Designed to both clear the air between member schools and to forge a new, constructive relationship with the School District of Philadelphia, organizers with Mastery Charter Schools convened a meeting this past week at Simon Gratz High School, in which students, parents and teachers came together to voice their opinions to district superintendent William Hite Sr.
Mastery is one of the city’s largest operators of Renaissance Schools, which the school district established in 2007. The Renaissance Schools Initiative is aimed at bringing transformative changes to the district’s lowest performing schools in order to bring about dramatic improvement in student achievement.
Renaissance Charters are public schools run by outside organizations with funding from the school district, and abide by all public school rules — with increased accountability to the communities they serve. Renaissance Charters are accountable to parent groups that help select which operator will run their neighborhood school, and can also lose their charter if certain performance goals aren’t met.
“Mastery operates six Renaissance Charter Schools, and within the past three years, we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in school culture and an increase in enrollment,” said Mastery Charter Schools Director of Community Growth and Public Affairs Erin Trent. “And so the purpose of the meeting was to build a relationship with Hite. Hite has been here for two months, evaluating the system and talking to parents, community leaders and students throughout his 90-day listening tour, and really focused on opportunities and where the successes are.
“It gave us an opportunity to present the real stories of change that exist at Renaissance Charter Schools.”
Renaissance Charter Schools Mastery operates Grover Cleveland, William F. Harrity, William B. Mann, Franklin Smedley and George Clymer elementary schools; Mastery also manages Simon Gratz High School.
Trent said this is the first time all three groups – teachers, parents and students – had a chance to collectively address Hite, and that sense of unity has inspired a similar synergy between competing renaissance school operators.
“This meeting was a joint effort. We’ve worked very closely with Aspira, which has had incredible success as well with their three-year turnaround. I think a major point is that it’s historic that we came together to change the discourse,” Trent said, noting that charter schools aren’t masquerading as education privatization. “There has been this sense of a very antagonistic relationship within the charter school system between schools, and between parents and institutions. So we wanted to break down those barriers and have an opportunity to change the tone of the conversation so that it’s solutions-driven and focused on partnerships.”
Hite, Trent said, has serious decisions to make, including following through on the district’s decision to close dozens of schools. Still, Hite was very accommodating during the meeting, and according to Trent, Hite, too, appeared more interested in solutions than in finger-pointing.
“I was very impressed by Hite’s response. He was incredibly open and thankful for the opportunity to partake in the conversation. There was deep value in that conversation,” Trent said. “Hite has a lot of challenging decisions to make, and none are easy. He has to find opportunities to leverage the support of parents in making those decisions. I felt this was a forum that allowed him to have the conversation.
“What was really powerful is the meeting was run by parents, students and teachers,” Trent added. “There will be a paradigm shift, and the tone of the conversation has to change if we are to move forward.”