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Former DVHS students facing big changes

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By Benjamin Herold
for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

The 500 Philadelphia students who expected to attend one of the two alternative education programs previously run by troubled Delaware Valley High School are in for a big change when school starts.

The School District severed ties with DVHS earlier this month following reports that the for-profit company was under federal investigation and the target of lawsuits from former employees.

Phase 4, a not-for-profit organization that relies heavily on online instruction, has been tapped by the District to take over DVHS's former site in Southwest Philadelphia. There, Phase 4 will serve about 200 older high school students who have not obtained enough credits to stay on track for graduation.

"We're very excited, and we're embracing this opportunity to expand and serve additional students," said Terrie Suica-Reed, Phase 4's founder, president and CEO.

The 300 students who previously attended DVHS's former disciplinary school in East Falls will be distributed across three other "transition schools" in different parts of the city. One hundred students will now attend the Camelot School at Boone, a disciplinary program in North Philadelphia run by a private provider. The rest of the students will be split between Philadelphia Learning Academy North and Philadelphia Learning Academy South, both managed by the District.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the District is reaching out to students and families to arrange their new assignments for them.

"We have made a business decision to separate from the Delaware Valley High School program," Gallard said.

"We have very successful programs with other providers and the programs we manage. We believe these are going to be a great fit for our students."

DVHS and its chief executive officer, David T. Shulick, are involved in an ongoing federal investigation that is reportedly looking into whether inappropriate political influence helped DVHS obtain multimillion-dollar contracts from the district.

Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr., the son of Philadelphia U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and a consultant who has done work for DVHS, is also reportedly a target of the probe.

In addition to legal woes, DVHS has also been plagued by financial difficulties. In July, the company laid off 50 teachers and administrative staffers. Multiple lawsuits against Shulick to recover back pay are pending.

Phase 4 now works with 70 districts across Pennsylvania, Suica-Reed said. Last year, the company served 80 Philadelphia students at its site near Franklin Mills Mall.

Students at Phase 4 spend about 40 percent of their time with a classroom teacher and 60 percent of their time online.

"It's a blended model," said Suica-Reed.

"We utilize an Internet-based curriculum with certified educators doing direct instruction in small groups and providing individualized instruction as well.".

Last year, Phase 4 also began serving about 140 students on a separate contract with Mastery Charter Schools. Mastery terminated that contract prematurely, however.

Camelot now runs three alternative programs in Philadelphia.

Camelot School at Boone, the school that will receive a last-minute influx of former DVHS students, now serves about 400 students.

"We have the capacity and the capability to handle the extra students," said Camelot spokesman Kirk Dorn.

"We're looking forward to it."

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