Charter school for Philadelphia foster children will not be renewed

Part 54 of 52 in the series Educating America

CLOSING THE DOORS: A charter school for foster children in Philadelphia will not be renewed.

By Maura Pennington |

PHILADELPHIA — A charter school in Philadelphia that seeks to provide support for the city’s most vulnerable youths is losing its opportunity to educate those students.

The School Reform Commission, an appointed body that makes executive decisions for the district, voted Thursday to not renew the charter for Arise Academy Charter High School in North Philadelphia.

The school’s mission is to provide education for students in foster care, ages 14 to 21, but its poor academic success and financial standing have been concerns for several years.

Opened in 2009, Arise Academy has a student population of about 90. All the students are considered economically disadvantaged and 45 percent need special education. The school has a one-to-four faculty to student ratio in order to offer as much individual support as necessary.

Its charter expired in 2012 and a ruling on renewal was postponed at that point given the unique situation of the school.

Facing homelessness and trauma, many of the students have failed to learn in traditional environments because of emotional and economic stress.

“I wouldn’t make it at another school,” said Donna Varner, a 19-year-old mother.

The recommendation to phase out this charter school was based on poor academic results and inadequate finances. According to recent state standardized test scores, only 6 percent of students at Arise were considered proficient or advanced in math and 18 percent in reading.

Though the school has been able to secure additional resources through donations, it has had a negative fund balance the past two years. The district also reports that the school hasn’t kept current with its Public School Employee Retirement System payments.

“It’s just not working as a charter school,” said Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky.

But Arise attempts to be more than a school.

“Arise is a safe haven for children who have been deprived of the necessities of life,” said Arise Academy board member Mark Solomon.

Paula Barnes, disciplinarian at Arise, noted at the SRC meeting that the school is being held accountable for students that the district couldn’t educate.

“By closing our school, you are breaking up the only family our children have ever had,” she said.

Without Arise Academy, some of the students will simply drop out of the educational system altogether.

“We as kids see it as people running out on us,” said student John Perry.

The school will not shut down immediately. The SRC will hold a public hearing Feb. 24 to allow for further debate. But the non-renewal ruling doesn’t bode well for the community at Arise Academy. It is especially hard to bear considering district superintendent William Hite recently announced there would be no closures of district schools next year, though several have lower scores on the statewide School Performance Profile than Arise.

Arise Academy has an SPP score of 31.8. There is another district school with a score of 11.4. Given that the district has the authority to evaluate charter schools at regular intervals to determine if they will be renewed, it’s much easier to close them when they appear not to be functioning.

It allows for better long-term solutions to be tried, but in the meantime young people with the fewest options now have one less choice.

Contact Maura Pennington at and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.

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