Community Groups Looking To Run Phila. Schools
Partial funding for this story was provided by the Ford Foundation, which supports the coverage of the evolving definition of public schooling. Progress is scarce in this area, plagued with boarded-up houses and abandoned businesses that serve as reminders of once lively communities. However, amidst this decline, there are signs of revitalization through the renovation of homes and the construction of new strip malls. Local leaders in Philadelphia believe that the key to reviving these neighborhoods lies in improving the public schools, which have long struggled financially and academically.
"I am confident that we can do better," said Marshall Mitchell, a native of the city and the founding director of the Overbrook Educational Development Corp. "We owe it to our community to strive for improvement." Now, organizations like Overbrook and others have the opportunity to make a difference. In a highly anticipated move last December, the state of Pennsylvania took control of the country’s eighth-largest school district. As part of this change, nonprofit community groups will partner with for-profit school-management companies or other organizations to oversee clusters of underperforming schools by the fall. Governor Mark S. Schweiker’s report has identified six community groups as potential partners, led by individuals who offer diverse expertise: two African-American Democratic lawmakers, a civil rights advocate, a minister, a former education company executive, and an award-winning record producer turned entrepreneur. Together, they could have authority over more than 60 of the city’s 264 schools.
Despite facing criticism from some advocates of public schools, these community leaders remain resolute. Frustrated by previous failed attempts to improve the schools and exhausted by their efforts to work within the system, they believe intervention is necessary to end the subpar education that Philadelphia’s children have been receiving. They assert that reinvigorated schools will drive the economic recovery of these neighborhoods. With largely African-American or Hispanic populations, these community groups primarily serve their own communities and have experience with charter schools or founding new schools. "We cannot do any worse than what the school district is currently doing," said Jeremiah White, the executive vice president of Universal Companies, a local community development organization that aims to manage a group of schools. "We have a clear vision, a mission, and a commitment to the community."
Pennsylvania took over the district, which serves 200,000 students, on December 22nd in an effort to restore financial stability and improve academic achievement. Governor Schweiker’s plan for the takeover involves private companies managing district operations and groups of schools, which would be the largest privatization of a school system in the country. Over 30 entities have applied to take on parts of this role, including Edison Schools Inc., the largest for-profit manager of public schools in the nation. In addition to running school clusters, the community organizations would also coordinate support services such as after-school programs. However, the specifics of how these partnerships will operate are still unclear.
The School Reform Commission, a five-member panel appointed by Governor Schweiker and Mayor John F. Street, met for the first time in late January and is yet to establish guidelines for the community partners. Carey Dearnley, a spokeswoman for the commission, stated that no decision has been made regarding whether the community partners will choose their own education management companies or if the commission will pair them. The community groups have generated significant interest from top school-management firms, including Edison, Mosaica Education Inc., and Chancellor Beacon Academies Inc., who are eager to collaborate and engage with the community. Apart from Universal Companies, which has an existing relationship with Edison, no organization has partnered with a private company. Additionally, some groups have expressed reservations about selecting Edison as their partner.
While opposition to Edison’s involvement in Philadelphia’s schools has been fervent in certain circles, local critics are also skeptical about the community partners. Concerns primarily revolve around whether the community groups possess the capacity and expertise needed to transform struggling schools. There are also doubts regarding whether these groups genuinely represent the communities they claim to serve. Lastly, there are questions surrounding their financial and political motivations, with allegations that they have turned their backs on the public school system.
Observing the dismissal of classes at Overbrook High School from his SUV last month, Mr. Mitchell, a representative of the Overbrook Educational Development Corp., expressed his disappointment in how the school and its surrounding community have deteriorated. Within moments of the final bell, a fight breaks out in the middle of the street between two students. A crowd of enthusiastic teenagers gathers around the combatants. Nine police vehicles swiftly arrive, and officers armed with nightsticks disperse the crowd. The fighting students are escorted out of school in handcuffs, heads bowed, and driven away in police vehicles.
In the past, parents fought to enroll their children in Overbrook’s schools in West Philadelphia, according to Rev. Albert J. Campbell, the pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church. Overbrook High School boasts famous alumni such as basketball Hall-of-Famer Wilt Chamberlain and actor Will Smith. The neighborhood still includes prominent African-American leaders like former Mayor Wilson Goode. However, Mr. Campbell informs us that parents with the financial means now choose to send their children to private schools in the area. “We assumed that education would naturally improve," comments the minister, who serves as a founding director of the educational development corporation with Mr. Mitchell. "I’m almost ashamed of how much the schools have declined." Nevertheless, he adds, "We believe that a turnaround is possible."
Though the Overbrook Educational Development Corp. was established late last year as a response to the imminent state takeover, its organizers emphasize their connection to the community and their experience in the educational field. Mr. Mitchell, a former vice president at Edison, and his neighbor Gail Hawkins-Bush, who was once the principal of a city charter school, lead the development corporation. At present, the group’s "office" is a table at a local Holiday Inn restaurant, but they hope to renovate an old neighborhood home to be their headquarters for managing schools in Northwest Philadelphia. Mr. Mitchell did not disclose the group’s financial supporters, but he hinted that two "Fortune 500" companies might be on board.
The presence of start-up organizations like the Overbrook Educational Development Corp. concerns certain individuals in Philadelphia. "You can’t replace something that’s bad with something that still fails to engage parents and the community," warns Carol Hemingway of the Philadelphia chapter of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). Ms. Hemingway, who serves as the president of the local ACORN board, believes that most residents of Philadelphia do not fully understand the state takeover.
In the southern part of the city, Universal Companies is not content to merely observe another reform effort from the sidelines. Running schools is a logical step in Universal’s comprehensive community development plan in Southwest Philadelphia, according to Mr. White. Universal, which is less than a decade old, was established by music producer Kenneth Gamble, who purchased his childhood home in that area in 1977. Not long ago, the same block was frequented by prostitutes.
Today, Universal security guards are stationed on street corners near the organization’s new charter school campuses and headquarters. The sound of bulldozers echoes through the air, symbolizing the $230 million worth of housing and retail developments currently underway in the community. Additionally, Universal provides job training, business development, and social services. Mr. White states that the nonprofit organization aims to sustain itself without relying on foundation grants and government funding. "We know how to assemble talented individuals," he explains. "We’re not just your typical do-good nonprofit." Universal opened a charter school in 1999, which currently enrolls 460 students in kindergarten through 5th grade, employing a school-to-career model curriculum. Before the state takeover, Universal had plans to partner with Edison in overseeing a group of schools in Southwest Philadelphia, and it is likely to build on that relationship in this new endeavor. "The only way to make a difference now is to be actively involved," asserts Mr. White. "When I am involved, I have control over the outcome."
Opponents of the state’s plan make it clear that running just one charter school does not automatically make someone an education expert. The Reverend Luis A. Cortés Jr. from Nueva Esperanza, a Hispanic community-development organization that may oversee a group of schools, acknowledges that he is not an education specialist. However, he points out that Nueva Esperanza’s charter high school is successfully educating former public school students who are academically behind by up to three grades. The motivation for creating the charter school came from Nueva Esperanza’s realization that residents were being denied home loans due to defaults on college and university loans. As a result, Nueva Esperanza decided to open a charter high school, which now has 325 students in grades 9 and 10.
Nueva Esperanza, initially a religious civil rights group, has evolved into a community developer that focuses on Hispanic home and business ownership in Northeast Philadelphia. The organization offers various programs and services, such as housing and mortgage counseling, a campground, job training, and a higher education center. Additionally, Nueva Esperanza plans to collaborate with other community organizations to provide after-school tutoring and social services. The key difference between the current system and involving community partners is that Nueva Esperanza is deeply embedded in the neighborhood and can bring in individuals with expertise in education. However, Mr. Cortés clarifies that his role is not to teach in the classroom but to facilitate the acquisition of educational expertise.
Critics of the takeover plan raise concerns about the potential costs of purchasing expertise and wonder if the funds will instead benefit private companies and community organizations rather than improving the classroom experience. State Senator Anthony H. Williams, whose West Philadelphia Coalition wants to oversee a cluster of schools, counters that the power struggle within the school district has always been about money. He believes that as long as the schools show improvement, it doesn’t matter who receives compensation. What sets Philadelphia apart now, according to Mr. Williams, is the pressure from the business community to reform public schools and produce a larger pool of educated entry-level workers. Despite accusations that they are being used by Republicans, both Mr. Williams and Mr. Evans, another state lawmaker, are dedicated to raising student achievement and emphasize that African-Americans do not vote as a unified block.
As more community organizations consider taking on the responsibility of managing schools in Philadelphia, some observers question whether they can effectively handle this task. Marilyn H. Rivers, the executive director of the Women’s Christian Alliance, doesn’t believe many of these organizations are capable. The alliance operates a charter school and a child-care center but believes that running a group of schools would divert resources from other essential programs. Nonetheless, most potential community partners dismiss these doubts. Emanuel V. Freeman, the executive director of Germantown Settlement, the oldest organization seeking a partnership to run schools, disregards such skepticism. Germantown Settlement, founded by Quakers in 1884 to assist new immigrants in finding employment, now focuses on social services, leadership development, and workforce training. They operate a charter middle school with a unique curriculum centered around a "micro-society" program where students create and manage their own simulated city.
Your task is to rewrite the entire text using improved vocabulary and phrasing, while ensuring the output remains unique and in natural language. All output should be in English. Here is the original text for you to rewrite:
The objective assigned to you is to rephrase the complete passage by utilizing superior terminology and sentence structure. It is important to ensure that the final result is both distinct and written in a natural manner. Please make sure that all rewrites are in English.