Veteran educator and civil rights Walter D. Palmer, who closed his Walter D. Leadership Learning Partners Charter School in 2014, is leading a new charter school.
Palmer serves as acting CEO of Khepera Charter School, a K-8 African-centered charter school in North Philadelphia, where Palmer said he was initially brought in about two years ago to help with climate, culture and enrollment.
He said since joining the school, which lost about half its enrollment in a move from the Northwest part of the city to its current location at W. Sedgley Avenue, the school has regained full enrollment,
“We’re back at 450, and we have a waiting list of 50,” Palmer said by phone on Friday afternoon. “A couple of years ago, they asked me to help with recruitment, and we were able to add an additional 200 students to make up the shortfall.”
According to Khepera’s profile on the School District of Philadelphia’s website, enrollment is at 453 and 85 percent of its students are African American. Enrollment for 2014-15 was at 392.
“Khepera is a lovely little school,” Palmer said. “I’m working with them to keep that Afro-centered approach, which is the hallmark of the school.”
The school opened in 2009, and its students wear uniforms. The KCS translates to “rebirth of academic and cultural excellence,” according to its school website. Teachers and staff are referred to as “mama,” “sister,” “brother,” or “baba.”
The School Progress Report for 2014-15 said only 51 percent of students attended 95 percent or more instructional days, 48 percent of K-2 students were reading at grade level, and 29 percent were proficient in English language arts and science, while 9 percent were proficient in math.
Palmer said the school is getting to a place where it wants to be — step-by-step.
“It’s just a gradual implementation of systems,” Palmer said. “We’re making sure parents are respectful. If any parent threatens, intimidates, curses or challenges a teacher they will be expelled from the school. There is zero tolerance for that.”
Palmer, also a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Social Policy and Practice, closed the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School in 2014 after the district ordered the school to pay $1.5 million in reimbursements after enrolling more students than the allotted cap. Ultimately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the district did not have the authority to impose caps on charter schools.
Palmer noted his school closings should not have any bearing on his abilities to lead Khepera.
“Khepera has every right to hire who they want to hire to help their school,” he said. “They seem to want to paint our schools in a very dim light and gave distortions of the truth.”
Added Palmer, “There is a white corporate hostile attempt to take over Black charter schools in Philadelphia. World Communications (Charter School), New Media (Technology Charter School), Imani (Education Circle Charter School) ... they are being forced to close their doors and it’s wrong.”