What began as an informal meeting, has led to an exciting journey in expanding a group of school services. In the spring of 2008, CORA was approached by David Fitzpatrick, the Director of Special Education of the Mastery Charter Schools, asking if CORA might provide psychoeducational evaluations for two of their four free-standing charter schools. Mr. Fitzpatrick was seeking an agency that had a strong mission statement of helping in the community. CORA began the obvious choice. CORA hired Dr. Michelle Lodise as their first “charter school employee” to work within the Mastery Lenfest & Thomas High School campuses. It was quickly evident that the demands of the charter schools would require a different model than CORA had developed for the nonpublic schools, as the charter schools are required to follow public school guidelines. Through careful listening to the needs presented by Mastery, (and the hard work of Dr. Lodise) CORA succeeded the first year, and was asked to service the remaining two Mastery schools, Shoemaker and Pickett.
In the Fall of 2010, Mastery became an important part of the school district’s Renaissance program, where private enterprises would bid on running specific public schools that had been designated as failing to meet basic academic standards. The caveat was that the enterprises running the schools would continue with all the same students and the special programs that already existed in the schools. In a bold expansion, Mastery was rewarded with three schools, each of which required significant demands due to the major needs of the students and surrounding communities. CORA was invited to provide psychology services for the Renaissance schools. In the ensuing years, Mastery turned around several other Renaissance schools, including Simon Gratz High School.
Due to the consistent delivery of quality psychology services, CORA was next approached by Mastery and asked to deliver the Speech, Occupational Therapy, and Physical Therapy services across all the Mastery campuses. CORA agreed, but the creation of these delivery systems involved a great deal of planning and creativity, as CORA at the time did not yet have an Occupational or Physical Therapy department. Again, through hiring excellent, flexible, mission driven staff, CORA has developed a team approach to working in over half of the Mastery campuses across the city. Most recently, Mastery asked CORA, to provide services to three turnaround schools opened in Camden, New Jersey. Again, administrators and staff were creatively challenged and rose to the occasion. CORA applied for and established their first “agency” outside of Philadelphia, and created a service delivery model to meet the different demands of the New Jersey school systems. CORA now services the five Mastery campuses in Camden.
Looking back over how the partnership of CORA and charter schools has developed, it resembles a roller coaster ride, much like the rest of CORA’s history. Entering unknown waters and charting a course for the future has become synonymous with CORA’s Mission. CORA is proud to be part of Mastery’s masterful work in the Philadelphia and Camden schools, creating strong learning environments within typically lower socio-economic communities. Over time, the Mastery school personnel has come to have a great working relationship with CORA. Staff respect and consult often now with CORA personnel; creating strong working “teams” in order to meet the ongoing needs within these demanding school settings. In turn, CORA has learned a great deal about contracting and establishing services in charter schools; knowledge that has been utilized in reaching out to other well-known charter schools such as MaST and PACS, and even helped with establishing the new service models in the nonpublic schools. What began with the hiring of one staff member has grown to entail a team of more than thirty CORA professional staff members.
“We are so pleased to be working with CORA’s high quality psychologists and therapists. CORA Services provides extensive supervision and continues to be able to grow and evolve to meet Mastery’s high expectations for student services”commented, Elizabeth Farruggia, Deputy Chief of Specialized Services at Mastery.
It demonstrates CORA’s continued ability to adjust to the ever changing broader community, while remaining true to their core mission of helping children and families.