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Live blog: SRC school closure hearings

By thenotebook on Feb 21, 2013 05:10 PM

Welcome to the live blog of the SRC's public hearings on the school closings plan. The Notebook's Dale Mezzacappa is on hand at District's headquarters reporting on both the hearings and the preceding SRC action meeting. The public hearings begin at 6 p.m. and are scheduled to end at 10:35 p.m.


9:37 PM There are no speakers scheduled for the Northeast planning area, so the hearings end nearly an hour ahead of schedule.

9:31 PM Sharon Burke, a 7th- and 8th-grade teacher at George Washington Elementary School, is the night’s last speaker. She says that GW has a diverse staff and student body, high utilization and relatively high academic performance, making Adequate Yearly Progress for seven out of the past nine years. The building has room to expand. “My question to you today, why are you closing the program at George Washington Elementary School.” A reason given previously is that 78 percent of the students come from outside the catchment area -- Burke says that is a sign of success and she adds: “We are being punished for being a school choice school.”

Ramos points out that of 170 students in the GW attendance area, only 70 attend. He asks Hite if he has any idea why the school is more attractive to students outside the catchment area than inside. Hite says that there is only 51 percent utilization across Washington and the neighboring schools, and that Washington’s enrollment has been declining, which led to the recommendation of closure.

9:09 PM The South Central hearing starts nearly an hour ahead of schedule. The first speaker is Tracy Carter, a parent at Bok Technical High School. She has a child there, and says she is also speaking on behalf of special education. She starts by saying that Bok has recently gotten several awards while South Philadelphia, where Bok students will be transferred, is in “Corrective Action 2” status (under No Child Left Behind), due to low academic performance. “Special education is not something you can pick up and put down,” she notes. She said that Bok created special programs for special education students; her son is working in the office doing tasks like shredding and mail delivery because that is what interests him. “You haven’t proved that you are going to do anything by closing Bok ... and putting students in a school on the dangerous list.” The District plans to duplicate Bok's CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs at nearby South Philadelphia High School.

Carter's testimony triggers a lengthy discussion on Bok, CTE, and details of the relocation plans. Commissioner Dworetzky notes that Bok is at 97 percent utilization and he asks Deputy Commissioner Kihn if CTE programs cost more per student. Kihn said that since all those students are being offered another CTE program, that there shouldn’t be additional districtwide savings as a result of closing CTE as opposed to a non-specialized school.

Dworetzky: “So how are there savings in closing a school with 97 percent utilization?” Hite responded that, primarily, the savings come from lowered administrative costs.

Danielle Floyd points out that the seventh and eighth floors of the Bok are not being used and are “compromised” by water and other damage. Floyd says that the plan is to have all the Bok CTE programs relocated to Southern, including an expanded culinary unit, in addition to adding carpentry, electrical, commercial art, computer technology, and several others.

Ramos also asks for a written response “for the record” regarding the concerns raised about special education by Carter.

9:03 PM Hearings for Southwest resume with the arrival of other speakers. Janice James, who lives in the University City area, says that it has “agonized” her to see this process take place and she is contemplating legal action. “A lot of stuff is taking place where colleges are in the area ... and they want to take over those places ... this is not conscionable. You wouldn’t want this done to your families.” She mentions Penn and University City, Gompers and St. Joseph’s University. She gets scattered applause. She urges a moratorium and re-evaluation. Ramos points out that Gompers as well as Elverson, near Temple, were taken off the closing list.

8:57 PM Ramos asks Lori Shorr, Mayor Nutter’s chief education officer, to explain what the city is doing to provide additional services to displaced students. She says that the city has done an inventory of its programs, including behavioral health, and what would need to be done so students are served in their new schools. It is also looking at safety and the possible need for additional police presence along new routes to schools. She says that folks in the planning commission and commerce department are starting to think “proactively” on how to move any vacated buildings so they don’t sit abandoned for any length of time.

8:50 PM Questions from the SRC continue. SRC Chair Pedro Ramos asks about efforts to maintain partnerships with groups like the Hamels Foundation, which built a playground at Taylor Elementary. Hite: “We’re going to meet with the foundation to determine where and how we relocate their contribution.” 

Commissioner Wendell Pritchett asks about the distances that T.M. Peirce students would have to walk. “I looked at the map. Those distances are pretty long,” Pritchett said. Hite's response: We are looking at each route individually. If there are safety concerns, we are considering where we would have to provide transportation to assure students have safe passage to school. He said that he plans next week to walk with new SRC member Sylvia Simms, whose granddaughter attends Peirce, along the route those students would have to take to Rhodes Elementary School at 29th and Clearfield, one of the schools to which they would be relocated.

8:38 PM: Well over an hour ahead of schedule, the SRC takes some time to ask questions of the staff. Commissioner Dworetzky asks Hite to explain why Promise Academies are closing. There are three targeted for closing: Vaux, Germantown, and University City High Schools. Hite responds: “We didn’t figure in the fact they were Promise Academies; we looked at utilization and other factors that we used” for evaluating all schools. Dworetzky asks whether the savings are greater in Promise Academies; he posits that if the District is spending $1,800 extra per student at a Promise Academy, then the savings should increase by that amount. Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn says that this is essentially correct. Dworetzky asks whether it would be possible to quantify the extra savings from closing Promse Academies; Kihn said he would do that.

Dworetzky also asks for more clarification regarding savings from closing Lamberton High; Kihn responds that in a larger school, staff can be allocated differently. A class of 12 at Lamberton could be combined with a class of 18 at Overbrook in Spanish 3, for example; however, if the total was above 33, a second teacher would still be necessary. Kihn said the savings assumptions are an average based on the experience from last year’s closings.


8:34 PM Sydney Coffin, a teacher at University City, who had a private school education himself, said that he has learned more teaching in West Philadelphia than he did at Yale and other elite institutions that he attended. ”There is something wonderful in every student I have met at University City High School. ... There’s no longer a barrier between students and teachers.”

8:24 PM It is now Pepper’s turn. Michael Nairn, a Penn professor who works with Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition, admits that he had his own prejudices about the Pepper students, only to discover that they were smart and knowledgeable. The organization has recommended converting Pepper to a middle school augmented by special admission high school focused on sustainability and environmental science. “All along it was STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.”

Terry Williams, president of Eastwick Friends and Neighbors, says that Pepper is a “marvelous situation for urban kids. I grew up in an environment of concrete. It would be a big mistake to close Pepper when so many urban kids need that kind of exposure.” He said its campus and environs are near the airport and the Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, providing opportunities where “our children could benefit academically and environmentally.”   


8:16 PM Southwest hearing commences a half-hour ahead of schedule. The schools covered are Alexander Wilson, Pepper and Shaw Middle Schools and Communications Tech School, Robeson, University City, and Motivation High School. Andrew Saltz, representing Paul Robeson High School for Human Services, describes himself as a “teacher and a taxpayer.” He said whoever drew the reconfigured map to “save seats” never spoke to families. Nine in 10 Robeson students said they would not relocate to Sayre, where they are scheduled to relocate, Saltz said. “Do this, you will be back here in a year with more empty seats. ... You are asking my students to move from a school where they’ve had some success to one that barely graduates one in two students. ... Programs are not people.”

Walter Pegues, the athletic coach at Robeson since 2003, said it has transformed itself from “a neighborhood school to a diamond in the rough.” He described himself as bewildered why Robeson is being “vanished. … This just doesn’t make sense. There is nothing in this closing or merger than will benefit Paul Robeson students at all.” He says that 98 percent of his track team have gone on to college, in addition to winning many local and state meets. He said they come from all over the city to join Robeson’s track team.

8:10 PM Kevin Wimberly, who works for a behavioral health agency at the Kinsey school, arrives to speak, bringing the hearings back to the Northwest area. He says that the collaboration between his program and the staff there has changed the school. It has served more than 120 students in four years, he said. Some with behavioral problems have become school leaders and made significant academic progress, he said, and now he's concerned about splitting the students up among six other schools.

7:52 PM: All the speakers from West are here, so that hearing starts more than 90 minutes early. The limit is 10 speakers per school -- two tonight, four tomorrow, and four on Saturday. Leidy Elementary and Lamberton High School are the affected schools.

Mykia Thrower, citing low achievement in city schools, suggests a “clean sweep” of teachers and administrators, with recent college graduates (like herself) able to take certification tests. She lives in the Leidy area.

Two students talk on behalf of Lamberton. Jordan Vynum says that since the building will remain open for the lower grades, the District will not save any money. “We’re a very small high school. Moving 140 kids will not do anything for this massive debt.” Dave Joseph, a freshman, says that being forced to move will not benefit his education.

Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky asks what is the benefit for closing the high school. Danielle Floyd explains that the third floor, where the high school is located would remain empty. Plus, Lamberton has low achievement ratings, Floyd said. Dworetzky asks where the savings will come from. Floyd explains that it will come from "instructional savings." Dworetzky asks why. Hite starts to explain, but Dworetzky says he understands the issues related to economy of scale. "It's not obvious to me how there'll be savings from this move," Dworetzky says. 

7:47 PM: Joi Harris, member of Bethlehem Church of God, which has adopted Kinsey, said that the school “has come a long way” and urges that it be kept open. Her church has built partnerships with other community organizations to work in Kinsey. “This is a school the community is rallying to keep,” she said.

7:41 PM: Christina Moresi is the youth program coordinator at Wyck, a historic 18th-century house and garden near Germantown High School where students get lessons in environmental science and history “and the opportunity to play outside.” At Wyck, she said, students often get their first experience with farming, “playing in leaves,” and an opportunity to exercise. She urges that Germantown High be kept open and that Fulton students be relocated there. She quotes Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

7:33 PM: SRC commences the portion of the Northwest hearing that concerns Fulton, Kinsey and Roosevelt. Before Christine Palermo begins, Ramos says that the SRC is continuing to grapple with Head Start, pointing out that the contemplated program changes are not part of the Facilities Master Plan. He suggests that this is not the proper place to talk about Head Start, while noting that there is “overlap” on the issues. Palermo proceeds to make an impassioned plea for Head Start, especially asking that they be kept in public school buildings. Germantown families will travel far to go to a private child-care center in which they will not get as good an education. In the 19144 zip code, there is only one high-quality partner site, she said. “This is fiscally and educationally irresponsible,” she concludes.

7:23 PM: Karen Lee, parent of a student at Philadelphia Military Academy at Leeds, presents violent crime statistics from the Police Department in the vicinities of Leeds, which is in Mount Airy, vs. Elverson, in North Philadelphia. She says that the Elverson area is more dangerous, with more robberies, rapes and aggravated assaults. Ramos says that District officials will look at the data to determine the per-person rate. Rashon Moore, parent of another Leeds student, says that he decided to stay in Philadelphia, even though he works in New Jersey, because of PMA@Leeds, which has immeasurably helped his older son. He says that while realizing that schools must close, even Elverson’s own committee that favored locating the combined military academy there recognize that the Elverson building is not ideal. Moore concludes by telling the commissioners: “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes. I appreciate the work you have to do.”

7:15 PM: The Rev. LeRoi Simmons, Germantown activist, is representing Enon Tabernacle Church, and presents a thick report from Enon’s series of meetings around the city. The report is also on Enon’s and the School District’s websites. State Rep. Stephen Kinsey is the first elected official to speak; he presents a proposal on behalf of Germantown High, Roosevelt Middle, and Fulton Elementary. Closing all three schools will “impact 1,300 students within a one-mile radius of central Germantown,” he says, adding that 500 small businesses will be impacted.  He presents a letter signed by elected officials and other community members. “We recognize schools have to close,” Kinsey says. “We’re willing to concede the closing of Fulton school. We’re also willing to concede the closing of Roosevelt. But we’re asking that these students be relocated to Germantown (High). ... All we’re saying is let’s not eliminate public education in central Germantown.”

7:14 PM: There are no more speakers scheduled for this planning area, so the SRC convenes the hearing for the Northwest are 30 minutes ahead of schedule. The first section addresses the high schools: Germantown, Parkway Northwest, Philadelphia Military Academy at Leeds.

7:09 PM: Taylor parent and Head Start teacher Magdalena Cancel: “I don’t know what you’re thinking. You’re moving our babies with older children.” Head Start helps students to socialize, she said. “Kindergarten doesn’t have time. ... We just got a playground, and now you are telling us we’re closing? Insane. That’s where the anger is coming from. We don’t know until it’s already done.”

7:02 PM Two students speak to save Charles Carroll High School in Kensington. Zac Caufman, also a member of Youth United for Change, says, “Small schools do work.” Shyann Williams touts the learning environment, saying that teachers are able to relate to students one-on-one. “Filling up small schools will not give us the education we deserve.” Closing Carroll and Douglas will make the Kensington multiplex schools overcrowded, she says.

7:00 PM Hearing starts for the area of North Philadelphia east of Broad Street, where Ferguson, Fairhill, Taylor, Sheridan West Academy, Carroll, and Douglas are targeted for closing. The segment begins with teacher Yvonne Bowersox and 8th grader Natalia Tucker speaking on behalf of Ferguson Elementary School, which also has a Head Start program. Bowersox cites accomplishments of graduates and its special programs, including an orchestra. Tucker said that Ferguson helped her get into special admission high schools and touts the college-prep AVID program. She says that teachers give students “tough love,” and asks the SRC to keep Ferguson open for the sake of her 1st-grade sister.

6:30 PM The segment on North Philadelphia west of Broad Street is supposed to run till 7 p.m., but no other speakers are present. Running ahead of schedule, the SRC takes a 15-minute break.

6:29 PM: Gita Farbman, speaking now for children in Head Start. Reynolds, slated for closure, has a Head Start program. She said that many families now feel that the District is no longer prioritizing early childhood. She urges the SRC to reconsider the plan to privatize some Head Start programs, urging them to continue to locate them in public schools.

6:26 PM: Antoine Little, parent and activist, speaks on behalf of T.M. Peirce. He says that the walk for some of these students will take 45 minutes. He invites Hite to take the walk. “I’m begging you to take this walk with me. If you consider the human side of things, you will reconsider all that you plan to do.”

6:22 PM: Quibila Divine, of the Women’s Christian Alliance, education chair of NAACP, thanks the District for making new recommendations. But she adds that the new proposals would still make some elementary school children walk a mile each way to and from school. “When I look at the map, you see dots, but I see children.” She wants T.M. Peirce kept open.

6:19 PM:  Linda Cliatt-Wayman, principal of Strawberry Mansion, urges that L.P. Hill be kept open. “North Philadelphia is desperately in need of stability, institutions its residents can count on,” she said. She wants the SRC to invest in a preK-12 educational complex at the Hayre complex. Applause from the crowd. Quotes John Dewey; “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

6:15 PM Kala Johnstone, principal of L.P. Hill, is the first to speak. She notes that Hill is co-located with Strawberry Mansion High School in the Ruth Wright Hayre Education Complex and calls on the District to spare Hill, as it has spared Mansion. She says that Hill has a valuable preschool program that should be expanded.  She quotes President Obama that every dollar invested in good early childhood saves money later because students do better in school and have better life outcomes. She also says that no teachers put in for a transfer last year and that violent incidents have decreased by 60 percent, and math scores have increased.

6:10 PM Hite concludes his testimony, saying that school closings on this scale represent a “turning point” for the District and the city. The first hearing is for the North-Central planning area, in which L.P. Hill, Reynolds, T.M. Peirce, Whittier, and Pratt elementary schools, and Vaux Promise Academy High School are slated to close. In this area, Strawberry Mansion, Meade, Morris and Duckrey elementary schools, originally slated for closure, were spared. In this area, Hite said, building utilization is 43 percent.

6:00 PM Hite continues his presentation explaining the rationale for closings in all the areas to be considered tonight. Speakers wait quietly and patiently.

5:40 PM The School Reform Commission hearing on closings opens with a presentation by Superintendent Hite. He acknowledges that the District “lacks the resources to provide students the education they deserve.” He said he knows the process is painful but says that the interests of students are still paramount. His revised recommendations, he said, “strike a balance between the urgency of saving the District and the need for better collaboration for families and school communities.”

5:25 PM Outside just before the closing hearing started, more than 100 students, parents and others blocked traffic on Broad Street for about 15 minutes, holding up pictures of Gov. Corbett and Mayor Nutter that had stickers with the names of closed schools “pinned” on them. Among the angry chants: ““Hey, Corbett, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.” Organizers said that they continue to press for a moratorium on all closures but have essentially given up on the SRC and are now focusing their protest efforts on the mayor and governor.
  Protestors block traffic on Broad Street. (Photo: Dale Mezzacappa)

The protesters are clearly not mollified by Hite’s revised recommendations. “Nobody’s safe,” said Sodany Williams, a parents of two students at Gompers Elementary School. Gompers, originally slated for closure, will stay open. But she is concerned that Beeber Middle School is now slated for closure and that 7th and 8th graders in the area will be sent to Overbrook High School. “That is a 9-12 grade school that is already failing,” she said.


Here’s the schedule for Thursday night’s school closings hearing, the SRC’s first of three on closings:

The first segment of the meeting is the District’s presentation. Then the testimony begins with a maximum of 10 speakers per school, with a three-minute time limit per speaker.

Northcentral(west of Broad) 6:00-7:00 PM
Northcentral (east of Broad) 7:00-7:45 PM
Northwest (high schools) 7:45-8:15 PM
Northwest (elem/middle) 8:15-8:45 PM
Southwest 8:45-9:30 PM
West 9:30-10:00 PM
Southcentral 10:00-10:25 PM
Northeast 10:25-10:35 PM


The SRC's business meeting adjourned, with the SRC due to reconvene shortly.

5:15 PM President of School Advisory Council at Alcorn complains about poorly trained teachers at the school, referring back to the resolution that Venard Johnson complained about before. Superintendent Hite assures her that this $66,000 is from the School Improvement Grant, in response to something the principal has requested for Alcorn. Hite agrees it is late in the year and that ideally it would have happened earlier. The Alcorn principal himself appears to explain that he decided to use new SIG funds made available in December. President of SAC says she likes the principal, but continues to argue that the school does not have highly-trained teachers and often uses substitutes. Commissioner Wendell Pritchett acknowledges that little progress has been made at the school this year. The resolution to spend $66,000 on the professional development passes unanimously.

5:04 PM Crowd quiets as SRC passes resolution to settle a dispute with the IRS for $714,000. Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky votes no. New commissioner Sylvia Simms votes no on a resolution to give a $110,000 contract to Frontline Solutions International, LLC to support the School Advisory Councils in Renaissance schools between now and the end of the year.

4:45 PM Protesters interrupt commissioners repeatedly as they pass resolution to stop doing business with vendors who are delinquent on their property taxes.

4:40 PM One speaker, Venard Johnson, complains about a resolution to provide professional development to teachers at Alcorn Elementary School, saying that the school’s future is uncertain and that the money will be going to teachers who “don’t care about our kids.” Protesters chant from the back of the room.

4:30 PM Protesters stand in front of commissioners waving signs and chanting. They disperse before speakers and voting on resolutions begins.

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Comments (51)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 21, 2013 10:22 pm
I think closing University City (or Robeson) is basically making sure that the gentrifying population in West Philadelphia will never send their kids to neighborhood schools.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 22, 2013 7:17 pm
Bingo !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 12:57 am
It amazes me how this woman Ms. Watson can call herself the SAC president of Alcorn. She does not send out information to the parents to let anyone know what is going on at the school. I am a parent of 4 of the children at this school and I actually had no idea that she was the SAC president or for that matter that there is a SAC at Alcorn. I will admit while it is a struggling school, I have seen alot of changes going on at both schools. My 2 older children go to the annex and she does not even send information over there to let anyone know what she is doing. My next question who in the world voted her in for that matter when did a vote take place and how does one get to be on the SAC at alcorn. Who is Vernard Johnson?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 10:37 am
I didn't vote for her!!!! And V. Johnson works for Universal. He is a consultant. How in the world is this all happening and parents don't get a say.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 22, 2013 8:24 pm
I suggest that parents at the school who oppose the charterization of the school mobilize, collect evidence of how their school is improving, collect evidence of how Universal is doing a poor job at its other schools, and document the shady practices of people receiving payment from Universal. Mobilize the troops! Who knows how much of an impact that it will have, but it's worth a try. You might as well go down swinging.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 22, 2013 8:30 pm
Vernard Johnson is a glob of protoplasm masquerading as a semi human huckster for Kenny Gamble. Pay him and he'll spew whatever you want him to say, kinda like a trained parrot.
Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on February 22, 2013 11:02 pm
Oh so right! He was Ackerman's stooge when she was around. He is the epitome of a self interested snake. And Ramos was so nice to him today allowing him to go on and on. Talki about being sick of it, I am soooo sick of Vernard Johnson.
Submitted by Jane (not verified) on February 23, 2013 6:53 am
Imagine if a teenager did what Vernard Johnson did.... I was ready for him to claim he was having a breakdown and then blame the school district (law suit???). Both he and Mr. Moore were so far over the top but these "adults" were excused for their threats and outbursts. I was ready to Gail Clouden to perform and exorcism on the SRC. The SRC and Hite have let the process become a circus.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 23, 2013 9:49 am
Jane--They haven't let the process become a circus, they are part and full participants in the circus. The fix is in, Jane. It's the big secret that everybody's in on.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 22, 2013 1:29 am
Regarding Alcorn, Why are the teachers not highly trained? Why is the school using so many subs? What specific complaints did the SAC president make about the teachers, e.g. what about them shows that they are not highly trained? When Wendell Pritchett says "little progress has been made at the school this year," what does he mean? To what is he referring?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 8:34 am
They are highly untrained to her because she is part of Universal's agenda to charterize the school. So everthing out of her mouth will be for their agenda. Why you say because in Universal's fashion they have offered her a job. This is how they when people over to their side. They cannot even control the children at Audenried constant fighting and such is going on in the highschool. But yet they want another school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 10:12 am
Right! So misinformed!!! Wait till Universal starts kicking out students.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 22, 2013 4:40 pm
Gotcha! My understanding from other articles is that Universal has involvement in the neighborhood surrounding Alcorn. If I recall, didn't Universal have plans to make part of South Philadelphia a Promise Neighborhood like the Harlem Children's Zone? As I remember, the federal government did not select Universal for a grant. Universal has some shady tactics and they also lag behind other Renaissance providers in attracting neighborhood families to enroll their children in the neighborhood school (See http://thenotebook.org/blog/135557/renaissance-charters-meet-neighborhoo...). Isn't Venard Johnson also associated with Universal? There needs to be more disclosure of people's financial interests or ties to charter schools and other organizations when these ties may represent a conflict of interest. This goes for members of unions as well. Has anyone from the Alcorn community been challenging the points of Ms. Watson as well as her alleged ties to Universal and the conflict of interest that this presents? People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. People who are interested in an open, democratic process usually welcome--or at least do not resist--full disclosure of their own interests.
Submitted by Jane (not verified) on February 22, 2013 4:45 pm
V. Johnson was also one of the people who destroyed West Philly High. Johnson had a contract at West that wasn't renewed. He along with Ackerman and Blackwell got rid of Cruz who was turning the school around. The next year, West was a disaster under different "temp" administrators.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 8:38 am
Their are 2 subs that have been their for a while because one teacher is out on maternity leave and the other teacher had a health issue where she was carried out in the ambulance
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 10:14 am
In regard to Alcorn-First, I find it appalling that someone who works at a school can slander the school and it's staff. Shouldn't you take steps to improve the school yourself? and your child's progress? What is Universal promising her??? Second, there have been improvements at Alcorn this year. More than any year prior. Just compare the morning arrival and dismissal of students this year compared to previous years. Test scores will improve but changes like that can not be seen overnight. Give the new administration a chance to get the job done. Lastly, having two subs at a school is not uncommon. People get sick. All these kinds of statements do is cause is hostility. Rather than complain-- let's be proactive and take steps to get the job done.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 22, 2013 4:49 pm
I've never been to Alcorn, so I have to trust the comments of the people on here who have affiliation with that school. That said, as another poster said, there are 2 subs at Alcorn, one for a teacher on maternity leave and one for a teacher who was carried out on an ambulance. According to the SDP site (https://webapps.philasd.org/school_profile/view/2200), there are about 500 students attending Alcorn. Having 2 long-term subs does not seem unreasonable for a school of that size. I don't know how frequent it is for the school to have 2 long-term subs though. If people are going to criticize the quality of a school, they should be providing specific details, beyond just the test scores and other data. Why are the teachers not highly trained? How does this affect their teaching? Why is having 2 subs a bad thing? Are the subs of poor quality? Why? How do they treat the students? Are they behaving like full-time, permanent teachers? Where is their teaching falling short? In sum, people need to back up their criticism with evidence. I hear people who support schools back up their arguments with evidence. People who are criticizing what happens at a school should also be providing evidence to support their claims. And if those criticizing the school are not providing evidence, then others with knowledge of the school need to hold the criticizers accountable and make them defend their positions. Education Grad Student
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 10:51 am
How did she get chose to be sac president. When was the vote?
Submitted by Philly Activist (not verified) on February 23, 2013 11:05 am
You need to contact the Family Community Engagement Department and ask these questions. There is suppose to be a vote and if there was none how can it proceed illegally??? Start making noise and demand that your questions be answered! Ask to be sent a book about SAC's (School Advisory Councils) so you can read it and know what and how it needs to be a legal and democratic process.
Submitted by Philly Activist (not verified) on February 23, 2013 11:30 am
I forgot - you would be contacting the School District at its main number - 215.400.4000. Stay on the line and ask to speak with someone from that department concerning SAC'S.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 23, 2013 12:20 pm
Your principal is supposed to ensure that an election is held. This is one of the drawbacks of the SAC, it is an additional responsibility that is put on the principal, who may have other equally urgent things to take care of. Elections take time and care to run properly. This is one of the ongoing problems with the Home and School Associations as well. When it takes volunteer time (in the case of the SAC, the principal is not paid extra), they often don't happen. My oldest son's school was one of those chosen to pilot the SACs, and I was never notified of an election,and did not get to participate in choosing the members in any way. I don't think they're going to succeed in their mission any more than the short lived School Councils did, or even the current Home and School Associations do now. They can't enforce anything.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 11:03 am
How can Mr. V. Johnson say teachers don't care about kids! Who told him that? What has he seen to make him say that?? NOTHING! What a horrible comment to make! He has NEVER seen teachers interacting with students! Can he explain why teachers are working here then? Why staff attendance is BETTER than last year. What test scores are BETTER than last year. Why student attendance is BETTER and suspensions have been LOWERED! Please remember......he works for Universal, which is trying to buy the school.
Submitted by Philly Activist (not verified) on February 23, 2013 11:48 am
Universal doesn't "buy" the schools. It is voted on by the SRC and handed over to them. Don't forget Universal is not paying rent nor paid any money the first year for two of its' Renaissance Charter Schools due to a "verbal agreement" by Arlene Ackerman and Archie with them. Archie's law firm represents Universal by the way. Universal was an "EMO" and failed. It took over Vare and failed miserably, the SDP took it back. Venard was a consultant with them from the beginning. It seems they have had an off and on relationship over the last 10 or so years. A long term sub would be much better in a classroom than a series of subs. A series of subs would not provide consistency and that would do more harm than good. Ask about Universal Creighton and what happened there. My child attended that school and is no longer there due to the dismal failure of Universal at other schools. Universal does hire people who know how to shout and proclaim their virtues and the wonderful job they do educating the "poor down trodden" children. Alcorn parents beware! Do what EGS suggests. Organize and mobilize yourselves and tell the SDP what you want as parents!
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 23, 2013 12:54 pm
Hi. Your comment has inspired me to inject a legal issue into this conversation which is essentially a "procedural due process" issue. We are now witnessing "public hearings" concerning the closing of our public schools. Correct? Should we not also hold "public hearings" concerning the "turning over" of our public schools to what are essentially, privately managed schools pursuant to a performance contract? Is that not akin, or even "essentially the same" as closing a public school and then reopening it as a new school which is a "different legal form of a school?" Would not that raise the very same public issues as those created by the closing of our schools? And would not that scenario raise the same need for "procedural due process protections" for the public and stakeholders as do the closing of public schools? Think about it? Shouldn't we be holding full, fair and unbiased public hearings "before" we transform any of our public schools?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 23, 2013 1:29 pm
The answer is "YES!!!"
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 22, 2013 2:05 am
Dale, Quick question: Why did Protesters interrupt commissioners repeatedly as they pass resolution to stop doing business with vendors who are delinquent on their property taxes. Education Grad Student
Submitted by tom-104 on February 22, 2013 8:30 am
You are misinformed. The protest happened after the business was finished. See the Inquirer article. Do you really think people should quietly accept our throats being cut? http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20130222_Centered_Headline_for_RR...
Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on February 22, 2013 8:45 am

The mass protest halted all SRC business and occurred before discussion and voting on the resolutions. The protesters continued to shout periodically from the back of the room  while the SRC was conducting business, including on this resolution.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 22, 2013 9:59 am
tom-104, be careful because a mob will cut many innocent throats.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 22, 2013 4:41 pm
Tom, All I wanted was clarification about the protesting and if it was related or unrelated to the resolution about barring tax delinquents from doing business with the District. (Why would anyone oppose the SRC from barring the District from doing business with people/businesses which are tax delinquent?) I read the article that you reference also (although it wasn't published at the time I made my comment.) Dale's response to my question indicates that the protesting was just general protesting as opposed to being about the aforementioned resolution specifically. EGS
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 22, 2013 8:42 am

I don't think most people knew what the SRC was doing.   It was noisy and many people, following the PCAPS action in the room, were angry and vocal about schools closings.   The SRC has little credibility because of its association with an unprecedented austerity and privatization agenda.   So when it does something right, like in this case or in fighting for caps for charter enrollment, it gets overlooked.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 22, 2013 4:31 pm
Ron, I suspected that if people were more clued into this specific resolution, that they would not be protesting it. I just wanted clarification, and Dale provided that for me. There should be universal agreement that barring tax delinquent individuals and businesses from doing business with the SDP is a sound practice. I am well aware that the SRC has little credibility to many people. I question their credibility all the time. EGS
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 22, 2013 5:17 pm

Know you do and appreciate it.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 22, 2013 9:06 am
Just for the record, the SRC, in violation of what I am now calling the "Haver rule" in honor of Lisa Haver and her advocacy for the sunshine requirements of the Sunshine Act, snuck in a resolution and passed it (with no real opportunity for public comment) which is of crucial significance. Resolution A-15 states in pertinent part: RESOLVED, that the SRC authorizes the School District of Philadelphia through the Superintendent or his designee, to accept with appreciation, if awarded, a grant from The Philadelphia School Partnership, for an amount not to exceed $140,000, to fund payment of a contract with On-Ramps Services LLC for recruiting services related to the hiring of 4 senior level positions within the District for the period commencing February 21, 2013 through December 30, 2013;...." As Tom pointed out to me, the On-Ramps Services LLC is a group connected at the hip to the Gates foundation. Does everyone understand the significance of that resolution? It means that those who have a stake in the privatization of public schools are, behind closed doors, selecting the top leadership of our public school district. As we know from our scrutiny of these so-called "nonprofits" that there are many "front organizations" being created by the monied entrepreneurs to put forth the agenda of privatization. A case in point is the Philadelphia Schools Partnership. There are also organizations holding themselves out as experts on choosing leaders "for" our schools. In reality, like the Boston Consulting Group, they have no expertise at all. They just search for people with the "correct ideology" to promote their agenda. Now Mark Gleason is holding himself out and PSP out as somehow having some expertise on "selecting our leaders for us." Which of course, he does not and they do not. Keep your eyes open everybody. Keep them open reeeeeeaaaaaallll wide.... And try to see the big picture and the writing on the wall. And then think deeply about what that means to what is supposed to be a society which is to be governed according the principles of democracy.
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on February 22, 2013 9:04 am

On point, Rich

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 22, 2013 4:08 pm
Rich, Thank you for bringing to light this attempt to circumvent the democratic disclosure process. Someone needs to be asking tough questions about this sneaky, under-the-radar, but important move at a future SRC meeting. The more people who bring scrutiny to this move, the better. People need to be asking questions and demanding answers. Also, with regard to your comments about non-profits being fronts for the privatization of schools, here is a great article that I encourage others to read. It's called "The bait and switch of school 'Reform'" by David Sirota: http://www.salon.com/2011/09/12/reformmoney/. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 10:28 am
Thanks, Rich ( I think). The SRC meetings open with counsel announcing that SRC met in executive session to discuss the resolutions. Then they proceed to breeze through them, voting in blocs (A4 through A9, e.g.), discussing very few of them. The SRC, before this most recent embodiment, always had a Planning Meeting and an Action, or voting, Meeting. Now there is one meeting a month. (The other gatherings are to discuss general education issues; they do not discuss district business or upcoming resolutions.) In order to find out about the resolutions, you must find them online, where they are posted a week to ten days prior to the meeting. So the opportunity to address a resolution before the SRC meets in private has been eliminated. When people do get sign up to speak on a specific resolution, MOST of the time the commissioners listen politely but do not comment (Dworetsky is often the only exception). That is, a speaker's comments rarely lead to any response or discussion by the SRC members. It is distressing to see the parents, students, teachers and principals beg these guys to spare their schools. After going to many of the community meetings and now these, I feel like I am witnessing an exercise in sadism. Just tell the people what Feather Houston did at Northeast HS last month: our financial situation hasn't changed, so there is no reason to even consider a moratorium. Dr. Hite promised, at a meeting at King, to go to Harrisburg with us to try to get Corbett to increase funding, but has not delivered on that promise. And the SRC members appointed by the Governor won't even try. And moving students from schools like Carroll and Lamberton just to fill up another building--how cynical. Is there a better window into the souls of the people who run this district? We don't care about how this affects students and their families, only the bottom line. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 22, 2013 11:41 am
Leadership matters and so does how we choose our leaders matter. So does the Sunshine Act matter -- it is a legal requirement.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 22, 2013 4:43 pm
Lisa, You write that: "Dr. Hite promised, at a meeting at King, to go to Harrisburg with us to try to get Corbett to increase funding, but has not delivered on that promise." EVERYONE who speaks at the SRC or community meetings should be asking this of Dr. Hite. Others should be asking him specifically about what actions he has taken to ask for additional funding. Ask for details. Make him uncomfortable. Sometimes, people have to dig and scrape for the truth. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 6:05 pm
EGS, Agreed. There won't be an SRC meeting until March 7, but people could ask that question at any meeting before that. I am waiting to see how many community meetings the SRC affords the people of Beeber andStanton. They owe them the same opportunities as every other school to say their piece. Problem is that any alternative they offer would not be considered seriously, in my opinion, since closing them IS the alternative. I believe that the people from the schools who have been saved should put their efforts in supporting the people of these two schools. Lisa
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 23, 2013 1:39 am
I too hope that Beeber and M.H. Stanton have meetings regarding the closures like the other schools had. It is only right and fair to allow those affected from those schools to have their say. I can't speak about Stanton, but I can speak about Beeber because I live in the neighborhood. It's clear to many people in this city that Dr. Hite and the SRC will not consent to a moratorium. People are realizing that schools are going to have to close. Thus, communities are making bargains. Germantown is a perfect example. The Roosevelt MS and Fulton ES communities are asking to be closed and co-located at Germantown HS in order to save Germantown HS. A similar situation is playing out in Wynnefield/Overbrook. People see the fact that there are a lot of empty seats, even if we all hate the language of empty seats. People see that something is going to have to budge. And given the choice of combining Overbrook ES, Gompers, and Beeber at Beeber, people were loud and clear that they didn't want this. There were a number of speakers who even said, "Close Beeber, there will be less resistance to that. We live in the neighborhood, we're okay with that, just let us keep our elementary schools." Overbrook ES and Gompers both had very strong cases--good utilization, strong support from the community. Beeber, on the other hand, has fewer than 300 students. 77% of middle school students in Beeber's catchment opt not to attend there. I hate all this privatization going on, but I also recognize that it's inefficient to operate a building that is 80% empty. My understanding is that Beeber has a great principal who's honest and does things the right way. One of the proposals called for Beeber to become a truly neighborhood school with social services and the whole bit. I loved this proposal, but believe it is too little too late. I wish that people had been more proactive and tried to start this process earlier, before there was the threat of closure. I will be shocked if Beeber has the kind of support for staying open that Gompers, Overbrook ES, and even Lamberton have. I agree that people should support Beeber. At the same time, I think the understanding is that it's one or the other. Both principals of Gompers and Overbrook ES said they didn't support closing any schools, but they would look bad if they supported closing another school in order to save their own school. The big lesson I think people need to see from these school closures is the need for change in Harrisburg. This starts with voting Corbett out of office. None of this would be happening on such a large scale in Rendell was in office. So, when 2014 comes around, people need to remember all the feelings of anger that they have right now and translate that into voting Corbett out of office. You also might be surprised to know that even at Mastery, most of the people who worked at the school where I spent time, including the administrators, were liberals who didn't like Corbett. People in the suburbs see that Corbett isn't helping their districts much either. So, big picture, channel the energy from the movement to prevent school closings into a movement to defeat Corbett in 2014. Education Grad Student
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 11:12 am
Vernard Johnson is a lackey for Universal. It is his agenda to secure more schools; therefore, he has painted as negative a light on Alcorn as possible in an attempt to sway the public and the district to believe in the power of Universal and the need for an Alcorn takeover. He has made his presence known on almost a weekly basis at the Alcorn school perhaps to attain as much information as he can for his employers at Universal. As for "little progress" Pritchett spoke of, it is interesting to note that progress is progress. Alcorn has had 6 principals in as many years. This year, however, there is a principal who plans to stay, revamp the school, and renew the sense of pride that has faded over the years. How does that get measured? That sounds like major progress to me. There are fewer suspensions, fewer fights, no serious incidents. Is that progress? Again, yes. There is peer mediation, social work services, counseling, after school clubs. Teachers spend money that could go to their own families on students to help enrich the classroom. I fail to see how any of that could be "little progress". Lastly, the president of the parent resource center would do well to share resources with the parents at Alcorn. There are opportunities that exist for Alcorn students but the families don't know because the PRC president will not cooperate with those willing to provide the services. That is troubling. Make no mistake. The statements and actions of those at the SRC meeting were made to enhance the probability of a Universal takeover but Alcorn deserves a chance to continue to rise up as it is doing.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 2:02 pm
...Annnd Alcorn is now a Renaissance Charter.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 12:01 pm
Germantown HS actually had 6 principals in 4 years. They turned it into a Promise Academy, then failed to fully implement the plan due to budget cuts. They did get rid of most of the faculty, though. The SD is responsible for the instability of the school, then they close it because they say it is not achieving. Shameful.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 3:33 pm
The district informed six schools today they will be Promise Academies. The four elementary schools will be Promise in September and the two high schools ( Strawberry Mansion is one) will have a year to prepare to make the change.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 23, 2013 1:06 am
The lack of resources has hurt the comprehensive high schools terribly. I wonder why the District couldn't have invested the additional money now going to the new Promise Academies in years past. From where is all of this new money coming? People need to keep fighting for Germantown HS. The support for Germantown High School is broad and enthusiastic, and it shows. The support is so broad that Fulton ES and Roosevelt MS have offered to give up their own buildings and move into GHS in order to preserve GHS. Furthermore, there is support for the school from St. Vincent de Paul Catholic parish. I am a Catholic and I know that especially in this time, when there is much upheaval for Catholics, and many closings and mergers of Catholic schools and parishes, many Catholics are devoting most of their energy to their own schools and parishes. So when I hear Catholics speak up about public schools, it tells me something. In fact, St. Vincent parish went through a merger this summer when Immaculate Conception and St. Francis of Assisi merged into St. Vincent. Maybe the closings of the parishes and the threat of closing schools in Germantown have people fighting to preserve the institutions that still remain. Who knows. All I know is this. If Roosevelt and Fulton offer to merge into Germantown, how can the District justify closing Germantown? Also, the historical community should be interested in Germantown HS. Who would take over the building if it lies vacant? The area isn't gentrifying like the area around West Philly HS or a commercial area like the area around University City HS.
Submitted by Jane (not verified) on February 23, 2013 6:20 am
St. Vincent de Paul is a unique Catholic parish. It has a long history of progressive activism. It was involved in the Central American Sanctuary Movement, had a peace center / staff, was one of the first churches to open a "soup kitchen." The "soup kitchen" was unique - it was set up like a restaurant. There are many more examples. This is not a comment on the proposal for Germantown but don't take St. Vincent de Paul support as an epiphany in the Catholic community regarding public schools.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 24, 2013 12:17 am
I hear you, Jane.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 22, 2013 2:35 pm
Why does the SRC not require members of the public to disclose the entities they receive contracts or employment from prior to testifying? Universal seems to be the primary culprit of such deception but I am certain it is not alone. Contractors or employees of management organizations should not be able to present themselves as merely concerned citizens without question.
Submitted by Jane (not verified) on February 22, 2013 3:25 pm
Universal did the same thing the last two years. This was one way the got Audenreid - although Archie, Nutter and Ackerman certainly helped. Universal's schools have not made "progress." Universal schools also have the fewest number of students from the neighborhood attending the schools. It should not (nor ever have) received any Renaissance charters.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 22, 2013 8:27 pm
Jane--ANYTHING Kenny Gamble infects will always die. He knows nothing about education and cares even less than that. Look at Vernard Johnson for 30 seconds and you get the whole Gamble Joke.

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