PSP invests $500K planning grant in Independence Mission Schools

Grant from the Great Schools Fund will support planning for 16 Catholic schools serving low-income communities in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) announced today that the Great Schools Fund has awarded a $500,000 planning grant to the Independence Mission Schools (IMS), a nonprofit organization formed in 2012 to support 16 Catholic elementary schools located in low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Collectively, the schools serve approximately 4,200 students and have the capacity to serve more than 5,300 students.

The Independence Mission Schools endeavor builds on the promising turnaround achieved at St. Martin de Porres, a Catholic elementary school located in one of Philadelphia’s highest-poverty zip codes, after an independent board of directors was installed several years ago to drive a turnaround strategy and increase fundraising. The board at St. Martin de Porres developed the strategy for the Mission Schools and in December recruited a chief executive and financial officers to lead the new organization. President, Aldo Cavalli, is an experienced operator of charter schools and specialized schools for students with special needs.

“The Mission Schools have been educational havens for thousands of families in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods,” said Mark Gleason, Executive Director of PSP. “Many of them outperform other schools in the same neighborhoods in reading and math. At the same time, rising costs and the struggling economy have imperiled the operating model of urban Catholic schools. This is an ambitious effort to zero in on what’s great about Catholic schools and leverage those elements to grow enrollment and ensure the schools’ sustainability.”

The 16 schools serve nearly all minority students, are located in the poorest neighborhoods in the city, and have experienced financial instability. The goals of IMS are to transform the schools’ financial positions, modernize systems and infrastructure so the schools can be managed more nimbly, and improve the schools’ academic programs as they implement new curricula aligned to national “Common Core standards.” The Great Schools Fund investment will enable strategic planning and the early implementation of strategies to achieve those outcomes with a focus on ensuring high-quality education in all of the schools.

“We are grateful to the Philadelphia School Partnership for its commitment to expanding access to quality schools, regardless of school type,” said Aldo Cavalli, President of IMS. “These Catholic schools have a record of putting students on the pathway to college in spite of all sorts of socioeconomic obstacles, and regardless of the students’ faith. This grant will enable us to build on the success of independently governed Catholic schools here and in other cities, and to accelerate strategies for ramping up academic quality.”

The Independence Mission Schools is a nonprofit organization formed by a group of business leaders and philanthropists who initially worked together as founding board members of the St. Martin de Porres School in central north Philadelphia. The organization will assume management of the 16 schools in June of this year, and the schools will become independent 501(c)(3)s reporting to the IMS Board of Directors.

“The Mission Schools have demonstrated that they are capable of providing high-quality education to children from low-income communities,” said Jessica Pena, Director of the Great Schools Fund. “Three of the 16 schools in particular have demonstrated significant academic gains, and this incubation grant will help the leadership to expand on those successes while working toward fiscal stability. We anticipate that schools will apply individually for growth grants in the future.”

About the Great Schools Fund

PSP’s Great Schools Fund pools philanthropic dollars from a diverse group of funders to strategically invest in the incubation, startup and expansion of high-performing schools across Philadelphia. PSP has raised over $53 million toward the $100 million Fund goal. This round of grants brings PSP’s total investments in schools to $9.8 million for the cumulative creation of nearly 8,000 seats.

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