Beam Me Up

MaST Community Charter School watched the last piece of the structural steel for the new campus in Tacony.

MaST CEO John Swoyer III writes a message on the last steel beam placed on the new building on New State Road in Tacony. JOHN COLE/ TIMES PHOTO

Administrators from MaST Community Charter School last week joined local elected officials and community members to celebrate the raising of the last piece of structural steel for the future MaST II campus at 6501 New State Road in Tacony.

The school, 1800 Byberry Road in Somerton, filed for an additional charter application in the fall of the 2014–2015 school year. MaST CEO John Swoyer III was very proud of the moment, but made clear this was not done without bumps in the road.

“I don’t think people necessarily understand the charter process in Philadelphia, just because MaST has demand for the school doesn’t mean that we snap your fingers and get a charter school.”

Swoyer cited there were several delays in the process and how competitive it is to be granted a charter.

“It was a difficult process with 39 other charter schools applying,” Swoyer said. “MaST was one of the five that was chosen.”

The initial plans for the second MaST campus were to place it in the Far Northeast, but the city of Philadelphia preferred for it to be located below Cottman Avenue.

Swoyer thanked the cooperation of various elected officials present and the civic associations that welcomed them in as they started to look for viable areas to add a second campus.

Steeling the show: Councilman Bobby Henon (above) said MaST Charter’s track record was one of the reasons it was selected for the new campus. JOHN COLE/ TIMES PHOTO

One of those he specially credited going to bat for MaST during this process was Councilman Bobby Henon.

Henon cited the results brought by MaST as a reason an additional school was warranted.

“As long as they (MaST) keep getting national recognition, Blue Ribbon award, that’s what Philadelphia deserves, that’s what our kids deserve, that’s what our neighborhoods deserve,” said Henon.

MaST was awarded the 2017 National Blue Ribbon Award by the United States Department of Education. Out of the 30,000-plus schools nationwide that were in consideration for this prestigious award, MaST was one of the 342 winners. MaST was the only charter school in the state of Pennsylvania to receive this honor. Only one other city school, Gen. George A. McCall Elementary School, was awarded the 2017 National Blue Ribbon.

Although this campus is not yet completed, MaST II is currently in its second year of operation. MaST II is right now grades K-4 located at 6238 Rising Sun Ave, which was previously occupied by St. William.

Scott Balara, principal of MaST II, believes the bar has been set high at MaST and he looks forward to seeing what the new school will accomplish moving forward.

“We want to continue to offer every student the best opportunity to learn,” Balara said.

MaST had over 9,000 applicants for its school on Byberry Road last year and already has a wait list of over 2,700 students for grades K-4 at MaST II. These are rather eye-catching numbers, but this does not surprise state Rep. Martina White.

White represents the area where MaST is on Byberry Road, and credits its forward-thinking approach in the classroom to the results it sees.

“They (MaST) have proven to be an asset to our community and students from across the city,” said White. “I know MaST II will raise the bar, or in this case a steel beam, even higher.”

Those present had the opportunity to sign the last piece of steel and watch as it was being installed. This campus is set to open in the 2019–2020 school year for grades six and nine. Grades K-5 will continue to operate at the location on Rising Sun Avenue, and will continue to grow over the next five years to become a K-12 school.

The last piece of structual steel being placed on the building. JOHN COLE/ TIMES PHOTO

MaST has also submitted an application for a third campus located at Crown Way. Just a few weeks ago, Swoyer did a presentation for this additional campus, and will have a hearing at the School District of Philadelphia on Jan. 19.

MaST III is proposed to start off as grades K-4 with 1,000 students, growing to 2,600 students over six years.

The School Reform Commission is expected to vote on the proposal for MaST III in either February or March. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com