Independence Mission Schools

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About Independence Mission Schools

Independence Mission Schools is an independent network of 15 Catholic schools that provides a transformative Catholic education that develops students intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually and that provides children of all faiths across the city of Philadelphia the opportunity to learn in a college preparatory environment and grow in a culture of love, setting them on the path to a promising future.

Independence Mission Schools believe that:

  • The cornerstone of a Catholic education is a culture of love that values and embraces the unique gifts of every child and that treats all people with dignity.
  • It is possible to build unity in diversity, for differences neither restrain nor divide us, but allow us to look more deeply [Pope Francis]
  • We treat students as God’s children by assuming the best of them, holding them to high expectations for behavior, growth and academic achievement and guiding their development into respectful, faithful adults. [from IMS Core]
  • Our students come to us full of promise and we are charged with helping them achieve their God-given potential, so that they leave us with choices in the pursuit of college and career, based on confidence in their own intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aptitudes. [from IMS academic mission]
  • Community is at the heart of our work. Our existence makes our communities stronger; the community makes our schools stronger; and we are preparing students to be contributing members of their communities.

Profile of Our Graduates:

The students of Independence Mission Schools will leave our care having been formed intellectually, emotionally and spiritually by our Catholic example. They will be prepared academically through daily exposure to rich content, challenging problems, and student-centered instruction. All students will develop habits of mind and spiritual commitments as they pursue passions and interests within our learning community. We know that they will be able to make their own choices in pursuit of college and career opportunities because they are meeting grade-level expectations and are enrolled in a high quality, college preparatory secondary school.

Graduates will model Catholic values by…

  • Recognizing that every person is a child of God and treating other staff, students and families as such by demonstrating care for one another through words and actions.
  • Respecting diversity in all forms – religious, racial, cultural and economic.
  • Making connections between their learning and their faith.
  • Serving their school, family, community and the greater world with humility and respect.

Graduates will exhibit academic ownership by…

  • Acknowledging their gifts from God and holding themselves to high expectations to use those gifts through learning and to serve their community.
  • Approaching joy in learning as a form of praise and thanksgiving.
  • Engaging tools of critical awareness, to participate in their communities as rigorous thinkers and deliberate communicators.

Independence Mission Schools is a Pennsylvania nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.


    The Mission of Independence Mission Schools is to provide a transformative Catholic education that develops students intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually and that provides
    children of all faiths the opportunity to learn in an academically rigorous environment and to grow in a culture of love, setting them on the path to a promising future.




    Philadelphia is home to the first Catholic schools in the nation and has a long history helping the city’s immigrant population get a successful start. As the urban landscape has evolved, our inner-city population has become much more diverse ethnically, racially, and religiously. Now, more than ever, Catholic education is vitally important to provide the promise of quality education to low-income families.

    Independence Mission Schools was born out of the recognition that urban Catholic schools are crucial civic assets and the need for a new model of operation to ensure their survival.

    It started with one school — St. Martin de Porres — located in the second poorest congressional district in the country. Once serving a largely Irish immigrant base, and one of many schools in the immediate vicinity, it is now the only Catholic school in this section of Philadelphia. The school serves a student body of 500 children, which is entirely African American and almost entirely non-Catholic. A small pool of dedicated philanthropists took on this school and began investing in the school’s facilities, programs, and strategic planning. Their approach was overwhelmingly successful and created the blueprint for the network that would later become Independence Mission Schools.

    In 2012 when the future of Catholic schools across Philadelphia was threatened, this same group of investors, along with a small group of other engaged citizens, rose to the need for leadership and set out to emulate the success of St. Martin de Porres on a broader scale. In 2013 they formed Independence Mission Schools as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, assuming the complete and independent operation of 15 schools from their parishes and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The agreement underlying this transfer is one of national example and unprecedented for the degree of transparency and control of Catholic schools given to an independent organization.


    Brian McElwee, Chair
    Ken Phelan, Vice-Chair
    Joseph Stapleton, Secretary
    Kathy Friel, Treasurer & Finance Committee Chair
    Maris Ogg, Nominating & Governance Committee Chair
    Michael Piotrowicz, Development Committee Chair
    Cynthia Archer
    Anthony Cellucci
    Bill Curtis
    Sr. Karen C. Dietrich
    Tom Dougherty
    John Figge
    Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald
    David P. Hardy
    Michael S. Jackson
    Sean-Tamba Matthew
    Daniel Pickens
    Marc S. Richman
    Michael Stephano
    Gerard H. Sweeney
    Monsignor Joseph T. Trinh
    Michael F. Young
    Richard Nourie
    Lorie Howley



    The dynamic model supporting the operation of Independence Mission Schools is a critical factor in our organization’s overall success. Three key factors are the core of our innovative system:

    Modern Operating Infrastructure

    Our central office provides support for managing the business of schools, so our schools can be in the business of educating children. Our universal financial aid process, robust accounting and financial systems, and strategic talent acquisition plan are all designed to support school leadership while providing transparency and accountability.

    Empowering Autonomy

    Our independent schools are at the center of decision-making to best serve their students. This ensures they retain their school identity which is critical to building social capital in their communities. Each school leadership team manages its own budget, makes hiring decisions, and makes and meets its own enrollment goals. Additionally, each school boasts its own local board to support philanthropy efforts and advance their ties to alumni, community and corporate partners.

    Faith Driven for Academic Success

    Our drive for high-quality academics is intrinsically linked with our strong Catholic identity. Catholic schools have always known it is about more than what you learn in the classroom, it is about who you become. Building on this legacy, the focus of personal responsibility and development is central to our approach and vital to our students’ success.



    Who do Independence Mission Schools serve?

    The short answer: everyone! Independence Mission Schools is a non-profit network of 15 elementary schools with a strong legacy of helping inner-city children succeed. Our goal is to provide high-quality education in a faith-driven environment for students of all faiths and all cultures. Our mission is to provide a transformative Catholic education that closes the achievement gap for our students and empowers them to reach their full potential today and in the future.

    What is Independence Mission Schools?

    IMS is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) managing a network of 15 independent Catholic schools.

    Are IMS Schools Catholic Schools?

    Yes, IMS schools are Catholic schools, but they are not owned or operated by a parish or the Archdiocese. While the majority of our students are non-Catholic, parent surveys show one of their top reasons to choose an IMS school is because they want their child educated in an environment that emphasizes character development. Our curriculum emphasizes respect of the diversity of our student population while teaching from a traditional Catholic perspective, Gospel values that are respected by all faiths.

    What is the Biggest Challenge IMS Students Face?

    IMS students who are living in poverty or in high poverty communities face a multitude of challenges including food insecurity, home insecurity, violence and fundamental learning deficits that disrupts focus and their ability to learn. For our students to be successful, we know we must meet these needs first for them to be ready to learn.


    Bruce Robinson, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President 

    Bruce has both private and nonprofit sector leadership experience and has successfully applied his acquired business skills in the education sector. He is responsible for managing all aspects of IMS, including strategic planning, fundraising, financial sustainability, academics, Catholic culture, talent development and enrollment management.

    Bruce has education leadership experience from successfully turning around Ss. Neumann Goretti Catholic High School in South Philadelphia, which was struggling academically and financially. His achievements included developing a strategic plan focused on operational and academic excellence, accountability and creating a culture of compassion and positivity. Under his tenure the school saw freshmen enrollment increase significantly, operating deficits decrease and financial support from Foundations and philanthropists flourish.

    Bruce previously was a founding investor and executive officer of GMH Communities Trust, a real estate investment trust specializing in college housing properties and military housing privatization. Bruce’s leadership helped the company grow substantially and it went public on the NYSE in 2004. The Company traded for four years before being sold to strategic buyers, including a $2 billion market cap British construction conglomerate Balfour Beatty. He continued to lead the military housing privatization initiative as CEO/President of Balfour Beatty Capital Group, a real estate company with an asset portfolio valued in excess of $5 billion, and which had over 1100 employees in 23 states. Bruce has also served as an adjunct professor at Drexel University in both their undergraduate and graduate programs.

    Bruce grew up in Philadelphia and with his wife Anne has raised four children.

    Jill Valunas, Chief of Schools (COS) 

    Jill is a mission-driven individual focused on creating an equitable and exceptional education for children. She has been an educator and educational leader for over 20 years in the Philadelphia region and is highly regarded by her respective peers through her vast experience in charter, Catholic and public-school systems. She believes deeply that building a healthy, caring, joyful and thriving culture built on meaningful relationships is key to human development and success.

    Jill’s experience of working in Philadelphia schools, coupled with her most recent experience as the Executive Director of the Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI), gives her the unique ability to understand our school communities while being able to zero in on academics – making her a great fit for this critical position.

    As Chief of Schools for Independence Mission Schools, Jill will be instrumental in executing on our strategic plan, which over the next five years will aim to make IMS a leader in achieving positive educational results at a large scale for our families. She will be responsible for managing the professional and leadership development within our 14 schools and also ensuring that we are providing best-in-class academics in alignment with our strategic plan to help our students achieve significant growth in math and reading.

    Jill was raised in a Catholic environment, attended Catholic school, and understands the inherent value of a Catholic education. She resides in Blue Bell with her husband and two sons.

    Michelle Brown, Chief Development Officer (CDO) 

    Michelle has committed her career to the non-profit sector, with 22 years of leadership experience in development, communications, and operational capacities. Since the fall of 2019, Michelle has led fundraising and communications efforts at IMS, creating a new development strategy and team, and working to align communications and marketing efforts across the network. She has played a vital role in the creation of IMS’ new strategic plan, including planning and launching a five-year, $50M funding campaign.

    Michelle’s career is rich with experiences in Catholic philanthropy. At the Development and Stewardship Office of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2000, she successfully led the annual Catholic Charities Appeal campaign, raising over $9m annually for five years, creating a young professional stewardship group and working to support parish stewardship programs. Michelle then focused on annual giving and events for the Franciscan Ministries Foundation of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. For the next 10 years she worked on behalf of children and adults with intellectual disabilities at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health before shifting gears to urban education. As the Director of Development at Mastery Charter Schools she was responsible for overseeing fundraising strategy and implementation for a network of 24 schools.

    Michelle holds a BA in Journalism from St. Bonaventure University and an MS in Non-Profit Management from Eastern University.

    Michelle serves on the board of Focused Athletics, the Committee for the Media Elementary Playground, and coaches youth boys’ basketball. Michelle grew up in Delaware County and currently resides in Media with her two sons.

    Gianna D’Angelo, Chief Operations and Financial Officer (COO/CFO)

    Gianna brings 28 years of operational and finance experience to Independence Mission Schools (IMS). She has a thorough understanding of finance and systems which includes broad experience with the full-range of business functions and systems, including strategic development and planning, budgeting, business analysis, finance, human resources, and information systems. Focused on the bottom-line, Gianna has a proven track record of exceeding goals and thinking strategically to anticipate future consequences and trends, and then incorporating them into organizational plans and financial models.

    As Chief Operations and Financial Officer for Independence Mission Schools, Gianna is one of the vital members of the Executive Leadership Team supporting the IMS mission. She is responsible for all of the financial, strategic and operational aspects of the IMS network of 14 Catholic schools. Her key functions include managing finance and accounting, short- and long-term strategic planning, operations including facilities management, legal & risk management and technology, and human resources.

    Gianna defines school-based operational excellence for IMS and manages a team of operations, human resources, and finance and counting professionals to ensure each school achieves such excellence. She also works closely with the board of directors and regional and school leaders to ensure the organizations successful impact, sustainability and growth.

    Gianna holds a B.S. degree and an MBA from Drexel University. She lives in Philadelphia with her dog Coco.


    Last updated: March 9, 2022

    The Independence Mission Schools (IMS) network holds the well-being, health and safety of students and staff as a top priority. The safety investments we made during the 2020-2021 school year to minimize COVID-19 transmission risk have allowed us to fully open our school buildings for five-day. in-person learning for the 2021/22 school year.

    More information can be found by clicking on one of the three categories below:

    Most Recent 2020/21 Back-to-School Updates

    Status Update: Due to a significant drop in the number positive cases within our school communities over the past couple of weeks, we are pleased to announce that the use of masks will be optional for all students and staff effective Wednesday March 9, 2022.

    As an extra precaution to help minimize the risk of a COVID surge in our schools after
    Easter Break, all students and staff would be required to wear a mask April 19-22, the week after we return from Easter Break.

    As part of our commitment to keep teachers and scholars safely together in our buildings, all other COVID-19 protocols will continue to remain in effect. These measures include:

    • A hand sanitizing station in every classroom, all shared spaces, and the hallways of each facility
    • Desk barriers for every student and teacher
    • Air purifiers in every classroom, all shared spaces, and offices
    • Daily disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces and bathrooms
    • Sneeze guards for our front office personnel and school leaders
    • Monthly electro-static treatments to disinfect and sanitize entire facilities

    Please continue to check this page regularly for the latest back-to-school updates for the 2021/22 school year as it relates to the IMS network.