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In North Philly, keeping a high school open requires wooing neighbors back

By by Benjamin Herold, for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner Graphics by Michelle Schmitt and Todd Vachon on Mar 5, 2013 04:23 PM

Click map for interactive version


For almost an hour, Frank Thorne stood in line, waiting to denounce Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite.

It was early January. Nearly a thousand angry people were packed into a school auditorium. Along one wall, looking unhappy, stood a handful of North Philadelphia politicians, including Darrell Clarke, the president of City Council.

A 1st grader, then a teacher, then a parade of parents and activists blasted Hite's unprecedented plan to close 37 city schools, including Strawberry Mansion, their neighborhood high school.

By the time Thorne got to the microphone, he could barely contain his anger.

He graduated from Mansion in 1994. He still lives less than a mile away.

"Strawberry Mansion is a community," said Thorne. "Why are you closing a school that's been around since before I was even born?"

Frank Thorne was as fired up as anyone about saving Mansion.

But he won't send his own kids there.

Thorne's three high school-aged children all attend charter schools.

A future for the high school down the street?

Thorne, and Strawberry Mansion High, embody the paradox at the heart of the bruising school-closings fight that has raged across Philadelphia for the last three months.

Over the last 15 years, an explosion of new public school options has spurred an exodus of students from many of the city's neighborhood schools, especially its high school "dropout factories."

Mansion, for example, now serves just one of every six public school students who live in its attendance zone -- the lowest rate in the city, according to newly released District data.

But the school is also a prime example of how fiercely the people of this "city of neighborhoods" will defend their neighborhood schools, seen as vital community anchors -- even when they're three-quarters empty.

"There's a whole lot of history [at Mansion] for all of us," said Clarke, the council president. "That's why we're so passionate about the need to keep the school open."

Back at that January meeting, Hite struggled to make himself heard over the jeering crowd.

Now, days before the School Reform Commission will vote on his final school-closing recommendations, the superintendent firmly backs his revised plan.

Hite is now recommending 29 schools for the chopping block. Four of the city's neighborhood comprehensive high schools could be shuttered, and 10 more could undergo some form of consolidation.

But, in a reversal, Strawberry Mansion will stay open.

In an interview with NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook, Hite said his decision to spare Mansion was not a case of politically motivated cold feet.

Instead, he argued, Mansion presents a "unique opportunity" to further reshape the city's high school landscape.

After downsizing, Hite said, the District will attempt to reinvent selected neighborhood high schools. The goal will be to help schools such as Mansion better compete in Philadelphia's bustling educational marketplace. The alternative is a downward spiral as schools of last resort for the city's neediest students.

Eventually, he said, the District may entirely eliminate its long-standing practice of assigning students to high schools based on where they live.

"We're trying to create schools with high-quality programs that will be an attraction to students who live in that area -- and beyond," he said.

If Hite's strategy works, it will move Philadelphia closer to a "portfolio" of good high school options in every section of the city.

If it doesn't, said Diane Castelbuono, a veteran Philadelphia education policy expert, "We'll get more of the same: Spending a lot of money, time, and effort while still having mediocre high school options for kids."

A numbers game

In the build-up to Thursday's vote, Hite and his team have told anyone who will listen that financial woes are forcing their hand. A massive budget deficit, they say, means the District can no longer afford to heat, staff, and maintain dozens of half-empty school buildings.

But the low "utilization rates" behind the District's money worries are just a symptom of what went wrong with Philadelphia's neighborhood high schools.

Consider Strawberry Mansion.

A decade ago, Mansion enrolled 1,288 students.

This year, it enrolls just 435.

A NewsWorks analysis of new "live-in/attend out" data released by the District highlights a major reason for that decline: Mansion, like many of the city's neighborhood high schools, has been hollowed out by public-school choice.

More than 83 percent of the public school students living in Mansion's attendance zone now attend other schools.

For many, that figure signals victory. It means hundreds of families have escaped a school plagued by dismal academics, violence, and a stunningly low graduation rate.

Others, though, decry the abandonment of a public institution that a struggling community desperately needs to be strong.

Either way, there's no denying the numbers.

A total of 1,721 students living in Mansion's attendance zone now attend 111 other public schools and programs across the city.

A huge chunk -- 796 students -- go to publicly funded, independently managed charters or Renaissance charter schools, all of which have been established since 1997.

Almost a thousand other students living within Mansion's boundaries attend District-managed high school options, which now include magnets, boutique theme-based schools, vocational schools, military academies, and alternative programs.

Though school choice in Philadelphia is nothing new, much of the growth is recent.

Almost two dozen new high schools came online during the tenure of Paul Vallas, the District's CEO from 2002 to 2007.

Now the superintendent in Bridgeport, Conn., Vallas declined to be interviewed about his time in Philadelphia.

Castelbuono, who now works as an associate vice president at the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, was his senior policy adviser.

"I think [Vallas] thought trying to fix the existing neighborhood high schools would be too complicated and difficult," said Castelbuono, and that it would "be better to use the power of the choice movement to starve them off."

Castelbuono said other factors, including demographic shifts, were also at play.

"The fact of the matter was these large neighborhood comprehensive high schools either had to get more nimble, or close down," she said.

Less than a decade later, here's where we are:

Thirteen neighborhood comprehensive high schools -- Bartram, Benjamin Franklin, Germantown, Lamberton, Martin Luther King, Overbrook, Roxborough, Sayre, South Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion, University City, Vaux, and West Philadelphia -- have been targeted either to close or to receive an influx of students as part of a District-wide consolidation. Carroll and Douglas high schools, which serve the Kensington neighborhood, are also on the chopping block.

That kind of shake-up is long overdue, said Mark Gleason.

"Historically, the strategy has been to funnel money and resources into low-performing schools in an effort to raise them up. The track record behind that approach is weak," said Gleason, the executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, a group that promotes good school options.

The more sensible route, he argued, is the one the District is taking now: Close the schools that are failing, then expand and replicate the schools where parents actually want to send their kids.

It's simple supply-and-demand, said Gleason.

"If everybody is choosing to drink Coke instead of Pepsi, don't keep making Pepsi," he said. "Find a way to make more Coke."

Conflicting loyalties

For Frank Thorne, it's a little messier than that.

After growing up in a rough section of North Philly and enduring an abusive home life, Thorne says he entered Strawberry Mansion High plagued by low self-esteem.

At Mansion, though, teachers like Diane Holliday helped turn his life around.

"I was being told [at home] I was never going to be anything," Thorne said.

"Ms. Holliday told me I had potential."

Thorne graduated in four years, then went on to an 11-year stint in the Army. He's now studying to be a lawyer. He's intensely loyal to his alma mater.

Still, Thorne chose not to send his own children to Mansion.

His son Trevon, 16, attends Eastern University Academy Charter School.

His older daughter, Naima, 15, attends Delaware Valley Charter High School.

And his daughter Jazmine, also 15, is a 9th grader this year at Mastery Charter-Simon Gratz High School, a former District-run school now operated as a Renaissance charter.

Thorne recognizes the irony.

Being a parent, he says, changes your perspective.

"My number one question is, will [my kids] be safe in school?" said Thorne.

He says that Jazmine was bullied mercilessly when she attended middle school at E.W. Rhodes, run by the District.

"But when I went up to the school, they kept trying to jerk me around about it," he said. "I had to literally flip the school upside down just to get an answer."

The family's experience at Mastery-Gratz couldn't be more different.

Jazmine says she feels safe.

And Thorne says he gets a call or text message about how his daughter is doing at least twice a week.

That doesn't happen by accident.

"We require that our teachers make at least seven parent contacts per week," says Peter Langer, the principal of Mastery-Gratz's 9th grade academy.

Langer flips open his laptop, revealing a neatly organized spreadsheet containing note after note from teachers who reached out to parents with homework reminders, or attendance warnings, or just to check in.

"Parents care," said Langer, "and it's their right to know what's happening with their child's education.

That attitude is a big reason Mastery-Gratz enrolls 157 students who live in Strawberry Mansion's attendance zone.

But sitting on his couch, flipping through his old Mansion yearbook, Thorne can't help but feel there's something missing.

"I would love for all my children to go to my old high school, to continue the tradition," he said.

"Overall, it's like, what are we doing as a community?"

Back to the future

In the weeks after that January community meeting in North Philadelphia, the tension felt by Thorne – disappointment in what his local school had turned into, but a powerful urge to keep it open anyway -- continued to play out across the city.

At Mansion, the data seemed clear: The school should be closed.

Beyond its empty corridors, the school's academic performance is atrocious.

After years of test scores that now appear to have been wildly inflated by adult cheating, just 14 percent of Mansion's students scored proficient or above on last year's state reading tests.

Only 9 percent scored proficient in math.

Regardless, Hite and his team were under intense political pressure to keep Mansion open.

In early February, they called a second meeting, to be held inside Mansion itself.

On his way to the session, Clarke, Philadephia's second-most powerful elected official, took a detour.

"I looked at the hallways, the principal's office, the auditorium," said Clarke, the City Council president who attended the school in the late 60s. "A whole lot of nostalgia came up."

"It was truly a neighborhood school back at that time."

Once the meeting started, the authors of four grassroots counterproposals to save Mansion called for a return to that hazy past.

Linda Cliatt-Wayman is Mansion's current principal.

Together with the principal of L.P. Hill Elementary, housed in a building adjoining Mansion and also targeted for closure, Cliatt-Wayman laid out her vision: A single facility serving pre-kindergarten through 12th grade -- and overage students and adults looking to get their GED.

"Everything you want to do in this community, you can do through Strawberry Mansion," she said.

The crowd murmured its approval.

Then Cliatt-Wayman turned to Hite.

"How in the world can you even think about closing the only high school in North Philadelphia that takes every child?" she asked.

It's the central argument of those who remain committed to the city's neighborhood high schools: The other school options that parents love so much -- magnets, charters, citywide admission schools -- all require families to clear a hurdle before enrolling. As a result, schools like Mansion have increasingly become repositories for the city's most challenging students.

As its overall population has dropped by two-thirds, the percentage of special education students in Mansion has more than doubled.

"We don't look at [students'] test scores. We don't look at their incarceration records. We don't look at their ankle bracelets they've got to charge every day in our sockets," said Cliatt-Wayman. 

"The only thing we're asking the District," she concluded, "is to be fair."

Clarke, standing off to the side, smiled and nodded.

Fighting to save Mansion, Clarke said later, was about more than just nostalgia.

Even now, he argued, the neighborhood high school is a necessary foundation for efforts under way to revitalize North Philly. There's been investment in housing. People are starting things like football teams and anti-violence programs.

Closing Mansion would mean a 249,000-square-foot hole in the middle of all that.

"Given what we're trying to do for that community," said Clarke, "we need to figure out a way to fix the education in Strawberry Mansion."

Hoping for a third way

Caught between the numbers and the community, Hite said the deciding factor in his decision to spare Strawberry Mansion was the students.

Had Mansion been shuttered, about 200 children who were relocated to the school last year after the closure of nearby Rhodes and FitzSimons high schools would have had to endure a second move in as many years.

"As an educator, I don't think it's appropriate to impact students in that way," Hite said.

But the superintendent also cast his decision on Mansion as the first step on a new path. The District, Hite said, will maintain robust public school choice, but pick some spots to try to transform neighborhood high schools into desirable options.

"Mansion isn't working in its current form," said Hite. "That's why we need to change the form."

At the moment, that appears to mean a smorgasbord of partly developed ideas.

Hite wants to start workforce training programs in the school, but he's not sure when they might start.

He also wants to create a "middle college" at Mansion that would allow students to earn college credits on their way to a high school diploma. But the details haven't been hashed out.

And he recently announced that Mansion will be converted into a "Promise Academy."

That means that at least half the staff will be replaced next year. Cliatt-Wayman could go, too.

Hite cast the uncertainty in a hopeful light.

"There's no reason that Strawberry Mansion can't become the type of choice that supports not only the neighborhood, but other students [around the city] as well," he said.

Wait-and-see mode

Parents like Frank Thorne will be watching closely.

After winning his fight to save his alma mater, Thorne is gung-ho about getting Mansion's alumni committee back on its feet.

But when asked where Jazmine, Naima, and Trevon will go to school next year, Thorne hesitates.

"I'm still in wait-and-see mode," he said, "about what happens next."

This story was reported through a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/
NewsWorks and the Notebook.

Related: For Philadelphia’s neighborhood elementary schools, a tale of two cities


How many Philadelphia families are choosing their own neighborhood school as opposed to another District or charter school?

(Data shown by catchment area.)

School Percent Closure recommendations
Northeast 59.2 -
Edison 49.3 -
George Washington 43.8 -
Kensington Multiplex* 41.0

Close Carroll and Douglas; 
Kensington receives students

Lincoln 39.5  
Lamberton 37.7 Close
Fels 32.7 -
University City 31.0 Close
Frankford 30.4 -
Bartram 29.8 Receive students
Sayre 28.7 Receive students
Roxborough 28.4 Receive students
Vaux 28.3 Close
West Philadelphia 27.8 Receive students
Overbrook 26.5 Receive students
Furness 25.9 -
Benjamin Franklin 23.0 Receive students
South Philadelphia 19.2 Receive students
Germantown 18.5 Close
Martin Luther King 18.0 Receive students
Strawberry Mansion 16.7 Receive students

* Kensington Multiplex includes multiple schools sharing the same attendance zone. Carroll & Douglas both recommended for closure.


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Comments (30)

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 5, 2013 7:22 pm
This quote by Castelbuono is key: "I think [Vallas] thought trying to fix the existing neighborhood high schools would be too complicated and difficult," said Castelbuono, and that it would "be better to use the power of the choice movement to starve them off." When Vallas announced the creation and expansion of special admit schools, it was the death sentence for many neighborhood high schools. For example, Northeast and Washington HS have a higher percentage of local students attending the schools. Both schools have internal magnet programs. They also are located in middle class areas of Philadelphia. Vallas did not allow other high schools to keep their internal magnet programs. Bartram, Germantown and Furness lost their special admit programs. ( Edison High School kept its vocational program. Lincoln lost Swenson.) Some schools catchments also contribute to students not attending their neighborhood school. (e.g. Furness' catchment includes Queen Village, Society Hill, etc. - very affluent areas. West HS includes Univ. City - another affluent community. These areas have "high performing" elementary schools with a strong middle class base. These schools thrive off of their "ability" to send students to special admit schools. K-8 schools "brag" about students who get admitted to special admit schools.) Castelbuono is honest that the Vallas administration starved neighborhood schools. While change was and is needed in all schools, neighborhood schools still play a vital part in educating Philly students. Starvation is never a solution. It is slow death that trickles beyond the intended victims.
Submitted by Edu Grad Student (not verified) on March 5, 2013 7:29 pm
Thorne sounds like a hypocrite and imbecile. You won't send your own kids to the school but you're angry about it being closed? So weird.
Submitted by tom-104 on March 5, 2013 7:13 pm
I never criticize a parent trying to find the best for their child. Children grow up fast. The public schools have been starved for resources in the last ten years. At least he didn't abandon his community. People have to look at the big picture and see how we are being manipulated. Part of the purpose of charter schools was to divert parents away from fighting the politicians to fix the public schools. I think people are beginning to understand that now.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 5, 2013 8:51 pm
If you look a little closer at Thorne's reasons for enrolling his children in schools other than neighborhood SDP schools, you will see that he does not mention the lack of resources. Rather it is safety, and the lack of response he received to his daughter being bullied. (I know at my neighborhood school, this same reason was significant in the flight of parents/caregivers; We did not lack for staff and had a school policeman as well.) In addition, he is not unhappy with the regular reports and communication he is getting from his children's teachers. (Did I miss something?) he does not say these alternate schools have more resources. The response I got in suggesting to our principal that he might give teachers time each month to call parents was met with this response from the senior teacher (whose position, Instructional Reform Facilitator, was completely funded by Title I btw), "The teachers in the suburbs don't have to call the parents." His own response was that the teacher's union would object to his asking the teachers to do this. Well, well... some run around indeed. Bad management is an understatement. Lack of resources is definitely not to blame on this one.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on March 5, 2013 10:54 pm
Yes, Ms. Cheng, this is exactly right. More resources are great, but ONLY when in the right hands. This is an example of how the contract serves to hinder, not help, great teachers
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 6, 2013 5:00 am
Resources are more than money but money certainly matters. Under Vallas, some of the special admit schools were given advantages not given to other schools which were "quick" conversions to special admit / magnet schools. For example, Science Leadership Academy (SLA), Academy at Rush, Academy at Palumbo, Constitution High School, etc. were given a year to create and plan the schools before they opened. The principals were hired and then the principals were able to hire an entirely new staff. This time - and money - was, I assume, necessary to establish the goals, tone, vision, etc. for the schools. Other small, special admit schools were removed from their "host" neighborhood high schools (e.g. Lankenau from Germantown, Motivation, Comm Tech and Robeson from Bartram). These schools did not have the same opportunities - and funding - as the new special admit / magnet schools. (Promise Academies have received additional funding, time, new staff, etc. BUT it is top down administration. The magnet schools are bottom up decision making. Teachers - with administrators - are empowered to make decisions. The decisions aren't coming from 440.) If Dr. Hite is serious about supporting and transforming neighborhood schools, it will take resources - which includes money - to happen. Yes, there needs to be flexibility with the contract - that certainly happens at the new small magnets - but it will also take time for the administration, teachers and other staff to plan and work together. Science Leadership Academy teachers, for example, meet every Wed. because students leave school at noon to go to Franklin Institute. The teachers also only have 4 classes - their 5th class is advisory. What if all schools/staff had this amount of time - within the current 7 hour, 4 minute day? What if all elementary schools had the extra funding, resources, and outside support like Penn Alexander? None of this comes cheap.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 6, 2013 12:20 pm
Hi Philly Parent and Teacher, I of course like the idea of magnet programs being located in neighborhood schools; however on further consideration, I'm not sure that if you were to break up schools like Masterman, Central, Hill Freedman, etc. that you would have enough kids in their neighborhoods, in their neighborhood schools, to support the programs that these schools are able to provide for their kids right now. Remember a lot of these kids are Gifted. Of course if the City would work harder to make it beneficial for families of school age children to live here, there might be more of these kids living in all the neighborhoods. Inevitably having more money makes it easier to obtain resources, but having more money has not guaranteed the wise distribution of resources at all. Sorry to keep repeating myself, but just look at Title I. Though leveraging and community goodwill are controversial (as a volunteer, there was a certain amount of resentment levelled at me because I did what I did for no money), it does exist, and should be used. I thought Mr. Whitehorne did a good job presenting his point on WHYY yesterday, that money always exists if priorities are re-oriented; however there needs to be a greater connection to the situation at hand. The rest of the State approved the budget along with its cuts, and its funding sources, so can Philadelphia by itself insist that the rest of the State re-orient their priorities? I know Ms. Gym suggested at the onset of the budget cuts that the SDP try and form a coalition with the other State school districts. This would make more sense in terms of lobbying than directing anger at the SRC or Dr. Hite. I remain unmoved in my opinion that the SDP needs to become more efficient before it will have any case to ask for more money.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 6, 2013 4:50 pm
Ms. Cheng - I certainly agree that money without wise distribution is wasteful and, in the long run, creates more problems. Ackerman had "stimulus" money that, in my opinion, was wasted on under enrolled summer programs, materials (Corrected Reading/Math), doubling the size of 440 (and regional office) staff, her perks/salary, etc. The Department of Labor grants at some high schools (Germantown, Lincoln, Univ City, etc.) has bought a lot of administrative positions. What else has it bought? Title 1 money is not only spent at the school level. Next year, we have been told, at least 40% of a school's Title 1 allotment will stay at 440. Yes, efficiency is important but at this point, we aren't being asked to be efficient by the SRC - we are being asked to accept draconian cuts across the board. As you wrote, to pressure the Corbett administration to change funding priorities (and huge tax credits for his gas co. buddies), there has to be state wide organizing. There are many smaller cities in PA that are hurting (e.g. Allentown, Harrisburg, Erie, Chester, etc.) as well as many rural districts. I believe the SRC (especially Corbett's appointees), Dr. Hite, Mayor Nutter, City Council, etc. need to lead the state wide organizing. I won't hold my breath but I hope they hear us on March 7.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 6, 2013 11:04 am
Perhaps. Certainly I would agree with your first statement. Unfortunately right now there are not enough safeguards to protect against the "wrong hands", and a contract that relies for its success on "gentleman's honor" or making the situation less secure for the "right hands", does not provide these either. The main point of my comment was that there was a lot that could have been done at my "starved" neighborhood school with the existing resources that wasn't being done. My principal along with his "right hand" senior teacher, was giving me the "run around" and the teachers union was just a convenient excuse. I suspect that even if there were not a highly prescriptive contract, I would have been given the "run around". What needs to be looked at is how the existing "safeguards", that is bringing an issue first directly to the principal, then on up to the Regional Superintendent (some parents even calling the District Ombudsman (supposedly the District Superintendent's direct line), produces very little real resolution. In addition having to escalate an issue poses the risk of establishing an adversarial relationship with school administration and staff, where caregivers may feel there will be retribution for their children attending the school. Many prefer just to "jump ship". Here is where giving the principal more authority over teachers, as this initial contract proposal does, is troublesome. How is the principal going to be held more accountable with this greater authority?
Submitted by Paul Socolar on March 5, 2013 8:00 pm


On behalf of the Notebook, I want to ask once again that commenters should please refrain from name-calling on this site. The number of personal attacks in the comments has become a serious issue that we get a lot of complaints about. We are increasingly having to resort to removing comments.

You may disagree, you may even think someone else's position is totally illogical. But that doesn't make them an imbecile, a cretin, or a moron. Using the cloak of anonymity to impugn the intelligence of others is particularly out of bounds.

Submitted by rob (not verified) on March 5, 2013 8:07 pm
Paul - Why are people allowed to comment anonymously? I believe that if someone has something to say in a public forum, then they should be able stand by their comments. No one has to give their government name. If someone abuses the service agreement then they are put in 'penalty box' or banned. It would also lure advertisers to see how many people have registered to comment and visit the site daily. I hate responding to 'anonymous.'
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 5, 2013 9:02 pm
Guess you never heard of Hope Moffet? She merely asked a question at a public forum and was sent to the district "rubber room" for it. This is an extremely vindictive school district which is why posters does so anonymously.
Submitted by rob (not verified) on March 5, 2013 10:32 pm
one does not need to reveal their name, just a username.
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on March 6, 2013 7:53 am
Maybe it is time for everyone to have to register to comment. You to not have to use your legal or real name, just pick a username so we can keep all the "anonymous" posters separate from one another.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2013 12:31 am
Are you comparing him to who? The people with All the rational well thought out arguments for keeping failed schools at 30% occupancy open? Thorne seems a perfect example of opposition. Sentimental. Nostalgic. With no real ideas for alternatives. At least he is honest and not just trying to protect his position for another couple years while the district burns around him.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 5, 2013 9:12 pm
Thank you Mr. Herold for using direct quotes. So is Mr. Gleason a parent? Choosing a school is like choosing between Coke and Pepsi? Both (as any responsible parent should know) are empty, even destructive calories. Wow, how can anyone take him seriously? Wants and needs are so easily confused in marketing -a parent faces this so many/too many times.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 5, 2013 10:05 pm
This article contains more than one irony. Besides Mr. Thorne's sentiments vs. his choice, United Way is a key player/nonprofit in the Cincinnati Community Schools. Philadelphia has not just two flavors of "soda", but in fact over 80 - the sheer number of which makes it very difficult to determine which to make more of.
Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on March 5, 2013 11:23 pm
If Strawberry Mansion, Duckrey,and other public schools located in North Philadelphia had elected officials and or prominent citizens children enrolled , we would see education at it finest !!!Charter ,privatization of education is what is going on...WE OF STRAWBERRY MANSION ARE DEMANDING EDUCATION PROGRESS FOR OUR CHILDREN IN THE BUILDING LOCATED AT 33& Ridge Ave. As the powers that be, propose to close Strawberry Mansion - the Audubon Society and Outward Bound ,proposes East Park Leadership and Conservation Center in the same neighborhood. We are aware of all of the social engineering to empty our schools. We are demanding that there be a reversal of forture. What is going on at St. Joseph prep. and Masterman ,(NORTH PHILLY)that is not going on at Strawberry Mansion ? Bad Schools are bad because some ADULTS charged with educating youth allowed them to get that way. What has happened to the students of Strawberry Mansion over the past three to five years should be against the LAW !! Check the record,how many changes,and how much $$$ have been spent at this one school in the name of a decent education for our youth... So ,if a Charter school takes over the building then we get education-Please !
Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on March 6, 2013 12:19 am
The fact that students are being tracked so closely by the School District , meaned the adults charged with educating our youth are watching as Charter schools are allowed to cherry pick the the youth who would do well in most settings !!! Who at the District iS selling off the names of strong performers ? Social engineering ,wasteful spending(debt) ,and out of control capital projects. NO EDUCATION for our youth of North Philly... Thirty years of title one funds,now this scam...
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on March 6, 2013 5:05 am
ms. robinson, I appreciate your concern for the young people of north philadelphia, but please don't join the wrong headed actions often done here of blaming charters for the demise of charter schools. the idea of encouraging students in north philly district schools to seek an educational option outside the neighborhood goes back a long time. I grew up in the area and my teacher strongly encouraged my mother to avoid the neighborhood jr. high school, fitzsimons. those who came after me chose the neighborhood option less and less. however, in the old days there was always an insiders game and if you couldn't access that knowledge you were stuck. neighborhood schools took the hit, but no one complained. the kids were still in district schools and district workers knew how to get their kids into the right schools. the gradual decline of the district lead to more people with means finding better options. district teachers began enrolling their children in private schools and fighting to break the residency requirements. each step had a detrimental on the district quality. low income children suffered, but nobody lost jobs or cut salaries so nobody complained. and since there was no performance demands, the children were allowed to flounder unbothered. even efforts to bring additional resources to these poor performing neighborhood schools were useless. new books, computers, and other instructional materials often never left the boxes in which they were delivered. two major events occurred: 1) charter schools were created and 2) they began connecting student performance to teachers performance. the result was a mass exodus of experienced teachers from the neighborhood schools. also low income parents, armed with new options to the neighborhood schools with fewer barriers, jumped at the chance to enroll their children elsewhere. mr. r, please don't be fooled. the people who are crying the loudest about the closures of neighborhood schools are the ones who were the first to jump ship. the angst you hear from many of these teachers is about their jobs, not the true needs of the children. the solution to this mess is an open educational system that gives poor people the right to use the government funding for their child in the environment of their choice be it district, charter, parochial, or private. everyone else has those options. one more thing about charters. if they are so bad, why doesn't the pft announce to its members that they should no longer enroll their kids in a charter school? they tell you not to send your child there but they do? please do not allow low income children to be pawns in this fight against hypocrisy.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on March 6, 2013 6:08 am
I don't know mr. thorne and he seems earnest, but if strawberry mansion isn't good enough for his kids, whose kids is it good enough for?
Submitted by Tower (not verified) on March 6, 2013 6:25 am
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2013 10:33 am
Submitted by Christa (not verified) on March 6, 2013 8:41 am
The #1 job of public education is to educate EVERYONE...not those who are deemed capable of doing well or without behavior concerns, EVERYONE. I am a Philadelphia Public School Teacher and I work to the point of exhaustion everyday. I deal with students who throw themselves at other students, use objects in the room to try and hurt other students. Students who throw themselves into doors and try to break the glass in my door when they are not allowed to do something they want to do because I need them to complete a writing assignment. I deal with a lack of supplies ranging from paper to make copies because we do not have workbooks for all of my students to chart paper to make posters for my classroom as models of assignments to inadequate technology. I teach special education students most with ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder who need to be in classrooms with less than 10 students, instead they deal with close to 20 students in the classroom for instruction. My colleagues and I are severely overworked and underpaid for a job that many other people throughout the country get to enjoy to do without reservation. Mr REFORMER you need to come spend a day in a School District classroom and see what we really put up with before you praise the charter schools in Philadelphia. The achievement of the charters schools is only a minimal amount better than the traditional public schools and still horrible compared to public schools statewide. All my colleagues and I want is for all schools, traditional public or charter to be held to the SAME STANDARDS WITH THE SAME FUNDING SO IT WILL BE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD!
Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on March 6, 2013 11:30 am
We are all correct ! Yes we are...We know the good the bad ,and the ugly truth!! Add to it racism-African Americans have always fought for the benefits of good education in American... At time against laws... So here we are at this point in the delivery of education... Charter schools are the cure for everything that ails us. The parents of Penn Alexander want more of a good thing in their neighborhood school. We of North Philly want the same for our children ! We have school of Engineering and Science in North Philly. So ,we are clear about what CAN happen in schools in North Philly. We want good education happening in more schools in our neighborhood! Kipp Charter is housed in historic Fitzsimon(Formerly all males,who many now attend Strawberry Mansion)and they recently purchased Walton 28& Huntingdon St .,after being unoccupied for several years ... So we are clear about what is going on . We are in this battle for the long haul!!! It is truly unacceptable that so many our children are not being educated ! We fought for our schools to remain open ,because we are ready to battle for the education of our children !!! Charity starts at home so ,we have started Storytime for pre-k(0-4) at our local library - Now . We are demanding standards for all of youth. We want for our children what you want for yours -Penn Alexander...Opps! I meant Temple B.Moore... or something like that..
Submitted by Education Grad ... on March 6, 2013 5:04 pm
Mr. Thorne's situation reveals the tension between doing what is best for his own kids and doing what is best for the community. People find it harder to sacrifice for the collective good if this sacrifice does not benefit their own children. EGS
Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on March 6, 2013 6:17 pm
"I've got mine you've got to get yours" is what has in this state of affairs... He is doing both! He did not have to show up...
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 6, 2013 7:10 pm
Interesting stat from the map. Two neighborhood high schools, Roxborough and Furness, have the highest percentage of students in the catchment attending magnet schools - 43.4% and 35.4% respectively. (These figures don' t include city wide admit / CTE schools nor parochial / private school attendance which is high in the Furness catchment. It might be true in the Roxborough catchment as well.) Again, why not combine neighborhood and magnet programs?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 30, 2013 7:16 am
When I first went to Furness as their AP in the 2001, Furness had a "Law Academy" which drew students form all across the city. It was a wonderful program. But Philadelphia Academies, Inc. under Mayor Nutter's wife, declined to fund it anymore and Paul Vallas eliminated it to put in his own ridiculous programs. Furness still has that court room, but they are not allowed to have such a magnet program. But I assure you, it is still a wonderful school "as is" and they serve their student population very well. They are a wonderful group of teachers with an excellent, collaborative principal.
Submitted by accident lawyer (not verified) on August 30, 2013 3:45 am
People find it harder to sacrifice for the collective good if this sacrifice does not benefit their own children.

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