Philadelphia chief of charter schools leaves to become D.C. state superintendent

Peng Chao will lead office in Interim position

Christina Grant became the new state superintendent in Washington D.C. in June, 2021
Christina Grant is leaving the charter schools office in Philadelphia to become the state superintendent in Washington D.C. (School District of Philadelphia)

After serving three years as the head of Philadelphia’s charter schools office, Christina Grant is leaving Philadelphia to become the state superintendent in Washington D.C.

Grant, the district’s chief of charters and innovation, also supervises 18 high schools in the district’s “innovation” network. She will stay through the end of June. Peng Chao, now the executive director of the Charter Schools Office, will assume the position of interim chief of charters.  

“Dr. Grant has made an immense contribution to the Charter Schools Office and the 70,000 students it serves here in Philadelphia, and the Board is truly grateful for her service,” said Board of Education President Joyce Wilkerson. With his experience, “Mr. Chao could not be more qualified for this role, and I have every confidence in his leadership going forward.”

Grant, a first generation college student, started her career in education in Teach for America before going to work for the New York City Department of Education. She led the Great Oaks Foundation, a charter management organization, before coming to Philadelphia in 2015 as an assistant superintendent. She became Philadelphia’s interim chief of charter schools in 2018 and was appointed to the permanent position a year later. 

Grant earned her doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 2020 and also has degrees from Hofstra, Columbia, and Fordham universities.

Superintendent William Hite said Grant “has had a profound impact on our district, specifically students in our charter schools and within our Innovation Network. She is passionate about ensuring that all children have opportunities to excel and that schools are equipped with the resources and governance necessary to deliver a high-quality education.” 

The state superintendent position in Washington D.C. has not been filled permanently since last October, when Hansuel King stepped down. Shana Young has been serving as interim.

Washington, D.C.’s state education department acts as liaison between the city school district and the federal government. It oversees charter schools and early childhood education programs, provides transportation for special education students, administers standardized exams, and organizes data about schools for the public. 

In Philadelphia, the charter office chief must manage the often contentious relationship between the large charter sector — 70,000 students in more than 80 schools — and the district, which has the sole power to grant, renew, or revoke charters. 

The office has come under fire recently from Black-led charter schools accusing it of racial bias. They say most of the charters recommended for non-renewal are Black-led, even though they make up only about 19% of those in the city. The complaints have been backed by several members of City Council, and the Board of Education has agreed to investigate them.

Charters not granted renewals can stay open for years as they navigate the state appeals process, which is bogged down by conflict between Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and the Republican-led legislature. Currently, the state appeals board has no members. 

The Board of Education has not approved a new charter school since taking back local control from the state-dominated School Reform Commission in July, 2018. At its meeting last month it approved an amendment to a KIPP charter originally granted in 2017 by the SRC, which allows the school to open in a different location.  

Lisa Haver, a retired teacher who is a leader of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, a critic of the board’s charter policies and practices, said that under Grant, the office “did a good job evaluating new applications. With new leadership coming in, it is an opportunity for the board to be more accountable in the charter renewal process.” 
Johann Calhoun and Neena Hagen contributed to the reporting.

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