Less than two weeks after the city’s School Reform Commission voted to close 23 schools and merge or relocate five others, a small group of parents and community members gathered at Francis D. Pastorius Elementary to discuss the school’s future as a Renaissance Charter School.
The timing wasn’t lost on Pastorius parent Iesha Barrett, who has two students at the struggling East Germantown school.
“This is a school that should have been closed,” she said bluntly on Monday night.
Pastorius is among the worst performing K-8 schools in the School District of Philadelphia in terms of academic achievement and school climate.
The school’s reading and math scores on state standardized tests are, for nearly every grade, well below district averages.
Daily student attendance and the number of out-of-school suspensions are also problematic.
Barrett took a seat inside Pastorius’ auditorium Monday night for its first School Advisory Council meeting.
Over the next month, the volunteer group will consider and vote on which charter-school operator it would like to run Pastorious in lieu of the district.
A total of eight charter-school operators have submitted proposals to the district to run a Renaissance School next year.
They are American Paradigm, Creative Minds Partnership, CSMI Academies, Mastery Charter Schools, Mosaica Turnaround Teams, String Theory, Universal Companies and Young Scholars.
Finalists will be announced on March 22.
It’s unclear at this point which of those companies is specifically interested in running Pastorius, which is among three elementary schools transitioning to charters. That process is scheduled to start next week.
Those operators will then make presentations to Pastorius’ SAC. After reviewing its options, the group will submit its selection to Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite, who will make the final recommendation to the SRC on April 19.
“They really have gone with what the council said for the most part,” said Marsha Coleman, a community facilitator with Frontline Solutions, a “social change” organization that is helping facilitate the SAC process in schools slated to become charters next year.
The council will submit their recommendation on April 16. The SRC will then vote on the Renaissance recommendations, which will also include suggestions from SAC groups at Alcorn Elementary in Grays Ferry and Kenderton Elementary in Tioga, sometime in late April or early May.
The meeting itself
During the hour-long meeting, council members split into three groups to discuss academics, discipline and safety at the school.
Their aim was to set a foundation for future discussions about what qualities the group wants in a potential charter-school operator.
On the whole, members appeared to be pleased with the progress the school has made since Principal Aaron Starke came on board two years ago. However, they also discussed needed improvements, which included calls for making the curriculum more engaging.
Moving foward, the council will also consider staff, leadership and, among other topics, parent and community involvement.
About Renaissance Schools
Generally speaking, Renaissance Schools share a number of qualities, including a longer school day and year, specific programming for college and work readiness and after-school enrichment and extracurricular activities.
Current students are guaranteed admission. Pastorius has 515 students on the books.
Teachers at the school will have to reapply for their jobs.
Following the meeting, Barrett expressed optimism about the initiative, which has handed 17 district schools to charter school operators since 2010.
“I believe it can get better,” she said. “The school needs some new, positive energy.”
Barrett added that she hopes there will be less focus on drilling students for the PSSA testing.
As she looks toward high school and beyond, she’d like to see her children get a more well-rounded education.
“They need to know how to compete academically,” said Barrett.
Parent Viva Mackey, who also has two children attending the school, was equally optimistic.
She agreed that solidfying the academics at the school is most important issue.
“I don’t need you to be the next Jay-Z or Michael Jordan,” she said.
The council’s next meeting is scheduled for March 26 at 6 p.m. at Pastorius.