PSP Invests $1.4 Million to Support Turnaround of South Philadelphia Catholic School

Grant will support the transformation of St. Thomas Aquinas, part of the Independence Mission Schools network

PHILADELPHIA, PA – The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) today announced it has awarded $1.4 million from its Great Schools Fund to Independence Mission Schools (IMS) to support the transformation of St. Thomas Aquinas, a PreK-8 parish school serving 300 students in South Philadelphia.

In March of 2013, PSP awarded an incubation grant to support the launch of IMS as a new organization formed to increase enrollment and improve academic rigor at 15 urban Catholic schools serving some of the city’s most challenged neighborhoods. A subsequent planning grant to IMS supported a strategic-planning process for St. Thomas Aquinas. This new $1.4 million turnaround grant will allow IMS to implement the resulting strategic turnaround plan at the school. The plan focuses on dramatically improving academic outcomes over the next five years and growing enrollment by more than 35 percent to ensure St. Thomas Aquinas can be financially sustainable. The school currently serves 300 students but has the capacity to serve more than 450.

“Great schools start with talented educators and the belief that all students can learn, and St. Thomas Aquinas has this foundation in place,” said Jessica Pena, Director of the Great Schools Fund. “With the support of IMS, the leadership team is working to increase rigor and improve instruction to bring a needed high-quality, affordable education option to its neighborhood.”

The $1.4 million grant will support several efforts aimed at increasing rigor while addressing the specific needs of a predominantly immigrant population. These will include revamping the curriculum, starting a new literacy program, improving professional development for teachers, and introducing project-based learning in upper grades. Additionally, the school plans to invest in upgrading its facilities in order to support an increase in enrollment.

The Great Schools Fund invests in the creation and expansion of high-quality schools serving predominantly low-income students. St. Thomas Aquinas (“STA”) serves a racially diverse, student body comprised mostly of students from immigrant families: 48 percent are African American, 34 percent are Asian, 17 percent are Hispanic and 49 percent speak English as a second language. The student body, as with all IMS schools, is also largely low-income; the average household income for STA families is just over $30,000, with 49 percent living below the poverty line.

“We are grateful for this support to transform Aquinas into the great school our children deserve,” said Vince Mazzio, Principal of St. Thomas Aquinas.  “Our history of welcoming and educating diverse learners and citizens of all faiths will be dramatically enhanced to ensure individual success for all of our students.”


About Independence Mission Schools

Independence Mission Schools (IMS) is a non-profit 501c3 organization established in 2012 to manage a network of 15 Catholic elementary schools serving close to 5,000 children from low-income and immigrant populations, PreK through 8th grade. IMS’ mission is to provide sustainable, affordable, high-quality Catholic education to children of all faiths in underserved urban neighborhoods through a new model of governance, funding and accountability for the member schools.


About the Philadelphia School Partnership

The Philadelphia School Partnership is nonprofit organization that funds the creation and expansion of high-quality K-12 schools in the City of Philadelphia to give more children access to a great education. PSP also facilitates the sharing of best practices among school leaders that improve the quality of education for students. PSP is raising $100 million in philanthropic funds to provide grants for the transformation, growth and startup of high-performing public and private schools in Philadelphia. It measures success by the number of students in Philadelphia who move out of failing schools to better-quality school options based on student academic outcomes.


About the Great Schools Fund
PSP’s Great Schools Fund provides grants for the turnaround of low-performing schools, expansion of high performing schools, and the creation of new high-quality schools in Philadelphia.  Grants are provided to district, charter, and private K-12 schools that have the capacity to deliver outstanding educational outcomes for children in the city.  The goal of the Great Schools Fund is to create 35,000 seats in high-performing schools in Philadelphia by 2016-17. PSP’s investment team conducts a rigorous screening process for grant applicants to evaluate their capacity for delivering strong educational outcomes; its recommendations are vetted by an investment committee before being presented to the PSP Board of Directors for approval.