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Former DVHS students facing big changes

By the Notebook on Aug 31, 2012 04:05 PM

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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Comments (16)

Submitted by Rob (not verified) on August 31, 2012 6:08 pm

Does phase 4 get the same money per student as traditional schools?

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on September 1, 2012 6:28 am

Thanks for the question, Rob.

Short answer is no.  I don't have the exact figure at hand, but Phase 4's Suica-Reed did say their model costs less than other alternative providers (all of whose funding, I believe, is based on a negotiated rate that is not necessarily pegged to the PA per pupil allotment):

"We have a specific business model that we use that enables us to provide a quality education for the student at a very affordable cost to the school districts."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 7:21 pm

Who were the 140 students Mastery had them serving? Seems like a high percentage of students for Mastery to contract out to Phase 4. Who's servicing them now?

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

Submitted by Annonym. (not verified) on August 31, 2012 7:07 pm

This type of program was probably used in Mastery's "Success Academy" at Gratz. If so, that is probably at least 20% of the students at Gratz. If anyone knows, please post. If Mastery (and Aspira) are taking 20 - 25% of their students out of the "general population" - that is very high. Are the 140 students counted for AYP?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 8:03 am

Mastery uses a company called Success Schools which is the same one used by Aspira and I believe Young Scholars. Normally kids attend a school-within-a-school program but Mastery has enough schools that they can operate their own alternative school site and ship kids from the different locations there. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 31, 2012 10:17 pm

Why did Mastery terminate the contract prematurely? Everything is so secret! Something to hide!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 1, 2012 3:15 pm

Why isn't anyone asking about salaries for administration at these charter schools.I heard that ASPIRA pays tons of people as someone going to investigate this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 6, 2012 6:22 am
These are not charter schools, they're alternative schools, so the money comes from a different place. Not sure what your question is about the admin salaries but I was a DVHS admin and my pay was not high.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 5:12 am

Let the games begin. Just like last year when they closed one of the alternative schools. I forget the name of it,but they came to my alternative school. The first day we had students lined up to register and not enough teachers to serve them. It was an AWFUL start. I know the drill, now the class sizes that aren't supposed to be more than 20 students will be upwards of 30. So basically, we will be operating as a traditional school. Mind you, trying to teach 30 of the most troubled students in the district, with NO SUPPORT, is not an easy task. But, I'm sure it will be OUR fault ( the teachers) that they aren't successful. Last year Penny Nixon visited and saw what a mess it was. Her response was "fix it or people are going to lose their jobs". Wasn't that so supportive of her? It was our fault!!! Sadly, many teachers on the staff left my school. Really good teachers. They just couldn't take it anymore. I wonder if administration at 440 will ever truly realize that they are destroying the moral of some extraordinary teachers. We worked under the WORST conditions I have ever experienced as a teacher. I invite anyone to visit, so they can see first hand how the lack of funding is preventing our children from getting the education and support that they so desperately need.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on September 2, 2012 9:13 am

And so and so and so.......................WHAT are WE going to do about it??? We all have horror stories like yours but nothing changes, at least not for the better, so....................

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2012 9:10 pm

I sympathize with you, but all of the children of the Philadelphia School District are suffering because of a lack of resources and supports with the exception of a few schools, where there is parental involvement that provides money.

Of course, someone with no idea of how to effective bring change would say, "Fix it or people will lose their jobs." That's the answer alright! That's the answer that someone gives who doesn't know any effective ways to change the situation. Don't worry change is going to occur sooner rather than later.

Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 1:42 pm

AD-4 is a mess. I know exactly what you mean, because that happened at most of the alternative schools. They're combining a bunch of them already this year, and now adding 100 extra from DelVal.

I know I couldn't do it for another year, and it surely wasn't because of the kids.

The classrooms which need the most stability get the least, the students who need the most support don't even get a single counselor. Then they walk through to make us prove there is "teaching and learning" in an environment where it should be impossible.

And yet, AD-4 has some of the best teachers I've known. They cling like moss growing on a rocky cliff, growing things where nothing should grow.

Just imagine what we could do if our schools were treated properly. If the goal was really to be a last best hope for these kids, instead of a way to avoid lawsuits.

Submitted by Miss Smith (not verified) on September 3, 2012 7:00 pm

THE DAY OF THE SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER IS OVER! According to a friend of mine at 440, the Philadelphia School District is HEMORRHAGING SPED instructors - especially behavioral management teachers - as are most urban school districts - and quite rightfully so. Working with the least promising students with the most outrageous behaviors is thoroughly demoralizing. Add in the impossible amount of paperwork required (IEP's, evaluations and re-evals, daily/monthly/quarterly reports, transition plans, FBA's, BIP's, ABA's, CBA's, IEE's, SES requests, etc.) - and add in those nasty parents looking to make a fortune in a lawsuit (via skanks like Michael Masch) off any harrassed, bleary-eyed instructor who doesn't dot each "i" and cross each "t" on her documentation - and, finally, those state and district thugs (like Penny Nixon) whose solution is to threaten the ES teachers with unemployment even as they dump more and more basket cases upon them - and voila! - a prescription for the biggest Christ-bitten educational catastrophe since Whole Language was foisted upon us. THIS is why the average urban SPED instructor lasts exactly 11 months before quitting the field. The vilification of teachers has gotten so out of hand in this country - by the press, by government officials, by district administrators, by the general populace - that it's no wonder so few capable young people enter our field anymore and so many experienced hands (like those at your school) are running for the exits. My school once had 3 Special Ed staffers. We now have one - me. In June, I will have taught for 12 years - and I'm quitting. (That's if I last till June.) I'm happy to know that there will still be a few caretakers like yourself left to pick up the slack.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 8:50 pm

I agree with you 110% and it isn't going to get better. So many of the children who are in ES classrooms have severe mental health problems that aren't being addressed because either their parents have mental health problems or the parents are just fed up with a system that makes it difficult for them to get help for their child, or those who do manage to be provided with some resources, don't want to take the resources because they are afraid that if their child shows improvement, their child's check will stop. Would you believe that some ES children are even encouraged by their parents to "act like their crazy" in order to get SSI in the first place? And yet, pressure is placed upon the teacher and staff to get these children with severe problems in line or else. I'd like to see some of these same administrators who threaten teachers to work one hour in some of these classrooms and see how they fair. I bet they will be running out of the classrooms.

The paperwork is unbelievable and it never ends. How any special education teacher is able to keep up with it without spending hours outside of the job is a wonder. There is little to no help provided.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on September 3, 2012 5:58 pm

I really question the practice of using a hybrid school or online school with children attending alternative schools. Where is the research to support this model of education? In addition, I would think that the "most difficult" to serve students would actually benefit from more attention from adults and the ability to develop positive relationships with adults. Relationships develop best face-to-face, not online. I know that the District is strapped for cash, but how well Phase 4 going to serve the students?


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 3, 2012 8:14 pm

Sadly, they really don't care about kids. It's all about the money they can save. Get out and vote. If Romney is elected, it's going to be even worse.

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