Education is not a game, but you’d never know it from the way the SRC played every trick in the book to turn Germantown’s Wister Elementary over to Mastery Charter. Local educator Robin Lowry helps us document & learn from their fight to stay public this year. 

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It is over.  The fight to keep Wister Elementary public has been lost. Cooke and Huey also lost on April 29th. Regardless of 7 months challenging the SRC’s credibility, use of bogus enrollment and achievement data, conflicts of interest by SRC members, lobbying and bullying by Mastery Charter company, repeated testimony that schools were starved of resources and supports to create a narrative of failure, and the questionable records of the winning charters, the fix was in.

Councilperson Helen Gym presented to Council compelling reasons why Great Oaks Charter was a bad match for Cooke Middle school. Plus Assistant Superintendent Christina Grant comes from the Great Oaks Board! At the March 21 SRC meeting Lisa Haver reported the District’c own data showing Wister outperforms most Mastery schools.

The School Reform Commission, unelected and answerable to know one, not mayor, not Governor, has 3 of 5 members with charter ties reported here and a preference for privatizers.  Commissioner Green, in his effort to return as Chair used the Fairness Center legal team, formed in 2014 and staffed by guys who work for “free-market think tanks.” That’s a union-busting CV for sure.

Were we surprised that Wister’s success on recent School Progress Reports, supported by Superintendent Hite, meant nothing? Yes we were. BUT Mastery wanted it and it gets it. Mastery has a Master Plan to grow  — but it is a secret plan.

In Philly over the next 4 months there are schools hiring staff, principals spending hours creatively figuring out a limited budget, teachers buying for and prepping classrooms, and growing relationships with students and families. But they will find themselves, like Wister did, come October, deemed too far gone to save and only Mastery can save them. Wister, Cooke and Huey’s struggle this year will be other schools’ next year.

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This demoralizes teachers, parents and students.  Yet the District is hiring!  Seen the video? How long would you expect to work for the School District if you got hired today?  Hite says he wants to close close 3 schools a year! Veteran teachers are pushed out to make way for cheaper, newer hires.  This is not how you go about building a strong system of Great Public Schools.

How much do we value our young people if this is how we treat their education?  It is not what the elites want for their children.   Parents’ don’t choose turmoil and inexperienced teachers.

The Renaissance Process began in 2010 as a way to take low-performing schools, like Wister, and match them with a charter company with the promise of miracles in students achievement. But this falls apart too.

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Kenderton Elementary in North Philly was “renaissanced” in 2013 and just this week Young Scholars Charter announced it would up and leave. Meanwhile they continue to open schools in Tennessee and other states. It seems that the high numbers of Special Education students was costing too much.  That is the bottom line here.

Some believed Wister was a lost cause, but those of us who fought did all we could. We are up against idealogues and financiers. Charter champions go to neighborhoods where gentrification is more motive than the education of low performing poor students.  Classic school buildings sit vacant waiting for developers. 

Rural areas, also under siege by the same tired rhetoric — lackluster public schools, burdensome regulations and licensing requirements, the need for Parent “choice.”  Choice is a tough argument for rural areas, but is thrown at us in urban schools.  When charters cannibalize whole schools, choice is by default.

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Wister Parents now have only the choice to find another school if they do NOT like the charter model.  Germantown parents have lost so many schools to charters that there are few options left.  The fight for our Northwest Area must be to save Steele, Mifflin, Linglebach, John B. Kelly and Fitler Public Schools.