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Admission to coveted Penn Alexander now by lottery

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 18, 2013 04:33 PM
Photo: Dale Mezzacappa

After dozens of parents had already camped out in the freezing cold for the better part of a day outside the Penn Alexander school, District officials decided to change the process and conduct a lottery to determine who would get a coveted spot in September's kindergarten class.

"We're making the change for equity and safety," said Karyn Lynch, the District's chief of student services. She said that a lottery would "bring fairness to the process," and that officials had "great concern about people remaining outside for three days in cold weather."

By Friday afternoon, 68 people were lined up outside the school in freezing weather, hoping for one of the 72 kindergarten seats. The first parent arrived early Friday morning, setting off a scramble. Registration starts Tuesday morning and was on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Penn Alexander -- the result of a partnership among the School District, the University of Pennsylvania, and the teachers' union, which began in 1999 -- is not big enough to accommodate all the families in its catchment area.

Penn contributes an extra $1,300 per student and works closely with the school on innovative teaching strategies. It has extended its partnership with the school through 2021.

It is a diverse, high-achieving school in the midst of a District beset by segregation, low achievement, and financial instability and is a draw for families willing and able to pay up to $100,000 extra per house to live in its feeder area.

The stakes are getting higher. A year ago, the line didn't start until Sunday.

Parent David Lapp had suggested in testimony at the School Reform Commission meeting Thursday night that the process is inequitable, favoring families with the time and resources to show up. What about single parents who work two jobs? Or the disabled? Chances are they can't spare the time for this ritual, he said.

But Lapp didn't expect the line to start before the long holiday weekend even began.

It turned out that Superintendent William Hite and Lynch, both new to the District this year, were listening.

"We feel we're listening to parents and being responsive to issues parents are bringing to our attention," Lynch said. "People have suggested a lottery to us. We're moving in this direction after a good deal of consideration and feel this will add equity to the process."

Parents who live in the catchment area will have until April 1 to fill out the registration paperwork. They will hear who is admitted sometime after that.

The Penn Alexander lottery will be a pilot that may be applied to other sought-after schools next year, Lynch said.

The parents and their stand-ins came prepared for the long haul with chairs, blankets, computers, food and lots of coffee.  One family parked a mobile home next to their spot in line. Brett Feldman brought his buddy Bud Brusco to build a full-fledged temporary shelter, complete with heat.

"We're ready," Feldman said.

Several of the parents questioned before the District decided to change the process said they thought that a lottery would be fair.

"I think a lottery would be more equitable," said a parent near the beginning of the line who identified himself only as Michael. "I have such mixed feelings and not just one opinion. ... It's complicated. A lottery would be more fair, all things considered."

At 3 p.m., Anne Dorn was number 67. She wasn't very hopeful. Her daughter is in 2nd grade in the school, but there is no sibling preference.  Parents with multiple children have to repeat the process.

She noted that students with IEPs (special education) and coming from Head Start have preference. "And what if there are twins?" she noted. "But at least I'll get on the waiting list for first grade."

Hetty Wong and Joseph Chui sat bundled up, eating their takeout food. They have a daughter who went through 4th grade at the school before going to Masterman, and another daughter in 2nd grade. "The alternative would be a lottery" in which all eligible parents entered and names were picked by lot, Wong said. "Or making the school bigger."

Officials were on their way just after 6 p.m. to personally distribute letters to the assembled group explaining the new process and telling them to go home.

(Check back for updates.)

Update (6:47 p.m.) Parents are intending to stay camped out until registration day on Tuesday, according to Inquirer reporter Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Update (8:05 p.m.) Gallard said that "it was very difficult handling the angry parents" as they reacted to the announcement of the lottery. Lapp, who was in line, said that "it's unfortunate that they didn't get around to making the decision until after the line had already formed. I hope some constructive, positive change can come from this less-than-ideal situation."

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Comments (158)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 6:28 pm
The School District needs to investigate how many students at Penn Alexander do not live in the catchment. The principal keeps spots for students with connections. If there is a lottery, all 72 spots should be in the lottery. (The story did not include that for the 2012-2013 school year, besides the $1300/per student more given by the Univ. of Penn, Penn is paying all costs, including staff, for an additional kindergarten class.) If other elementary schools had the demographics of this school and an extra $1300/per student, there would be fewer lines.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 7:21 pm There are 36 out-of-catchment students at Penn Alexander out of a total of 553. Half of them are probably former Head Start students allowed to continue on for kindergarten but not 1st grade. PAS ended the policy of children and grandchildren of teachers being allowed to enroll as an accommodation (good luck recruiting the best teachers now). The school does not have a capacity of 815 as stated on the document - that figure includes areas currently rented to the Parent Infant Center. Simply put, the real problem is they drew the catchment too large for the school that was built. This is the district's way of avoiding having to redraw the catchment, I guess.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 7:10 pm
I think they probably based the original catchment on a census of families living in the area at the time the school was being built. many, many people have moved in to that area now just for the purpose of attending the school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 7:49 pm
Nope. Patrick Kerkstra crunched the numbers and there are slightly fewer children in the area now than there were in 1999: They drew it too large for the school that was built. I mean, just look at that thing: I'm not advocating redrawing it, by the way, only hopeful that at least someone will eventually own up to the error rather than keep acting all surprised.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 9:17 pm
Here's the census segment from Kerkstra's article: "The Census figures tell another story as well: the Penn Alexander enrollment problem may not be as huge as many catchment parents fear. Despite anecdotal accounts of an epic Penn Alexander-fueled baby boom, there were, in fact, slightly fewer children 17-and under in the catchment in 2009 then there were when the last Census was taken in 1999: 1,306 in 1999 compared to 1,211 now. Nor is there a glut of younger children. The Census counted 512 children under five years old in 1999, compared to 489 in 2009. And according to the school district, of the 658 K-8 district students who live in the catchment, 577 are already at Penn Alexander."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 2:46 am
You are assuming all students are using their actual address. When the catchment was draw, it was very contentious. Just look at the shape of the catchment. Everyone knew in Univ. City that the "catchment" would skyrocket housing prices and create a school with many more resources than any other school. The demographics of the school have dramatically changed since it opened because of the skyrocketing housing prices. It is not a "typical" neighborhood school. The fact it is allowed to have much lower class sizes is one obvious indicator of its "special" status. If there are about 20 students in a class, and Penn gives $1300 more per student, each class has $260,000 more resources than any other Philadelphia class. That is extremely inequitable. (How many Penn Alexander teachers have had to spend money out of pocket for tissues to copy paper to trade books to pencils to ink for a printer? Univ. of Penn also provide professional development and many opportunities for Penn Alexander teachers that no other teacher in the District may access. The middle school at Penn Alexander has grant funded programs from Univ. of Penn. that enables, for example, their science program to have far more resources than high schools in the District.)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 9:10 am
$1,300 per student times 20 students per class is $26,000, not $260,000. This doesn't negate your point, but a factor of 10 matters!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 6:17 pm
Count the zeros when you multiply.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 8:34 pm
I find it pathetic that anyone should have to camp out to get a spot in a kindergarten. Scrambling and scrounging for a "seat" in a "prized" kindergarten is reprehensible and people are falling for it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 10:09 am
It is not simply just a "prized kindergarten spot" that is at stake in this school but rather the entire K-8 schooling that is at stake. The stakes are up just the same with the lottery now -- if your kid misses out on the lottery for kindergarten, you can pretty much count on the fact that PAS will be out of the picture for the next 8 years too, unless there is major reform and restructuring. Because of classroom size caps, it is not likely that more than a couple students in any given class can transfer in. Its a flawed policy -- if there are specific demands placed upon living within a specific district in order to gain entrance in a school, then accommodations should be made for larger class sizes when needed. I believe that there should also be sibling preference.
Submitted by Abby (not verified) on January 18, 2013 9:27 pm
That's easy to say when it's not your child's education at stake! I have a child at the school now (we stood in line for a couple of hours, but it was nothing like this current madness then), as well as a toddler who I hope will also get to go there. While of course the move to a lottery system makes me anxious on some level, I applaud it. It is a much fairer system. Hopefully the knowledge that their kids may not get into PAS will also motivate parents in the catchment to get involved with some of the other local schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 9:14 pm
Four things: One: PAS's maintenance of an ideal capacity per classroom is a far cry from creating an over crowded situation. In other words, over enrollment is not equal to over crowded classrooms. PAS denies new students in grades 1 -8, students who reside within the specified catchment area, due to this adherence to ideal enrollments, even in classes which have been over enrolled in the past. Two: it seems an audit of primary residences, as suggested by an earlier post, might be in order: PAS requires proof of residence only at the time of registration and with K-8 enrollment it only stands to reason that families move in and out of the catchment area. Three: PAS's refusal to provide preferential registration for siblings of already enrolled students remains an affront to every family in the catchment. Four: a lottery for PAS kindergarten is, I think, the fairest option for the families in the catchment, but it will be contested in this year's registration due to the standardized registration practices of years past throughout PPS.
Submitted by Gen (not verified) on January 18, 2013 9:23 pm
Are the other grades as over-crowded as kindergarten, say, could a 6th grader in the catchment enroll? This is all so bizarre to me.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 10:52 pm
Depends on the grade, some are fuller than others
Submitted by Abby (not verified) on January 18, 2013 10:48 pm
The classes are quite full through about third grade. It slowly thins out as families move out of the area, and there is a big drop in class sizes at fifth grade, because many kids move to Masterman. My child had 31 kids in her class for first grade (that was the major crunch year before they started looking more carefully at families using fake addresses, etc), but is now in third and has 22 in the class. So yes, a sixth grader could most likely get in.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 10:31 pm
Last year no children were admitted to upper grades, due to class size limitations. The only way in for any grade is to be admitted to kindergarden
Submitted by Abby (not verified) on January 18, 2013 10:32 pm
I don't think that is accurate. I know people who got kids in above first grade both last year and this year.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 12:15 am
Not last year. When the 4th kindergarden opened they started enforcing class size limits in upper grades through attrition and admitted no more students.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 10:13 am
we have been told by the admin that they are strictly adhering to the class caps now. Foolish policy and one which needs to be contested. We were denied entrance last year in lower school and not holding high hopes for entrance this coming year. The policies are controlled by the principal and she seems to set and change policy when she feels like it
Submitted by 2-Blocks-Out-Of-Boundaries (not verified) on January 22, 2013 1:31 pm
I have a 3rd grader at Powel and I know that once she started 1st grade, at least two families did transfer their kids from Powel over to Penn Alexander. I have known a number of families who do not live in the catchment. Some don't even live in the city. It's definitely time for changes to be made in these Philly public schools!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2013 11:50 pm
I have always been disturbed by the degree of hearsay and mythology that surrounds this school! It would be really helpful if our local journalists would carefully present accurate information. A couple of years ago, for example, a local newspaper reported that the waiting list for this school included over 500 kids, when in fact that is the number of kids who are enrolled. How long are the waiting lists? How many kids are turned away in each grade? The lack of information is causing fear and panic that results in such ridiculous phenomena as three-day campouts in sub-freezing temperatures. Like any other school, there is a great deal of movement in and out of the school from grade to grade. I am almost certain that a new family moving into the catchment will easily get their 2-8th graders admitted. In the current climate of budget crunching in Philadelphia, administrators do not want to be seen as operating under capacity in the upper grades.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 10:11 am
Thank you for asking for accuracy by the school administration as well as journalists. As a newcomer to Philadelphia seeking information, the PAS situation has been a source of frustration. That said: being *almost certain* about grade 1-8 enrollments is the correct stance: PAS denied our 4th grader admittance 2012-2013 year due to enrollment capacity, PPS never assigned her to a new public school, and the first communication about a voluntary transfer from PPS arrived in mid-December 2012. Fortunately, we were able to enroll our daughter in a neighborhood private school. The rub: we camped out January 2012 to secure a spot for our kindergartener so we have two children in two separate schools, two separate after school programs, two separate school calendars . . . We are keeping our fingers crossed that enough students vacate 5th grade for other specialized public schools in 2013-2014, but even then the capacity for those classrooms declines from 24 to 18.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 10:16 am
I applaud the call for accurate information. Such communication from PPS and the media would be most appreciated by all of the families who have children in public school. And I appreciate your cautious *almost certain* qualifier about capacity in grades 2-8, too, because that was our assumption when we purchased a home in January 2012 to be in this catchment. Unfortunately, this wasn't the cse with our daughter's particular grade. PAS denied enrollment for our 4th grader this 2012-13 academic year, placing her 5th on a wait list that began in 2011-12; PPS never placed her in another public school; and PPS didn't send us a notice denying *voluntary transfer* to another public school until mid-December 2012. We did camp out on Locust in January 2012, securing a kindergarten seat for our other child. Thus we have two children enrolled in two separate schools (the 4th grader in a private school), two separate after school programs, two separate school calendars, and so forth. The outlook for 5th grade enrollment doesn't look great, either: students do move on (out of the catchment, to other schools, etc.), but the class sizes decrease from three 4th grade classes of 24 to three 5th grade classes of 18 and then, I believe, two classes of 18 for 6th grade . . . apologies if this is a double post
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 2:05 am
Isn't it ironic that Dr. Hite said class size will not be reduced in Philadelphia schools - it doesn't matter - but at Penn Alexander they are allowed to limit class size well below the District level? Penn Alexander, I believe, has 18 students in a kindergarten class. The School District has 30. In grades 4 and above, the District has 33 while Penn Alexander has 22. Dr. Hite - why does class size only matter at Penn Alexander?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 3:43 am
The school was built to hold a certain number of students. You are ignoring the physical capacity issues. If the District would like for more students to attend PAS, it would have to construct the space. I'm not sure people would go for that considering the current school closure controversy.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 4:56 am
Or kick out PIC from the space on PAS's campus the school had expected to expand into eventually. There would still be renovation costs though, I imagine.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 4:41 am
PIC primarily serves the same community. While PIC has attempted to diversify through adding Head Start, it is still a preschool for socially, politically and economically privileged people compared to the wider West Philly community. I don't know how anyone affords PIC if they have two or more children. I have 3 children - I had to find something I could afford on a teacher's salary. PIC would have consumed more than my take home pay. Admit Penn Alexander was built and is funded by the Univ of Penn to create an "oasis" for the select few. It is not a an "urban school" any more than Masterman is an "urban school." They serve the elite rather than the public.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 7:30 am
Could someone clarify something for me. I teach kindergarten in Philadelphia and have had 30 students without an aide. Even though this gives us little space to move around and makes it difficult to really help each child, I was told that there was nothing that could be done as kindergarten classes can have a maximum of 30. I don't understand that while I work in a high needs area where the students could benefit from smaller classes, we admit children until we hit capacity if a principal has the power to cap classes. Can they limit enrollment under the maximum even when the children live in the catchment?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 8:48 am
The deal from the beginning was that the class sizes would be smaller and Penn would make up the difference in operational costs. Let's make sure we are being clear here, though: Something is obviously going right at PAS - instead of arguing that this should not be allowed because it's not the case at every school, we should all be demanding similar conditions at other schools. PAS and other strong schools are showing us what it takes to educate children well (and no it is not just rich parents, though segregating all the poorest kids is obviously not smart. Despite the mythology about how it's all professors' kids, PAS is extremely diverse in all ways). If the money isn't there to replicate this at other schools, we need to move heaven and earth to find it (yes, maybe even close chronically underperforming neighborhood schools to focus the resources elsewhere). NOTHING is more important than giving every child a high-quality education.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 8:02 am
"Despite the mythology about how it's all professors' kids, PAS is extremely diverse in all ways" 30.2% economically-disadvantaged - 69.8% economically-ADVANTAGED. "PAS and other strong schools are showing us what it takes to educate children well (and no it is not just rich parents, though segregating all the poorest kids is obviously not smart." Is that so? 4/10 rating on the achievement gap. Source:
Submitted by Taxpaying parent (not verified) on January 19, 2013 10:15 am
What?! You mean Penn Alexander hasn't closed the achievement gap? Shocking!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 7:01 pm
That's not a gap that's a chasm. Those nearby schools whose demographics are predominately the acheivement gap aren't doing as well on test scores so it must be that they are bad and something is wrong with them! Nevermind that PAS appears to be doing about the same with the same population.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 10:45 am
Right. That's is actually diversity! What's NOT diversity is cramming all the poor kids into crappy schools while all the wealthier kids go someplace else. Is it a miracle cure for the inequities in society? No, but look at the high schools and colleges PAS students -- rich AND poor -- go on to attend! What they are doing over there is working, and the rest of us ought to be paying attention to how we can replicate that model elsewhere, rather than spending precious energy trying to tear that school down. Philadelphia should be PROUD of what our district and local university have partnered to achieve.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 12:33 pm
Will the Univ. of Penn fund $1300/per student, professional development, grounds keeping, etc. (see Penn Alexander web site - Penn Partnership - so all students and teachers at least have the same resources? I won't hold my breath...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 1:16 pm
Obviously Penn, specifically, cannot be the solution to all of Philadelphia's education problems. My point is just we can see that this is working, so let's quit complaining and find ways to bring this type of model to other neighborhoods... Through activism for increased govt funding, through partnerships with other entities, through schools pooling facilities and resources as many have successfully done in NYC, etc etc
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 1:38 pm
Not to mention there are about 5 other major universities in the city that have not ponied up for education the way Penn has... That's 5 schools that ought to be getting built to replicate succor oven Penn model!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 2:33 pm
That's "to replicate the proven Penn model." !?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 7:54 pm
When PAS people bring this up, I always picture that SNL Clinton/Palin sketch with Clinton saying "Yeah, I probably should have wanted it more" and breaking the dais in frustration. The neighborhoods around these other universities have wanted this kind of partnership just as much as the PAS neighborhood. It's not for a lack of trying or effort on their part. Please, PAS community, humbly recognize that Penn created PAS because Penn wanted to for Penn's benefit. Other universities will do the same if and only if their see their benefit, not the community's.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 9:34 pm
Remember the mid 1990s? There were a couple very public murders near Penn. In 1996 Penn started providing helps with down payments for staff within their "catchment" as a way to "surround" Penn with Penn and make a buffer from the rest of West Philly. Penn Alexander grew out of this desire to attract more Penn people to the area around Penn. (Powell used to be the school of choice for much of Penn.)
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 20, 2013 2:50 am
Penn is also a private school. Could Temple justify using taxpayer money on a District school the way that Penn does at Penn Alexander? St. Joe's does a lot for Samual Gompers ES, such as tutoring and Big Brothers Big Sisters. They also helped pay for Gompers' big toy. Drexel helps out Morton McMichael ES. I know that Drexel paid for McMichael to have PlayWorks a year or 2 ago and that Drexel students volunteer at McMichael. EGS
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 20, 2013 3:05 pm
Temple does have outreach programs which qualify as nonprofits. They obtain grants that benefit both the community students and their own students. For example, Community Music Scholars is part of Temple Music Prep. They match upper level Music Performance majors with students (using City school Band and String ensemble teachers' recommendations, then by audition) in private or group lesson arrangements. The money to run this is obtained from generous private donations. It's very true that like Mama Gail we have "hate/love" relationship to these universities. We hold them suspect to self gain motives and say that they don't give enough, while standing in line for their handouts. Is this not true of how we react to the W. Penn Foundation, and the suggestion of nonprofit involvement in BCG's proposal? Philly is its own worst enemy: EGS I'm leaving these stats with you because I know your eyes won't shut when you see them. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (website stats), from 2000 to 2010, Philadelphia County lost 21,284 children ages 5 to 9, and 22,086 children ages 10 to 14. This would be a total of 43,370 school age children in 10 years. This includes public, charter, and private. Contrary to what is stated in the FMP (a "slowing birthrate"), there was an increase in the number of children under 5 (+2892). Deliberately misleading? There was also a loss of 16,834 residents ages 35 to 39, and 14,753 ages 40 to 44. The "stabilization and slight increase" of the total population is coming from (as seen in my neighborhood) the "hipsters" 20 to 29 years old, and adults 50 to 64; all probably refugees from their dull suburban "digs". What, pray tell us City Council, could possibly be driving families with kids out of the City? Not that it's a bad trend for your tax revenue which benefits from housing turnover and tourism, but you are certainly not blameless in this shuttering of schools. Finally, what SDP should clarify is that when the currently unsustainable expenditure of over $14,000 per student drops with the increase in "utilization" (which includes building occupancy and class size), payments to charters will also drop proportionately, or more if there is a greater drop in capital expenditures. Right now what charters are paid per student is keyed to what the SDP, the public district of residency, spends per student. What this means is that the urgency of "rightsizing" is not exaggerated at all.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 20, 2013 4:42 pm
Sorry, I need to correct my statement: payments to charters will drop proportionately more, if capital expenditures make up a greater percentage of per student spending by the PSD.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 8:21 am
"If the money isn't there to replicate this at other schools, we need to move heaven and earth to find it" And the number of PAS parents organizing to pressure Corbett to restore the education budget cuts has been?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 10:06 am
Not sure what your point is exactly. Lots of PAS parents are involved with WPCNS and other education advocacy activities. These activities are fragmented in Philly, however. If you feel that pressuring Corbett is the way out of this mess (seems like a decent first step to me), then start the revolution to unify parents around that effort! You'll find lots of PAS parents (and non PAS parents) willing to get involved.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 7:56 pm
Why do I have to do it for them? Are their fingers broken or something? They cannot dial a phone to call a bus company to arrange a trip to Harrisburg? Someone share the number of buses Cook-Wissahickon has sent to Harrisburg please.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 10:47 am
Yes. PAS shows that successful schools lift a community. We should be expanding and replicating this example throughout the city to strengthen our neighborhoods. How can we do so when our governor has slashed Philadelphia school funding disproportionately from other PA school districts?
Submitted by linda (not verified) on January 19, 2013 7:27 pm
Check the SDP contract on line or get the hard copy. I was a middle school union rep and did not have that as an issue. If it is to be that you should have an aide, you may need to go to the buidling committee/union rep and if they are a no go or slow go then go to the regional rep. You can also call downtown at the PFT office [the nubmer is in your school PFT calendar] and simply ask. You do not have to identify yourself if you are wary. Linda K.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 10:45 am
One of few schools in Philly parents want to send their kids to and all we hear is how unfair this is. Penns desire to help their neighborhood is somehow harmful. That one school receives something extra does not take anything from other schools. This mentality is exactly why the psd is a fAilure and parents will abandon in droves to charters given the opportunity. You have something that works, so obviously you need to change the rules to bring in the same level of mediocrity thy pervades other psd schools. First rule of administration is to do no harm. If it works, don't screw it up. But In the Ed admin world, something that works is an affront to a status quo of failure and needs to be brought down. Would parents in the catchment have supported this policy change? No. But that is of no consequence to hite and the other bureaucratic hacks who only serve themselves, their ideological preconceptions, and their dominion over failed school systems. Btw, I am outside of the pa district. Just a common sense observation of stupid Ed bureaucrats in action.
Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on January 19, 2013 8:02 pm
An accurate depiction of what happens in Philadelphia, though sad. I've seen it too many times.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 3:14 pm
It's not just Philly. This happens everywhere in big urban school districts run by the big Ed bureaucrats with their phony PhD qualifications. In Baltimore, the state assigns county board of eds. When Baltimore City mayor O'Malley became governor, he put a bunch of Baltimore city ed hacks into the Baltimore county system. Though funding is equalized throughout the County, you have a mix of neighborhoods basically equivalent to the Main Line and Upper Darby. Baltimore City already destroyed its magnet schools as a bastion of privelege and is now a basket case of a school district that no one wants to send their kid to. Johns Hopkins pays for private school as an employee benefit. One of the first actions of the city bureaucrats was forbidding the annual fairs that many good community schools in the "mainline" areas had used for decades to raise supplemental funds for their schools. There was no good reason. These ed bureaucrats are not good well meaning people. They see their main job to enforce equality, and educating children is secondary. And since they are incapable of improving low performing schools, they try to destroy schools that are high performing to make everything "equitable". It is a perverse worldview, but it is the dominant strain of thought in the public ed phd world. This is why urban districts especially fail. If you want to bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator, well that is pretty lowdown in Philly. Parents with means who care will leave rather than play by the Ed PhD's rules. A small wealthy school district doesn't buy into this stupid ideology, and in any case has a higher level of lowest common denominator.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 9:47 pm
Some parents in the catchment have been advocating for a lottery for years. One did as recently as Thursday night's SRC meeting. The PAS community is not monolithic. How is turning admission to a public school into a season of Survivor "doing no harm"?
Submitted by Wenqin Luo (not verified) on January 19, 2013 11:02 am
I am one of the parents who is waiting in line on this Friday, and I would like to share my feelings with you. You probably have heard this news from TV and other channels. It was freezing yesterday. Don't we worry about waiting in such a cold weather for 4 days? Yes, we do. However, will we do so if we are certain that our kides can go to the Penn Alexander School? Yes, we do. The anxiety of uncertainty is so high, which is much more than the potential danger of waiting outside for four days. If the school district of philadelphia really wants to solve the problem, they should have announced the change of policy two or three months ago, so all of us could have made some backup plans. Their action of changing rules so late and after we have lined up for so long is simply unacceptable, unadjustfied, and unfair. 70 devoted parents, including myself, lined up in front of the school from 10:00am of Jan 18th (Friday), hoping that our kids will get into the Penn Alexander School to receive a good-quality education. However, at 6:00pm of Friday, without talking to any parents lining outs the school, the philadelphia school district declared that they have changed the policy to be "lottery" and the winner's names would be annonced in the end of April or early May. All waiting parents, including myself, were very shocked and out of angry at the news!!!! This basically means that all our efforts, including waiting in the freezing cold weather for more than 10 hours, is in vain and that we will be uncertain about which school our kids will go to for another four months. In addition, April is too late for any other option if we don't win the lottery. In fact, it is already too late for other options right now. We have missed the application deadline for many good private schools and charter schools and the voluntary transfer has already ended. We are left with no decent alternative choice by the school district of philadelphia!!!! Should the parents be blamed for this? We are so insane because we care so much about the education and future of our kids? A very angry and frustrated mother and a resident in the Penn Alexander School Catchment
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 12:03 pm
You have a right to be angry. The decision about a lottery should have been made in October. That said, most parents care about their child's education. I can't afford to live in the Penn catchment. Even if I could live there, I am a single parent with 3 kids. I have no family in the area. I could not have sat for 4 days. The fact parents lined up on Friday is ridiculous. The District needs to get Penn and other universities to "put up" money to help funds schools. It is blatantly unfair that Penn Alexander receives much more funding, support, etc. than other schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 5:50 pm
How is it unfair for Penn to help there own community? This makes no sense. If I help one of my neighbors it is a good thing it does not mean i am being unfair to the rest of my neighbors. Besides according to Penn they contribute and assisted in the development nine university-assisted community schools, Not just Penn Alexander. Many people in the catchment area have made huge sacrifices to live there. The housing stock is old and worn down most of the houses are a life’s work to renovate. I purchased my first home (a shell ) 20 years ago and fixed it and sold and did the same thing with my second home and finally I traded up to my current home 10 years ago in the PAS catchment area. When i moved here it was a big gamble , to get here it took me years of hard work and sweat, and sacrifice working on these homes in all my spare time nights and weekends after my other full time job, not to mention paying a mortgage I can barely afford to give my kids the best I can give them .
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 7:22 pm
Do you actually know what the university assisted schools entails or are you assuming because Amy Gutmann put it on a pamphlet the assistance the other schools receive is/was significant? Are you aware that as an Education Management Organization, Penn was a contractor with the district for many years in several schools being paid on a per pupil basis for professional development services but would often misrepresent this arrangement to the community and its own education graduate students and give the impression Penn was giving money to the schools on a per pupil basis? I agree Penn should get credit but only for the things it actually does.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 1:23 pm
I agree. The lottery is fair. The camping out business is really silly. Furthermore, parents should know that camping out doesn't guarantee a spot and they should have had back up plans. Why would you put all of your eggs in one basket? Why not at least apply to some of the charters or submit a voluntary transfer before the deadline? Why not attend the open houses and apply for the private schools? To simply rely on the educational tailgate party was not sensible. The district should have announced the lottery sooner but, these parents should have had a plan B.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 19, 2013 1:09 pm
You may be lucky enough to not "win" the lottery, and see how good a community can make a school, as in Lea nearby. So many factors go into a child's academic success. You are probably the most important factor: a caring parent; however there are other almost equally influential factors, many that can be found at places other than Penn Alexander. My child went to our neighborhood school, recently closed for seriously declining enrollment and mediocre academic performance, through 8th grade. He currently plays 5 instruments, and has straight "A"s at Central with many Honors classes. I do not think that getting into (or not) Penn Alexander will make (or break) your child's education.
Submitted by Wenqin Luo (not verified) on January 19, 2013 5:56 pm
I agree with you that caring parents are most important for a child's academic success, and that probably my daughter will do well even if she go to another school. I also agree with everyone else that there is a hugh problem with the "first come, first serve" policy. However, all we did, as parents, was simply to follow the government rule in order to register our kids into PAS. How could the school district of philadelphia change the game rule after the game has started? It was simply unacceptable and unfair, which is the reason why many of us are so angry.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 7:36 pm
You didn't follow the government rule as the line on Friday was not an official line. The real registration line wouldn't have started until Tuesday at 8 or 9 a.m. inside the building. Everyone was on the honor system out there. I'm not saying this to criticize only to help you understand the weakness of this line of argument.
Submitted by Wenqinluo (not verified) on January 19, 2013 8:23 pm
I agree that the official line up time is 8:00am or 9:00am of tuesday. We honored the system and we would have waited until the official registration open. However, the school district of Philadelphia changed its policy in the last minute and left very few options to us. Will you not feel angry or unfair if you are in our shoes? We followed the rules and sacrificed to make sure that our kid can go to a good school, but now suddenly the kid's education, which is so important, becomes a random choice. The school district can discuss with the school, the community, and the university of Pennsylvania to find a better solution in the future. I have a younger daughter and will be open and very interested at alternative options. However, changing the game rule while a game has started in this year is not the right way to solve the problem.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 8:21 pm
OK, one more time. The game was to start on Tuesday. Just because you all decided to have a scrimmage over the holiday weekend technically doesn't mean the district changed the rules in the middle of the game. Your argument should be that the district waited too close to the start of official registration to move to a lottery. But go ahead and keep repeating yourself. An impolite Jon Stewart phrase involving a chicken is starting to come to mind...
Submitted by Anonymous on January 19, 2013 8:01 pm
Keep the F word to yourself.
Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on January 19, 2013 6:23 pm
You are not insane and no you should not be blamed at all for trying to do what you have to, so that your child can get a good education. I just wanted to let you know I understand. I never thought it would be this hard to get a child a decent education at this time in this country. Just wanted you to know that you aren't alone in this struggle to get your child a decent education in Philly. School choice does not mean real choices for many of us.
Submitted by cg (not verified) on January 20, 2013 1:14 pm
Wenqin, families were never guaranteed a spot, even by virtue of standing in that line, or making a plan to stand in that line. I was in that line last year for 24 hours and did not get my kid admitted, because I was too far back (low 60s). That some families would get turned away was a forgone conclusion, the only question has been whether it would be on the basis of a lottery, or line position. And while I agree that the timing of the decision was terrible, I think it was the right one. Some parents did not have the resources or ability to get in line as quickly as you may have, not because the don't care as much as you do, but because of work obligations, not as many social resources in the area , etc.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 11:00 am
For more than a year neighbors and parents have petitioned and begged Penn and the School District to speak transparently about improving the admissions policy at PAS and have gotten nowhere. This despite the fact that this school is supposed to be administered with community input. Then this unilateral change of policy without any community involvement. Shame.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 11:29 am
I've heard numberous times that Principal Synder holds spots for children with connections. Does anyone know if there is any factional evidence of this or is this a rumor? It should be investigated! After meeting her and talking to her a couple of times, I wouldn't be surprised to find that true. What gives one person the right to pick and choose who enters their school based on "connections"? If this is true than personally I wouldn't want to leave my son in the care of someone who does not view all the children as equals.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 12:44 pm
Yes, former CEO Thorton's granddaughter is at the school. She lives no where near Penn Alexander. I assume there are many others... Each year more than the number of spots for head start are taken by non residents of the catchment.
Submitted by cg (not verified) on January 20, 2013 2:30 pm
Seriously? Can you back that info up somehow? I've heard rumors about connections but was told repeatedly by the secretary at PAS that admission was always based on line position (barring Head Start status, etc). Where are you getting those numbers? # Head Start kids per class, vs. non-resident.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on January 19, 2013 2:05 pm

The District data cited earlier (see the bottom right of the first page) show that the school is actually serving 5/6 of the elementary students in the catchment area who are in a public (District or charter school). 500 students out of 601 in the catchment area go to Penn Alexander. A good chunk of those who don't are in special admit schools - probably middle schoolers at Masterman.

The 12 students from the catchment area who go to charters represent 2% of the total elementary population. The Notebook has reviewed the data citywide and the percent going to charters here is easily the lowest figure in the entire city.

Don't the numbers suggest that in most cases neighborhood families are getting their kids in to Penn Alexander?

What the District data don't capture is how many families from the catchment area who are in private schools because they couldn't get in and didn't find another public school to their liking (or I suppose there could be families that move out after their kids fail to get in). Anybody know what kind of numbers we're talking about?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2013 7:12 pm
Wouldn't it be the under 17 census figure number minus the under 5 census figure number minus the K-8 public enrollment number for the catchment minus the high school public enrollment number for the catchment? Does the Notebook have access to the number of high school students attending public schools in Philly who live in the PAS catchment? I personally know of PAS catchment families who selected private schools for religious reasons or wanting a progressive education and there is even a family who homeschooled after PAS was not a good fit. Careful with your assumptions Paul!
Submitted by Paul Socolar on January 19, 2013 9:00 pm

The calculation you suggest would be a good approximation if we had all the data. But unfortunately the District has not published any information about high school population per elementary school catchment area.

Sure, there could be many families in the neighborhood who aren't interested in public schools. I was addressing one of the central issues here, which is concern about competition for a limited number of slots at Penn Alexander. The tiny number of students in the catchment area going to charters suggests that most families who want their kids to go to PAS are getting in and/or aren't finding any other public school options that are acceptable.

Submitted by cg (not verified) on January 20, 2013 12:45 pm
The trend of the school turning away families is recent, in the past few years. I think it would be important to look at what proportion of children <7 yo are being served by PAS.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 20, 2013 2:51 am
The competition for Penn Alexander seats screams one thing: The District needs to REPLICATE this model at other schools! This means: - Providing more money per student at every school (easier said than done, especially with Corbett in office), - Bring magnet programs to neighborhood schools in order to create a better mix of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. - Other unique features of Penn Alexander, such as the professional development program. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 10:35 am
Fascinating that the woman who started the line on Friday after people asked her not to is apparently high up at a local major university (not Penn). Last year, a Vice-President of a major bank was at the front of the line when it started on a Sunday. On the one hand, it's great that high powered people are choosing a Philly public schools. On the other, it shows how the first-come-first-served process was clearly favoring those with means. Supposedly there is a meeting with the district on Tuesday and parents who were in the line are telling parents who weren't they can't go to it. Out of this squabbling comes the beautiful mosaic that makes the strong Penn Alexander parent community, really?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 11:35 am
I am a parent in the PAS catchment. I am registering my child for Kindergarten next fall. I did not wait in line... instead, I went to work on Friday. I did not imagine that people would start lining up quite so early. I am shocked that these people are saying that those who didn't wait in line don't have a right to meet with the district and ask them questions about a process which directly affects us. I am even more shocked that the district would hold a closed door meeting with only the parents who waited in line and not open it up to all parents of incoming Kindergarteners. Wasn't the point of moving to a lottery to create greater equity?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 11:23 am
Might want to Tweet the district (@PhillyEducation & @SDPHite) and ask. It could very well be that it's only the line people, and not the district, telling others not to come. Given the way they've been acting, I would not be surprised.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 12:22 pm
No one expected this line to form so soon and so quickly. No one anticipated the fallout either. It was reported that a poster was affixed to the gate leading to PAS. It stated to send your information to a email address to get on the list. Go to the gate on Locust St, read the poster, get your name on the list, and you will be invited.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 4:58 pm
To save parents a trip, this blog has a picture of the sign with the email address: As the writer points out, the demands that the line be honored out of "fairness" are more than a little suspect.
Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on January 20, 2013 5:30 pm
Since no one officially started "the line," I don't understand why those who stood in the line assume they have a right to a "seat." I also understand that people who buy houses in "the catchment" expect their children to go to the school. As someone who does not live near "the catchment," nor any other "desirable" catchment, it reinforces the inequity in the School District. I've heard craziness also happens in NYC in "desirable" schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 12:57 pm
If only the high-powered Vice President and Vice Provost would focus the same energy and resources on improving other schools in their community. Let's hope.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 11:52 am
PAS is supposed to be a community educational laboratory school. Has anyone analyzed its performance over the 10+ years it has been in existence compared to the expectations from the very beginning? Do we know what characteristics proved effective, and which ones did not? Which characteristics have the biggest impact on success: the community connections, the teacher-student ratio, the ability to select teachers because of ability rather than seniority,the relationships with Penn Ed School, the Penn branding, the $ in the school budget, the $ in the community, the demographics, the fresh culture of a brand new school that was built up gradually, grade by grade? Have we learned anything that allows us to replicate the lessons learned to other neighborhood schools deserving improvement?
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on January 20, 2013 2:18 pm
Great questions! You'd think Penn GSE would be conducting research.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 1:23 pm
Few organizations are as useless as penn gse. Run by a dunce for the benefit or scoundrels.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 21, 2013 2:28 am
I think that 2 of your points are quite interesting: - the ability to select teachers because of ability rather than seniority - the demographics How exactly does PAS choose according to ability rather than seniority? Is the process there different than the regular full site selection process? Who selected the principal and other administrators? In terms of demographics, I think that poverty is much less detrimental when a child has an active and well-informed parent. But what creates well-informed, active parents and why does there appear to be a correlation between being well-informed and active with educational attainment? For parents who lack a college education, are poor, and/or are not well-informed or actively involved, what reasonable and feasible measure can educators and school systems take to increase the engagement of the parents of the most at-risk students? EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 7:12 am
PAS likes to say that it was the first school with site-selection when, in fact, principals in Philly had been doing unofficial site selection for years (decades?) before PAS. It was the first school to make it policy and market it. I believe the latter part is the key not the former. PAS also has traditionally appointed teachers and even the principal will admit some of the site-selected teachers have been duds - some people just interview well.
Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on January 21, 2013 8:27 am
I never lived in "the catchment" but lived in an adjoining neighborhood. I was on a community board for my neighborhood when the discussion of a "Penn school" was introduced. The boundaries for the catchment were very contentious because everyone knew it would dramatically increase housing prices. This came to fruition - housing prices doubled almost overnight once the catchment was draw and the school was built. So, real estate agents as well as the Univ. of Penn were heavily involved in the marketing. Remember, Penn wanted a "buffer" because of the crime/murders in the mid 1990s. They needed a "safe" community which led to Penn providing generous down payments / mortgage help for staff and then Penn Alexander.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 3:49 pm
I never lived in the catchment either, but was mugged there back in the 90's. Penn put hundreds of millions of dollars into making UC a great place to live. It is a national model for urban universities. Of course some people can only bitch and moan about it like it was so much better with all the vacant burned out houses before anyone who could afford a $250k house wanted to set foot in the area. As if there is some shortage of blight in Philly. I always thought it was a mistake for Penn to put PA under the PSD's control. The PSD "brand" is on par with the Ford Pinto, and deservedly so. The PSD brand BTW is a big part of why parents flee to charters. Penn's brand managed to trump the PSD brand and parents ignored that the succession of Ed PhD charlatans running the PSD into the ground would eventually turn their energies to PA.
Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on January 20, 2013 2:51 pm
If Penn Alexander is so short on space, whey is there a Head State program in the building? I can't imagine there are many within the catchment who qualify for Head Start. What is the relationship with the Parent Infant Center (PIC) and Penn Alexander? PIC is very expensive so is this an attempt to diversify PIC?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 2:19 pm
It's not "in the building." It's in a separate building on the bottom left of this map: PIC expanded into the building marked "University City New School." PIC rents from the school district.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 8:12 pm
Do you live in this neighborhood? Do you walk outside? Of course there are kids who qualify for Head Start. And giving them access is one of the only things that Penn Alexander does right.
Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on January 20, 2013 8:10 pm
I can't afford to live in the neighborhood.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 9:29 pm
What on earth could you possibly mean by this comment?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 7:31 am
There are people, awful people, who have suggested that the out of catchment Head Start children not be allowed to continue to the kindergarten (they already cannot continue to the 1st grade) which is an accommodation every other neighborhood school in the district makes without a second thought.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 8:22 pm
I was in the line -- with an early number that guaranteed my child a spot (pure luck) -- and, nevertheless, I was delighted to learn about the lottery system. This notion that we should "honor the line" smacks of racial and economic privilege.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 9:38 pm
Thank you for posting this. I have a child in the school and a toddler and I fully agree. The lottery is the only way to handle this fairly.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 21, 2013 2:45 am
"This notion that we should "honor the line" smacks of racial and economic privilege." BINGO - It's about privilege. The privilege to be able to take off work and be in line, to have the resources to have an elaborate plan for waiting outside for 3 or 4 days. This is a privileged public school, but it is still a PUBLIC school. The admission process needs to be accessible to the members of the public who are eligible to enroll their children in the school. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 8:20 pm
I would like to say that my strong interest in getting my child into PAS is because I have one child there and struggle very much to get one kid to PAS and the other to daycare before getting to work (and to pick them up after work). In addition, I participate in as many of the PAS events as I possibly can to support the school and still cannot do them all. If my other child has to go to a different school, I will have to split my time between two different schools. I don't have a car, so going to a school that is located reasonably close to my job is very important. It is also helpful to go to a school in my community so that my neighbors and I can help each other out when we are in a pinch (i.e. many school closings, sick child, sick parent etc). The quality of the education at PAS is only one of many factors that makes it such a desirable school. I get an impression from many of the posts that people view catchment families as rich whiny snobs. Of course, everything depends on how you calibrate your standards, but this is largely a community of working families who cannot afford private school and hope not to move to the Main Line.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 8:45 pm
Amen to this. Penn professors etc are a minority among PAS parents. We bought our house 12 years ago, knowing nothing about the school or the catchment. Our house had been abandoned for 10 years when we bought it. We could not afford to buy in the catchment now and gave relied on second mortgages etc to stay here because we barely make it on what we earn, have lots of credit card debt, have weathered a crushing layoff, etc. We don't qualify for free lunch so I suppose that makes us part of the "advantaged" 60% served by PAS, but we are hardly the gentry! I am not complaining by any means but it is disappointing to see the characerizations of the school and its families and general nastiness coming (presumably) from fellow Philly public school parents. What gives, guys? Sheesh.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 9:49 pm
Last two Anonymouses: I totally hear you. But I think the behavior of a few of your fellow catchment parents is really, really rubbing everyone else the wrong way (for instance, the parents who have demanded and gotten a private meeting with Hite and are threatening lawsuits over the lottery). It's hard to think and act collectively when a few are determined to get their own way, everybody else be damned.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2013 9:22 pm
Well, suffice it to say it's rubbing plenty of us the wrong way too, including some who were standing in that line.
Submitted by Line Parent (not verified) on January 20, 2013 11:09 pm
I bought a house in this neighbor hood in the early 1990's, long before Penn Alexander was even discussed. As my first child is now kindergarten-eligible, I have been watching the situation over the past few years with increasing anxiety. I want my child in his neighborhood school where he can walk with his friends. I do not want to drive him and I do not want him to ride a bus. I can move to the suburbs if I want that kind of life. So, like most of you, I prepared for "the line." I did not expect it to start so soon. I was at PIC that morning and saw the first person in line. I felt that I couldn't leave so I called out of work and stayed to watch the situation. Because of this, I secured a good spot. And, for a brief 8 or so hours, I felt a sense of relief that I haven't felt in over 2 years. So, of course, I was initially infuriated when that was yanked away from me without notice. So, call me entitled or privileged or whatever, but I think most of you would have had a similar reaction and jumped on the 'honor the line' bandwagon. As the dust has settled, I think a few things: 1) the previous situation was unfair (and I have been involved in some of the efforts to address the enrollment situation). The school and district have adamantly refused to consider any modifications to first-come, first-served despite repeated requests; 2) a lottery isn't fair either -- once you do that, you start to rip apart the community that makes this neighborhood so great (not that the line hasn't already started that rip); 3) I don't think it is good policy that the school district can arbitrarily change its policies (and with the old policies still available on their website) with no notice or input. If we accept that they can do this, then we accept that they may be able to arbitrarily change other policies (that we like) without process. Regardless of where you stand on the line or the lottery, you should be worried that we cannot rely on the school to follow its own policies; 4) documented experiences of many parents who have been turned away in previous years indicate that none of us can trust the school district to properly reassign our children if they don't get into PAS; 5) it is unreasonable that the only access point to this school is kindergarten. I have new neighbors who cannot get their kid into PAS (and the school district has inexplicably been unable to assign her to ANY alternate school SINCE LAST SUMMER!) If they hadn't found a spot at a private school (after school began), the child would still not be in school. Gross incompetence and also illegal, I believe; 6) it is not reasonable to have a lottery without sibling preference. It just is not; 7) the lottery as the district has proposed it is also unreasonable. If there is to be a lottery, it must be executed on timelines similar to that of charter schools (completed by the end of February) so that parents can make decisions if they are lucky enough to have multiple options. So, as a parent who has been a part of the "honor the line" contingent: I feel conflicted. I didn't like the game, but I played it anyway. Lots of us did. I don't think it was right to change the rules mid-game. I don't think that instituting the lottery as it has been proposed is any more fair. And, must importantly, I don't have any trust whatsoever in the school district to execute a fair process or lottery. Given the multiple and conflicting policies that the school district has simultaneously posted, I think that they have to do something extraordinary to rectify this debacle of their own making. They should do what they should have done all along: provide seats for every eligible child in the catchment by whatever means necessary. But, it is so nice to read these blogs and read about how I am an elitist, over-privileged monster. That makes me feel good about my neighbors. I fear that regardless of what happens, there has been irreparable damage done to this community.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 21, 2013 2:29 am
Line Parent, I think you make great points. One thing that is troubling is that there are numerous children who do not live in the catchment, but attend the school. There could be a number of reasons for this. Nepotism and having connections is one reason. Special education placement is another. The District doesn't have programs for low and moderate incidence disabilities at every school, so if there is an autism support, emotional support, life skills support, or other self-contained program at Penn Alexander, the out-of-catchment students could be special ed students. The policy should be that every child must be a neighborhood child, no exceptions. My understanding is that at Masterman, people at 440 can't pull strings to get their own kids into that school. Maybe a similar policy needs to be in place for Penn Alexander. I'd be interested in other people's thoughts about my points. EGS
Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on January 21, 2013 6:39 am
People at 440 - and City Hall - pull strings to get into Masterman. Masterman admission information states not all students who qualify are accepted. Look at the politically connected whose children attend. The problem with Masterman is the qualifications. Young females are more likely to do well on the standardized tests in young grades (3rd) and are more "school adept" (e.g. behavior, focus, etc.) Masterman also can't be all white and Asian (although it is now 61.9% white/Asian 5 - 12 - the high school has less ethnic diversity). I doubt anyone who attends Masterman will try to change the qualifications - that is like the PA Legislature agreeing to change electoral boundaries to get rid of gerrymandering - they may lose their seat.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 7:20 am There are 36 out of catchment students out of 553 and half of them are probably former out of catchment Head Start kids in the kindergarten who can't continue on for 1st grade. But it's far easier to pretend all the problems are due to OUTSIDERS taking OUR spots rather than they simply drew the catchment too large for the school that was built. The above document shows a capacity of over 800 but that includes buildings occupied by PIC. Oh, and they kicked their autism support class right out when they enforced the cap.
Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on January 21, 2013 6:09 am
Univ. of PA is paying for a 4th kindergarten class - including the teacher's salary - for Penn Alexander. This is a privilege that no other Philadelphia school receives. You need to ask why the School District is closing Wilson elementary instead of changing the "catchment" for Lea, Penn Alexander, Wilson and Huey. (Last year they closed Drew - a school which could have taken "catchment" students.) Many families are anxious this year because of the instability of the School District.
Submitted by Anonym (not verified) on January 21, 2013 6:07 am
(I'm adding to my own comment.) Also consider how many school catchment areas will be redrawn in North Philly, Kensington and Northwest Philly if the proposed SRC school closing happen. Many parents have argued at SRC meetings about the distance from school elementary students are expected to walk and safety. This is a city wide issue - not just for Penn Alexander.
Submitted by tom-104 on January 21, 2013 7:34 am
I believe the long distances are part of the agenda being rolled out. This is speculation on my part, but based on the past practice of the SRC and the method being used for school closings in other cities like NYC and Chicago, I think, in the fall, the SRC will say they have to open more charters because the parents, including those experiencing extreme hardship in the distances their children must travel to school, are demanding more "seats". This is an unfolding cycle. Starve the public schools of resources, including support personnel needed for support and school security, until parents move into charters out of desperation. Then say public schools are only half enrolled and start closing them. Then say there is a demand for more "seats" in charters, because of the conditions being created in public schools, so they must be expanded leading to further erosion of public schools. How else can you explain the $139 million dollars the SRC appropriated this summer for the expansion of "seats" in existing charters? This will add 5,416 seats in 14 existing charters. A few months later the SRC is proposing closing 37 public schools for a "savings" of $28 million dollars. Not factored into this "savings" because it does not appear in the BCG number crunchers spreadsheets, is the trauma of young children having their social network destroyed and facing long walks or bus rides to school, increased social conflicts in the merging of high schools whose resolution will fall on school district personnel, and the devastation to communities of losing an anchor in their community, the community public school.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:50 am
tom-104, I am going to give you these stats/figures in reply to your comment. Not that I expect them to change your point of view, but please take them into consideration. The County of Philadelphia lost over 43,000 school age children (5 to 14 years old) between the years of 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This makes no distinction between public, charter, or private. The PSD spends (not gets) over $14,300 per child currently compared to about $12,800 per child that the residing charters do. If I look at individual school budgets in the PSD, I see that the schools that have a smaller class size/class: teacher ratio and/or have a high percentage of Special Ed or kids qualifying for free or reduced lunch spend about as much as the charters do per child. Schools in which behavior is not a major issue, and that have class sizes at or near the legal limit (32?), like Central HS, spend only $5,500 per child. So where is the extra PSD per child expenditure, that would be anywhere from $1500 to $8800 per child going? Perhaps the costly administrators or aging buildings? How much is being overspent on underutilized programs, which include extremely low student to teacher ratios (under 10) while carrying full administrative and maintenance staffs? Would a charter be able to launch/exist with such low utilization? A residing school district pays a charter what it spends per child, minus what it spends on capital expenditures, transportation, supplementary programs (adult education). If the PSD becomes more efficient (at my neighborhood school, the year before it was voted for closure, a few teachers had less than 10 children in their class, and one had only 1!), at what it spends, the amount that it will have to pay to charters will also go down. Having sat in the one exception to this dropping class size at my school, I do not support higher class size even for older students. Rather in my opinion, (if feasible) it would make more sense to share a teacher between schools, and make up the partial classroom time with cyber or trade instruction. Ironically increased transportation costs will not negate this savings as this transportation costs are deducted from charter compensation. I believe that pressure to expand charters comes from their more efficient use of taxpayer money. Sorry to say that the work world is moving toward contractors, who have less guarantees and must be efficient to survive. Pensions, also (very)sorry to say, are hard to find; Instead the worker must increasingly shoulder the burden of saving for his/her retirement through IRAs or 401ks (if these are even offered). It's hard to predict how the Affordable Care Act will influence the cost of medical care: Hopefully it will reign in costs and stop robbing what we have to spend in the classroom. I do agree with you however, that the thenotebook.orgto charters would be a loss. If you trace what you believe to be a conspiracy, you will find "school based administration", which has been pushed forward as a way to improve education in poor rural and now urban areas. The drawbacks of this system were all too apparent when we almost lost our Instrumental teachers to the "Weighted Student Funding" that was being piloted. A very good opinion was posted by the League of Women Voters in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg SD which observed that rather than making the distribution of resources more equitable as it was supposed to, the opposite effect happened. What we see here at Penn Alexander is a good illustration of how market forces work to the detriment of the purpose of a public education. A line reminiscent of the latest Apple iPhone releases - too sad. Negative comments from readers who have bought into this "name brand" Uof Penn and feel left out - also too sad. Unfortunately, with such a huge loss of kids ages 5 to 14, I do not see another alternative to downsizing, whether in personnel or facilities. I believe there are alternatives to the current FMP, but it is rather "late in the day" for these.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:54 am
Not sure how that got inserted, but "thenotebook.orgto" should be "conversion to".
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 7:54 am
You say, "2) a lottery isn't fair either -- once you do that, you start to rip apart the community that makes this neighborhood so great (not that the line hasn't already started that rip);" My responses are as follows: 1. A lottery is less fair than waiting in line 4 days? You really believe this? B. a lottery rips apart the community? How? Could you explain this line of reasoning 4. I wish I could have a Penn Alexander in my neighborhood....I'll take my chances with the community damage knowing at least there was a chance my children could get the great education they provide.
Submitted by Line Parent (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:05 am
A. I don't believe that the lottery as proposed is fair. April is not a reasonable timeline and neither is not including sibling preference. Every other lottery system that I am aware of in Philadelphia is completed by February 28th and includes sibling preference. B. According to Judy Rodin whose vision this school was: "We were committed to the idea of a neighborhood school. How could it be a true neighborhood school if one child attended and his or her friend next door could not?" And...if one child can attend and his brother or sister cannot? The whole point of a catchment is to include children from the geographic catchment. Families are part of the same social network. They go to school plays and concerts to see each others' kids. They walk each others' kids to and from school. As I said, I moved here in the 1990s and this was a very different place for many reasons. But one of the benefits that the school has brought is this feeling of community that did not exist when every kid was driven to a different school in a different part of the city or suburbs. If a lottery starts sending kids all over the place again, the community suffers.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on January 21, 2013 10:54 am
Before Penn Alexander, some students left the area and went to Powell. There was also a highly regarded private school at the site which had to close when Penn announced the creation of a university school. While I agree it is ideal to have neighbors in the same school, the catchment boundaries have to change if there are not enough "seats" and the SDP / Penn will not increase class size. Wilson is being closed. Why? Why not have students who leave nearer Clark Park go to Wilson?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 3:33 pm
The University City New School's habit of not paying its rent also had something to do with being asked to leave. And Wilson is at 50% enrollment with 60% of its students coming from outside its catchment. It's too small to be a K-8 and they're closing it's middle school, Shaw.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 10:29 am
"April is not a reasonable timeline" Welcome to the world of, oh say, 37 other Philly school communities that won't know whether their schools will still exist next year until April. And they're not getting private audiences with Hite either. They get to plead their case to whatever administrators show up at the Facilities Master Plan meetings usually shared with a half dozen other schools. And there's a timer up on the screen to make sure they don't go over 3 minutes. Are you going to be timed at your meeting? This is not to say you have to change your stance but perhaps you could make in a way that is slightly less tone deaf to what the rest of Philadelphia is going through?
Submitted by tom-104 on January 21, 2013 10:24 am
The timer for speakers is set for TWO minutes...just sayin'. And followup statements to the response of Dr. Hite and others to statements and questions are not allowed because "there is no time."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 11:17 am
Yes, sorry I was thinking of the testimony before the SRC. PAS parents have been scarce at SRC meetings all throughout the budget cuts. Well, one or two a year might stop by to speak on the PAS enrollment issue and only that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 7:33 am
"5) it is unreasonable that the only access point to this school is kindergarten. I have new neighbors who cannot get their kid into PAS (and the school district has inexplicably been unable to assign her to ANY alternate school SINCE LAST SUMMER!) If they hadn't found a spot at a private school (after school began), the child would still not be in school. Gross incompetence and also illegal, I believe;" Nope, kindergarten is not mandatory in the state of Pennsylvania. That's part of the reason why kindergarten "seats" in the district are so scarce. Maybe PAS parents should be joining PCCY in their efforts on lobbying the state to lower the age of mandatory schooling to below 6. And that would actually benefit children beyond your own...
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on January 21, 2013 8:43 am
Pennsylvania does not require school attendance until the age of 8 - "When a child was denied admittance to kindergarten on the basis of age after transferring to a different school district, he was not denied equal protection since compulsory attendance for ‘‘beginners’’ did not pertain to kindergarten students. O’Leary v. Wisecup, 364 A.2d 770 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1976). "
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:21 am
Statewide it is 8. PCCY helped to get it lowered to 6 in Philadelphia.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:21 am
Thank you but the law still doesn't guarantee a kindergarten "seat." Also, why didn't PCCY push for the age 6 to be state wide? There are many areas of PA that would benefit from an early start with school.
Submitted by Line Parent (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:59 am
Gosh, thanks for the civics lesson. I sure thought that the school district was required to provide spots for 4th graders regardless of when they entered the district. Good to know.
Submitted by Line Parent (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:42 am
This is not about kindergarten. That is why the competition has gotten so fierce. Kindergarten is now effectively the only entry point to the school. This is a about K-8. This is about families who move into the neighborhood not being able to send their child to PAS (and as my neighbor has experienced, to ANY Philadelphia school). This is about a family that has multiple children having to have its kids at two different schools for the duration. If this were only about kindergarten, it would be a very different conversation.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 8:39 am
Dear Line Parent: I am also a catchment parent. I don't think anyone takes issue with your desire to get your child into the school, or your choice to jump in the line you saw forming. Who wouldn't? I think what people are so angry about is what happened next, and I think what matters now is how your group chooses to position itself from here on out. Evidently you have a private audience with the superintendent. Are you going to use that to try to gain advantage for yourselves because you were lucky enough to be able to be in that line? Or might you accept that the lottery, while not perfect, is far more equitable than this line nonsense that has plagued our neighborhood the past few years and use it to present some valid points in behalf of ALL families in the area (such as your points about the badly managed reassignment process)? I hope you choose the latter, recognizing that the former option would truly be the most divisive thing that has happened in the neighborhood -- far more than any lottery, which most people seem to generally support.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:14 am
Everyone who lives in the catchment area should be allowed to go to PAS. Every other district school has to accept their catchment students regardless of overcrowding. We have over 33 students in our upper grades but we keep accepting the students.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:22 am
Dr. Hite claims class size doesn't matter. This was his argument at the Jan. 17 SRC meeting. It would be great if the "line group" from Penn Alexander would press him on this issue. If Penn Alexander opened up class size to contractual SDP numbers - 30 in K-3 and 33 in 4 - 12 - there would be plenty of "seats" for people who live in the catchment. If 30 and 33 are good enough for the rest of the District, why not for Penn Alexander? (Personally, I think class size matters. For example, it is very different to read/evaluate 100 essays - a class size of 20 with 5 classes - than 165 essays - a class size of 33 with 5 classes. High schools with large class sizes often rely too heavily on multiple choice scan tron tests versus writing because of the work load. A teacher also can not give time to every students in a class of 33 compared to a class of 20. This directly impacts student learning.)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:36 am
Not to mention these coveted kindergarten classes have 18 students in them. Last year it was 20 after being 17 for a long time but when Penn paid for a fourth class, they decided to lower the class size again. And Penn Alexander did briefly have 1-3 class sizes at 30 in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. Look at the 1st grade numbers here: Then they announced the enrollment cap in May 2011. Was there a limit to how many $1,330/student payments Penn would make? This was also around the same time Penn found out it would be losing its EMO contracts with the district. Coincidence? Those $1,330/student payments hit the Penn budget a bit harder when they're not being subsidized by other district contracts.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 3:00 pm
I believe the reason they went down to 18 is because 20 students for 4 classes = 80 students. 1st grade is 24 students for 3 classes which = 72 students. They would have too many students in their upper classes if they had 20 in kindergarten.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:18 am
I don't oppose this in principle but will say that the classrooms at PAS are much smaller than other district schools'. I was a teacher in the district and routinely had 30+ kids in a room. The PAS classrooms would be unsafe with that # (and were that one year).
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:10 am
Thanks for the insight. What would you say is the maximum class size they can hold safely? 24 as they have it now seems awfully low.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:50 am
There are many Philly schools with "packed" classrooms. If it is unsafe at Penn Alexander, it is unsafe at other schools. There are classrooms where there is barely enough room for the teacher to move between the desks. (In many other schools it is a "mish-mash" of desks which adds to the congestion in the room.)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 10:44 am
I was a teacher in Philly and have spent time in many Philly schools. The PAS classrooms are significantly smaller. Sure they could hold a few more kids, but the year they had 30 per class it was horrible. You literally could not move in those rooms.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 10:50 am
OK but there are numbers between 24 and 30. What would you say the maximum class size should be?
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 21, 2013 4:55 pm
Dr. Hite was wrong on that point. The research is clear that small class size matters for grades K through 3. My understanding is that the PFT contract requires there to be an additional teacher when class size exceeds 30. That requirement is very important, especially for children in grades K through 3.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 4:11 pm
Contract states that a teacher get help for classes over contractual size. That help can be an aide for 45 minutes a day. They are not required to hire a new teacher.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 21, 2013 4:58 pm
Okay. At the school where I student taught, the teacher had 34 students and had an aide for a couple of hours a day. In December, the teacher received another full time reduced class size teacher.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 11:39 am
Maybe another kid or two per class. Does that solve anything? Hard to know because the scholar/ district won't share the info about just how many kids are getting turned away!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 2:36 pm
There are three classes of 24 in grades K-4. Add two more to each that's 30 spots. Not saying it solves everything but it's a start.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on January 21, 2013 4:00 pm

The District informed the Notebook that the meeting with Hite Tuesday at 11 in the Penn Alexander gym is not exclusively for people who were on the line ... there will be an open mic for others who want to comment about the kindergarten enrollment situation at the school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 4:38 pm
What a slap in the face of the 37 school communities told they can't have individual meetings with the district about their proposed closures.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 21, 2013 4:55 pm
I totally agree! Money and privilege talk!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 5:35 pm
I wonder if there will be Penn GSE representation at this meeting.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 6:34 pm
That's Tuesday, not Monday.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on January 21, 2013 7:36 pm

thanks - fixed.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 8:02 pm
To all those in favor of the lottery: I hope you are prepared for all the "For Sale" signs that are about to flood the PAS catchment.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 21, 2013 9:24 pm
Let's be realistic about this. The area is not going to go into a free-fall. Yes, there are some people who will sell their homes because of the enrollment issues at PAS. At the same time, the school is in University City, close to Penn. This is still a very desirable part of the city in which to live.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2013 12:21 am
I disagree - I think the area could go downhill fast. I was not in the line but I have twins that will enter K in 2015. The lottery is the reason we are moving out of the city. We are meeting with a realtor tomorrow. I've spoken to 2 neighbors about it and 1 of the 2 families is definitely moving as well. Just watch the domino effect. The PAS catchment is not a desirable area to live if there are no public school choices for your children.
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on January 22, 2013 12:28 am
There are already a number of houses for sale - both near 45th St. are listed for over $570,000. I don't know who can afford the prices.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2013 2:07 pm
One little change in policy that hasn't even been implemented yet and you're uprooting your entire family? You'd rather go to all the expense and trouble of moving, making new friends, a longer commute, increased dependency on cars all to keep your children from maybe having to go to one of W. Philly's other neighborhood schools? Because if you have the time, money, and determination to do all that, you have the time, money, and determination to invest in making those schools stronger. But--see ya. It appears you're not really the material a community is made of. (Please reply if your house is three stories and if you're selling at whatever the "new," zomg lottery!!! rate is, because I might be interested. Oh, and what are the street trees on your street like? I like really tall ones. Thx!)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 21, 2013 10:04 pm
I welcome the for-sale signs. Anybody that is demanding they get in because of this line email list (oh wow, it's Notarized!), I welcome them to move out. Are they ready for a lawsuit? Nice.... that is just the type of jerk that we don't need in UC. I encourage them to move out.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2013 12:02 am
I was planning on buying in the catchment. Now, I'm not. I think he lottery is a first step to destroying the school- next they will weight the lottery to get the 'right' socioeconomic balance. And parents with the ability to leave will. The first step is to create significant doubt you will be able to attend the school- mission accomplished. I was already wavering with the massive property tax increase coming up. This is a 1 2 punch. And I'm sure the regular jerks will say good riddance to me. That I don't buy blindly into Phillys high taxes and stupid government. When it comes to my kids education, I'm not putting faith in district people who are proven failures. I like living in city, but that is where I draw the line. On the bright side, I guess there will be more low cost housing for young 20 something's without kids.

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