49 schools and a handful of teacher and principal development programs, with charters accounting for its largest block of grantees. It says its investments have paid off, with achievement at PSP schools typically outpacing that of district schools.

The well-funded organization is not without controversy. Critics worry that it favors charters at the expense of traditional public schools, and that it advances an agenda to privatize education.

But the superintendent and mayor were warm in their praise for PSP.

"This announcement represents another positive step as we continue working to improve the educational opportunities for children in Philadelphia," Hite said in a statement. "PSP has made a positive difference in many of our district schools."

Kenney said he was grateful for PSP.

"Now, more than ever, we need diverse and engaged stakeholders from the private sector to step up and make a difference in our public school system," the mayor said in a statement.

PSP, whose donors are a mix of individuals and private and corporate foundations, was not intended to be an institution that exists in perpetuity, but a catalyst for change, Gleason said. That change is still needed, he said.

"We have a little bit of a sharper sense," Gleason said, "of what we think is going to be able to move the needle over the next three to four years."