Philadelphia School Board to consider forcing Port Richmond charter school to close

Parents and supporters of Memphis Street Academy dispute the district’s evaluation of poor academic performance
Memphis Street Academy parents and supporters on Tuesday protested the potential removal of their charter by the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia.
Memphis Street Academy parents and supporters on Tuesday protested the potential removal of their charter by the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia. Photo credit Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia is scheduled Thursday night to consider forcing the Memphis Street Academy at J.P. Jones in Port Richmond to surrender its charter and close next year because of poor academic performance.

The school’s supporters are disputing the district’s evaluation and vowing to fight to keep the school open.

The district maintains Memphis Street Academy previously agreed to give up its five-year charter and close if it failed to satisfy 14 benchmarks on academics, attendance, and other requirements.

School District of Philadelphia Charter Schools Office Active Chief Peng Chao outlined the deal to the school board last month.

“The school agreed to meet very specific conditions as part of their last renewal – and agreed as a part of that, that if they didn’t meet those specific conditions that they would surrender, or forfeit, their own charter,” Chao said.

Two of the conditions, Chao said, were tied to state PSSA scores. Because of the pandemic, PSSA tests weren’t available for the last two school years, Chao explained.

“For the outcomes that we do have from ’17-’18 and ’18-’19, the school did not meet the conditions tied to that clause,” he said.

Two other requirements dealt with attendance.

“In both of those conditions, the school also did not meet the targets set and agreed to in their charter,” Chao said.

Memphis Street Academy met district standards for organization and finances, but scored only 34% on academic measures, Chao said.

The district’s evaluation concluded that Memphis Street Academy did not meet seven of the 14 conditions.

The Board of Education, which authorizes charter schools in the city, is set to vote on enforcing the surrender clause.

Memphis Street Academy parents and supporters on Tuesday protested the potential removal of their charter by the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia.
Memphis Street Academy parents and supporters on Tuesday protested the potential removal of their charter by the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia. Photo credit Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

About 60 Memphis Street Academy parents and supporters staged a rally outside district headquarters Tuesday to urge the board to keep the school open.

Anita Vega-Kaiser, the charter school’s board secretary, said the board needs to consider the entire Memphis Street Academy picture.

“There are certain aspects of the review that were done that may not necessarily have been as truthful. And there’s other data that needs to be looked at and needs to be considered,” she told KYW Newsradio. Vega-Kaiser wouldn’t specify what information she was referring to.

“I believe that they are basing it on one tiny data point in the surrender clause, which has to do with academics from 2018-2019. I would say that is really no longer relevant,” said Ashley Redfearn, CEO of American Paradigm Schools which operates Memphis Street Academy.

“Most of us knew that for the past several years, there has been no current standardized testing data, so it's really not a fair opportunity to show what has happened.”

“The [surrender] clause was never intended to be built on just those individual points. It was built to be agreed upon for all of the data, not just 20% of the data,” Redfearn said.

If approved, the resolution calls for the school to close by June 2023, and to submit a dissolution plan to the board by January 31.

“We really feel, especially because we do have a large population of Spanish-speaking families, that we really needed more time to communicate and reassure families of how they would be served next year,” Redfearn said.

“We're really asking to have that time to be able to make sure if there is a plan to change, that we know what it is and we can be respectful and diligent in our services to the community.”

Should the board order Memphis Street Academy to surrender its charter, American Paradigm will exercise every avenue of appeal, Redfearn said.

“The surrender clauses are largely up for contesting right now, because the surrender clause does take away some rights to appeal and is really seen as a way to disenfranchise communities from having their voice be heard,” she said.

560 fifth- through eighth-graders attend Memphis Street Academy, which has been open for 10 years. Closing the school would force parents to find new schools for their children.

“That’s the scary part. What would I do? Send my kid to somewhere where he would have to meet people all over again?” asked Memphis Street Academy parent Patrice Rogers.

“Let us continue to work on our neighborhood. You can’t just throw kids onto the wolves.”