Progress report on renaissance schools

Last spring, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman took drastic measures to turn around some of Philadelphia’s lowest-performing schools.  As part of her Renaissance Schools initiative, Ackerman handed over seven public schools to charter operators, who promised dramatic transformations. How are the schools doing? 

At long-suffering Smedley Elementary in Frankford, things are finally looking up.  Now a Renaissance school run by Mastery Charter, there are raised expectations for students. And according to new data released by Mastery and the School District, enrollment, attendance, and reading levels are all going up, too. The key, says Principal Brian McLaughlin, has been getting the entire school–even the kindergartners–to feel a sense of urgency.

“We have students who are incredibly behind,” said McLaughlin.  “In first grade, there were a couple kids who were on grade level for reading – literally two or three. We don’t have a minute to waste. We really, truly don’t.

Kathy Beem, the mother of a fifth grader at Mastery-Smedley, says she can’t believe the difference a year has made.  “My son went from playing sick and not wanting to come to school ever to being sick with a one hundred and three degree fever and begging me to go to school,” Beem said,  “because he’s not afraid of being beat up, he’s not afraid of being teased because he’s in special ed, and the staff here just cares.

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Based on recently released reports prepared by advisory councils at each new Renaissance charter, parents and community members are happy with the changes Mastery is making.

But not all of the reviews have been so positive. At the former Frederick Douglass Elementary in North Philadelphia, now run by local group Scholar Academies and known as Young Scholars–Douglass parents have complained about new discipline policies. I n the first three months of school, Young Scholars Douglass has already seen 239 suspensions. Scholar Academies CEO Lars Beck says the spike is a result of the dramatic change needed at the school.

“Douglass is a tough school, and we’ve set a really high bar for behavior,” said Beck. “That’s led to a high number of suspensions to start the school year.”

Later this month, Superintendent Ackerman will announce a second group of schools slated for similar turnarounds under her Renaissance initiative.

Click here to read a longer version of this article on NewsWorks’ partner site, The Public School Notebook.

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