Bracetti Academy, Part 4

Part 4 of 5 – Qualified administration

Understanding that bit of history brings you up-to-date. Bracetti Academy has gone through a number of appointed and acting administrators, most deemed un- or under-qualified, by the board of trustees or by the educational management organization (EMO), to run the school. The Philadelphia School District cannot, by law, dictate the day-to-day operations of a charter school; it can only advise or suggest where a school might fail to live up to lawful standards. In the event a charter school enters illegal activity, the School District can act; otherwise, the role of the District is limited.

In July of 2000, Colleen Davis, then under the LULAC umbrella, recruited Magda Enriquez-Beitler, then a bilingual coordinator at Roberto Clemente Middle School in North Philadelphia, as the academy’s first Academy Director. Enriquez-Beitler described those first months at the Academy as chaotic, to say the least.

“The first three months were a disaster,” she recalled. “…discipline, consistency, rules, no schedule, teacher training…”

Despite the slew of issues facing a new administrator in a charter school setting, the school pulled off at least part of what it set out to do by June.

“By the end of the school year, we had achieved the last three months with zero discipline incidents and increased reading levels by an average of two grade levels. We overcame a dramatic opening in an inadequate building and enjoyed a successful first year.”

But that wasn’t hitting all the bases for LearnNow, the EMO running Bracetti at the time. LearnNow said that Enriquez-Beitler did not have enough experience to run the school, a declaration with which she agreed, and suggested she “go on a learning curve” with a more experienced principal at the helm.

A new director was recruited in 2001, but he had left by the end of November the same year, citing that he also didn’t have the required experience to administrate the school. When LearnNow sold out to Edison Schools, Inc., two administrators who had supervised Bracetti remained in supervisory positions.

Both eventually assumed other positions, one within the EMO and the other on his own, and it was during this time of administrative unrest that the board of trustees appointed Angela Villani as Interim Academy Director.

Villani, a former School District employee, had been teaching 6th grade at the school since it opened, boasting no more than a bachelor’s degree at the time of her interim appointment. And it is that issue that some parents and what have been described as disgruntled former employees see as inadequate for the children she serves in the school. It is that issue about which parents approached both Academy administration and the Philadelphia School District in hope for some answers. Except to join Davis in extending an invitation to NF to visit Bracetti Academy to see “the many positive things going on at the school,” Villani maintains that she has “no comment” on the negative feelings or questions about “qualified administration” at the school.

The District, though, is clear about the issue: “If the Chief Administrative Officer (or CAO) of a school is not referred to as a principal nor performs the duty of a principal, i.e. teacher evaluations, then s/he is not required to be principal-certified to hold that post.” That’s the ruling. The District, remember, does not impose on charter schools the policies of its public schools, as that is beyond their limits within the law. Yet, there are things that all schools must maintain in order to maintain their charter, and there are aspects about “those things” over which the District maintains control. And simply, day-to-day grind is not one of them.

Still… the invitation to visit the school is open, and perhaps the fruits of student achievement bear testament to the qualifications of the administrators leading the students.