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January 13, 2016

Parents urge Philly school district to reconsider fate of Wister Elementary

Group will deliver a petition Thursday to Superintendent Hite seeking to make Wister a Renaissance school

A group of parents from an East Germantown elementary school are asking Superintendent William Hite to reconsider his decision to leave the school under the School District of Philadelphia's management.

Parents from John Wister Elementary School will deliver 500 signed petitions Thursday to the district's administrative building urging Hite to recommend the school be included in the Renaissance Charter Schools initiative. That intervention effort places struggling district schools under charter school management – which would have the power to replace principals, teachers and staff.

The district announced in October that Wister, a K-5 neighborhood school enrolling 383 students, was among three schools that administrators were considering for the Renaissance initiative. Under the Renaissance plan, Wister would be turned over to Mastery Charter Schools, a charter network that serves some 12,000 students in Philadelphia and Camden.

But when Hite announced his recommendations Monday, Wister was the only school denied his endorsement. He cited Wister's growth on the latest School Progress Report, the annual district evaluation released last week.

The announcement, which drew a mixed response, upset supporters of the Renaissance plan, including a group of parents who are calling on Hite to meet with them and explain his decision.

"There's a lack of understanding for me," said Dionne Hubert, 41, the parent of two Wister students. "For Dr. Hite to say there's improvement – you need to actually go into the schools and speak to the parents and speak to the children. That's the real gauge of improvement – not the numbers you're looking at."

Wister received an overall score of 33 percent on its 2014-15 School Progress Report, a 19-point improvement from the previous year. That bumped the school into the district's "Watch" status, the third-lowest of four designations given by the district. It previously had been labeled a school that needed intervention.

Yet, some parents question the overall score, pointing to Wister's low performance on state standardized tests. Only three percent of Wister students scored proficient or advanced on the state's math tests while 19 percent achieved those marks on the language arts exams. Less than half of students in kindergarten through second grade can read at grade level.

The district hosted weekly community meetings in Germantown as it considered transforming Wister into a Renaissance school. The meetings were aimed both at responding to parental concerns and providing parents a voice as the district identified the best charter partner.

Alisha Grant, 36, the parent of a second grade student, said she visited several Mastery Charter School campuses as the process played out. She left impressed by the teachers' drive and the schools' performances.

But without Hite's endorsement, the School Reform Commission no longer will consider Wister for the Renaissance initiative. Grant said she already has sent letters to Hite and the SRC expressing her disappointment. 

"Why would you allow people to go through all of that, thinking my child has a chance?" Grant said. "That was like a slap in the face. I'm really disappointed about that."

District spokesman Fernando Gallard did not immediately respond to a message asking whether Hite will meet with the parents.

The SRC is slated to vote Jan. 21 on the two schools recommended by Hite to become Renaissance schools. If approved, Jay Cooke Elementary School in Logan will be turned over to the Great Oaks Foundation while Samuel B. Huey Elementary School in West Philadelphia will be managed by Global Leadership Academy Charter School.