Scholar Academies is a charter management organization (CMO) based in Philadelphia that recently—and successfully—led a turnaround of its original, then-struggling, Philadelphia charter school. Founded in 1999 as a middle school for nearly 200 low-income students, Young Scholars (as the organization was then known) delivered rapid academic growth and its students matriculated to many of the best high schools in the region. In 2005, however, the school had experienced a rapid decline, and the board named Lars Beck as the new CEO. By 2009, Beck had led a turnaround of the school. Young Scholars had regained its footing, and the school’s 8th grade had completely closed the achievement gaps in math and reading scores separating them from their higher-income peers across the state. Today, Young Scholars is Philadelphia’s highest performing charter middle school.
Encouraged by this success and by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s call for concerted action to turn around struggling schools, Scholar Academies applied in 2009 to manage two persistently failing schools, one in Philadelphia and another, Stanton Elementary in Ward 8, in Washington, DC. Early progress from the 2010 launch of Scholar Academies at Stanton is encouraging.
In December 2010, CityBridge became Scholar Academies’ lead funder in setting up a separate DC-based affiliate, known as DC Scholars. Like their home office in Philadelphia, the DC division will operate a stand-alone charter school, opening in September 2012 as DC Scholars Public Charter School, and serve as a lead turnaround partner available to engage with district schools. CityBridge is betting that Scholar Academies can provide additional needed turnaround capacity for Washington, where sixty schools have not met federal proficiency standards for five years or more, and, as a result, are eligible for interventionary improvement plans.