The Renaissance Charter School Initiative — the plan by the School District of Philadelphia to convert failing and obsolete schools to neighborhood charter schools operated by selected “Turnaround Teams” — is entering its fourth year, and the district has released a Renaissance Charter Schools Initiative Request for Proposals to select teams for the 2013–14 school year.
According to the district, this RFP falls in line with district superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr.’s “Action Plan v. 1.0,” and the district will recruit and select only organizations with a proven track record in both turning around low-performing schools and running high-achieving schools to operate the Year IV Renaissance Charter Schools.
“Every student in this district has the right to a quality education,” Hite said via a statement released by the district. “As part of our ongoing commitment to this fundamental right, we are focusing on turning around our lowest-performing schools. We will do this both through investments in district-managed schools and through Renaissance charter schools, which are making strides in improving some of our most challenged schools.”
While some critics claim that these school turnarounds are another way for the district to hand off its failures, there are national proponents of such programs. In the American Center for Progress’ recent research paper, “Charting New Territory: Tapping Charter Schools to Turn Around the Nation’s Dropout Factories,” Melissa Lazarin, the center’s director of education policy wrote that the school district–charter school operator partnership can work, if certain concessions are made.
“There are some real advantages to these partnerships. For example, finding appropriate facilities for a charter school becomes less of an issue because they often take over the site of the former troubled school … while charters generally enjoy a great deal of autonomy compared to traditional schools, charters entering a turnaround school in partnership with a district may have to compromise some of their autonomy,” Lazarin wrote. “Charter schools and school districts have often worked side by side to improve access to a quality education within their communities, but they have not always worked together. Both charters and traditional schools are increasingly seeing the value in collaborating.
“Los Angeles and Philadelphia are two school districts that have engaged charters to turn around underperforming schools and improve the quality of secondary school options for students attending those schools.”
Last April, the district announced that three turnaround teams — Mastery Charter Schools Inc., String Theory Schools and American Paradigm Schools — have been selected to operate Cleveland Elementary, H.R. Edmunds Elementary and Jones Middle School, respectively.
As of the current school year, 17 failing schools have been turned around due to the renaissance initiative, reaching more than 12,000 students. District-provided numbers show that the schools are making several advances. Nine of the 13 schools presently listed as renaissance schools have shown double-digit increases in the number of pupils testing at proficient of advanced levels in math and reading, and that daily attendance averages have increased at each renaissance school. And ten of those schools have also increased their enrollment.
Teams can submit an RFP response by March 5, and evaluation committees will review proposals from RFP respondents and select finalists by March 22. Only finalists will be eligible to advance to the next stage of the matching process — meeting with the School Advisory Council at each of the schools designated for turnaround in 2013–14. In keeping with the District’s commitment to solicit parent and family input and provide parents with information, the council will play an important role in the selection and post-match monitoring of the turnaround teams.