One of Philadelphia’s oldest charter schools will close next year

A building with “The School District of Philadelphia” on it.
Philadelphia’s Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School will close next year after 25 years of operation. Earlier this year, district officials said the school was not meeting key performance measures for academics and operations. (Carly Sitrin / Chalkbeat)

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The Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, one of Philadelphia’s oldest and largest charters, plans to close at the end of the school year with the retirement of its founder, Veronica Joyner.

Joyner, who announced the school’s closure in a Monday letter to parents, said in an interview Tuesday that at nearly 74 years old, she felt she could no longer put in the 12-hour days necessary to keep the school operating, and that she had not identified a successor she thought could continue her legacy. 

“For 25 years I’ve been looking for someone to take on” the leadership of the school, she said, “but I haven’t seen anybody with the care and compassion I have for children and parents.”

The school’s closure at the end of the 2023-24 school year means its roughly 900 students will have to scramble to find new schools next year. The district’s school selection process for the fall of 2024 is underway, but ends in two weeks. 

The first through twelfth grade school, which opened in 1999, says it offers “an alternative style and setting for children experiencing learning difficulties.” But the school district’s office that oversees charters has questioned its performance in recent years, and the Board of Education recently gave it a short leash. It has also drawn criticism for its admissions practices. 

Additionally, Mathematics, Civics and Sciences is losing its home next year. Joyner said  that Parents United for Public Schools, the nonprofit organization that Joyner leads, plans to sell the school’s building, which is located in the rapidly developing area around Broad and Spring Garden streets. 

In an evaluation published this year, the Charter Schools Office reported that the school did not meet standards for academics or operations, and that it approached the standard for financial health and sustainability. After that review, the Board of Education offered a one-year renewal for its charter instead for five years, which is what charter schools that are meeting standards typically receive.

Joyner said she found the decision to extend the charter for just one year “insulting.”

In her Monday letter to parents, Joyner painted a picture of the school that differs from the Charter Schools Office’s findings this year. 

Unlike this year’s official evaluation, Joyner said that the school had received “the highest grade of Meets Standards in all three review areas” of academics, finances, and operations. 

Joyner said in her letter that Mathematics, Civics and Science had “the highest graduation rate within the Philadelphia school system over the past nine years and the highest college matriculation rate as well.” Official district statistics for the 2021-22 school year did say that Mathematics, Civics and Science was the only charter — along with four district-run schools — with a 100% graduation rate. 

The school has provoked controversy for reasons beyond its academic record. In a 2019 lawsuit, the Education Law Center alleged that the charter school illegally denied admission to a student based on her disability. At the time, Joyner said the allegation was based on a “misunderstanding.”

Peng Chao, head of the district’s Charter Schools Office, said the district “just became aware” that the school will close next year.

“Our focus is to put together a plan to ensure students and families are supported through this transition … and have available to them all the information about their school options,” Chao said. 

Last week, the Ballard Spahr law firm issued a report commissioned by the school board that found Philadelphia district leadership did not deliberately discriminate against Black leaders of charter schools when making key decisions about their fate. However, the report did say the closure rate of Black-led charter schools is “concerning” and could feed perceptions of bias.

Dale Mezzacappa is a senior writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where she covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. Contact Dale at dmezzacappa@chalkbeat.org.

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