Monday, April 7, 2014

ASPIRA of PA Responds to Accusations of Financial Mismanagement: Several Recent, Clear Audits

The governing Boards of ASPIRA, Inc. of Pennsylvania and ASPIRA of PA Schools have released the following statement:

ASPIRA and ASPIRA Schools have had allegations of financial mismanagement made against them by a small yet vocal minority.

Within the past year, ASPIRA and ASPIRA Schools have completed 17 and are in the midst of 3 additional financial audits/inquiries for various schools and programs at the local, state, and federal levels. Although not all are complete, to this point, no instances of fiscal mismanagement have been alleged, reported, or disseminated by the various regulatory bodies and audit firms that have performed these audits/inquiries.

The audits/inquiries conducted within the past year include:
1.       The City Comptroller's Office examined Olney Charter (1 audit).
2.       Pantoja Charter’s and Olney Charter’s National School Lunch Programs were audited (2 audits).
3.       Federal Programs within each ASPIRA School were audited by the State Department of Education (5 audits).
4.       The Inspector General of the US Department of Education examined Stetson Charter and its relationship with ASPIRA (1 audit).
5.       Independent auditors Withum Smith + Brown PC audited ASPIRA Community Enterprises, Inc. including ACE/Dougherty; audited ASPIRA’s Cyber Charter; and conducted a Single Audit of the other four ASPIRA Schools and ASPIRA, Inc. of Pennsylvania (7  audits).
6.       Withum Smith + Brown PC also specifically audited ASPIRA’s 401K plan (1 audit).

Current audits/inquiries taking place include:
1.       The State Department of Education is examining ASPIRA’s Cyber Charter (1 audit).
2.       IDEA funds at Pantoja Charter are being audited (1 audit).
3.       Independent auditors Jimenez Associates LLP are auditing Stetson Charter (1 audit).

ASPIRA and ASPIRA Schools have and will continue to be transparent. Interested parties through the Right to Know Law have requested and received school documents, reports, records, and other requested information. 

Claims of financial mismanagement were a small, vocal, and virulent minority’s misrepresentation of selected line items within audits that did not tell the complete story and were manipulated to serve an agenda.  Within the past year, ASPIRA and ASPIRA Schools have had 8 auditing bodies conduct 20 audits that did not or have not reported financial mismanagement. 

ASPIRA has been a pillar of its community for 45 years, ASPIRA Schools have proven outcomes of student success, and ASPIRA’s network utilizes its funding appropriately to serve its stakeholders. 

Dr. Elise Miranda-Martin; ASPIRA, Inc. of Pennsylvania; Chairperson
Fred Ramirez, ASPIRA of PA Schools Board of Trustees, Chairperson

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Our School Clubs are Making Names for Themselves!

ASPIRA of PA proudly highlights some of the amazing successes that our students and staff have achieved over the past few months! We are extremely proud of their dedication, victories, and how well they have represented themselves and our network throughout our city.

Hostos Charter's "Ciberneticos" Robotics Club Success:

Congratulations to the Ciberneticos for their performance at the First Lego League (FLL) Championship at the University of Pennsylvania on February 1st. This event hosted 46 teams from across the region and the winning team will go on to participate in the National competitions at St. Louis. Although the Ciberneticos didn't win the event, their participation was great and they represented our school and community in the best fashion.  Kudos to the team coaches for the work they put in with the team during the season. At the event, one of the team's coaches was recognized with a Penn FLL Championship Tournament Coach Award. Their work certainly was demonstrated by the performance of the team. Bearing in mind that this is the team's rookie year and they made it all the way to the regionals, this is truly an achievement!

Olney Charter's Debate Team Victories:

Olney Charter hosted a Junior Varsity debate tournament on March 15th. Teams from Franklin Towne Charter, Audenreid, and Boys Latin attended. One of Olney's teams, made up of a 10th and an 11th grader, won the tournament! They not only were undefeated, but scored the highest speaking points of all other teams. They will be able to compete in the Varsity division next year. Another 10th grader at Olney competed for the first time at this tournament, and she scored the highest speaker points among all the teams she faced.

The city-wide Voices of Philadelphia Debate Tournament took place on March 22nd at the University of Pennsylvania.  It was the final debate competition of the spring season and had a large turnout, with teams from the Academy at Palumbo, George Washington, Bodine, Audenreid, Science Leadership Academy, and many more. The competition only had a Varsity division, so all 5 Olney teams competed at the Varsity level. Two Varsity teams made it passed the elimination rounds into the finals. One team broke to the quarter finals and another Olney team made it to the semi-finals, only one round away from competing in the final match. Science Leadership Academy won the tournament. Olney’s Debate Team Coach was named Coach of the Year by the Philadelphia Debate League!

We congratulate everyone involved for a job well done and appreciate how well our students and staff represented us.

Stetson's Poetry Club Competes at High School Level:

Stetson's Poetry Club students meet weekly to use their writing to express their voice as young people, watching other poets, listening to good performance skills, responding to visual and writing prompts. This year our school got involved in the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM), which is a volunteer-run, non-profit organization that "provides a safe space for Philadelphia teens to discover the power of their voices through spoken word and literary expression." Their Poetry Slam League is a high school program in which Stetson, as a middle school, has received a special opportunity to participate. Our Poetry Club has a solid team of students from all grades, 5-8, representing the school proudly. They attended the PYPM Slam Kickoffs in February and have participated in other league competitions since then. You can view one of their recent readings here. We are amazed at their courage to read their work in from of a bunch of highschoolers! The staff at PYPM and the highschoolers in the league have been praising our students and inspiring them to continue using the power of their voices.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Recent Research Supports Charter Schools

The growth of charter schools is becoming increasing popular in many states. In fact, the demand for charter schools is far outweighing the supply.  In New York City, for example, 50,000 students are on waiting lists for charter school enrollment.  In Philadelphia, there are about 30,000 students on charter school wait lists. 

Why is school choice so appealing to families?  One reason for the increased popularity of charter schools is recent research proving their effectiveness as compared to traditional public schools, especially with vulnerable student populations.  Perhaps more interesting, charter schools that are part of charter management organizations (CMO), which ASPIRA of PA is considered, have proven more successful than charter schools that are not a part of a larger network.  

In April 2013, The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) published a comprehensive summary of several recent school performance reports proving the success of charter schools. This NAPCS summary included:
“On average, students who attended CMOs for four years, have stronger achievement growth than traditional public school students and non-CMO charter students in both reading and math.” 
“Public charter schools posted superior results with historically disadvantaged student populations…in nearly every category and subject area, CMOs and non-CMOs outperformed traditional public schools for the following student populations: Black, Hispanic, high-poverty, English language learners and special education.” 
This NAPCS publication of school performance research highlights several other charter school studies and state-specific outcomes, which you can read here

In a Research for Action report released in February 2013 titled “Charter School vs. District School Comparisons: Prepared for the North Philadelphia Education Compact comprised of ASPIRA, Congreso, and Nueva Esperanza,” ASPIRA charter schools were proven to be performing better than local comparable schools. Highlights regarding our dual-language schools include:
Both Hostos and Pantoja students outperformed the SDP average of non-charter schools and the average of all surrounding traditional schools in both math and reading proficiency.
Hostos and Pantoja also had the highest attendance rates of the 4 comparison schools used in the study.

In a report released by the School District of Philadelphia in December 2013 titled “Renaissance Schools Initiative Progress Report:  2010-2011 through 2012-2013,” several promising findings were noted about ASPIRA’s turnaround schools:
Both Stetson and Olney have seen overall increases in math and reading proficiency since the school takeovers. 
The overall number of serious incidents and percentage of student offenders both decreased at all ASPIRA Renaissance schools between the school takeover through 2013.
“ASPIRA schools seem to be on track for achieving substantial improvements in reading and math proficiency. Programmatic and other qualitative data should be collected at these schools from administrators, teachers, students and parents in order to capitalize on the strengths of these programs.” 

ASPIRA of PA is proud to be a charter management organization making strides in closing the achievement gap in Philadelphia.  Our dual-language charters have consistently out-performed other local schools, and our turnaround charter schools made dramatic increases in student proficiency and behavior within their first years of ASPIRA of PA management.   With a student population that is over 40% special education students and English Language Learners, and is almost entirely minority and low-income, ASPIRA of PA school outcomes are especially impressive.

Despite the success of our schools and charter schools in general, there is still much controversy surrounding school choice and its affect on traditional school districts. ASPIRA of PA is committed to continuously improving student outcomes and raising the bar of educational quality.  As our student success grows, other local schools will be challenged to improve more than ever.  This is a win-win for everyone.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Puerto Rican Day Parade

We had an awesome time at the Puerto Rican Day Parade, on Sunday, September 29.  Pantoja Charter, Hostos Charter, Stetson Charter, and Pasos Preschool all created floats for the parade.  We're so thankful for all of the hard work of teachers, parents, and students at these schools who put in countless hours to produce such impressive floats!

ASPIRA of PA and ASPIRA Schools received a number of awards, including:

Pasos Preschool: 3rd Place - Nonprofit Division
Hostos Charter: 2nd Place - Middle School Division
Pantoja Charter: 1st Place - Middle School Division

We'd also like to give a shout out to ASPIRA of PA employee Rey Velez, whose dance group "Muévete" took home a 1st Place award in the Dance Division!

If you'd like to see some more videos from the parade, you can view the following videos:

We're so proud of our students and staff for all their hard work!

Monday, September 16, 2013

One Week Down

The beginning of the school year brings with it an unspoken excitement and energy.  There are new students who still haven't come out of their shells yet, new posters that haven't been mangled or tattered by the hands of curious children yet, and new classroom rules that haven't been broken yet.  It's a time of year that is crazy, hectic, and chaotic - and it's also a time of year that reminds us why we love what we do.

School is a place where dreams can be created or shattered.  As a kid, your life revolves around your friends at school and your family at home.  And if you're like many of the kids at our schools, life at home can be filled with hardships, struggles, and pain, which means that school plays an even bigger role in the lives of our students. For some kids, school is a refuge and a safe place for them to learn, grow, and explore - and we're fortunate enough to provide that safe place to some of the best kids around.

I spend most of my days sitting in front of a computer applying for funds for our schools.  I write grants, update social media sites, help with marketing and fundraising, and do my best to make sure that our schools have the resources to function every day.  There are times when I feel far removed from the kids that my work serves.  But there are also days like last Friday, when I get to enter a school and bear witness to the amazing work that happens in our classrooms everyday.  As I walked the halls at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School, I overheard kids laughing and learning - reading books in English and listing times tables in Spanish.  It was an amazing reminder of why this work matters.

We know that there are many challenges and hardships that will present themselves throughout the course of this year, and we're prepared do our best to persevere and overcome the obstacles as they come.  But right now, we look forward with anticipation for all the ways that our students will grow and mature this year. There's a lot to be done and many things to be learned, but we feel thankful for the opportunity to improve the lives of those we serve.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New School Year

It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, which can only mean two things: 1) we’re really wishing that someone would pass a bill to make it “Labor Week” already, and 2) despite being extra tired after the long weekend, we are extra excited about the beginning of school tomorrow.  All five ASPIRA of PA charter schools, along with our preschool, open tomorrow, September 4th.  As we anticipate the beginning of a new school year, we’re thrilled to see the opportunities before us.  There is something about a new beginning that energizes and invigorates people – something about a blank chalk board and a classroom filled with untapped potential.

In the midst of a very challenging and difficult educational climate, we look forward to the opportunity to continue to provide our students with the excellent education they deserve.  We recognize that our city is facing difficult times, but we’re ready to be part of the solution.  We hope to inspire our students to pursue their dreams and realize their potential, and we know that this year will provide us with many opportunities to do just that.

As our schools open tomorrow we’re grateful to have the privilege to speak words of hope, truth, and compassion into the lives of our students.  We’re eager to be part of the redemption of our city, as we seek to build up future leaders and role models who will work to improve our community for years to come.  As the school year begins, we encourage you to consider how you can be a part of the solution to the obstacles and challenges that our children face every day.

Friday, August 30, 2013

School Wait Lists

For the past several years, ASPIRA of PA’s bilingual charter schools, Hostos Charter and Pantoja Charter, have consistently had waiting lists for student enrollment in the hundreds.  This year, Hostos Charter and Pantoja Charter have over 1,000 students on their waiting lists combined! This speaks volumes to the high quality of our schools, and to the large demand in our community for greater school choice options.

Hostos and Pantoja have consistently performed higher than comparable local schools, both in attendance and academic proficiency.  ASPIRA of PA is proud of how our cultural- and community-driven school model has proven successful.  Sadly, we cannot accommodate these families on our waiting lists because of restrictions. Please know that, on behalf of our local students who all deserve an excellent education, ASPIRA of PA (along with our neighborhood partners, Esperanza and Congreso) is actively advocating for more high-quality seats in North Philadelphia schools.