National Model for Education
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
a young businessman named Scott Gordon talked about creating a new
charter school in Philadelphia in 2000, he already had a vision
of something larger.
idea was to reform public education, not just create a school,"
recalled Jeremy Nowak, head of the Reinvestment Fund, who for seven
years chaired the board of Mastery Charter Schools.
touring one of Mastery's four schools on Tuesday, US Education Secretary
Arne Duncan, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and former House Speaker Newt
Gingrich said Gordon's vision of providing rigorous, college-prep
education for all could become a national model for public schools.
was a thrill for us," Gordon said yesterday. "We said
clearly we wanted to make a change in Philly, but we also wanted
to demonstrate that all kids, regardless of their backgrounds, can
achieve at the highest levels."
approach aims to prepare students for college with a strict behavior
code and rigorous curriculum with personal responsibility and interpersonal
includes a longer school day (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and a longer school
year. Struggling students must attend tutoring and Saturday sessions.
All students must show "mastery" by earning a grade of
at least 76 percent before advancing.
47, a Philadelphia native, took an unorthodox path to education
Beta Kappa economics major from the State University of New York-Binghamton
with an MBA from Yale University, Gordon began his career working
for General Foods Corp. But his interests went beyond business.
In college, Gordon was among 50 nationwide cited for "outstanding
potential for public service leadership."
graduate of Cherry Hill High School East, Gordon moved back to the
region in 1993 to found Home Care Associates, a worker-owned home
health-care company modeled after one in the Bronx.
with former welfare recipients showed Gordon the need to improve
urban schools. But it was his work as a consultant on a Greater
Philadelphia First project on the demand for more skilled workers
that led him to found a charter school with businessmen in the area.
those he turned to was Nowak, president and chief executive officer
of the Reinvestment Fund, a nonprofit that finances neighborhood
and economic-development projects. Gordon asked him to help found
a charter and transform public education.
thought there was something wonderfully audacious about that,"
said Nowak, whose nonprofit had provided start-up financing for
Gordon's Home Care Associates. "I couldn't resist."
who now heads a foundation that supports all Mastery schools, said
he had been impressed by Gordon's intelligence, focus, discipline,
have watched him grow and develop. We are just so proud that Mastery
has become an important, national model."
initial charter school - Mastery Charter School Lenfest Campus,
which opened in 2001 - won kudos for academic success and for sending
90 percent of its graduates to college.
on the record at Lenfest, Paul Vallas, the former Philadelphia schools
chief, and the Philadelphia School Reform Commission tapped Mastery
to convert three of the district's most-troubled middle schools:
Thomas in South Philadelphia, Shoemaker in West, and Pickett in
Germantown. With new leaders, new teachers, and a new approach,
Mastery saw violence plummet and test scores soar, winning national
honors. At Shoemaker, for example, eighth-grade reading scores doubled
over three years to more than 80 percent at grade level.