String Theory Schools (STS), an education management nonprofit group, is looking to help Philadelphia’s educational system through a $1 billion offer to fix up the city’s schools and build new ones.
STS Co-founder Dr. Jason Corosanite recently made the announcement at a mayoral forum on education, innovation, and technology, saying that he was committed to the dollar amount.
"We can go as fast or as slow as the communities want, but we have the ability, I don't think the limitation is on the money-side,” Corosanite told Diverse, adding that the $1 billion amount was flexible, based on the needs and requests of the school communities. “It's really about the communities that want to build schools."
The School District of Philadelphia’s (SDP) older facilities have “aged components that are beyond their service life, obsolete or no longer energy efficient,” according to a 2017 SDP Facility Condition Assessment. The report also documented 11,480 deficiencies worth $4.5 billion.
STS currently manages two charter schools, the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School (K-12) and the Philadelphia Charter School for the Arts & Sciences at H.R. Edmunds (K-8). The schools are tuition-free and offer a wide-range of programming in the arts and sciences, including vocal and instrumental music, ballet, visual arts, and technology.
The two schools – they span four campuses right now – also employ a majors-based approach to education that allows students to choose what their specific academic pursuit and focus will be, said Anthony Miller, chief of climate and culture at Philadelphia Performing Arts.
“When you major in something, you do better overall,” Miller said. “We are one of the few schools in middle and high school that offers majors-based programming for students. So you can come and study anything from instrumental music to vocal music to fine arts or digital arts to robotics. We have a host of majors that students can choose here, and they can focus on that major for four to eight years. And we've seen successful results because of this model. They're more excited to be high-performers in their academic classes because they're pursuing something they're passionate about."
Miller is also focused on STS’s diversity efforts when it comes to student population. STS’s Vine Street campus (grades 6-12) has a total enrollment of 1,379, of which 38.9% identified as Black or African American, 32.6% as White, 11.2% as Asian, and 8.3% as Hispanic..
“We want our students to go here and get a sense of how the world works,” Miller said. “And a part of that means ensuring a population that looks like the world or looks like America."
If school communities decide to take String Theory up on its offer to help, then the organization will devote resources into building new String Theory charter schools or renovate pre-existing schools into ones with String Theory programming, Corosanite said.
"What we're proposing to any school community in Philadelphia -- registered community organization and school group,” Corosanite said. “If they want new schools in their communities, we have the capability of building String Theory schools. ... We have the ability to either build or fix or renovate schools for any community that wants to fix its K-12 system there."
But STS’s offer has not been taken as of yet, Corosanite said, primarily attributing the lack of interest to “local politics” and claiming there has been a “moratorium on charter schools” for approximately the last 8-10 years.
STS is looking to expand, Corosanite said. It’s now just a matter of where they do so, a decision that may hinge on the upcoming mayoral election in November. In Philadelphia, the mayor appoints the school board of Philadelphia, which then has final say over charter schools, Corosanite added.
Philadelphia currently has 83 charter schools, according to the SDP website.
"My preference is to [duplicate ourselves and build more schools] in Philadelphia,” Corosanite said. “We're facing a mayoral election. So the onus for us coming out now is to say, 'Hey, the city's going to have a choice and we think that who they choose as mayor … is going to make a difference.'
Governmental leaders from across the U.S. have inquired about getting STS in their districts, Corosanite said.
“We're at a point where we've waited and held back on school expansions as much as we can,” Corosanite said. “It's kind of a last hurrah for do we continue to do this here or do we do this in Miami? Do we do it in Nashville? Do we do it in Oakland?"