THE SCHOOL REFORM Commission yesterday gave two struggling schools over to Universal Companies, the education and development company headed by music mogul Kenny Gamble, which admits it doesn't yet have a clear plan on how to improve the schools.
Universal is getting Audenried High School and Vare Middle School as part of its goal to provide "cradle-to-career" services for a swath of poverty-plagued South Philadelphia, focused on Point Breeze and Grays Ferry.
However, Universal has so far received only $1 million to put together a proposal for a federal "Promise Neighborhood" grant.
Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky voted to approve yesterday's measure, only after the SRC added language to ensure that Universal provided all of the promised services even if the full grant doesn't materialize.
Dworetzky's vote was needed since SRC Chairman Robert Archie - a Universal board member - had to abstain from the vote and the SRC is down a member.
Shahied Dawan, Universal's executive vice president, said the group already has begun to secure resources and wouldn't have a problem implementing any of its services.
Alleek Thomas, 17, a junior at Audenried, at 33rd and Tasker streets, joined several protesters at yesterday's meeting.
"Before the school was rebuilt, they planned on somewhat of a stereotype, that our school was basically going to fail," he said. "We didn't even get our PSSA scores back; basically that would validate our opposition to this."
Although Universal has made progress at two schools that the district turned over to it last year, and its own charter school is performing well, Thomas doesn't believe that its equipped to handle Audenried.
"[Daroff and Bluford] are middle schools; there is a big difference between a high school and a middle school," he said of the two West Philadelphia schools Universal is running as charter schools. "We're more mature. I'm getting ready to go to college. Can they help me with that?"
Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said the decision to turn Audenried around wasn't based solely on PSSA test scores, but on results from predictive exams and literacy rates, among other factors.
Universal previously ran Vare, at 24th and Snyder, but lost the school last year after eight years of poor test scores.
In other news:
* After controversy derailed plans to turn Martin Luther King High School into a charter school, parents and community members will finally get what they wanted in the first place.
Ackerman told King's School Advisory Council (SAC) yesterday that it'll have the choice to become a Promise Academy next year.
That Renaissance School model - which means King will be run by a team handpicked by Ackerman and will get extra district support - is what the SAC wanted before it was decided the school would become a charter.
The SAC's first choice of charter operators, Mosaica Turnaround Partners, backed out allegedly after pressure from state Rep. Dwight Evans at a secret meeting also attended by Archie. Foundations, the company that Evans wanted to run the school, backed out after the secret meeting was reported.
"Personally, I'm happy to see us get the option of Promise Academy," said Conchevia Washington, the chair of King's SAC. "The school desperately needs that amount of attention and extra support."
Mayor Nutter launched a fact-finding inquiry this week into the events that led to the withdrawal of Mosaica.