--Scott Gordon, the chief executive officer of Mastery Charter Schools
This from the Hechinger Report:
A Philadelphia charter school CEO leads the way
as more schools question the get-tough school model
|Maggie Sieleman-Ross, a Reading Instructor at Simon Gratz H S|
Quaseem Foxwell, a linebacker on the football team, says several of his friends left the school because of the tough rules. Yet he defends the strictures. He says he improved his own behavior after a heart-to-heart with his teachers and administrators. “When I came here and got into a fight, they told me I could get kicked out, or I could talk to the teachers and some of the deans,” he says. “The strict rules are all for a reason.”
While he may be relatively invisible to the students, Mr. Gordon is hardly unknown outside the school: He has been one of the most revered and reviled figures in the bitter fights over public education in Philadelphia for the past decade, and now he’s starting to wield influence on the school-reform movement nationwide.
As the overseer of 21 charter schools in Philadelphia, he has carved out a reputation as a turnaround artist – someone willing to try to fix high schools that are failing, a task that many other reformers have shied away from in their quest to transform urban education. Indeed, even in the mission-driven charter school movement, reformers often only open high schools they can start from scratch, and then they may only admit students they’ve already indoctrinated with their approach in earlier grades.
Not Gordon. He frequently takes on the worst of the worst – and he’s had some success. As a result, he has become an increasingly important figure in the burgeoning charter school movement. People ranging from former Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Oprah Winfrey have praised what goes on in Mastery’s classrooms. One Mastery teacher calls Gordon an intensely passionate “quiet storm” who “doesn’t feel compelled to put on a big show.”
Yet not everyone is so charitable. Critics accuse him of being an outsider who is dismantling the city’s public schools in an attempt to create a private education empire.
Now Gordon faces his severest test yet. He is shifting his approach in running the schools away from a “no excuses” model that has defined much of the urban charter school movement to a more supportive approach that takes into account students’ backgrounds.
“A mistake that we made was the assumption that schools were not successful because they weren’t well run, or they weren’t well organized, or that teachers weren’t trained and supported,” he says in an interview at Mastery’s headquarters in a wing of a struggling middle school the charter chain took over in 2007. “That may … be true.” But, he adds, “our communities face lots of barriers and problems – kids in trauma – that need to be addressed if we’re going to be successful.”
The changes under way at Mastery could signal a wider shift in the culture of charter schools and possibly the end of the no-excuses model nationwide. This is especially true as more private operators venture into the difficult territory of school takeovers, driven in part by states such as Tennessee and Nevada that have passed laws encouraging charters to try to resurrect struggling institutions.
But whether Gordon’s latest experiment will catch on across the United States will depend in part on what happens in the hallways and classrooms of Simon Gratz...