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Despite grim District budget, Philadelphia charters seek 15,000 new seats

By Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on Apr 22, 2013 04:52 PM

Twenty-one city charter schools are seeking to add more than 15,000 new students during the next five years. If granted by the School Reform Commission, the charters' requests would eventually mean a new $110 million annual hit to the District's already fragile bottom line.

District officials say a vote on the expansion requests, originally scheduled for April 18, is now expected to take place on May 16. The District's charter schools office has not yet made its formal recommendations to the SRC.

Some of the charters' seat requests are staggering.

The highly regarded Freire Charter School in Center City, for example, is looking to add 3,000 seats, which would quadruple the school's current enrollment. Freire is just one of 16 charters that are at the end of their five-year terms. All but two are seeking to expand:

School  Current enrollment cap Total new seats requested over next 5 years
 Antonia Pantoja  700  30
 Architecture and Design (CHAD)  620  200
 Christopher Columbus  764  136
 Discovery  620  430
 Eugenia DeHostos  440  580
 Freire  1000  3000
 Hardy Williams — Mastery   1000  548
 Imani  450  0
 KIPP Philadelphia  810  1070
 Maritime Academy  820  200
 Math, Civics & Sciences  1160  200
 Math, Science & Technology (MaST)  1250  2550
 Pan American  717  83
 Philadelphia Academy  1124  1276
 Universal Institute  705  0
 Young Scholars  248  1199


Seven schools are seeking mid-term modifications to their existing charters. Included in that group is the Folk Arts and Cultural Treasures (FACTS) charter in Chinatown, which is seeking 722 new seats, though none would be filled immediately.

"We look at our waiting list, which is over 5,000 students, and also the need for high schools that serve immigrant and [English-as-a-second-language] populations," said FACTS principal Susan Stengel.

Like Freire, FACTS received high marks in 2010 and 2011 on the District's accountability rating system, the School Performance Index.

Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education, who has been a vocal opponent of unchecked charter expansion at the expense of District-managed schools, is a founder of FACTS. Though she does not now have a formal role at the school, her husband, Bret Flaherty, is a member of the board.

Gym said that community-based, standalone charters like FACTS are faced with a "dilemma."

"There are charters who started out of a genuine interest to be in partnership with the District and to support its educational mission, not be in this insane situation where [charter growth] is the cannibalization of the district," said Gym.

Those schools, she said, "are actively trying to understand what our role should be.  There's just not an easy answer."

The full list of schools seeking modifications:

School  Current enrollment cap Total new seats requested over next 5 years
 Delaware Valley Charter School  600  1400
 Folk Arts and Cultural Treasures  478  722
 People for People Charter School  540  120
 Richard Allen Preparatory  425  425
 Russell Byers  485  365
 Wakisha  400  600
 Walter D. Palmer  675  625


Details of the charters' seat requests were provided by the District.

Bedeviling details

In some cases, however, there are discrepancies between the District's numbers and those provided by the charters themselves.

For example, District officials originally said that MaST Community Charter in Northeast Philadelphia was seeking 1,300 new seats over the next five years. But documents provided by MaST CEO John Swoyer show the school is actually seeking 2,550 students.

Smaller discrepancies exist between the District's numbers and those provided by Russell Byers, Mastery-Hardy Williams, and Discovery.

All told, though, the charters' requests clearly add up to more than 15,000 new charter seats – nearly double the schools' existing enrollments.

District officials estimate each new charter seat results in a $7,000 net loss for the District each year.

The way Pennsylvania's system for funding charter schools works, the School District makes a per-pupil payment for every Philadelphia student enrolled in a charter. That payment, however, is substantially more than the District is able to save by no longer having those students on its own rolls. The District must also pay charters for newly enrolled students who did not previously attend District schools.

Deepening budget woes

Last week, Superintendent William Hite and Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski unveiled a doomsday budget scenario for the city's traditional public schools, saying that without $300 million from the state, city, and labor, individual school budgets will be cut by 25 percent – meaning no sports, counselors, art, music, or most other non-mandated activities.

Any new charter seats granted this year, said Stanski, will mean an even deeper budget hole that needs to be filled through new revenue, savings, or cuts.

"Any seat would obviously add a cost to the budget," said Stanski. He said the administration will come to a judgment as to how many new charter seats to approve. "The SRC will either vote it up or vote it down."

Either way, the SRC and District could find themselves in a quandary.

Several city charters have already gone directly to the Pennsylvania Department of Education to get payments for students whom the charters enrolled even though they had exceeded the caps written into their charter agreements with the District. Department officials say they are required by law to make those payments and to deduct a corresponding amount from the state subsidy to the District.

Discovery Charter in West Philadelphia is one of the charters that has taken this approach. Despite signing a charter renewal agreement in September 2008 that called for a "maximum of 620 students," Discovery enrolled 73 students over that cap this year, then successfully petitioned PDE for more than $360,000 in direct payments between July 2012 and February 2013. The state deducted that amount from its payments to the District.

At a rally last week to push for more charter seats, Discovery CEO Jackie Kelley said she hasn't decided whether her school would continue to petition the state for students enrolled over its cap if the SRC decides not to grant Discovery's expansion request.

"We haven't gone to negotiations with the School District yet," said Kelley. "I won't know until we have those conversations."

The advocacy group Public Citizens for Children and Youth last week released a set of recommendations for the charter renewal process, saying that, given the District's budget problems, charter expansion should not get a "blank check."

The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), meanwhile, reiterated its call for the continued expansion of "high-quality seats," despite the District's budget crisis.

"It's hard to blame families who are choosing charter schools for the District's financial woes," said the group's executive director, Mark Gleason, citing statistics that indicate that charters have higher graduation rates than traditional schools, while costing less per student.

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

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Comments (79)

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 22, 2013 6:00 pm

I'll be happy to write a response to this piece. It should be noted that Ben Herold called and left a message on my phone this afternoon which I returned as soon as I was able. I really do not see how that deserves a mention that I 'did not return a request for comment."

FACTS is not seeking to expand next year and will not be adding to the District's growing list of expenses around charters for next year. Asian Americans United has discussed the possibility of a high school which addresses the need of older immigrant students for years - and we have kept a close eye on District initiatives, capacity and prioritization throughout this time. The request for modification is a legal requirement, allowing us to continue the process of exploration and discussion as we weigh what is in the best interests of all parties (postscript note: The FACTS board is the final decisionmaking body. Asian Americans United and my role as a board member at AAU is the one I meant to reference as being concerned about the impact on all parties).

Clearly, the District's dire financial situation and the ever changing role of charters is a struggle for those of us devoted passionately to public education as well as to the original vision that charters were to bring - innovative ways to supplement the District's educational mission and serve underrepresented populations. It remains a major aspect of my personal perspective as these discussions continue.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 22, 2013 6:47 pm
I'm beginning to think The Notebook generally acts as a talking point format for charters and/or plays on the emotions of the attacked. Reminds me of The Jerry Springer Show. In any case, Gleason and gibronies of his ilk, will say or do ANYTHING to bolster the charter lie movement.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2013 7:44 pm
The Notebook: The independent voice for Parents, Educators, Students, and Friends of Philadelphia Public Schools. That is the vision that started the notebook. I want so very much to continue to believe that this remains so. We who believe in the democratic based mission of our true public schools are devastated as we see firsthand the eroding rights of students as well as employees in a nebulous world that turns away from issues of justice in the workplace. Two cases in point for me this week: Today a counselor whose job is in jeopardy commented that although she loved her catholic high school, she would not be able to accept a job opening there. As a lesbian, her partner would never be able to be a part of her work life. In another conversation, a charter school nurse lost her job over a comment she made that was interpreted by the principal as "not being a team player". "Due process" amounted to the CEO rubberstamping the principals opinion (because the businessman told the principal, "I really don;' know a thing about education-so I'll back you up. That was the last day on the job for the nurse. How long can the notebook staff maintain neutrality on these pages? I hope Joe is wrong, but I will be observing very carefully whether the notebook editorial board acts with courage and integrity in the coming months. Those of us in the brick and mortar buildings serving the least among us are under vicious attack. We have never needed the support of a publication like the notebook as much as we do today. Please consider and remain true to your mission.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 8:10 am
I'm a queer woman who has been teaching for a few years. Not sure how it's an issue for the Notebook that a queer woman wants to be able to be out at a Catholic school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 10:56 am
The reason I brought this up and the reason that this is a compelling topic for notebook readers is to consider that we often forget the rights afforded in a public school are more comprehensive than those afforded in a religious school. My colleague was emphatically stating that in this particular catholic school her partner would not be made to feel welcome. It would be considered worse that unseemly for her to be "out" as a counselor in that school. Her employment in the school would likely require her to agree to the traditional tenets of the church, which you may be aware aren't exactly gay friendly. And so, as public schools close, her employment opportunities become limited. Likewise, the issues for LGBT students become compromised as they are limited in finding "a great school" that is fully accepting of their difference. Here on the notebook we have begun to wax eloquent about "our system of great schools" while glossing over basic civil rights that some (both students and employees) are denied in certain schools. This is a huge issue for me. It should be a huge issue for all of us. Instead, our mayor, our governor, our superintendent, our Public School Partnership folks including Mark Gleeson, the (not "our") wealth corporate foundations-the Gates and the Broads contentedly participate in the lie that public and private makes no difference. The fewer public schools that exist, the greater the eroding of democracy. Does that bother you as a queer teacher? does it bother the notebook editorial board? I certainly hope so.
Submitted by anon, anon, we must go anon (not verified) on April 23, 2013 12:11 pm
Very well said! I agree whole-heartedly.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2013 8:05 pm
Yes, I agree, and it is clearly evident that they are on the side of the charter schools. I find it offensive that this is a forum for "public schools" yet the pages are littered with advertisements for charter schools. How dare we malign the name of public schools by putting charter schools in the same category! Perhaps the header for the Notebook should read " Independent voice for parents, educators and friends of the CEO's of Charter Schools". When is the Notebook going to publish a cover story outlining the age-discriminatory practices of Charter Schools? I bet in the next few years, you will be hearing about that...but it will never be published here as the Charters and their advertisements help pay for this website. An absolute total disgrace!
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 22, 2013 8:49 pm
Same old, same old---MONEY pays the bills. I still say this farce will end at some point but not likely soon enough to save a whole generation of kids.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2013 9:11 pm
You can't have it both ways. If charters expand, District schools lose more resources. If District schools lose more resources, they will not be able to provide even 'basics" for students. This will add fuel to the likes of Phila. School "Partnership"/Gleason/Mastery/Young Scholars/Nutter/Shorr/SRC / etc. to close more District schools. Students in wealthy schools like Penn Alexander, Meredith, Greenfield, Masterman, Central, etc. will raise additional monies to keep some programs in place. Parents of students in those schools don't have to panic. The schools which AAU does not consider "adequate" will suffer even more. High Schools are being closed - there is no need to open more high schools. We need an investment in District schools - not charters expanding either by grade level or within grade levels.
Submitted by Anne Gemmell (not verified) on April 23, 2013 2:40 pm
It is pure mythology that a grade school can raise enough money to off-set the cuts Governor Corbett has pounded down on us. It also pure mythology that the business community will donate to CC schools on the scale and reliance needed to off-set cuts pounded upon us by Governor Corbett. This Meredith & Central HS parent is in total panic mode. For two reasons. One, there is so little unity among school advocates. We have charters here, the rest of us there. PCCY on one page, PCAPS on another. Parents United here, GCCNSC there, Home & School Associations somewhere else. Two, right now the real place we can advocate for school funding is at City Hall. However, people continue to go and yell at SRC meetings. The SRC has no ability to raise money. For May and June, there are revenue producing bills in play this year. Public testimony will be April 23rd & April 30. There is a funding crisis and we need to unify and demand the one thing that fixes a funding crisis- revenue. Learn more here:
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 6:18 pm
Granted, money should come from the city and state but it is dishonest to not recognize that schools in wealthy areas of the city (e.g. Meredith, Greenfield, Penn Alexander) and schools with much lower SES (e.g. Central, Masterman, GAMP) have the ability to raise money from parents, parents connections, etc. Central also has an flush alumni association. When there were previous cuts, Meredith parents raised $15,000 very quickly. In most neighborhood schools, that will never happen. You are lucky to be able to live in a wealthy "catchment" and have children who score high enough to get in to Central. While those schools might get a cold, most schools with have months of the flu.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 10:57 am
So, the parents who've kids have already attended (including you, perhaps?) are in luck while the thousands on the wait lists have to just keep waiting? Wow.
Submitted by Susan R. Stengel (not verified) on April 24, 2013 9:56 am
Just to correct the number on our waiting list at FACTS. It is 500, not 5000. It is still a number we look at when considering whether or not there is a need for schools like ours.
Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on April 22, 2013 6:19 pm

When it came to closing neighborhood schools Mark Gleason found it sad but necessary because the District was bleeding dollars.   But, somehow, when it comes to Charter School expansion at the whopping cost of seven thousand dollars a seat, money doesn't matter.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2013 7:51 pm
Oh it is ok just take back part of my salary to fund the expansion…I can claim $100.00 for teaching expenses…please just make sure you send me a receipt..(sarcasm intented)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2013 7:04 pm
As one who is devoted passionately to public education I am hoping to engage in dialogue surrounding what feels like a slow, agonizing, painful starvation of public education. When schools open in September there will be no secretaries, counselors, possibly no noontime aides, in addition to prior cuts related to school safety, school nurses, and basic materials and supplies. There will always be children and schooling so why not end the madness? Why not end starvation tactics and provide funding that will support student achievement and the improvement of teaching and learning? Soon most if not all schools will be identified as failing with this year's PSSA proficiency targets being 91% for reading, 82% for math and the 2014 target of 100% proficiency for both reading and math. Then what?
Submitted by center65 (not verified) on April 22, 2013 7:21 pm
those making the case for charter school expansion often use 'waiting lists' to justify an increase in enrollment. Many families apply to multiple schools, wait to see where they are accepted, and then make their choice. It is equivalent to a college saying that they would enroll 100% of applicants accepted. If I were an incoming 9th grader I would apply to as many schools as I could. Also, if I were the SRC I would make it implicitly clear that I would not renew any charters that enrolled over the agreed cap. While charters successfully petitioned and went to court over enrollment caps, it is the SRC which can choose to not to renew the charter. If they want to play hardball, play hardball. If Hite was serious he would tell the Inquirer and Daily News what will happen to charters who break their obligations to the SDP and dare someone to test him.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 22, 2013 8:07 pm
Center65, You are so right. Since the District can't play hardball with enrollment caps, it has to use what leverage it has: renewals. If the District does play hardball with schools that went to the PDE and dipped into District funds, it will send a strong message to charters that this practice puts them in peril. Charters may learn that they cannot snake their way to more students by disregarding their contracts with the District. I'm not holding my breath that this will happen, though. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2013 8:59 pm
So these are only the charters up for renewal this year
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 22, 2013 8:23 pm
I work in a District school. The building is in need of many repairs, some of which happen, some of which do not happen. Some teachers do not have sufficient textbooks. Paper and pencils are precious commodities. My school also has children in low-incidence programs. Most/all of these children have intellectual disabilities and some have autism. My question is, DO ANY OF THE ABOVE CHARTERS HAVE LOW-INCIDENCE PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, like the ones who attend my school? Parents of these children don't have the luxury of school choice because for the most part, charters do not offer programs that their children need. Because of the District's size, certain economies of scale exist with respect to offering low-incidence programs. Elementary ow incidence programs typically are regionalized because there are a small number of students who need these programs, and no neighborhood elementary school has enough students with intellectual disability and/or autism to have low-incidence programs just for kids in their neighborhood. These economies of scale typically are not present for charter schools, so they have no incentive to provide low incidence programs. Low incidence programs are also expensive. By approving more seats for charters, the District loses money for its own students. This is a situation of direct competition. The District should do everything it can to protect its students at its current levels, including students that charter schools typically don't serve, like those in low incidence programs. If enrollment caps do affect the District's special ed programs, then possibly, the District will have standing to appeal to federal authorities for help with its budget situation. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth seems to be more interested in helping charters than the District. Education Grad Student
Submitted by Former Life Skills Teacher (not verified) on April 23, 2013 9:35 am
I was a former District Low-Inc teacher and am now an administrator at a small charter school. Part of the issue with Low-Inc programs is that without a core "group" of other Low Inc kids, parents/guardians don't want to enroll, so it is hard to get a program going. I am very open on the phone with workers and guardians that we will make any accommodations needed for any student who walks in our building, but often the parents ask how many other ID/AUT/MDS kids we have and I have respond honestly about our current population, which has a very small number of ID students (not the kinds of ID kids typically in a LSS class, either.) I know that some schools actively discourage the enrollments of these kinds of kids, but as someone who is on the recruitment and retention end of things at a school that actively does not discourage Low Inc enrollment, I see that when a school starts "from scratch" it can take a long time to get a cohort of these kids in school together.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 2:26 pm
How old is your small charter school? How long is "a long time" to get a special education low incidence program off the ground? I agree that your issue has some validity. I appreciate your honesty. My question to "the powers that be" is why was this not known and the implications fully understood before we agreed to break our system into small scattered schools with no ability to grow a special ed program for the reasons you mention? Was there no one in the PA DOE special education department who could have seen this coming? Will this rationale become the reason certain schools just can't grow a low incidence program? In the years to come this will be just one of many impossible to unravel issues related to ingrained inequity in charter schools.
Submitted by Former Life Skills Teacher (not verified) on April 23, 2013 2:19 pm
When I taught Life Skills Support, my class had 11 students in it. I think if a core group of 3-5 students enrolled the same year who needed a higher level of support, a program could emerge.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 23, 2013 8:10 pm
Former Life Skills Teacher, I appreciate your comments. When you speak of the core "group" of other low incidence kids, this plays into issues of economies of scale. At charters utilizing lotteries, the very reliance on lotteries makes the building of a consistent pool of children for low incidence programs almost impossible. A charter cannot recruit low incidence children because there is no guarantee of admittance if a lottery takes place. Also, given the cost to educate students with low incidence disabilities, serving a large number of low incidence students will be cost prohibitive for even some honestly run charter schools because of cost. For charter operators with more of a business mindset, low incidence programs cut into their bottom line because special ed payments and personnel costs are two areas in which savings can occur, allowing for charters to make money. At one of the recent SRC meetings, someone from the Discovery CS community said that if the District grants them additional seats, Discovery could take in kids from nearby Leidy, which is closing. My question while I was watching was, "What about the kids in Leidy's LSS programs? Will Discovery welcome those kids?" There are about 35 LSS kids at Leidy, which seems to about the right number for one class each of K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. Also, I'm curious as to what you mean by "our current population, which has a very small number of ID students (not the kinds of ID kids typically in a LSS class, either.)" I ask because in my experience, the kids in LSS can very. For some of them, I wonder, "Why aren't they in Learning Support?" For others, it's pretty obvious why they're in the LSS setting. Some children in LSS have physical markers of disability, some do not. Some children in LSS have speech impairments, some do not. Some children in LSS are very street smart, some are not. This is my experience, though. I'd be interested in what your experience is with being a former LSS teacher. EGS
Submitted by Former Life Skills Teacher (not verified) on April 23, 2013 8:19 pm
My Life Skills kids were a very diverse group (from students who had no speech/letter identification/needed significant assistance with activities of daily living to students who could read the newspaper, travel independently, and have part time jobs) but the 3 students we serve at my school now would be very unlikely to be in even a very part time LSS placement (maybe for reading/math interventions or a vocational training program if they were older). Mind you I worked at a regular Philadelphia comprehensive high school so I am not sure what kind of placement would be typical for kids like these in other types of school; I just know that we had about 30 kids in the LSS program at my former high school and these kids have a lower level of need than the group of 30 from last year. Each of them has an IQ in the low-mid 60s and can access the grade level material with pretty simple accommodations and a reading/math intervention block with other students who are more behind. I would say they are three of the students who get the most 1-on-1 time and the most serious accommodations but the money that my school (and I) spent on some of my more intense kids when I was a Life Skills teacher does not compare to the low cost of these students identified with ID. Do you think that parents of LSS/AUT/MDS kids know that their children are entitled to services from a charter school? When I taught Life Skills I had a great, involved group of parents. Many of these parents had kids who attended choice high schools, whether they were district magnets or charters, but it didn't seem to cross their mind that their student with an Intellectual Disability might also enroll in these schools. I had a meeting with one of my 21 year olds who lamented not knowing more about her child's right not to just follow the feeder pattern all the kids I had had been in since Grade K.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 23, 2013 10:54 pm
Life Skills seems to be a dumping ground for kids who don't really fit in in other special ed programs. This may account for some of the diversity. Also, the Life Skills curriculum guidelines from the District, which are over 20 years old, focus heavily on personal maintenance and functional academics. This is outdated, especially since NCLB mandated more of an academic focus for students with cognitive disabilities, with alternate standards linking to the general ed standards. In terms of parents, I think that some parents would have to fight really hard for services in some charter schools. Caring for a child with special needs is enough work and the parents would rather have their child attend a school where they don't have to fight for basic services. Parents do have to fight the District for services, but not the way they would have to fight with some charter schools. Also, if a parent isn't knowledgeable, he/she may assume that if a charter doesn't have a program for children with autism or intellectual disability, then none exists or the charter doesn't have to provide more intensive special ed services. Charters are more likely to use full inclusion because it's inexpensive. This fulfills LRE, but isn't always the best placement for the child. In terms of parental involvement, special ed law is very convoluted and hard to understand, even for someone with special ed certification. There's a lot of insider knowledge. I learned this by being around a very knowledgable special education liaison. And the stipulation that services be provided regardless of cost is a joke in Philly. The federal government doesn't do anything to make up for the lack of funding in the SDP. In terms of access to magnet schools, isn't access partly based on test scores? If a kid takes the PASA, how does the use of test scores work for admissions to magnet schools? Could a magnet school deny a child with intellectual disability admission because intellectually she/he couldn't keep up with the academic rigor of the school? I doubt it, but I am curious about this nonetheless. A child has a right to attend the neighborhood school. The parent doesn't have to consent to the child being bussed. However, if the neighborhood school doesn't have an Autistic Support of Life Skills Support program, the question is whether or not the needs of the child are best being met. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2013 8:01 pm
Unless it is the intention of the SRC to dismantle Public Education, they would not concede in handing over all of these seats to charter schools. If we are in financial dire straits, why are we letting other school take over rather than improve upon what we have. IT'S TIME TO FIGHT THIS FOLKS!
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 22, 2013 8:00 pm
That $7000 cost to the District is a variable number - it depends on the utilization of the District overall. Ben, you mentioned you had a slide with how this number was arrived at. Is there a formula of some kind? Charter payment reform is being worked on in Harrisburg. Unfortunately the Republican proposed legislation also tacks on a longer period of operation before review for renewal of their charters. One of the fixes I'd like to see is the matching/limiting of the payment to what the home district is paying for schools of similar utilization, so that the home district is not penalized for operating on low utilization. The SRC needs a critical review of each school's charter: Is it actually necessary to have over 80 charters? Do they each actually provide a unique approach not already offered by the District, perhaps in one of the special admit schools?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 22, 2013 8:43 pm
Ms. Cheng, Your point about the number of charters is important. Charters were intended to help innovate and provide something different than the school district provides. Also, school districts should be able to learn from charters and use the programs that charters have as blueprints for innovating in the school district. Unfortunately, because of the financial situation, the District does not have the ability to replicate successful programs that charters have in its own schools. Once charters are in operation, they will fight efforts to be shut down. I believe that even Truebright Charter is fighting the non-renewal of their charter. EGS
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 23, 2013 7:59 am
Agreed EGS. Here the PSP is behind in its responsibilities to document each charter's unique approach and analyze how these interface or might build one "best practice". Having worked in their schools, what would you say Mastery's unique approach is? Greater discipline and structure surely isn't the only thing?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 23, 2013 9:22 pm
Ms. Cheng, I can only compare Mastery's approach with what I've seen in one other charter school, District schools, and parochial schools, as well as my own education. Based on comparisons with these schools and my own education, there are quite a few differences. Here are some comparisons between the District and Mastery: - Mix of older and younger teachers vs. Much younger teachers at Mastery (not many over 40) - Unionized vs. Non-unionized - One or two principals/assistant principals, maybe a teacher leader vs. More administrators - principal, at least one assistant principal for operations, instruction, culture, and specialized services at each school plus at least one dean. - Lax uniform policy, people enforce as they see fit vs. Sweat the small stuff - strict about uniforms, walking in the halls, posture while learning. - Conventional curriculum (Trophies, Everyday Math, Reading Mastery, Corrective Reading, Corrective Math) vs. Some conventional curriculum, especially in the younger grades (Reading Mastery) but mainly a teacher made curriculum based on a scope and sequence and materials that the school has (e.g. particular children's books) and format of direct instruction - guided practice - independent practice model for the vast majority of instruction. - Bottom heavy, especially at schools with a lot of special ed kids - A lot of bus aides, people who work at the school and it's not exactly clear what they do, crossing guards vs. Less bottom heavy - few if any bus aides, no crossing guards, few if any classroom assistants (even in kindergarten) although there are classroom assistants for special ed kids. - Depending on the school, in the District, it's possible to get away with not doing your job or doing the bare minimum vs. At Mastery, it's harder to get away with not doing your job. E.g. At District schools, janitors are hit or miss, but at Mastery, janitors are much more thorough. - Employees dress as they want to, some teachers wear jeans, a lot of the bus aides and classroom assistants wear jeans or sweats vs. At Mastery, employees dress more professionally. Jeans only acceptable for teachers and administrators on some Fridays. - Principals don't do much informal observation at District schools. The presence of the principal around the school (in the hallways) varies vs. Mastery having frequent informal observations from principal/assistant principal/apprentice school leaders - Someone drops in pretty much every day. Each principal/assistant principal visits around once a week. - Workload can be what the teacher wants it to be, some work really hard, others mainly keep contract hours, some do paperwork and IEPs instead of teaching vs. Larger workload for teachers, instructional time is very precious - Better funded - Supplies are precious, paper is precious, personnel cut to the bone vs. More adults in the building, social worker on staff, people don't have to bring their own copy paper. - Benchmarks are more formative and perfunctory vs. Benchmarks are a big deal, kids recognized for scoring proficient or advanced on benchmarks, benchmarks happen every 6 weeks, value-added compensation for teachers based on benchmarks. I could go on, but those are some major differences that come to mind. Compared to the District, Mastery does offer something different. However, I don't know how unique their approach is in general. My understanding is that KIPP is similar in many ways to Mastery. However, I have never spent time at KIPP school, so I can't compare first-hand. Scholar Academies is similar to Mastery. How do I know? I know because I spoke to a representative of Scholar Academies at a job fair and this rep only showed interest in what I did at Mastery. Like Mastery, Scholar Academies largely uses a teacher-made curriculum and is strict when it comes to behavior. In terms of Mastery vs. Catholic schools, Mastery is stricter behavior-wise. They sweat more of the small stuff, but they have tougher students than Catholic schools. Most Mastery schools are neighborhood schools. Both Catholic schools and Mastery are strict about uniforms. Mastery is also stricter about how students sit than in Catholic schools. A lot more positive behavioral supports at Mastery than at Catholic schools, which is necessary because Mastery schools have tougher students. For teachers, working at a Catholic school is more manageable than working at Mastery in terms of workload. Catholic schools have a different population, so it's an apples to oranges comparison, but I still made some comparisons just to give people an idea of my own experiences in both environments. (I attended a parochial school and Catholic high school, by the way.) In my experience, the environments in District schools vary widely, depending a lot on the principal and neighborhood. Other things factor in as well, such as special ed student population and parental involvement. Although I only spent time in one Mastery school, Mastery's approach is still much more consistent from school to school. Admins at one school were typically Apprentice School Leaders at another school. Overall, Mastery is most unique in terms of their highly detailed behavior managements systems which require much coordination and consistency. They didn't make them up, but they definitely implement positive behavioral supports which are in line with research-based practices. Again, implementing PBIS requires a lot of coordination and consistency, and this is easier to do at Mastery than in the District because there are more administrators and more buy-in (which may be because employment is "at will" at Mastery). Their instructional approach is based on Madeline Hunter's model. Part of teacher compensation is based on value-added measurement. What's innovative about Mastery's approach is the way they put everything together rather than the individual components themselves (e.g. Madeline Hunter model, VAM). Mastery definitely "feels" more professional than District schools in terms of how employees conduct themselves. In general, the Mastery school has a more middle class culture to it than District schools at which I have spent time. Mastery employees conduct themselves more like they would if they were in a business environment, like at an engineering firm, in a doctor's office, e.g. more respectful tone with kids, more professional dress, no cussing at kids, no contract hours, the expectation is that employees speak "standard" English. At District schools, it varies. Generally speaking, employees dress down more, are more likely to have contract hours, employees can yell and scream at kids and even cuss at them and its "normal" or "standard practice," some employees, including teachers, use a lot of "slang" (Black English Vernacular). Morale is better at Mastery schools, but I think a lot of this has to do with better funding. I feel that budget cuts in District schools have really impacted morale. People are feeling beat down, especially older employees. Some people are holding it out until they retire or counting down the days until they retire. Others are very hard working, very caring, and true educators who do the best they can with very little and show great dedication to their students. There are great building engineers and great secretaries who help hold their schools together and are very responsive and helpful. However, in my experience, the attitude and behavior of teachers and other staff is inconsistent at District schools. Some constantly complain about their jobs. I'm like, "If it's so bad, why are you still here?" The issue I see at District schools is not with the best teachers and best employees. It's with the below average and bottom-of-the-barrel employees. If the principal isn't strict, these employees can get away with doing a whole lot of nothing and doing a lot of socializing. They get away with yelling, screaming, and cussing at kids, with constantly checking their cell phones, and there are no repercussions. This kind of off-task behavior simply doesn't fly at Mastery. If the District wants to improve, there needs to be more pressure on principals to actually make sure that all employees are doing their jobs and performing a valuable service at the school. Janitors should be mopping and sweeping and vacuuming every classroom every day. Clean out the water fountains, for God's sake! Most bus aides should be in classrooms during the day. There shouldn't be 2 or 3 of them sitting at the front desk having lively conversation. One is enough at the front table. Why not have one help out the secretary in the office? Some people may not like my comments, but I speak from experience as a current District employee and from having student taught in the District. Yes, public schools in Philadelphia are under attack, but there are some District employees who contribute to the inefficiency and dysfunction going on in some of the District's schools. This is detrimental to the children and to the employees who do their jobs and do them well. EGS
Submitted by ANON 452 (not verified) on April 23, 2013 10:57 pm
So how MANY District schools does your "experience in the District" involve? One for student teaching and one that you work in? Or, are there more? I have worked in the District for over a decade and I do not know ANY teachers who keep "contract hours"--actually I have never heard a teacher even use that terminology. I have NEVER heard a teacher "cuss" at a child. You are well-intentioned and eager in most of your comments, but you act as if you have years and years of experience in dozens of district schools. If your observations are based on just a few schools, they are hardly fair or even accurate. It would like me making a generalization about all grad students based on your postings and attitude.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 23, 2013 10:25 pm
I've spent time in 3 District schools, but I speak mostly of the 2 most recent schools in which I have spent time. So yes, my experience is brief. I hope that my experience is not representative of the District as a whole. The first two were pretty-well functioning. One was a special admit school, the other a neighborhood school. Both had stable principals and many dedicated teachers. As I mentioned in the comments to which you replied, there are teachers who are dedicated, hard-working, and good at what they do. However, as a classroom assistant, I am seeing the worst that the District has to offer. At the school where I student taught, there was one full-time teacher and one long-term sub who did a poor job. Yes, most of the other teachers were good or great at teaching, but it troubled me that there could be a couple of teachers who clearly weren't good at teaching, yet they were allowed to remain in the system. You may not have heard a teacher cuss at students, but I hear it on an almost daily basis in the classroom in which I work. Shut up, s**t, the f word, in conversation from the teacher. Telling students to shut up. Threats of corporal punishment (although corporal punishment hasn't happened.). Telling kids that you don't care if they come to school or not. I don't make this stuff up. There was very little cussing at the school at which I student taught. I never said this was representative of all schools or employees. I speak out of frustration and anger that a teacher can get away with allowing kids to color or play cards or do worksheets (and no help from the teacher if they have questions) while the teacher writes IEPs and does paperwork. Reading Mastery books sit in the classroom, unused, while there are children in the class who still don't know all of their letters and desperately need instruction. The teacher complains about not having a RM complete kit. I understand, it's frustrating, but email or go and ask another teacher if you can make a copy of the teacher's guide instead of complaining about it! Right now, I see the worst that the District has to offer. My teacher complains about kids having poor attendance and acting up, but it's no wonder there are kids with poor attendance and no wonder the kids have behavior problems. Why? Because they do very little when they are at school since you hardly teach them anything! Some of them are bored out of their minds! And what angers me most about what is happening is that kids' futures are at stake here, their educations are at stake. So I'm starting to do more teaching, and am doing so with the teacher's blessing. If my child were in this class, I would be completely FURIOUS! And I know from talking to other teachers, staff, and parents that what is happening at my school isn't unique. It happens at other schools too. So my experience may not be representative, but it is real and it has no business happening. And I hate the fact that these poor experiences and poor teachers color people's experiences, because as I have said, most teachers do work hard and do a good job, in the face of budget cuts and all. But the utter dysfunction I see is just ridiculous. EGS
Submitted by ANON 452 (not verified) on April 24, 2013 7:37 am
AS you have said, PRINCIPALS need to do their jobs to root out people who should not be teaching! When these things occur, the Principal has the power (if they have the will) to put a stop to it pretty quickly. They need to be in rooms every day--do "pop-in" visits to really see what is happening. Some principals do not ever darken the door of Special Ed classrooms, and they should. The SEL should also put a stop to such unforgivable behavior. There are NO limits on the number of times that a Principal can visit a classroom, and they need to keep an eye on everything that goes on in their schools.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 24, 2013 1:24 am
EGS, thanks for the detailed response :) Then I wonder if Mastery's charter/innovation is their management system? Caregivers need to see what a charter's charter is. Most just want safety and responsiveness, regardless of method from a school. Don't let the unkind defensive comments bother you. You have a valid point (note that the more true your criticism is, the more personal will be the attacks you will receive, especially from guilty parties). I saw some serious verbal abuse being levelled at first graders. The kids seemed to think it was normal. Yes, it is not every teacher, just a few; but the fact that it exists at all is not acceptable. If kids learn to put a wall between them and what adults/their teachers are saying, well does this help them pay attention? I don't think so.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 24, 2013 5:03 pm
Ms. Cheng, I believe that every charter or Renaissance school contract should be public, and not just through the FOIA, but accessible in the same way that charter school annual reports are---online. Some of the things I say seem to be unspoken by people who work for the District, PFT members and otherwise. Unfortunately, I see that keeping quiet in order to "protect" colleagues ultimately hurts kids. However, the kids and parents aren't stupid. Ms. Cheng, as you have said before, parents choose charters based on utter frustration with the District. If your child is unfortunate enough to be stuck in a school with a principal who doesn't do his/her job and make sure that all teachers are doing their jobs, doesn't require that teachers speak authoritatively and respectfully to students (most of the time...everyone is entitled to their moments from time to time), does paperwork instead of teaching, and so on, the situation can seem hopeless. Most teachers do act professionally at most times, but there are glaring exceptions. For some teachers, their teaching may have been great at one time, but burnout, budget cuts, age, tougher kids, and so on wear on one's ability to give high quality teaching, have effective classroom management, and conduct themselves professionally. It happens in other professions as well. When teachers scream at students, don't be surprised if students scream back at you. The bottom line is that teachers need to conduct themselves professionally and be good role models for their students. EGS
Submitted by Poggie (not verified) on April 22, 2013 8:18 pm
The Public school teachers cannot win. The charters have an unlimited license to suck resources form us and make us look even worse because we cannot even do basic things. At this point by working every day we are only making it easier for the charters to supplant us. PFT should just tell all teachers to go home and let the charters sort out the wreckage. Why help make yourself redundant?
Submitted by Poggie (not verified) on April 22, 2013 8:33 pm
The Public school teachers cannot win. The charters have an unlimited license to suck resources form us and make us look even worse because we cannot even do basic things. At this point by working every day we are only making it easier for the charters to supplant us. PFT should just tell all teachers to go home and let the charters sort out the wreckage. Why help make yourself redundant?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 8:32 am
That would suggest that the PFT is willing to do something bold. NOT.
Submitted by Timothy Boyle on April 22, 2013 9:51 pm

Antonia Pantoja, CHAD, Christopher Columbus, Eugenio de Hostos, Freire, Mastery Hardy Williams Campus, Maritime, Philadelphia Academy, and Universal Institute all have been identified as having significant barriers to entry. The conversation of whether these schools should be re-newed at all needs to precede expansion. I would like to echo that any charter that has gone over it's agreed to cap should be denied renewal. I am aware of the Walter D. Palmer ruling and view it as the upholding of a bad law in need of changing, not a right charters should hold. I am unable to understand how anyone can argue that ignoring condition of enrollment law, or breaching contract could be seen as innovative, or even desirable. 

Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 22, 2013 11:59 pm
Timothy, I would be interested in learning more details about the significant barriers to entry that exist for the schools you have listed. If you or anyone else knows about these barriers, please provide the information. Thank you. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 8:53 am
The information in the report is misleading. For example, if you check the Mastery at Hardy Williams enrollment website, the initial application does not ask for any confidential or specific information other than basics (name, grade, parents, etc...). The directions clearly state that AFTER acceptance, the additional information is required. If we are going to create reports and make public statements, there is a responsibility to be truthful.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 24, 2013 5:24 pm
Timothy, Thank you for the link. I skimmed through the report. Mastery Hardy Williams: Parents and students must sign a contract agreeing to drug testing if student “exhibits behavioral symptoms indicating such abuse.” Is this legal? Do other Mastery schools stipulate this? Maritime Academy CS Requiring parents to be volunteers is reasonable for a private school, but not a public or charter school. Not all parents are available during school hours. I don't think that the lack of a Spanish-language application is a barrier to entry for some schools. Some of the charters serve overwhelmingly African American students so there is little need for an application in Spanish. Also, what about students/parents who speak other languages? Are these languages considered? What about application in languages like Haitian Creole, French, or Mandarin Chinese? For some schools, these languages or others may be more common than Spanish. In terms of barriers to entry, it boggles my mind that these schools are able to get away with requiring SSNs, test scores, report cards, etc. when it is against the law to require these. The District's charter school is small and probably overworked, but they should be making clear to all charters of the requirements for admission. EGS
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2013 9:54 pm
The issue of so-called charter "waiting lists" has to be investigated. A student applies to 5 District schools and 5 charters. The student gets into 2 District schools and one charter. The student goes for the District school. Meanwhile, 5 charters claim s/he is on the "waiting list." Those numbers are used to justify expansions that are not needed.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 22, 2013 10:03 pm
Sure the waiting lists are inflated a bit by the situation describe, but if the demand is really not there, than charters will be half empty (like district schools BTW), they won't be able to pay their bills, and they will close. We don't see that happening though, do we? The demand for charters is real and it's strong, no matter how exactly waiting lists are counted. .
Submitted by Helen Gym on April 22, 2013 11:15 pm

Or to clarify more, the demand for a free quality school is what's driving this issue. Don't forget that the parochial system has been vastly impacted by charters as well, but it's interesting that we don't label the parochial schools "failing" as quickly as we do public school systems. 

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 6:30 am
With schools like FACTS considering creating a high school, the Board is labeling public school options as "failing." The reality is charters can expand / offer more with more students. Freire, I'm sure, would argue they are providing something the School District is not. (I don't know what it is but...) So, if they expand from 1000 to 3000 students, what they are able to do expands exponentially. Like Mastery, they will have a huge administrative office. The School District is an apartheid system - every group wants to "get theirs" at the expense of others.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 2:28 pm
One reason charters are able to offer more is most pay teachers less and offer fewer benefits. They often only have due process in name. School days are often longer, more preps, etc. Few have a union and it shows. Freire Charter, for example, offers no sick / personal days. The policy is "if you are sick, you take off." The message is, don't take off. Most charters have a CEO and a principal (or more) - this is overkill. Since each is its own school, I guess they think they need an additional layer of administration. (Yes, Mastery, KIPP, etc. have one CEO for their series of schools but they have a lot of other administrators.)
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 23, 2013 9:48 pm
I guess sick leave isn't mandatory in Philly because Mayor Nutter vetoed it, but no sick leave? Seriously? Most businesses with professionals offer sick leave or some form of flex time. These include engineering firms, architecture firms, hospitals, law firms, etc. This is called the Family and Medical Leave Act and taking care of employees. Isn't at least 5 sick/personal days per years pretty standard in the private sector? Teachers and school employees needs sick days and personal days because (a) schools are full of germs and (b) school hours make it hard to have appointments outside of school hours. Yes, charters often have more administrators. However, in my experience, there are also fewer employees at the bottom of the pay scale---bus aides, classroom aides, and so on. EGS
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 23, 2013 7:24 am
There is NO QUESTION that all of everybody's horror stories are true----------so what are we going to do to stop it and why was that meeting at the church a fun fest. We're laughing at our own execution. What the hell is wrong with us? I mean you ! Hite is lying to you, folks. Follow the facts bot his words. Elmer Gantry Lives !!
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 23, 2013 7:57 am
Having a universal application may help here. It may show that some of the SDP's special admit schools are requested before charters, and these seats need to be expanded first.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 23, 2013 9:41 pm
Great point...another reason why the common application is a smart idea!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 6:40 am
Yesterday, our principal held an emergency to explain the dire straights we face. The potential loss of 13 teachers, no EC, no secretary, no AP, just bare bones to run a school of over 1,000. I am sick to my stomach, scared, and filled with disbelief. The kids will suffer these extreme measures the most. Hite and his cronies have one mission... Search and destroy. This is a sad day for the students of Philadelphia. Sadly, after 10 dedicated years I will begin to look for a job elsewhere. Disgusting.
Submitted by Anne Gemmell (not verified) on April 23, 2013 3:40 pm
Fight back.
Submitted by Jennifer (not verified) on April 23, 2013 1:43 pm
I believe that half the reasons that charters are such in demand is because the district with its words and actions tell parents quite loudly that they have NO confidence in the public schools. Parents see "achieving scores" and passing AYP...many traditonal schools miss out on the PSSA's due to their special education students (not their fault but because they must take the test above their abilities) and many charters don't even have special ed at their schools. Go to your child's school right now and ask the principal what kind of budget they received for next about 0% for mentally gifted programs...we starve the brightest. The operating budget has been slashed by about 60%...It is horrific. The PSSA's are math and reading centric yet we don't need librarians to keep the librarys open (YOU KNOW THE ROOM WITH THE BOOKS IN THEM). district schools have the special eduation students and many schools with autism and emotional support yet we say a counselor isn't a must have! Really? If they pass the money for the expansion of charter seats then they might as well close all the district schools next year or be prepared to open with a principal and teachers...nothing else!
Submitted by Former Life Skills Teacher (not verified) on April 23, 2013 2:35 pm
Just questioning your assertion that some charter schools "don't have special ed." I work in a charter school with an extremely high population of students with IEPs and we have to take any child who enrolls regardless of their disability status, so not sure where your statement is coming from.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 2:23 pm
What is "extremely high?"
Submitted by Former Life Skills Teacher (not verified) on April 23, 2013 2:57 pm
Giving a percentage would make it easy to identify the school, which I am not interested in doing, but higher than the comprehensive public high school I worked at for two years (17%).
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 6:14 pm
That is not extremely high. Germantown is 30%. That is extremely high.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 9:02 pm
True. Our population is more like Germantown's than my old high school. However, we are a small school and we attract many students with IEPs. The students we serve happen to have typically had difficulties in school and having IEPs has added to their difficulties.
Submitted by Jennifer (not verified) on April 23, 2013 4:08 pm
I would love to know how many charter schools have emotional support students. They are the most damaged students and very distruptive to the school population as a whole. I am not going to disparage every charter school because there are some good apples in the bunch but I haven't seen enough evidence that the majority out perform brick and morter district schools. Nor do they have to work under the strict perameters when making a budget for their schools...Can't use title one money for this, can't use gifted money for that, can't use operating money and buy that...this is what my principal is constantly fretting about when making the budget stretch and then you walk into say MaST and they say "every incoming freshmen gets an ipad, and if you need a book from the library and we are out you can check out one of our kindles" WHAT? District schools are going to have to start asking parents for book money because there won't be money for consumables next year but I have yet to hear ONE charter say "You know we had to let 3 teachers go, and might have to drop our prep schedule and we might not have paper next year". The districts are stretched thin and the Northeast which was alread at 94% full capacity (almost 30% more than anywhere else in the city) will be overwhelmed with transfers from the closing school districts will have to do more with less
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 2:06 pm
And why has this been allowed to happen?? Look into the mirror. We are our biggest enemy with our passing the buck and overall apathy. These are drastic times, not same old, same old and come August, even the most apathetic offenders and neo defenders, looking for justice but not demanding it, will see the error of their ways. We have truly let all this happen and unless we stop it---by any means necessary---it will NOT stop until the corporations have completely drained the Public Schools of money and resources and, of course, doomed the very poor to prison life and all of it by deliberate design.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 23, 2013 3:45 pm
That was I, Joe. Forgot again to change the whateveritscalled.
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Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 6:43 pm
Neighborhood high school are particularly hard hit. The goal is to not go to a neighborhood high school. So, now, for some reason, parents consider getting into a charter high school is better. There are few charter high schools doing anything exceptional - especially considering the barriers to entry (e.g. Eastern HS, CHAD, Prep Charter, Franklin Town, etc.) The School District has to promote its schools - not trash and close them.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 23, 2013 10:50 pm
There will always be a need for Comprehensive Public High Schools because Charter Schools wouldn't educate 90 percent of the kids by choice.
Submitted by Former Life Skills Teacher (not verified) on April 24, 2013 10:28 am
True of many charters; not true of all charters.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2013 6:29 pm
Has anyone seen the link on the school district website for Philadelphia Virtual Academy? Teachers are from the Chester County Intermediate Unit. How can this be happening as we lose jobs?
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