Northeast Times

That’s the charter spirit

The suc­cess of two loc­al charter schools spurs their of­fi­cials to go one step fur­ther.

(L to R) CNNÕ s Soledad OÕ Bri­en and First Phil­adelphia Charter School and Ta­cony Academy Charter School of­fi­cials Ger­ald San­tilli and Sta­cey Cruise who have formed a non­profit called Amer­ic­an Paradigm Schools. Kev­in Cook / for Times

Ger­ald San­tilli and Sta­cey Cruise are proud of what they cre­ated in 2002.

That year, the First Phil­adelphia Charter School for Lit­er­acy opened. Earli­er this month, the school, at 4300 Ta­cony St., gradu­ated its first class that com­pleted kinder­garten through eighth grade.

Its sis­ter school, Ta­cony Academy Charter School, opened in 2009 at the former Or­leans Tech­nic­al In­sti­tute build­ing in Rhawn­hurst. It hopes to find a per­man­ent loc­a­tion in Ta­cony.

Ac­cord­ing to San­tilli and Cruise, the schools have com­piled re­cords of 97 per­cent at­tend­ance and 96.5 per­cent stu­dent re­ten­tion and Pennsylvania Sys­tem of School As­sess­ment scores that are 18 per­cent high­er in math­em­at­ics and nearly 27 per­cent high­er in read­ing than com­par­able scores in Phil­adelphia pub­lic schools.

“We’re really pleased with the pro­gress in nine years,” said San­tilli, former ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of fin­an­cial ser­vices for the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia.

At a gala af­fair held earli­er this month at the In­de­pend­ence Vis­it­ors Cen­ter, San­tilli and Cruise an­nounced the form­a­tion of Amer­ic­an Paradigm Schools, a non-profit edu­ca­tion­al man­age­ment or­gan­iz­a­tion that is de­signed to im­prove edu­ca­tion in strug­gling urb­an schools and dis­tricts across Amer­ica and elim­in­ate the achieve­ment gap for chil­dren.

The mod­els will be First Phil­adelphia Pre­par­at­ory Charter School (the 9-year-old school’s new name) and Ta­cony Academy Charter School, which have a com­bined en­roll­ment of 1,300 from 32 Phil­adelphia ZIP codes. There’s a wait­ing list of more than 1,500.

“We’ve got a proven track re­cord,” San­tilli said. “We have two suc­cess­ful schools in the North­east, and we’re look­ing to rep­lic­ate the mod­el.”

At the June 14 event, hos­ted by NBC 10’s Mo­nique Brax­ton, the guest speak­ers were former school dis­trict CEO Paul Val­las and CNN’s Soledad O’Bri­en, who vis­ited First Phil­adelphia earli­er that day. An award was presen­ted to Jeremy Nowak, pres­id­ent and CEO of the Re­in­vest­ment Fund, which has long helped charter schools ob­tain fin­an­cing for their build­ings.

First Phil­adelphia had humble be­gin­nings, open­ing in three North­east syn­agogues be­fore find­ing a per­man­ent home. It was fin­anced through the cred­it cards of the founders.

Mem­bers of the re­cent eighth-grade gradu­at­ing class will go to Cent­ral, the Arts Academy at Ben­jamin Rush and sev­er­al oth­er high schools.

“It will be a K-to-12 school ul­ti­mately,” San­tilli said of First Phil­adelphia.

First Phil­adelphia is look­ing at loc­a­tion op­tions as it pre­pares to open a high school for 400 stu­dents.

Cruise is a former prin­cip­al of the school, but she has been train­ing the prin­cipals at First Phil­adelphia and Ta­cony Academy, with an eye to­ward form­ing the new non-profit.

“We’ve been trans­ition­ing and plan­ning for two years,” San­tilli said.

While lit­er­acy is the fo­cus at First Phil­adelphia, sci­ence is preached at Ta­cony Academy. Loc­ated at 1330 Rhawn St., it edu­cated pu­pils in kinder­garten through fifth grade, along with ninth grade, this past school year. Next year, it’ll be open to kinder­garten through sixth grade, as well as ninth and 10th grades.

The stu­dents gen­er­ally come from the areas near Dis­ston and Eth­an Al­len ele­ment­ary schools. San­tilli hopes to open a per­man­ent loc­a­tion on va­cant ground at Prin­ceton Av­en­ue near the Delaware River, but city of­fi­cials ini­tially balked at the pro­pos­al, want­ing to keep the land open for fu­ture hous­ing de­vel­op­ment.

“Hope­fully, it will get re­solved,” San­tilli said. “We’ve com­mit­ted to the dis­trict to be in the Ta­cony neigh­bor­hood.”

Amer­ic­an Paradigm Schools will work with teach­ers, ad­min­is­trat­ors, par­ents and school boards. The group be­lieves all chil­dren are cap­able of learn­ing.

“Over the years, we’ve worked with hun­dreds and hun­dreds of stu­dents and closed the achieve­ment gap and put stu­dents on the right track,” Cruise said.

Cruise is con­fid­ent that the new non-profit will be suc­cess­ful.

“It will be an easy sell show­ing our two schools to oth­er dis­tricts and fam­il­ies to show them what is pos­sible,” she said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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