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Millions in federal funds rain down on Phila. schools

Mastery Charter Schools has been selected to receive another $5.1 million in federal funds to expand, and the Philadelphia School District has been awarded a $3.8 million grant to create small learning communities inside five large, neighborhood high schools.

Mastery Charter Schools has been selected to receive another $5.1 million in federal funds to expand, and the Philadelphia School District has been awarded a $3.8 million grant to create small learning communities inside five large, neighborhood high schools.

The U.S. Department of Education grants were announced Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) who said the Obama administration continues to provide federal aid to expand school reform in Philadelphia.

The two-year grant to the school district will be used to create more personalized learning communities for students at Overbrook, Lincoln, Frankford, Bartram and Martin Luther King high schools.

The U.S. Department of Education said it expects funding for the program will continue for at least three years beyond 2012.

Officials at Mastery, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit charter network, said they will use the latest federal grant to underwrite plans to expand to 15 new schools in Philadelphia and Camden in the next five years.

In awarding the grant, the U.S. Department of Education praised Mastery as "a national model for school turnarounds."

The latest funds come on top of a five-year, $7.4 million grant from the department and $1 million from Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network. Both those awards were announced last week.

Mastery, which began operating a college-prep charter school in Center City in 2001, has won national accolades for its success converting three formerly troubled middle schools in Philadelphia into college-prep charter schools with a model that combines a rigorous curriculum and the development of interpersonal skills.

The school day and year are longer at Mastery than in regular district schools. Tutoring and Saturday sessions are required for those who struggle. All students must show "mastery" by earning a grade of at least 76 percent before advancing.

In this academic year, Mastery is moving into new territory by converting three low-performing district elementary schools into charters under Supt. Arlene Ackerman's Imagine 2014 initiative.

Scott Gordon, Mastery's founder and chief executive, has said his organization hopes the Philadelphia School Reform Commission selects Mastery to turn around more district schools in the next few years.

And, as its first venture outside Philadelphia, Mastery has received approval to open a charter school in Camden in 2011.