In latest twist, Kenderton school prepped for return to Philly district control

Young Scholars Kenderton Charter School. 

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Young Scholars Kenderton Charter School.

The winding saga of Kenderton Elementary School in North Philadelphia has taken another turn, with indications that the Renaissance charter school will return to district control.

A School Reform Commission resolution published Wednesday moves to “establish Kenderton School as a district-operated neighborhood school” in time for the next school year. If passed at the SRC’s June 16 meeting, the resolution would remove Kenderton from charter control.

The resolution is merely in place so that the SRC can act on the matter if it chooses on June 16, according to the Philadelphia School District.

“If the Kenderton board decides to surrender their charter, the School District of Philadelphia is ready to immediately move forward with a plan and a transition team to ensure Kenderton Elementary opens ready to succeed for the 2016-2017 school year,” according to a statement from district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

Several parents, however, believe the district already has plans to reassert control over Kenderton, dashing their hopes that it would remain a charter school.

“I’m saddened. I’m very angry,” said Shereda Cromwell, a parent of three Kenderton students and the president of the school’s advisory council. “This school going back to a district school — it’s not an option. It was a district school. It was a low-performing district school … that’s why they put it in the turnaround process to begin with.

“We’re a charter school, and a lot of the parents feel it should remain a charter school,” she said.

Young Scholars bailing out

The current drama around Kenderton dates back a month. In early May, Kenderton’s charter operator, Young Scholars, abruptly announced it could no longer run the school due to financial troubles. The cost of educating the school’s high special-education population had grown prohibitive, Young Scholars said. Kenderton is a hub for students receiving services for autism and emotional support.

Parents soon turned to the Mastery Charter network, which previously took over another distressed Young Scholars school. Mastery proposed turning Kenderton, currently a K-8 school, into a K-6 elementary school. Under the plan, Kenderton’s seventh- and eighth-graders would attend a nearby middle school run by Mastery.

Kenderton’s School Advisory Council voted 12-1 in favor the Mastery proposal. Kenderton’s board also approved.

Because Mastery wants to change Kenderton’s grade configuration, the arrangement requires the approval of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission. That approval, however, does not appear to be forthcoming.

On Wednesday, Kenderton parents — together with Young Scholars CEO Lars Beck and Mastery CEO Scott Gordon — met with several school district representatives and SRC member Sylvia Simms, according to multiple people present.

Cromwell said it was apparent throughout the meeting that the school district and SRC opposed Mastery’s proposal.

“The [school district] charter office and the SRC has definitely said no, we have no plans on issuing a new charter for Mastery to come in and operate the school K through 6,” said Cromwell.

“I think it’s gonna be a district school,” said Joseph Daniels, vice president of the Kenderton SAC, who was also at the meeting.

Daniels and Cromwell both recall representatives of the district saying they opposed Mastery’s plan because they weren’t convinced the middle school where Mastery wanted to steer Kenderton’s seventh- and eighth-graders was high performing enough.

A tangled process

The details of how exactly the district will reclaim control of Kenderton are hazy. The district says Kenderton’s school board must first surrender the school’s charter, but in a statement issued Thursday the board noted it has not yet done so. The statement also confirmed that the school district and SRC are “unwilling” to “advance” the Mastery takeover proposal.

The full statement reads:

“The Kenderton Board just learned yesterday that the District and School Reform Commission are unfortunately unwilling to take the action necessary to advance the proposal recommended by the Board that is strongly favored by parents and community members on the School Advisory Council. The proposed SRC resolution regarding Kenderton is not accurate in that the Board and SAC did, in fact, find a qualified organization to take over the management of the school in Mastery Charter Schools, and the Kenderton Board has not yet voted to surrender the charter. Given that the District has declined to take action to move forward with the SAC’s preferred operator, the Kenderton Board is now moving as quickly as possible to advance a plan in the best interest of students and families.”

A description appended to the SRC proposal on Kenderton’s return to district status states: “The board of trustees of Kenderton initiated a search for a new charter management organization, but did not find a qualified organization to take over management of the school. As a result, the board voted to surrender its charter.”

District officials said they understand that surrender has not yet happened, but that the proposal is in place so that the SRC can act quickly in the event Young Scholars does forfeit Kenderton’s charter.

The school district has not said why exactly it opposes Mastery’s proposed takeover plan, but it did reaffirm its opposition in a statement.

“While the Board of Trustees of Young Scholars Kenderton Charter School has the power to select a new charter management provider to operate their existing K-8 charter, they do not have the authority to change their current charter without SRC action,”  said Gallard. “From the start of this process, the SRC and Charter School’s Office has made it clear that the Mastery proposal is not valid within the current Kenderton Charter.”

Kenderton first became a charter school in 2013 through the Renaissance schools initiative, a district turnaround program where low-performing district schools are converted to charters. The district expects Renaissance schools to make big academic gains, with the further expectation that schools will return to district control if they don’t bounce back.

Return to district opposed

Kenderton parents, however, say a return to district control isn’t the answer their school needs.

“The school district wasn’t able to run the school in 2013,” said Kenderton parent Terra Banks. “They probably still don’t have the resources to provide the education our children have been receiving from Young Scholars.”

A 2014 analysis by Newsworks/WHYY found Kenderton spent almost a $1,000 per student more in its first year as a Renaissance charter, thanks in part to an injection of outside money.

Kenderton isn’t the only Renaissance charter in the middle of a protracted tug-of-war. Last month, the School Reform Commission declined to take action on four Renaissance charter schools that the district’s charter office recommended for nonrenewal.

SRC members questioned the metrics used to evaluate the performance of Audenreid High School and Vare Elementary School, two charters run by Universal Companies. The SRC, meanwhile, delayed votes on Olney High School and Stetson Middle School. Both schools, run by ASPIRA Inc., face a litany of academic and financial concerns, but the SRC stalled after former city solicitor Ken Trujillo intervened on ASPIRA’s behalf.

All four schools will remain as Renaissance charters until the SRC acts.

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