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Radical District reorganization, 64 school closings planned

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 24, 2012 10:06 AM

District staff and consultants are recommending a sweeping overhaul of how public schools in Philadelphia operate, planning to close 64 schools over the next five years and divvy up those that remain among “achievement networks” led by teams of educators or nonprofit institutions.

Listen to reporter Benjamin Herold's report for NewsWorks Tonight on WHYY.

The achievement networks would have 20 to 30 schools each and be connected by either geography or a common, creative approach to teaching and learning. The leaders of the network, who could include successful principals, would have contracts based on performance and be required to serve students of all abilities and situations equitably.

These networks would be in addition to groups of schools run by charter management organizations, or CMOs.

The planners expect 40 percent of students to be enrolled in charter schools by 2017.

At the same time, the central office staff, already cut in half this year to about 650 people, would shrink even further to around 200 people and handle “non-core mission” functions such as compliance, finance, communications, government relations, accountability, and strategic planning.

Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen said that more direct academic services “are now going to be pushed directly into the field,” although a document sent by Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon to principals over the weekend still called for some academic services to run out of the central office. 

It’s time to move away from “command and control” to a “service delivery” model for a diverse school portfolio, Knudsen said.

The plan, while saying that it is premised on giving parents more choices, doesn’t include any direct promises that schools will get what most parents say they want – smaller classes, art and music teachers, libraries, nurses, adequate security – all of which has been cut this year. And it relies on being able to attract and keep talented principals and teachers in an atmosphere of fiscal austerity, find the money to properly train and support them, and have the resources to give them the materials they need.

Knudsen made it clear that the fiscal picture is still uncertain, disclosing that next year’s anticipated $186 million shortfall has grown to $218 million, due to an adverse state decision about tax assessments

This plan, developed by District teams and the Boston Consulting Group, “is about the need for fundamental change in education policy and practices, and it’s about righting the financial ship and living within our means,” Knudsen said. Without action, the cumulative deficit would grow to $1.1 billion by 2017.

In order to balance the budget by 2014, the proposal includes $156 million in savings by restructuring wages and benefits and $149 million in lower charter school payments, caused by the District’s 7 percent reduction in per-pupil spending. It would also save $122 million through streamlined operations, including $33 million from closing 40 schools in 2013-14.

On the revenue side, the District is counting on City Council approving a new property tax valuation system to bring in $94 million a year, on getting minimal new money from the state, on income from borrowing, and on being able to work around a recent court decision that could result in uncontrolled charter school growth.

Without that tax assessment change to a so-called “actual value” standard, “we will have enormous, enormous problems,” said Knudsen, who briefed City Council on the reorganization.

Knudsen also said that these projections assumed no economic recovery.

Specifics of the reorganization are still being worked out, although they are based on five strategies:

  1. Streamlining achieved by closing schools, modernizing operations, and shrinking the central office;

  2. Establishing a culture of safety and achievement for all students;

  3. Promoting equal access to high-quality choices for parents;

  4. Developing a strong college- and career-ready curriculum, and

  5. Making the system more responsive to schools and community needs.

Nixon’s academic reorganization plan sent to principals doesn’t completely line up with the blueprint laid out by Knudsen, although it is also based on giving schools more autonomy.

Nixon said the highest-performing schools would have control over curricular materials and instructional programs, school climate and safety strategies, professional development, the school budget, and scheduling. A middle group would have the same autonomies, but with additional supports, still required under state law for schools identifying as “needing improvement.”

The lowest group – those with scores of 8, 9, or 10 on the School Performance Index – will still get “intensive, targeted support individualized to the needs of the leaders and the school.” Now, the interventions are more one-size-fits-all, Nixon said.

The blueprint supports “the city’s goals to expand high-performing schools, District and charter, and close or turn around low-performing schools,” Nixon said. As District-run schools are closed, the planners expect continued growth of charter schools and charter networks.

“The SRC wants now to look at the entire array of schools – charter, cyber charter, alternative,” Knudsen said. “They all are public schools dealt with in a portfolio management process.”

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Comments (53)

Submitted by For the Kids (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:06 am

Nixon goes left and Knudsen goes right! Why could both be on the same page? Come on people, this is the future of the city and the kids you guys are playing with. Both Nixon and Knudsen work for the same boss and they can't even see eye to eye on how to fix the SD.

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on April 24, 2012 3:13 pm

They are awesome looking powerpoints! Really cool. The ones that were presented today about the reformation.

But then I read them....

They didn't really make any sense at all.

It is the same hollow rhetoric and psychobabble that has been passed around for the last few years and especially this year.

But to be honest, it looks like it was written by the privatizers for the privatizers. It is obvious that the "agenda of privatization" that has been devised behind closed doors is being layed out to us regardless of what anyone else thinks, says or does.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 4:26 pm

I agree. But nobody shows up to the rallies. I've been to 2 at 440 and the turnout is pathetic. That's why the SRC does whatever they want. We need to fight this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:44 am

So what are the schools?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 11:10 am

Bye bye 32BJ.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:40 pm

what is "32bj"?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 1, 2012 8:08 am

32 Bj is the union who run facilities, maintenance and transportation of our schools. They are the most underrated and disrespected school district employees. Let privatization happen and watch the budget go through the roof in repairs and law suits. We work around our children we have experience and we know why we are here. It's about the kids not making money off them!!! let the public know, this is not a private company this is a school district in a major city!

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 12:39 pm

No, the district is 100 billion in the red, did I say 100 billion, I meant to say 200 billion. PLEASE, stop the lying. They want to end Public Ed. especially in the inner cities where the poor live.Make money for the corporations and keep the new prisons full while decimating the middle class and the hopes of both the poor and the middle group.

Submitted by anon (not verified) on July 1, 2012 9:14 am

get a grip on yourself dude. it's millions, not billions.

Submitted by Richard (not verified) on July 1, 2012 11:29 am

Anon--I was kidding. I know it's millions, not billions.

Submitted by Richard (not verified) on July 1, 2012 11:09 am

Anon--Even as a kid, I questioned the motives of someone rich who's is resenting the workers who make MUCH less than he. It's all scary stuff and we need to get tough with these snakes.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 12:23 pm

Why is there an assumption that charters - which will have 40% of Philly students - are higher performing? This is false. Charters are cheaper because very few have unionized staff. The article states that benefits and salaries will be wages and benefits will be "restructured." So, what does that mean?

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on April 24, 2012 1:12 pm

 "Restructuring wages and benefits" is corporate speak for cuts.   For the moment these are being directed at the more than 2,500 blue collar workers who will see their jobs outsourced to the lowest bidder, their union busted and  their standard of lving driven down.   An impoverished city where fewer and fewer people have a liveable wage and decent benefits will see the ranks of the poor swell some more.   But then it's all for the kids.

 

Submitted by Philly Parent & Teacher (not verified) on April 24, 2012 3:37 pm

Meanwhile, Nutter spats his mantra for "the middle class..." The blue color workers wages are already low. So, is the SRC willing to look the workers in the eye and say, "well, you make $13/hour but now you will make $10/hour with less benefits. Take it or leave it." Meanwhile, the consultants, SRC, Knudsen, are making / living on multiple six figures...

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 5:34 pm

Yes, even when I was like 7 years old, I questioned when a rich person argues against a much less rich person who's trying to earn more money for his family. It is strikingly insensitive and galling but it goes on all the time.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 12:57 pm

they want 50 million from 32 bj that comes out to 28,000 per person......about how much a cleaner makes......thats crazy! why will we still own and run 440 with 200 people in it?????? thats really crazy....nobody asked that question? for real......you cant make this stuff up....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 1, 2012 8:41 am

Why do principals get paid for 12 months. Summer schools have been cut. Keep wasting money and go after the blue collar workers who are understaffed and run the facilities.

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on April 24, 2012 3:54 pm

From this article:
"Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen said that more direct academic services “are now going to be pushed directly into the field,” "

Now allow me to translate: We are going to ask our teachers and school-based staff to do even more than they are doing now.

School autonomy sounds like a good thing and will have benefits in schools with great principals and cohesive staff, but I know that THIS classroom teacher can't possibly take on one additional role or duty.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 5:04 pm

I didn't see Linda Weyman's name mentioned in the Transformational Plan. Are we finally rid of her??

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 5:09 pm

The second, this con man said that Charters are Public Schools, all clear thinking people should have walked out nosily. Time to fight my brothers and sisters !!

Submitted by Christy (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:19 pm

Where and when does the fight begin? We must organize and take lessons from action groups in Wisconsin and Chicago.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:35 pm

I'm ready!!!

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 25, 2012 1:40 pm

It needs to start with the PFT President who apparently is Jordan though nobody would ever suspect that given his silence.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:05 pm

I am just a "lowly" teacher, but here's how I think that school financial refacing should occur:
1. Sell the building at 440. It is obvious that with only 200 people working there, that that building is UNDER-UTILIZED! I am certain that the sale of that building would not only raise money, but also save schools from closure and spare jobs.
2. Stop asking employees to make more concessions! There are many "top-heavy" salaried positions that could certainly be cut. 4 Assistant Principals with schools that don't even have 800 students is a bit much. How's about making them go to 10 month positions as a money saving measure!
3. Has anyone taken a good look at the gross waste of funds that is taking place at the Promise Academies? You must be joking if you seriously think that the kids are staying until 4 p.m. That money could be better used in order to save our district schools!----not to put on a "horse and pony"show!
4. Stop paying advisors to handle our financial matters! It's a budget crunch for us, yet we find millions in order to pay for their services.
5. We found a million dollars to get rid of Ackerman and pay for her blunders!. Gee, I wonder how much money we would have saved had the schools not purchased those ridiculous "Imagine 2014" banners. I am IMAGINING it.......tons more layoffs! She ruined the district!
6. How's about collecting back taxes from people that don't pay. Where's the accountabilty there? Let's start collecting what is rightfully due instead of RAISING more property taxes for those that are responsible to take the burden.
-----This is a complete outrage---this guy Knudsen is making a heftly salary to slash jobs from people that he does not know. Wake up and fight folks! We all can't be that stupid to believe this nonsense or allow it to happen.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:01 pm

Awesome post! I keep voting and calling these politicians and things keep getting worse. I don't know what else to do. :-(

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 8:59 pm

Excellent insight and comment. We need to get out and be heard. Jerry are you listening?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2012 3:31 pm

Exactly!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 28, 2012 1:26 pm

As a fellow teacher, I agree! STOP the wasteful spending! How many more times are students' educational rights going to be sacrificed for the greed of the wealthy?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 6:43 pm

I think its time that the talent of the Philadelphia Area, including the best teachers of the School District of Philadelphia plan to move to a place with palm trees. Taking good jobs away will only add to this the region's death march. Charter schools are designed to break unions and take good jobs away. The countries that beat our country in education do not have them. Wake up America!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:09 pm

Well said. Hopefully, after today's "transparent" (yea right) SDP press conference the tax payers, parents, teachers and administrators will come together and stop this insanity. They are taking away jobs from an awful lot of people. Asking us to take cuts in pay when our taxes, insurance, gas and food prices keep going up. How is one supposed to provide for their family, but Corbett has lots of money to build prisons. How does he sleep at night?

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 24, 2012 8:18 pm

Corbett doesn't give a rat's ass about our inner city kids. That's the answer to your question. When you don't care, you have nothing to lose. He'll continue to follow the Ultra racist Tea Party diatribe until WE stop him.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:41 pm

Perfectly stated. No one on this blog has a right to complain if they don't work to vote this bastard out. For that matter, if you didn't get out two years ago to vote against Corbett, you can blame yourself for what he's wrought.

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 25, 2012 12:51 am

Bastard he is and I say that with all the Christian Charity I can muster.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:33 pm

Why do folk say sell 440 when the SDP has a 20 yr bond on the property and do not own the building outright. It cost over $100 mill and would sell for maybe 1/2 of that amount, maybe. I think the correct term is major underwater!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 9:24 pm

Alright, if the building can't be sold and it is obvious that many were unaware that the building has a 20 year bond on it, but could it be rented out by the SD?

Submitted by Philly Parent & Teacher (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:44 pm

I assume the SDP can sell other buildings and put schools in it (e.g. Masterman, FLC, Parkway CC are nearby). Then, developers can convert the old schools into condos and Vallas' "temple" can be put to use. Word is a lot of materials are stored there so...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 8:42 pm

Excellent idea!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2012 10:02 pm

Philly parent, Yes and Yes

Submitted by philly parent (not verified) on April 25, 2012 5:44 am

Of course schools will have more control - the district doesn't have money to vontrol them. They are being pushes aside and expected to achieve.

Submitted by Concerned Philadelphian (not verified) on April 25, 2012 6:28 am

This year the PSSA testing environment was more controlled. What if the "high performing" schools test scores bomb? A number of "vanguard" schools are under investigation for cheating on the PSSA. There are many special admit high schools who have not made AYP but who had higher scores than neighborhood schools (primarily because they select their students and can get rid of students who do are "behavior problems.") Determining which schools are "high performing" is not a science. Will schools be closed because the buildings are old? Low enrollment? low test scores? Lack of parental involvement?

This year there was a dynamic process around proposed school closings. Will there be any process next year?

Submitted by anonymous. (not verified) on April 25, 2012 1:57 pm

It's all a farce but what else is new?

Submitted by Mayday (not verified) on April 25, 2012 8:48 pm

What happened to real group activism in the PFT? Jordan ("re-elected" without PFT members ever being informed) is a do-nothing, but that is only part of our problem. The unions of my father's day (the 50s through 70s) were successful because everyone truly understood that "divided we fall," and members were willing to actually put themselves on the line for their fellows. We are too comfortable, now, too fat and happy in our homes and big-screens, in spite of the reality of this mess. We need to overcome our self-involved, self-centered habits, realize we are all connected -- to each other and to the young souls we have in our hands every day -- and stand together as one organism. We should have ALL been down at 440 TODAY, screaming, marching, blocking traffic....regardless of the "inconvenience." Stop making excuses and STAND UP. I will. What about you?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2012 8:32 pm

I think this needs to be grass roots teachers taking a stand. We can not count on anyone. They are crushing our union and our spirit and we need to stand together. We should cripple the city for a day. Sick out and march on 440!

Submitted by TAG Philly (not verified) on April 26, 2012 12:46 pm

What is definitely needed now more than ever is Teacher Action. We need to come together, develop our analysis and create our plan of action. This Saturday, April 28th, at the Education for Liberation Curriculum Fair and Citywide Summit, hundreds of teachers, students and parents will gather to engage, exchange, and organize. If you are angry, confused, anxious, or just ready for action, please come and participate.

www.tagphilly.org

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 27, 2012 6:05 am

Explain what this is for me please?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2012 3:53 pm

The lowest group – those with scores of 8, 9, or 10 on the School Performance Index – will still get “intensive, targeted support individualized to the needs of the leaders and the school.” Now, the interventions are more one-size-fits-all, Nixon said.

LMFAO! The "coaches" misspent $650 million dollars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They could not tell my 10 year old how to count quarters!!!!!!!!!!!! This is TOOO CRazy! Such crap!

The system is broken!

Submitted by J. Taylor (not verified) on April 29, 2012 9:41 am

Let's make a June 15th march on 440 a reality. We won't be hurting students...we can all take personal days...or even a .5 personal day, and meet outside 440? We could always rally early in the morning, which would get us a lot of attention, and then go in to work late. I don't mind being docked.

Submitted by J. Taylor (not verified) on April 29, 2012 9:53 am

We could even rent school buses to cut down on parking issues...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 29, 2012 12:00 pm

This is the National Resolution Against High Stakes Testing. We need to print this out and distribute to teachers, parents and administrators.

Here’s the text of the national resolution:

WHEREAS, our nation’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation’s social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the governor, state legislature and state education boards and administrators to reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools; and

RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the U.S. Congress and Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 29, 2012 12:04 pm

Wonderful! What should we do next?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 29, 2012 3:50 pm

I don't know much about this. It was actually posted by Valarie Strauss in the Washington Post Local. Maybe Helen Gym can help us with what to do next.

Submitted by Hummer's View (not verified) on April 30, 2012 12:36 pm

I suspect that Leroy Nunery will be gone soon. Maybe to take over a flagging school with deeper pockets. Girard College.

www.ahummersview.com

Submitted by Litter (not verified) on February 5, 2013 4:08 am

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; http://www.chipak.com

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