Three’s the charm with one non-profit charter

As in all good fairy tales, the magic number is three.

This week Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson announced she will be seeking school committee approval on July 21 for three in-district charter schools. One proposal is for a not-for-profit corporation, Unlocking Potential (UP), to take over a yet unnamed Boston middle school. Boston would then apply to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for “in-district charter school” status. No public hearings are contemplated. Members of the public will have three minutes each, but no more than 30 minutes total, to comment before the committee votes.

So what is the story with UP? The web site has a handsome picture of President Obama calling for turnaround schools and claims “UP seeks to answer this call.” Is this change we can believe in?

The two founders are young entrepreneurs. One was involved with KIPP, another corporation in the charter school business.
According to its web site,, the plan is to take over management of its first “turnaround school” in 2011, and it aims to transform 20 schools within 10 years. Boston seems poised to be UP’s toehold for market share in the growing charter school market.

Founders are looking for people to join its board of directors and are advertising now to hire UP’s management trio by September 2010: a founding director of academic achievement, a director of operations and a principal.
UP performs three services. Read the small print and discover that with UP management, transformation occurs in three years!

What services would Boston be buying? UP’s web site touts three:
“Pre-Turnaround Management. …we replace any poorly-performing teacher or administrator with new personnel that our organization recruits, hires and trains. Simultaneously, we replace many of the school’s existing operations and education programs with systems that have been proven to enable significant student achievement gains.

“Turnaround Management. We manage each school for the three years following takeover, ensuring that at least 75 percent of the school’s students become proficient in math and English. During this time, we make certain that our systems are implemented and enforced effectively; we manage and evaluate the school leader; we manage the school facility, finances and operations; and we recruit, hire and train new faculty and administrators, as needed.

“Post-Turnaround Management. After three years, we continue managing each transformed school with a distinct focus on sustaining and improving upon the gains made during our initial turnaround.”

The model for human resources is corporate: “We compensate our leaders and teachers based strictly on their performance… We believe in a hierarchal organizational structure; top performers are promoted annually.”

For capital facilities, UP looks to Boston and its ability to secure state and federal funds: “Capital Improvements. We partner with our districts to secure grant funding for much-needed facility improvements.”

For management services for one Boston school, who does UP look to? Us, the taxpayers.

Seeing double when you look at the line item for managing the Boston Public Schools? Oh well, don’t you believe in magic?

Peggy Wiesenberg
Jamaica Plain

The writer is the parent of three Boston Public Schools graduates.

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