Education Reform & Public Policy
In 1997, with the passage of charter school legislation, we were able to take significant action on our long-term commitment to break the cycle of multigenerational poverty for our lowest-income families. We initially opened a K-5 charter school, in the lowest-income community in Philadelphia, with a simplistic goal of having small class sizes and a parent liaison with the intent that most of our students would be at grade-level work by 5th grade. They could then enter, with proficiency, any school of their choice.
We learned that our success would require working with the students both well before coming to kindergarten, extending our program through high school, and then having four years of ongoing, subsequent follow through.
Our network of schools, which is now comprised of 1400 students, recently received a five-year designation as the state of Pennsylvania's first and only "Innovation School", along with an allocation of multi-year funding.
History Of Our Growth
The goal in our first K-5 school was to have all students performing at grade level by fifth grade, so they could productively enter the middle school of their choice.
Our initial charter was a standard lottery admission where parents and students opt in to a better education. With our high expectations for attendance, learning and behavior, we found that our most challenged students were being withdrawn from our school and placed into the nearby public school, rated last among all Philadelphia schools.
We developed the model of a "catchment area school", which required a legislative change. In 2002 we achieved a breakthrough in Philadelphia by receiving a charter to take over and operate our local public school with its existing catchment area boundaries, and the requirement to accept all, but only, those students who lived there. Our challenges, along with our knowledge, of how to solve the problem of intractable poverty, grew significantly.
Soon after, we opened our pre-k program and accept all the neighborhood children at ages 3 and 4. Our goal was that by the time they entered kindergarten that they would truly be well prepared for learning. We also came to realize the need to greatly expand our in school, social services along with significant parent outreach programs and a proficiency at dealing with mental health needs. This was revised to aspiring to become a replicable national model for breaking the poverty cycle in other poor communities.
Our high school opened in 2017. We are actively involved in early identification of student careers along with maximizing preparation during the high school years so that our students have a successful and sustained entry either into further education, career training, or jobs. Our career counselors will continue with the same cohort of students for four years after graduation, so that they support the students as needed, in both their career and in their personal lives.
National statistics show that 64% of black male high school dropouts are incarcerated before age 34. With various Philadelphia schools having a 40% dropout rate, the statistics speak for themselves. Our goal is to drive the dropout rate well below 10%, while giving post-graduate support to all our students so they can maintain employment and healthy lives and relationships with others.
Outside of charter schools, we have several other areas of focus. We are currently at the beginning stages of involvement of reforming the current higher education system with a goal of dramatically reducing student debt and resulting in better matches in high school and college to future careers. We are cognizant and interested in the Swiss education model. We are also cognizant of the urgency of addressing climate change and degradation of our natural resources and habitat. It is an area in which we are focused and will become involved at the appropriate time. We may become involved in national healthcare in order to drive down costs to create better awareness of healthful living and quality care options.
Politically we have developed meaningful and respectful relationships with our elected officials from a spectrum of backgrounds. Our successful focus is on the achievement of beneficial public policy.
Our involvement in public affairs includes long-term board membership on the State's Commonwealth Finance Authority, the City of Philadelphia's financial oversight board, and prior board membership on the Philadelphia Board of Education and the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.