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A threatened school gets a good report

By Paul Socolar on Mar 6, 2013 11:10 AM
Photo: C. Shonda Woods

In a just-released list of graduation rates for District high schools, there is a new name among the leaders: Paul Robeson High School for Human Services.

Robeson's graduation rate of 90 percent places it among the top 10 District high schools in four-year graduation rates for freshmen who started in 2008.

That may seem like good news -- except that the District wants to close Robeson next year and send its students to Sayre, with a graduation rate of 53 percent.

So unless the School Reform Commission votes down the recommendation on Thursday, the District will be sending students from a school where only 1 of 10 students fails to graduate on time to a school where 5 in 10 fail to graduate on time.

Robeson, which is a citywide admission school, came in ahead of more than half of the city's special admission high schools, including Bodine and Girls' High, which have more stringent entrance requirements. Robeson's 2012 graduation rate climbed from 83 percent a year ago.

District officials maintain that there would be an up side to the transition. Moving the Robeson community, they say, will infuse new academic strengths into a struggling neighborhood school and serve as a positive example for the students already at Sayre.

Robeson is the most stark example, but it isn't the only case in which the District is planning to shift students to schools with graduation rates 25 points or more lower than the one they want to close.

Lamberton High students (graduation rate is 80 percent) are to be sent to Overbrook (52 percent).

Bok students (graduation rate is 71 percent) will go to South Philadelphia (46 percent).

For Robeson and Bok students, District officials say that Sayre and Southern will establish new academies that will maintain the high standards of the two closing schools, both of which are "citywide admission" schools with academic entrance requirements.

For students moving from Robeson to Sayre, the human-services academy planned for Sayre "will retain its admissions requirements and it will also maintain its staff," said District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. "Our expectation is that as an academy, it will continue to maintain its high graduation rate."

The same is planned for the career and technical education programs that will be relocated from Bok to Southern, Gallard said.

However, some Robeson students have testified to the SRC that they are not part of the school's human services academy and are unclear about their fate in the transition. They also say that many of their peers will look for a school other than Sayre.

As for the Lamberton High students slated to be absorbed into Overbrook, Gallard said the District would "provide supports to the entire school community to make sure the graduation rate improves at Overbrook." Those school-specific plans are still being developed, he said.

In all three cases, Gallard said, the new programs and initiatives would be "seeding the receiving schools with more opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have."

Some of the high schools targeted for closing do not look so good in the new graduation numbers: Carroll, Germantown, and University City all had rates under 50 percent, and Vaux and Douglas were only slightly better at 53 and 57 percent respectively. 

Here is a complete list of graduation rates for District-run schools. These are the four-year cohort graduation rates for first-time 9th graders from fall 2008. Students are assigned to the school where they started 9th grade. 

Graduation rates: District high schools (2012)

School name Graduation rate
Masterman 99%
Central 96%
GAMP 94%
Carver - Engineering & Science 94%
Science Leadership Academy 93%
Parkway Northwest 92%
Creative & Performing Arts 92%
Swenson Arts & Technology 91%
Saul 90%
Robeson - Human Serv 90%
Bodine - International Affairs 90%
Lankenau 89%
Academy at Palumbo 88%
Arts Academy at Rush 88%
Parkway Center City 88%
Constitution 88%
Phila. HS for Bus & Tech 86%
Phila HS for Girls 86%
Motivation 84%
Randolph 84%
Washington 80%
Lamberton 80%
Phila. Mil. Acad. at Elverson 79%
Phila. Mil. Acad at Leeds 77%
Dobbins 77%
Northeast 74%
Parkway West 72%
School of the Future 72%
Mastbaum 72%
Bok 71%
Communications Tech 69%
Strawberry Mansion 63%
Roxborough 62%
Audenried 59%
Fels 58%
Kensington CAPA 57%
Douglas 57%
Bartram 56%
Rhodes 55%
Lincoln 54%
Vaux 53%
Sayre 53%
Franklin 53%
Furness, Horace 52%
Overbrook 52%
Frankford 52%
King 50%
Olney West 50%
FitzSimons 49%
Gratz 49%
Kensington Bus, Fin & Ent 49%
University City 47%
Germantown 47%
Edison 47%
Olney East 47%
South Philadelphia 46%
Kensington Culinary 46%
West Philadelphia 45%
William Penn 44%
Carroll 44%
Widener Memorial School 30%


Note: Some schools that had 9th graders in 2008 are now closed but still have graduation rates based on those students' outcomes.

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Comments (15)

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on March 6, 2013 1:52 pm

Thnaks for this, Paul.   More evidence of how this plan is a flat out disaster.

Submitted by Andrew Saltz (not verified) on March 6, 2013 1:00 pm
As someone who raised a fuss over your last article, I appreciate the reporting.
Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2013 1:44 pm
Robeson should absolutely stay open. They are claiming that they want to focus on small, well-performing schools with a clear goal. How, then, do you justify closing a unique school like Robeson, a citywide admit school, that is doing this well? You can fake test scores. You cannot fake a 90% graduation rate.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2013 1:17 pm
Yes, you can!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2013 2:13 pm
How can you justify keeping Strawberry Mansion open with deployable test scores and a low graduation rate, but close Robeson. I guess the Robeson community does not have enough political clout. This is an absurd decision. If schools are working for children and families why close them? We certainly have no shortage of schools that do not work and need to be closed (or better supported).
Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on March 6, 2013 4:38 pm
Strawberry Mansion according to this report is not as low as some would expect.Ben Frankin where youth would be received is LOWER! Also is in the pathway of major development... However, we will work hard to bring the numbers up-for real! Near Lovely Fairmount Park !! But ,this game of either or, is not of value to the students in programs that are working... With all of these flaws in the closure agenda,we all (taxpayers ) should be blasting the Governor,Mayor,all officials,telephones,emails, twitter,etc. from now until 5:00PM Thursday 3/7/!!! This is not a done deal ,until it is voted on. Slow up,get it correct. If a school does close,charters are at the ready to replace the delivery of education in the same building.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on March 6, 2013 4:30 pm

As just pointed out, it's worth noting Mansion's 63 percent graduation rate in 2012; that ranks it third among more than 20 neighborhood high schools in the city.

The way the District calculates graduation rates holds the school responsible for all the students who started 9th grade there but it is not affected by students who arrive after 9th grade. The chart above is sortable by graduation rate.

Submitted by Sayre Teacher (not verified) on March 6, 2013 2:49 pm
I can see why Robeson students are so angry at having to go to Sayre. Right now Sayre is a mess with hall walking and fights galore. The principal here sees the integration with Robeson as a way to improve the climate as the better Robeson kids will rub off on Sayre students and change the school to become more academically focused. However, underpopulated as Sayre is at the moment, the inmates are running the asylum. I have seen what Sayre can do to bright academic students from outside. They become "sayrized" and join in the madness picking up the bad habits of their peers, so instead of the good kids setting the example, they follow the crowd. As a teacher, at Sayre I want to see the school climate improve and want to believe that the principal's vision of Robeson improving Sayre to be true but I can't help but feel sympathy for those Robeson students who want nothing to do with Sayre because of its reputation. My fear is that instead of the good kids from Robeson coming over and changing the school for the better that most of Robeson's best will walk off to other schools and charters and the rest will become "Sayrized". I hope I am wrong but I have seen what happens to good kids in a school like Sayre
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 6, 2013 3:49 pm
If the SDP argument is "adding Robeson will improve Sayre," then why not combine special admit with neighborhood schools throughout the city? Northeast and Washington have their magnet programs. Combine Furness and Academy at Palumbo, SLA and University City, Masterman High School (400 students) and Ben Franklin, Constitution and West Philly, etc., etc. What is good for one school should be good for all schools? I realize some people will "flip" at the suggestion but apparently it is good enough for Robeson and Sayre. (I actually don't understand why Robeson and Parkway West aren't being combined - similar location, similar mission, similar admission requirements, etc.)
Submitted by Geoffrey (not verified) on March 6, 2013 6:33 pm
This is a very good suggestion. Masterman is a demonstration school, so those teachers are qualified to work with all students. Based on their reputations, the others schools should be equally well-equiped to deal with more varied populations.
Submitted by Andrew Saltz (not verified) on March 6, 2013 7:28 pm
Or they don't go. These kids got into a city-wide admit - I'm sure someone else will take them to boost capacity #s. Robeson will be gone, Sayre will still be half empty. Who's next?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2013 4:51 pm
What it really means is that none of this is about education or the kids, plain and simple. It's about "reform" also known as closing public schools.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on March 6, 2013 5:01 pm
Graduation rates are highly susceptible to manipulation by HS administrators. I have had kids who never once came to my class and flunked then graduate because they went to two hour grade improvement course after school. Are these students ready for the World?
Submitted by Andrew Saltz (not verified) on March 6, 2013 7:32 pm
I'm a Robeson teacher (post way too much). But there's a few things to clear up from the District's view: 1. There's no evidence our children would go to Sayre. We polled and found only 10% would go. These numbers are probably off, but it shows that the student body will consider many (any) other options. And since we can't legally keep them out of Charters... 2. What the District has stated is they want to move our Health Academy CTE program. Sayre has a brand new facility tohouse such a program (and it's currently being used for other purposes). But only 20% of our students are enrolled in the program! We're much closer to a Parkway-type than a Bok. Again, the numbers don't add up. 3. The teachers are given right to follow, but not right to teach. Sayre's Principal can move his own teachers into the "new" Robeson. 4. Let me know when any members of the FMP, SRC, or anyone at 440 sends their kids to be "examples". Disgusting.
Submitted by Sayre Teacher (not verified) on March 7, 2013 9:24 am
I work at Sayre, and I think we meet at induction this summer. Anyway, you are absolutely right on number 1, Robeson's students will walk and not attend Sayre (not to bad mouth my own students, but I don't blame Robeson's students for wanting to do this), and if any do they won't change the climate but instead become assimilated into the madness that goes on at Sayre. However, I am not so sure on number 3 because with closings and relocations, many principals will be laid off/ demoted and our principal is a 1st year principal so there's no guarantee that he will be back given layoffs or be in control of the school if Robeson's administrators have more seniority, much less be able to place his teachers where he wants.

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