Charter-school operators take their pitches directly to Pastorius Elementary

In a week, Pastorius Elementary’s School Advisory Council will make a very important recommendation: which charter school operator would it like to turn-around the struggling East Germantown school next year.

In advance of that decision, the three organizations selected by the School District of Philadelphia as Renaissance School finalists — Universal Companies, Scholar Academies and Mastery Charter Schools — each made pitches at the East Chelten Avenue school Monday night as to why they should be that choice.

Universal Companies’ pitch

Janis Butler, Universal’s education director, kicked things off inside Pastorius’ auditorium.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

As she flipped through a series of slides, Butler focused on the individualized attention students would receive with Universal, a community development corporation that operates six charter schools — elementary and high schools — in the city.

Each student recieves personal education plan “that is reported out to parents with the report cards, but also our students are invested in it and they know exactly where they are,” said Butler.

Butler also spoke about school climate, noting that students and staff receive training that creates a strong learning environment.

“We don’t assume that our students know what to do,” she said. “We make sure that we practice with them what is expected.”

Before hitting the play button on a promotional video, Butler also noted that Universal views its schools as being part of the community.

Scholar Academies’ pitch

It was a point that Lars Beck, CEO of Scholar Academies, stressed during his time.

“We exist because we believe that zip codes shouldn’t define anyone child’s destiny,” said Beck, whose nonprofit oversees two city schools.

Beck broke down his school’s philosophy into three parts: providing a high-quality education, delivering strong special education services and committing to partnering with the community.

Before handing the microphone over to his colleagues, Beck noted that the Philadelphia School Partnership recently awarded Scholar Academies with a $1.8 million grant, which he said would be used for Pastorius if its SAC chooses his company.

Mastery Charter Schools’ pitch

Scott Gordon, CEO of Mastery Charter Schools, zeroed in on geography and national acclaim.

Mastery Charter’s Pickett campus, one of nine charter schools the nonprofit runs in the city sits less than two miles away from Pastorious. Gordon said he hopes that, if selected, students would transition from Pastorius to Pickett, a 7-12 school.

“We have a special place in our heart for Germantown,” said Gordon.

Mastery’s presentation opened with a clip of President Barack Obama praising Mastery in a July 2010 speech to the National Urban League. Gordon’s appearance on The Oprah Show the same year was also included.

Mastery was one of six recipients in the country that received a $1 million grant through Oprah’s Angel Network.

“Mastery is the national leader in school turnarounds. It has been given shout-outs from the President of the United States, Obama, the Gates Foundation, Time magazine, USA Today,” said Gordon. “It has a reputation because it’s been doing it consistently.”


Following the presentations, school-advisory council members questioned each company on a variety of subjects, including school security, support staff and supplies. Staffing was also discussed.

As part of the Renaissance process, teachers must reapply for their jobs.

Pastorius Principal Aaron Starke’s position is also a question mark, but with no voice in the process, the school’s top administrator said he can only focus on the current academic year.

“Right now, I just really want to focus on the kids and that’s what I tell my whole staff,” said Starke, who sat in on evening’s presentations.

Each organization said they would be open to hiring back members of Pastorius’ current staff.

Crowd reactions

Afterwards, members of Pastorius’ SAC said they felt optimistic about their options.

“It seemed like they were willing to work with the school. It seemed like they’re willing to reach out to the communities,” said Teri Riggs, who is part of the school’s therapeutic services team. “Education was great. The numbers were great.”

She said her mission moving forward is make sure that the pitches she heard Monday night match reality.

In addition to school visits, Riggs and her counterparts will also spend the next week pouring over fact sheets and statistics.

What’s next?

Next Tuesday, the volunteer group will submit its selection to the School District of Philadelphia.

Superintendent William Hite will make the final recommendation to the city’s School Reform Commission, which is expected to vote on that matter in late May or early June.

The SRC will also vote on which operator will run James Alcorn Elementary in South Philadelphia and Kenderton in North Philadelphia.

In many cases, the SRC has selected the SAC-recommended operator.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal