Come September, Audenried High will become a charter school, one of 18 to be dramatically overhauled under Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman's Renaissance schools plan.

Audenried and nearby Vare Middle School will go to Universal Cos. Inc., the nonprofit run by music impresario Kenny Gamble. Though six other schools will also be handed over to three charter providers, their neighborhood communities got a say in who runs them.

Universal won Vare and Audenried - with its new, $60 million building - by virtue of a $500,000 U.S. Department of Education planning grant awarded to supply "cradle to college services" to young people living in Grays Ferry and Point Breeze, officials said.

Universal, with the School District's blessing, applied for the grant just months after Audenried opened for the 2008-09 school year. The nonprofit hopes to win an additional implementation grant worth millions of dollars, but that isn't guaranteed. Nor has the School District disclosed what sort of rent it will charge Universal for the state-of-the-art building.

The district made an exception for Universal because "we see this as an opportunity to leverage those dollars from the federal government," Associate Superintendent Penny Nixon said.

The announcement drew immediate criticism from many community members, teachers, and students, who said that Audenried had improved, and that it was not fair for the district to judge it on data from the old building, which closed in 2005. No state test results are even available for the current Audenried, whose first crop of juniors is about to take exams.

Students left school and protested outside district headquarters. Teachers and community members spoke out at School Reform Commission meetings. District officials shot back, calling Audenried's academic performance "absolutely unacceptable."

There has also been friction over Universal's past performance running schools.

Under the district's old education-management organization model, Universal ran Vare, which performed so poorly that the district took back control.

Universal now runs Bluford and Daroff, two former district schools, as charters; provides services at another district school, E.M. Stanton; and runs another charter, Universal Institute. District officials defended Universal's performance and blamed the failures at Vare on the old management model, calling it flawed.

Universal's charter to run Audenried still requires formal SRC approval. Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. has said he will recuse himself from the vote because he previously sat on Universal's board.

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