Philadelphia school board denies charter school application for third time

A building with “The School District of Philadelphia” on it.
Global Leadership Network CEO Naomi Johnson-Booker, a longtime Philadelphia educator, has tried three times to win the board of education's approval for a new charter high school. The board rejected the charter application again at its Feb. 29 meeting. (Carly Sitrin / Chalkbeat)

Sign up for Chalkbeat Philadelphia’s free newsletter to keep up with the city’s public school system.

Philadelphia Board of Education members voted to deny an application for a new charter high school Thursday night, citing declining academic performance data and several recent charter school closures in the city.

Board members voted 6-3 to deny the proposed Global Leadership Academy International Charter High School, which sought to enroll 150 students in ninth grade its first year and build up to 600 students in grades 9-12 by year five.

Board President Reginald Streater said the decision was a “hard one” because of the strong community support for the school. But he said he had too many concerns with the details of the application and cited his experience watching multiple charter schools “collapse” in recent years.

The board hasn’t approved a new charter school in the city since 2018. But Mallory Fix-Lopez, the board’s vice president, noted that the board has “expanded the charter sector by over 2,000 seats” since 2018. It remains to be seen whether the board’s stance on charters clashes with new Mayor Cherelle Parker’s vision for public education in the city.

Global Leadership Network CEO Naomi Johnson-Booker, a longtime Philadelphia educator, has tried for years to add a high school to the already existing two Global Leadership K-8 schools. But the board has repeatedly rejected her attempts.

One of GLA’s schools, Global Leadership Academy at Huey, is a Renaissance charter school. The district turned the school over to the network in 2016, but it has since failed to significantly improve student academic performance.

Peng Chao, chief of the district’s Charter Schools Office, presented academic data for GLA’s existing schools which shows sharp declines in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced proficient in English Language Arts and Math standardized tests from the 2017-18 school year to 2022-23.

Chao also noted the charter group’s proposed curriculum materials for high school English language arts, mathematics, and science “still do not fully demonstrate that the proposed charter school would meet all grade level requirements” set at the state level.

“There is a question there as to whether they would truly be able to achieve all of their academic requirements,” Chao said.

In defense of her schools’ performance, Johnson-Booker cited a flood in one of the school buildings that interrupted testing during one school year and the impacts of the pandemic that affected school performance nationwide.

Several students, parents, and elected officials testified in support of GLA and the proposed high school at the Thursday board meeting, saying the school community provides a safe and positive environment for students in the city.

But ultimately, board members said they had too many concerns with the application.

Board member Lisa Salley, who voted to approve the school, took a different view. She said the charter school office’s “analysis is anemic and needs work.”

The charter school approval process has come under fire in recent months for alleged bias against Black-led schools. However, an investigation found district leadership never deliberately discriminated against such schools.

In a statement following the vote, Ken Kilpatrick, a spokesperson for Global Leadership International, called the board’s decision “myopic and selfish” and said the organization “will be reviewing our legal options and will announce our next steps when prepared to do so.”

Logan Peterson, a spokesperson for the board, said the network can appeal to the state’s charter appeals board or resubmit their application.

Meanwhile, Parker’s assertions that “high quality” charter seats would be valued as much as traditional district seats during her tenure as mayor have raised questions as to whether the school board would begin approving charters again.

The board’s decision could have significant political ramifications. Parker has convened her Education Nominating Panel to consider reappointing or remaking the board to reflect her priorities. She’s given no signal yet whether she intends to replace any of the current members. Parker could decide to replace none, some, or all of them.

The next public meeting of the Education Nominating Panel is scheduled for March 12.

Board approves contracts for parent stipends, nurses

In addition to the charter decision, the board voted to approve more than $230 million in contracts for classroom furniture, payments for substitute nurses, stipends for parents who drive their kids to school, and more.

Here are some of the items included in those contracts:

  • $60 million for “furniture and classroom fixtures.”
  • $50 million for “educational resources” including textbooks, gym supplies, science materials, and other items. This does not include core curriculum items.
  • $10 million for ESS Northeast, LLC for payments to substitute nurses and other school staff.
  • $10.5 million for a contract with The Home Depot for custodial supplies and equipment.
  • $36 million for monthly payments to parents who drive their children to school. According to the district, there are approximately 14,000 households or parents that are enrolled in the program for the 2023-2024 school year.
  • $2.7 million for Catapult Learning, LLC and Littera Education, Inc. for a high-impact tutoring pilot in two middle schools serving grades 6-8 for the 4th marking period. (Less than 1% of students used these programs as of 2023.)
  • $10 million for furniture and equipment for “Digital Literacy Labs” including computers and “codeable robots.” According to the district, there are 113 elementary and middle schools that offer digital literacy in the city. The district wants an additional 74 schools to have access to these labs by the start of the next school year.

Carly Sitrin is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Philadelphia. Contact Carly at csitrin@chalkbeat.org.

The Latest

The sponsor of the bill says it would create a culture of expectation that formal education must begin early.

Parents, teachers, and others have long criticized the practice of reassigning teachers after the school year has begun. But it’s unclear if ‘leveling’ is gone for good or merely paused.

Lawmakers could revive a plan to let all parents use Education Scholarship Accounts on classes, tutoring, extracurricular activities, and more.

Purdue Polytechnic High School Lab School offers personalized curriculum to around 20 students while getting support from the charter school network.

The plan — which will be finalized this summer — will prioritize improving students’ daily experiences in the classroom, addressing staffing and funding, and collaborating more closely with school communities.

Whether a school is following district discipline rules “is an indicator of the climate of a school,” Superintendent Alex Marrero said.