The Story of the W.D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School

Our school.

How do you tell the story of our whole school, of the love and the mischief and the lessons and the heartbreak, in one page? How can you capture the hope that our school provided and the despair that its closure caused? This is a story worth reading.

For our story told via news articles, see “Archives”.

For our YouTube videos, visit Walt Palmer’s page.

For the story of the foundation prior to 2000, visit “Timeline”.

For our story told by Walt Palmer, read on.

The Story of our School

Click to jump to our story, from beginning to end.

Walt Palmer’s Philosophy on Education

Walt Palmer’s life has been focused on education and learning about it. Read about his philosophy.

Curricula & Education Consulting Services

Walt Palmer’s love for education did not begin or end with his school. Read about his current services.

Jump here if you’re a past student or teacher and want to tell your story.

“The question is, to what extent is the education system, the teachers or the curriculum, reflective of an understanding of the implications of racism behind the subject matter? Either it’s absence or it’s involvement.

Walt Palmer

The Beginning

The story of the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School did not start in 2000.

It started in 1955, with the creation of Black People’s University Freedom School. The philosophy of teaching Black children their history, giving context to their lives and the current social issues that exist was the soul of the Black People’s University, and became the soul of our Charter school.

Walt Palmer has been an advocate for education reform for his whole life, from his organizing of the 1967 school strike in Philadelphia to his advocacy for school vouchers and charter schools in the 90’s. While vouchers did not pass, the charter schools did, and Palmer was encouraged to apply to create his own charter school, using this curriculum he’d been working on for his whole life.

“When we applied for our charter, the school didn’t act on our application for over 90 days, and we appealed it to the state and won. Then the city appealed to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth court and we won.”

“We opened our school with 350 K-4 students and quickly outgrew the space, and in spite of the size we forged forward with our unique leadership, self-development, and social justice curriculum owned by the Palmer Foundation.”

“It was the one place, that school, where they were affirmed for having discussed their life experiences. I mean, they just loved it when they were allowed to talk about drugs they saw in the neighborhood, or guns that they saw in the neighborhood, or crime that they saw in the neighborhood.

Most schools shut that down, most teachers shut that down, #1 because they don’t understand, they haven’t had that experience. These children are so advanced because they have to have this experience, they have to survive all this stuff.”

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Our Students, Programs and Successes

“Within three years we had to build a permanent 10,000 square foot modular for our 5th and 6th grades, and by 2015 we were able to borrow 11 million dollars to build a 55,000 square foot two-story school on 1.5 acres of land donated by the City to accommodate 750 K-8 students.”

“In 2005, the school was named after me and a library was named in my honor and warehoused 1000 personal book collections, 1000 medals and trophies, 100 awards, plaques and certificates, and was fully furnished. This is also where we created and stored our 100 volumes of leadership curriculum for at-risk children.”

“In 2010, we created a high school and a Blue Ribbon pre-school and took over the old Saint Bartholomew Catholic School for our high school, which would go on to have four years straight for 100% graduation.”

“Aside from our unique curriculum, I commissioned Cavin Jones, a Philadelphia muralist, to paint 500 portraits of inspirational figures in Philadelphia history and world history.”

“By 2012, we had become the largest: 200 pre-schoolers, and 1,100 K-12 charter students in Philadelphia.”

“We created Imagination Station, LLPCS Carnivals, Leadership Nights, Walter D. Palmer Winter Basketball Classic, Chess Champs, Track, Drum Corps, Cheer Teams, and Drill Teams.”

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The Court Battles and the Closing

“We always understood that education is political.”

Walt Palmer

“That’s one of the reasons why our school was always in a fight with the system, because it was political. We always understood that education is political, and we took it right to the authorities and to the system. So for 15 years, we had our trials.

When we had the Black People’s University Freedom School, we operated that independently, so nobody could control us and tell us what to do, and we didn’t take money from the city, state, or federal government so they couldn’t dictate to us. And people didn’t like it, but there was nothing they could do about it. When we took on the charter school, our funding came from the state and from the city. And so now what happens is you’re under their power, under their authority.

If you try hard to teach something contrary to what they believe you should be teaching… We’re saying ‘you should be teaching what we’re teaching,’ and they’re saying ‘you shouldn’t be teaching anything at all that you’re teaching.’ So it was a major fight for 15 years.”

“In 2005, the SRC capped all charter school growth and we were capped at 650, and by 2007/08 we had grown to 800 students, K-12.

In 2010, we sued to get 1.7 million dollars that the district did not pay us, and won 1.3 million which they appealed to the Common Pleas court and we won.

The SDP sues us in commonwealth court and we won; then they appealed to the state appellate court and we won.

The press, teachers, unions and some agencies has painted a bad history or picture of charter schools, and it has hurt the movement.

The Caps are Enforced

After a ten year battle in the courts and community, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruled against us and awarded the School District of Philadelphia a 1.5 million dollar judgment. We asked to pay it off at $50,000 a month and the PSD demanded we pay $250,000 per month, effectively closing our school.

The Fight Continues After We Close

A year after our school had closed and our new building was sold, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled caps were illegal and the SRC did not have the power or authority to make many of the decisions they had made.

We have been embattled in the courts since this time, fighting to make the state, SRC and school district pay us the 2-4 million dollars they owe the school so we can pay our vendors, teachers and staff.

Hostile white corporate takeover of Black education is taking place all across America, and being played out in Philadelphia.”

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Walt Palmer’s Philosophy on Education

“Of course, race was always central in everything we did, race is always apparent in everything we do. So in the education of children, at-risk children, it’s a matter of being able to understand how race impacts their very lives and how it really is an impediment in terms of their learning.

For instance, what’s going on in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We’ll use that as a classic example in terms of how you have a police abuse, and it’s racialized. What’s in the mind of this white policeman who has his knee on the neck of this young man who’s begging for his life and dying and going, ‘You’re killing me.’ Then race plays a role because we’re socialized into thinking of African Americans as being less than human. And we don’t even realize that our negative attitudes towards most Americans come from being socialized for 400 years not seeing them as human beings, right? And so, when people talk about the implicit biases, that’s very real, and quite naturally, you cannot socialize a culture or society for 400 years and not have implicit bias even after you’ve claimed it’s all over.

So, educating Black people and educating white people is critical around this whole idea about the intersection of race. One of the things that happens is that Black people and white people live on the same landmass, but they look at the same phenomena very differently. They don’t have the same connection. Black people always think about the potential of having their Adam’s apple or their carotid artery stomped on by white authority. White people don’t think like that. Black people think in terms of police being the enemy, white people think in terms of police being their friends and their protectors.

And that makes a very different world.

My parents, like most Black parents all across America, always taught us how to be conscious of police abuse. Don’t ever pick up anything a policeman asks you to pick up like a weapon or a stick or a knife, they’ll use that as an excuse to either beat you or shoot you, right? So, Black Americans are training their kindergarten children like this, white Americans are dropping off their kindergarten children at school, and patting them on the head and saying, ‘have a lunch, have a happy day and have a happy smile.’ Just two different worlds… two different worlds for 400 years.

— Walt Palmer, 2020

Curriculums & Education Consulting Services


The WD Palmer Foundation regularly publishes research-based anti-racism literature for adults and children. Donate to support these publications and help get them to Philadelphia schools for free.


The WD Palmer Foundation has created, tested, modified, and implemented high quality education curriculums in many schools. If you’re a teacher, parent, student or administrator, click here to learn more.

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Were you a WD Palmer Charter School student, teacher, admin, or parent? Do you have a story to tell or comments to add? Please leave them below or reach out to us directly.

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