Mosaica out; Foundations to manage King

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Dale Mezzacappa and Bill Hangley, Jr.

Mosaica Turnaround Partners announced Thursday that they have withdrawn as the turnaround provider for Martin Luther King High School, less than a day after the School Reform Commission awarded them the school as part of the Renaissance Schools initiative.

State Rep. Dwight Evans took credit for the shift, saying that he continued to lobby Wednesday night on behalf of the school’s current managers, Foundations Inc., even after the SRC voted to approve Mosaica. Foundations will now take on that role.

“I made this case to the [SRC] chairman, I made it to the superintendent, I made it to all of them. I said it to Mosaica – I said it to them all,” said Evans. “I said there’s been a lot of work and effort. … I just said, ‘Look – we have a plan here.’

“I was like a bulldog on a bone,” said Evans.

In a statement released through the School District, the Georgia-based Mosaica said that it wanted to concentrate its efforts on operating General David B. Birney Elementary School, which it was also awarded.

According to Evans, however, the company backed out in part because of his influence.

Evans quoted a letter he said was sent today from Mosaica’s John Q. Porter to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, which read, “Although it is our belief that we are able to provide the education services to turn around Martin Luther King, we also recognize that State Rep. Dwight Evans’ extensive community plan provides a more comprehensive strategy for tackling the myriad of issues that the Northwest community will face in the future, including the education of students.”

Porter said that he had spoken to Evans since the SRC meeting but declined to discuss the conversation. He added, "It became evident to us yesterday that [Rep.] Evans had been working on several master plans for the area that encompass the high school. …We did not want to do anything that stymied the progress.

"And we did not believe that without having total support we could be effective," Porter said.

Evans, who has spearheaded business development in the West Oak Lane area and started some charter schools, said that he has plans to create a "Promise Neighborhood," or cradle-to-college approach to education reform, social services, and economic growth.

The District’s announcement said that it would begin working with Foundations to prepare for the 2011-12 school year at King.

Foundations, which is closely allied with Evans, has been managing the school since 2003 in a more limited capacity. It will now operate King as a charter.

Evans spent hours at the SRC meeting on Wednesday and objected strongly to Foundations’ ouster.

In awarding King to Mosaica, Ackerman and the SRC were ratifying the decision of the School Advisory Council, which had preferred Mosaica over Foundations by a vote of 8-1.

SAC member Conchevia Washington said she was extremely unhappy with the decision to retain Foundations. “We didn’t want Foundations,” she said. “None of us felt comfortable with Foundations. And the vote was 8-1. That should clearly tell you that we didn’t want it. The only reason Foundations was second was that we didn’t have another option.”

Washington said she and fellow SAC members would be exploring their options for a response.

Told of their displeasure, Evans said he appreciated the parents’ effort.

“I thank Mosaica, I thank the chairman of the SRC, Robert Archie, I thank Dr. Ackerman, I thank the parents that involved themselves, I thank them all,” Evans said. “But at the end of the day, let’s move on and do what we’ve got to do. That’s where my head is. We will concentrate on doing what is best for the 1,000 kids. We want to make Martin Luther King the best school in the nation.”

Foundations spokesperson John Henderson said they were very surprised and excited by Mosaica’s decision.

"We are thrilled to continue our work [at King] and teaching to the next level in this brand new capacity that affords us the opportunity to do things differently and better," Henderson said.

Under Foundations’ management, only 21 percent of the 11th graders scored proficient in reading and 19 percent in math on the PSSA. While serious disciplinary incidents have declined, the student suspension rate is very high, and just 32 percent are on track to graduate, according to the District’s 2010 annual report on the school.

Foundations had said that its slow progress was due to its limited role as an "education management organization" rather than as a full charter operator – it could not hire and fire teachers, for instance, though it could recommend the principal.

"We have roots in that community and a lot of supports from businesses, faith-based groups, and community groups," Henderson said. "It means a lot to remain working on behalf and for that community."

This is the second year in a row that a politician appeared to play a pivotal role in a reversal of a provider match recommendation by a School Advisory Council. Last year, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell was linked to the District’s decision to reject a recommendation assigning West Philadelphia High to Johns Hopkins.

This story is the product of a news partnership between the Notebook and NewsWorks at WHYY. The Notebook’s Celeste Lavin and Wendy Harris contributed reporting.