Philadelphia’s Solomon Charter School bites the dust

On August 23rd, 2012, Jewish Exponent reported on what it described as a “Cyber Experiment” in Philadelphia: the Solomon Charter School, an “experimental, publicly funded cyber charter school that will focus on Asian culture and history as well as provide an immersion approach to language instruction.” Though the school welcomed a secular student population, the Exponent questioned “whether Jewish families [would] be enticed by the prospect of a free, state-funded Hebrew immersion program with a kosher kitchen and the teaching of some Israeli culture and history.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education approved Solomon’s charter in May of 2012, just six months after it initially rejected the school’s application, and the school’s officials and staff prepared for a fall of 2012 opening.  Led by CEO Steven Crane, a “semi-retired businessman” who had failed to open a Hebrew charter two years earlier, Solomon vowed to serve as a multi-cultural cyber school that would be open to students from across the state:

Fellow Pennsylvanians:

Welcome to Solomon Charter School, where we begin by building relationships. Solomon Charter School provides a rich and comprehensive education to every student we serve by embracing, and teaching to all unique learning styles and cultural backgrounds. We believe that a quality public charter school education is the foundation for a good quality life. Solomon Charter School will strive every day in welcoming our students to learn in a safe and comfortable environment—Solomon students will be challenged and supported to flourish academically, socially, physically, and emotionally.

Our teachers, administrators, and support staff members are proud to serve the residents of Pennsylvania, and their children as they grow and learn. Solomon Charter School will strive to give them a vast array of excellent academic, artistic, athletic, and leadership opportunities. We believe our schools are the cornerstones of these communities, and our school will work hard to foster communication and collaboration with students, parents, community and members. Together we will celebrate shared world culture and improve daily to enhance the present, so that we can build a bright future for Pennsylvania, its schools, and its students.

I thank you for visiting our website, and as Chief Executive Officer of this outstanding school, I encourage you to contact us, and support our many events and activities. It will take all of us working together to continue achieving at the highest level and giving our children the best opportunities to succeed. Solomon Charter School provides a sound education program available throughout Pennsylvania.

I look forward to working with our communities in supporting the state of Pennsylvania as a wonderful place to live and learn.

Sincerely,

Steven Crane

Chief Executive Officer

Solomon Charter School

But just a few short months after Solomon opened its doors (or purported cyber-courses) to students, the DOE discovered that the “cyber” school was operating as a “traditional brick-and-mortar school” in Philadelphia and threatened to revoke its charter:

“Cyber charters are supposed to provide their curriculum online, but education department spokesman Tim Eller says inspectors found teachers and students in a school at 1209 Vine Street: ‘Students had lockers, the school had a dress code for students. Students were provided tokens by the school to get to the facility on Vine Street. And that’s a clear difference of the way a cyber charter school should run.'”

Solomon’s officials responded by filing a complaint with PA’s Commonwealth Court, countering that the state was “using a more restrictive definition of a cyber charter than state law” and insisting the school would remain open to its students. And in August of 2013, as the School District of Philadelphia was unsure about whether or not the city’s traditional public schools would even be able to open on time because of the School Reform Commission’s “doomsday budget,” Solomon posted the following letter:

Dear Parents, Guardians and Students,

On behalf of the Solomon Charter School faculty and staff, I would like to welcome you to the 2013-2014 school year! Solomon Charter School continues our mission of focusing on East Asian and Hebrew languages & cultures via a comprehensive educational program. Solomon places great emphasis on creating a civil society where students are empowered to become productive members of our global society. In preparation for a career or college education upon graduation from Solomon Charter School, we educate our students in a highly integrated Cyber-Blended Educational Program.

Solomon is excited about beginning the school year with the expansion of our educational programs from grades K through 6. Solomon immerses our K-6 students to a rigorous Common Core State Standards aligned curriculum, along with a social skills program involving a school-wide Positive Behavior Support program.

Solomon Charter School places great emphasis on ensuring students are educated in a safe, secure, and healthy environment. As a result, Solomon Charter School’s Strategic Plan addresses the following areas:

  • Anti-Harassment, Intimidation, & Anti-Bullying
  • Wellness
  • Discipline

I am excited to begin our journey together and celebrate our achievements in the upcoming school year. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with the Student Handbook and ongoing activities at the school, which will be posted on our website. We are proud to have established a Parent Teacher Association, which will involve several training modules on curriculum, social skills, special education, and community resources.

New this upcoming school year is our comprehensive Course Catalog, which is available to parents and students on our website. Also, Solomon’s Career to Work Program has been created giving students the opportunity to practice what they are learning in their cyber-blended program into real world work experiences.

I look forward to meeting you during the school year!

Sincerely,

David Weathington

Principal

Solomon Charter School

To students and parents concerned about Philadelphia’s underfunded, overcrowded, and understaffed traditional public schools, Crane’s and Weatherington’s enthusiastic descriptions of Solomon’s program likely served to cast the charter as a good alternative to what proponents of “choice” like to label as “failing schools.” But on October 11th, Solomon’s students and parents were notified without warning–via a letter posted on the school’s website–that they would have to collect their records, turn in their computers, and find another place to go to school—because Solomon would be closing its doors permanently:

October 11, 2013

Dear Parent/Guardians,

It is with regret that I announce the closing of Solomon Charter on October 11, 2013. The Solomon Charter Inc. Board of Education has decided to close for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year.The Board spent many hours deliberating about how to keep the school open despite safety concerns and financial instability.

In order for us to have an orderly transition during the closing process, the following procedures will be in effect:

1)Beginning Monday, October 15, 2013, you will be able to pick-up your child’s records between the hours of 9:00 am and 3:00 pm

2)Your primary contact person for enrollment, transcripts and report cards is Vincent Williamson, Assistant Director of Student Services 215-825-7691

3)You must also bring all computer equipment back to the school

4)Your contact person for computer return is Josh Block, Technology Specialist at 215-825-7691

5)For other school related issues, your contact person is David Weathington at 267-210-9488.

Yours Truly in Education,

David Weathington

Acting CEO/Principal

Solomon Charter School

Solomon’s sudden closure is the most recent in a string of similar scandals, all of which have deprived traditional public schools of funds they so desperately need and have left children seeking emergency alternatives to the educations of which they were suddenly robbed.

And while this sudden closure was no doubt a shock to many, some Solomon parents said they had concerns about their children’s safety before the announced closure; the building had evidence of mold and water damage, crumbling ceiling tiles, and exposed wires. Oh, and “one portion of the school is in the same building as a clinic that treats sex offenders.”

This type of event is just one consequence of “school choice” that its proponents don’t want anyone to hear about, and it’s symptomatic of a much larger problem: that diverting public funds to charters, many of which have questionable financial, admissions, and ethical practices, hurts traditional public schools–and, in many cases, turns children’s educations into failed taxpayer-funded “experiments.”

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