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Memphis Street Academy to fight to stay open

Following a vote that will cause the school to surrender its charter, school officials say the fight is not over

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MSA supporters held a rally outside of the School District of Philadelphia’s office leading up to the board’s vote. | Photo courtesy of American Paradigm Schools

Despite a vote to force its closure in the summer of 2023, officials from Port Richmond’s Memphis Street Academy at J.P. Jones say they will exhaust any and all avenues to keep the school open beyond this upcoming school year.

In a meeting on Thursday, June 23, the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia agreed to invoke a surrender clause on MSA for failing to meet previously agreed-upon academic requirements in regard to, among other things, attendance and standardized testing. Two additional schools, Southwest Leadership Academy Charter and Laboratory Charter School, also had their charters pulled as a result of the meeting. 

Ashley Redfearn, the CEO of American Paradigm Schools, which runs MSA, vowed to fight the district’s decision, which she said will displace over 500 students, an overwhelming majority identifying as either Black, Hispanic or multi-racial.

Students and staff were dealt blow after blow throughout the pandemic, and should not have to contend with yet another major life-altering change,” Redfearn said in an initial press release. “We intend to pursue every legal channel to continue to provide quality, well-rounded education and support for Memphis Street Academy students and the community.”

MSA and the school district had previously agreed to a set of 14 academic benchmarks that, if not met, would lead to the school surrendering its five-year charter. According to the district, two of the requirements regarding increasing PSSA scores, including in math, were not met. Due to the pandemic-related pauses, the district used standardized testing data from the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years during its evaluation.

The school was also found to have not achieved attendance obligations relating to decreasing the number of students deemed “chronically absent,” or having missed at least 10% of school days. According to the district, 83% of MSA eighth-graders were chronically absent, compared to 30% in similar schools.

In all, the district’s evaluation concluded that MSA failed to meet seven of the 14 requirements, therefore warranting the implementation of the surrender clause. However, Redfearn disagrees with the district’s process, arguing that the clause was “never intended to be built on the individual points of standardized testing and attendance.” She said that the school was surprised to see those metrics cited despite being compliant in organizational and fiscal oversight.

“The board’s decision based on measurements put into place pre-pandemic does not reflect where MSA stands in the post-pandemic learning atmosphere,” Redfearn said.

The board’s decision will now force MSA students and their families to consider where they will continue their academic endeavors past the 2022-23 school year. Patrice Rogers, whose son attends MSA, said that having to find another school to send her son is something she is very wary about.

“My son’s teachers, the staff and the principals have worked so hard,” Rogers said. “We’re not just a school; we’re a community. This is the only school that I feel safe in, and if my son has to leave this school, I’m afraid about where he’s going to go.”

In the wake of the board’s decision, Redfearn said APS officials are currently focused on collecting input from both stakeholders and MSA families to determine the next steps that will be the most beneficial for their needs.

Redfearn also said that they are doing everything in their power to ensure the upcoming school year goes on as smoothly as possible. That includes continuing to guarantee access to things such as summer programming and athletics as well as health, language access and food and nutrition services.

“MSA has become an integral part of the community, consistently providing robust services to students and families based on need, something that holds significant value in a post-pandemic world,” Redfearn said.

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