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At Penn Alexander, admissions policy remains uncertain

by thenotebook on Jan 22 2013 Posted in Latest news
Photo: Charlotte Pope

by Charlotte Pope

More than 100 parents and community members from the Penn Alexander catchment area came to a special meeting Tuesday with Superintendent William Hite and other District officials. Participants were split as to the best policy for getting into the high-achieving school's coveted kindergarten class.

After about 70 parents formed a line in the freezing cold Friday -- four days before the registration was due to open -- the District announced it was changing the first-come, first-serve system to a lottery, causing a firestorm of protest.

Concerns that lining up in advance for registration was inequitable were raised during a School Reform Commission meeting last week.

Although the lottery plan is not being withdrawn, Hite said the District would listen to other alternatives.

“I commit that we intend to continue working on this process with you in order to have a better system moving forward,” Hite said. 

Karyn Lynch, the District’s chief of student services, said she would like to meet with a group of community representatives to figure out what the best admissions policy for the school would be. She hopes to have consulted with that group by next Tuesday.

At the meeting, parents voiced various concerns: With the lack of attractive school choices, and considering the planned closure of nearby schools, where would parents send their children? Is it fair to change the policy at the last minute, when admissions deadlines for parochial and private schools have passed? And what about the effects of sending siblings to different schools?

The room was mainly divided between two factions: those who want to honor the list of people who, as in previous years, lined up to register and those who questioned the equity of that process, wanting instead to institute an enrollment lottery system.

Karen Breese, a parent of a 2nd grader at Penn Alexander who has another child due to enter kindergarten, was one of many who were concerned with the prospect of having to split her children between two schools.

“I am here because I want my daughter in kindergarten, I want my neighbor’s daughter in kindergarten, and I want my friends' sons and daughters in kindergarten,” Breese said. “I think it’s really important that we start taking a close look at what’s going on here and make space for all of the kids. Breaking up families is just not acceptable.”

Trey Popp, another parent hoping to enroll his child in the school’s kindergarten class, spoke of the possibility of replicating the high-performing school. Hite has said that replicating successful programs and schools would be a priority for the District.

“I think that a separate branch could be part of the solution, to at least piggyback on the name and reputation of a school everybody admires, and try to enlist participation and support for an offshoot or an ally or a sister school,” said Popp. He added that the problem with many of Philadelphia’s schools is that their poor reputation is an albatross that drives people away. “There’s got to be a way around that,” he said.

Most in the room applauded the idea of finding a way to enroll all of the students in the Penn Alexander catchment -- even if it meant that the school would have to increase class sizes.

“There is a lot more information that we need before we can actually make a set of recommendations,” Hite said.

This information, he said, includes how many rising kindergartners live in the Penn Alexander catchment area and are eligible for admittance.

Reached after the meeting, District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said officials told the parents "they would take their comments and feedback into consideration and get back to them as soon as we can." 

Asked whether the policy might change from the lottery announced on Friday. Gallard said, "There could be a change." 

 

Photo credit (second photo): Charlotte Pope

Superintendent William Hite and Chief of Student Services Karyn Lynch speak to parents about the kindergarten registration policy at the Penn Alexander School in West Philadelphia. 

Charlotte Pope is an intern at the Notebook.

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Comments (42)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/22/2013 - 18:29.

A maritan visiting Philadelphia would think that there is no other kindergarten in the city.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/22/2013 - 23:30.

I can understand why it seems like that to others in the city, and I'm sure it's annoying. But please consider that for those of us who live over here, there really IS no other public kindergarten (or 1st - 8th, for that matter). There is NO school that is obligated to take our kids. Not just for K - ever. I could be wrong but I believe we are the only families in the city in that situation. PAS-our supposed neighborhood school-doesn't have to take them. Lea doesn't have to and is absorbing all of Wilson's kids so will have enrollment issues of its own from here on out. Powel is full (and doesn't have to take them). Families whose kids who don't get into PAS at various grade levels have horror stories about waiting months to be assigned to any school and ultimately being sent somewhere totally unreasonable. Yes, we have a great school in our neighborhood, but the fact is that we don't have a neighborhood school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 04:16.

There are schools but many none to your liking. Penn Alexander is such an anomaly in the School District (new building, grounds keeping, $26,000+ more per class, Penn resources, etc, etc.) that those of us on the "outside" just shakes our heads. How many teachers at Penn Alexander have to write Donors Choice grants to get a set of trade books, a camera for a project, etc.? How many teachers at Penn Alexander have spent over $1000 to date this year for basic classroom supplies including tissues to paper to erasers for students to use on standardized tests to a printer and ink to ....? Yes, there are other schools with more resources (Greenfield, Meredith, McCall, SLA, Masterman, etc.) but most schools are patching things together. If Lea is full, keep Wilson open. Send students to Huey (52nd Street) or Locke. There are options.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 04:58.

Lea Capacity: 716
Lea Current Enrollment: 401
Proposed addition of current Wilson students: 96 (Wilson's enrollment is 224 but 57% do not live in its catchment and would return to their neighborhood schools)
Proposed Lea Enrollment 2013-2014: 497

Source: http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/uploads/4Q/-N/4Q-NBKbgRuwF6us-kDkF8g/Profi...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 07:46.

I repeat: there is NO school that is obligated to take our children. Many catchment parents, while disappointed not to get PAS (wouldn't you be?), would accept Lea as an OK alternative. However Lea does not have to accept our kids and we have been told that Lea cease to be an option. The capacity assigned to the facility based on total square footage is a very different matter than how many classrooms actually have teachers in them!

In order for our children to attend any public school in the city, we have to deal with an enormously stressful and arduous process. Yes, we may end up with a spot in a great school that has the resources ALL schools should have. But we may not. We have no neighborhood school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 11:07.

"we have been told that Lea cease to be an option."

Who is telling you that?

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on Tue, 01/22/2013 - 22:40.

The District needs to work with Penn and Drexel to have these universities concentrate resources at another nearby school, whether it be A. Wilson or Lea, in the same manner as what is happening at Penn Alexander. The students from Wilson are going to go to Lea if Wilson closes and Lea is already receiving overflow students from Penn Alexander. So what happens when Lea is at capacity? As for Powel, the District needs to consider expanding that building so it has more capacity.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 04:06.

Powell is suppose to be working with Science Leadership Academy to develop a middle school - I believe at Drew. (Yes, they closed Drew last year). Wilson needs to stay open - the catchment for Penn Alexander can be changed so the families nearer Baltimore Ave. go to Wilson. The fact is Penn Alexander has facilities unmatched in the District. My children will never go to a Philly school with a gym or actual cafeteria. There are plenty in Philly. Penn Alexander parents seem to assume their children deserve much more than others.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 07:38.

All parents should assume their kids deserve more than what many Philly school offer. The problem is not what is right with Penn Alexander. It's what's wrong with many of the other schools Philly kids attend.

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 08:04.

I don't think the parents assume their children deserve more than others. In fact, what Penn Alexander has should be the norm for schoolchildren - low class size, technology, lots of professional development for teachers, resources, active and involved parents, etc. It shouldn't take a partnership with a university for this to happen.

It seems as though the school was built specifically with low class size in mind, so it's interesting that Dr. Hite says low class size does not matter. All teachers know that is not the case. It seems it matters at Penn Alexander, but not the majority of public schools.

The SDP and Penn didn't foresee the demand for the school. They should have anticipated that a school that has the best of the best would be attractive. I can understand why families feel misled and bamboozled. Penn actively encouraged their employees to live in the neighborhood and there would be this great neighborhood school for their kids. The school was characterized as a neighborhood school. Neighborhood schools are schools kids can walk to and attend school with other kids in their neighborhood. The school doesn't have a sibling preference policy, which is ridiculous. This needs to be changed. A 4-day wait on line nor a lottery are the best way for admission to the school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 08:39.

Yup, and if your kid doesn't get in you've got nothing at all. It often takes months to wade through the voluntary transfer process and god knows where the child will end up. Despite the promises Penn made to the catchment, because of its refusal to allow the school to grow there is NO neighborhood school in University City. I moved in here many years ago and have loved living in this neighborhood, but I would not make the same choice today.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 09:05.

Then the School District needs to redraw the boundaries and spread students between Wilson, Lea and Penn Alexander. Not everyone will like it but there are many unhappy campers now. School boundaries are being changed for many schools with the proposed closing of 37 (44) schools this year. The pain will ripple through the District. Why not ripple through the wealthy neighborhoods too?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 10:14.

Most parents in the catchment agree that altering the catchment would be Preferable to the lottery, as that way every kid would still have a neighborhood school to attend. But as yesterday's meeting showed, we are united in feeling that the best option of all is for the school to expand (yes, increasing class sizes if necessary) to accommodate all kids in the catchment.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 13:07.

Who exactly is going to pay for that?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 13:13.

For adding a small number of kids to each classroom? Which would be a significant first step and possibly even solve the whole problem? That's free.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 13:26.

Hite's #1 priority is expanding seats in high-performing schools. Why should PAS not be included in that? Right now it's not even being expected to serve all its own students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 14:07.

Did he tell you that during your private audience with him yesterday? His #1 priority is making sure the district doesn't fall into bankruptcy. That is why 37 school communities are being told they must cease to exist to save a piddling $28 million a year in a multi-billion dollar budget. If the PAS community wants the school to expand physically, it will need to chase outside funding. That is unless the district is even more morally bankrupt than I already suspect.

Go tell the Philadelphia School Partnership PAS needs some money. It's headed by a real estate developer who likes to give millions to unproven charter initiatives but passes along the occasional crumb to a district school. Not enough to actually build anything but a token gesture here or there.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 14:13.

Well no, actually I read it in the paper. And what I suggested was putting more students in the classrooms so that more children can be served by the existing school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 13:28.

Gerryrmandering is what it's called in politics and of course without input.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 07:03.

penn could've avoided all this accramony by opening 4 charter schools in the area. they would have been far more cost effective and served more children. they would be more diverse without the faux-fair goverment-run school nonsense. but penn was afraid to be associated with the independent school choice movement. so I feel deeply for the parents who seek a safe and productive learning environment for their kids, the current situation will always pit them against the other local district schools will the appearance of inequity will remain. blame the cowardice of the penn administrators, especially those at the schools of education.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 07:35.

By PA law, charter schools cannot be geographically based. It's Penn's money, they choose to spend it in their own back yard.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 17:28.

you should tell that to the district. both vallas and ackerman required charters to accept catchment areas. i read the law as you do. the district's position is that takes kids out of all schools which makes it impossible for them to close schools.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 07:36.

Faux-fair. I love your use of this term. It perfectly captures what charters are.
Faux-public. Lets keep listening to each other as we unravel this mess.

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 15:38.

i'll listen, but i would beg to differ with you about the public in charter schools. penn alexander and the special admit and city-wide schools all have secret paths to enrollment. you know, like many of the posters on this issue have verified, that there are lots of special deals going on. and how about the many district employees who listen to all the anti-charter rhetoric in their mettings and still enroll their own kids in a charter. the point here is that there is too much hypocracy going on. the biggest lie is when we pretend that rules can mitigate the need for parental involvement. i think there should be an honest discussion with parents about their responsibility for their child's success. most charters rightly have those talks. now, do i think there are charters who skirt the rules? absolutely. but who's job is it to monitor that behavior? would you call these charters faux pas [1]?

[1] for the grammar and spelling police, that was a paronomasia.

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 15:41.

i'll listen, but i would beg to differ with you about the public in charter schools. penn alexander and the special admit and city-wide schools all have secret paths to enrollment. you know, like many of the posters on this issue have verified, that there are lots of special deals going on. and how about the many district employees who listen to all the anti-charter rhetoric in their mettings and still enroll their own kids in a charter. the point here is that there is too much hypocracy going on. the biggest lie is when we pretend that rules can mitigate the need for parental involvement. i think there should be an honest discussion with parents about their responsibility for their child's success. most charters rightly have those talks. now, do i think there are charters who skirt the rules? absolutely. but who's job is it to monitor that behavior? would you call these charters faux pas [1]?

[1] for the grammar and spelling police, that was a paronomasia.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 07:14.

Were there Penn people at this meeting? Did the PAS principal have anything to say?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 08:03.

Good question, and nope.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 08:16.

This might be out of place, however... since it's being brought up so much in the comment section here:

I love how people, in general, on this website love to believe that magnets have money that flows freely through the hallways. My building is almost 100 years old and not suited to be a high school (no dedicated gym / lunch room). Things are falling apart; facilities claims the structural cracks occurring are normal (maybe, but they haven't patched them in over a decade). The technology here is abysmal... the only reason there are new computers are through fund raising and groveling to outside parties, not SDP funds. Otherwise, we'd be stuck with a lab full of eMacs (I didn't get that letter wrong). One lab still has old Dells that aren't even cost effective to service due to the their aging parts. Smartboards? HAH. CFF was here. Cohort 1. Under 10 boards are in this building. 27 teachers. You do the math. I'm relegated to purchasing my own tablet PC and projector and using Notebook that way as a means of capturing student Notes to post online / technology based instruction.

So... I'm not trying to post this because I need you to feel badly for us. I've been at other schools in this district where it's been flipped, students are under performing and the money DOES flow freely. I could get anything I wanted, sometimes two of them (not a joke).

Just wish people could filter their tongues and/or realize they have no idea what they speak of when they make ludicrous statements such as "inequity". There's still inequity when it comes to some Special Admits... difference is this is just a "safe-zone" where learning is allowed to take place without interruption and prioritized by other students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 08:25.

and to add on to my comments... my students are VERY well aware of what the other Special Admits have and what they don't have. They are also well aware of what their COMPREHENSIVE neighborhood schools have and what they don't have. We talk about their "sacrifices" often (giving up a full "high school experience") to attend where they do.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 08:58.

One of the magnet schools with next to no technology, no actual gym, and living like it is 1980 is Bodine. The neighborhood schools floating in money are those with the Department of Labor grant. It doesn't seem to have made much difference other than an abundance of administrators and/or teachers acting like administrators and technology. I "feel" for those in schools - especially students - like Bodine that have very little. Some magnets have a lot - SLA, Constitution, Carver, etc. but others were totally forgotten.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 10:01.

Bodine is stuck in a time warp for sure. It's a converted Elementary School that is sitting in Northern Liberties that could fetch top dollar. Honestly, give University City to Masterman and allow Bodine to move into Masterman. It'll allow Bodine to expand (capacity is supposed to be 500, but serving ~550) and give students a proper chance to have more room (yes, still not a high school building but there are 4 - 6 classrooms per floor and 3 foot hallways).

You want to save money? Sell property that will actually get you money...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 08:20.

This might be out of place, however... since it's being brought up so much in the comment section here:

I love how people, in general, on this website love to believe that magnets have money that flows freely through the hallways. My building is almost 100 years old and not suited to be a high school (no dedicated gym / lunch room). Things are falling apart; facilities claims the structural cracks occurring are normal (maybe, but they haven't patched them in over a decade). The technology here is abysmal... the only reason there are new computers are through fund raising and groveling to outside parties, not SDP funds. Otherwise, we'd be stuck with a lab full of eMacs (I didn't get that letter wrong). One lab still has old Dells that aren't even cost effective to service due to the their aging parts. Smartboards? HAH. CFF was here. Cohort 1. Under 10 boards are in this building. 27 teachers. You do the math. I'm relegated to purchasing my own tablet PC and projector and using Notebook that way as a means of capturing student Notes to post online / technology based instruction.

So... I'm not trying to post this because I need you to feel badly for us. I've been at other schools in this district where it's been flipped, students are under performing and the money DOES flow freely. I could get anything I wanted, sometimes two of them (not a joke).

Just wish people could filter their tongues and/or realize they have no idea what they speak of when they make ludicrous statements such as "inequity". There's still inequity when it comes to some Special Admits... difference is this is just a "safe-zone" where learning is allowed to take place without interruption and prioritized by other students.

Submitted by A. Parent (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 11:59.

If only Philadelphia would invest in its schools instead on Comcast, then perhaps more schools would be as desirable.

Submitted by Parent (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 13:28.

I want everyone to realize that Penn Alexander is a public school not exempt from the financial crisis of the school district. The community that makes up PAS works very hard to overcome these issues. One thing that nobody ever speaks about is how hard the teachers work day in and day out to help better that community. The teachers are constantly writing grants to get better technology in the school for our children. They spend their own money to make sure kids have something to write with and paper to use. They are very much apart of this school but don't have a say in any of the enrollment issues. I believe that the teachers who are presently in PAS should be allowed a space for their children. We have amazing educators who I would hate to lose due to this fact. PAS is what it is today not just because of the strong parental involvement but also due to the extreme commitment the teachers have made to PAS and the community on a daily basis. Yes we have a great building but I was always taught it is not what something looks like but what is inside. Inside that building are dedicated teachers who work very hard to keep our children safe and I would hate to see that change.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 13:58.

That statement started out so promising as it looked like it was going to call upon parents to get involved fighting for district funding. And then...

Don't worry, the SRC is going to cancel the PFT contract come September and the teachers that can find jobs elsewhere will which will surely include a fair number of PAS teachers especially since they can't send their kids to PAS anymore unless they live in the catchment.

Submitted by General TACO (not verified) on Sat, 01/26/2013 - 11:09.

It amuses me to no end to think that the parents who are so outraged over the change to a lottery system are mostly white liberals. They're the kind of people who believe in diversity and the promise of integration as long as, you know, there aren't too many low-IQ, low-SES kids with brown skin in the school that their children are attending.

I'm sure Karen Breese is simply concerned with "breaking up families." It couldn't have anything to do with the kinds of students a lottery system would bring to Penn Alexander.

Trey Popp has the right idea. What the privileged and entitled parents whose kids are getting screwed by this lottery system need to do is get working on a progressive charter school. These parents need their own school where they control the admissions process and require commitments that your average single black mother--and for the matter, your average black nuclear family in West Philly--can't meet.

Whatever happens, I'm sure this will be little more than a minor obstacle for these rich, entitled, liberal white parents to overcome. It's always "diversity for thee, but not for me" with these people.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/26/2013 - 12:54.

You are clearly a bitter person. Stop the name calling. The bottom line is that every child in the catchment area should be allowed to go to that school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/26/2013 - 13:43.

OK, who exactly is going to pay to expand the school then?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/26/2013 - 13:55.

"Trey Popp has the right idea. What the privileged and entitled parents whose kids are getting screwed by this lottery system need to do is get working on a progressive charter school. These parents need their own school where they control the admissions process and require commitments that your average single black mother--and for the matter, your average black nuclear family in West Philly--can't meet."

Sadly, there are already people outside the catchment area who have been hard at work at such a set up. The only reason they haven't gotten farther is the SRC hasn't been authorizing new charters.

Submitted by Long-time resident (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 18:03.

General Taco is calling it like it is. Who else could afford to rent RV's and portable toilets for their weekend on the street.

They should all be grateful to Dr. Hite for ending the madness.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/12/2013 - 20:28.

Karen Lynch, just got here and she already needs to GO!! She is a bully, who instead of doing her job as leader, would rather blame those with much less power and influence than she.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/07/2013 - 05:24.

How long before someone opens up a stand alone kindergarten?

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