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Philadelphia seeks salvation in lessons from model school

By Benjamin Herold for Education Week on Sep 26, 2013 10:12 AM
Photo: Flickr/dianecordell

This article originally appeared at Education Week.

In little more than two years, the Philadelphia school district has stripped $400 million out of its annual budget, closed 30 schools, eliminated nearly 7,000 jobs, and lost more than 20,000 students.

The teetering city system, said Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., desperately needs "to show a win."

So Mr. Hite is placing a controversial bet: Although scores of schools opened here this month without regular guidance counselors, nurses, or basic supplies, the superintendent is pouring millions of dollars into expanding what he considers to be three of the city's most innovative schools. They include Science Leadership Academy, an acclaimed magnet high school at the forefront of the national effort to marry educational technology with so-called "deeper learning."

"We have to have an investment conversation about the types of schools we would love to see in our district," Mr. Hite said in an interview. "This whole conversation cannot just be about what we're taking away, what we are starving, what we are eliminating."

Across the country, new academic standards, increased competition from charter schools, and the growing use of technology to "disrupt" traditional forms of schooling are prodding districts, often resistant to change, to try their hand at encouraging innovation. As in the charter sector, attempting to scale successful models is a key strategy.

In Philadelphia, the short list of reasons to be hopeful begins with Christopher Lehmann, the founder and principal of Science Leadership Academy.

"He's truly a visionary leader, known for giving teachers and students the freedom to excel," said Brian Lewis, the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, which in May gave Mr. Lehmann its "Outstanding Leader Award" for his use of technology to support learning.

But experts urge caution. The nuts and bolts of replicating nontraditional school models are complicated, said Donald J. Peurach, an assistant professor of education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and big-city district bureaucracies—often characterized by stagnant cultures, high turnover, restrictive labor agreements, and chronic funding shortages—are particularly ill-suited to the task.

"These are agencies that came into existence to administer schools, not improve them," Mr. Peurach said.

Options limited

Skeptics also question whether investing scarce resources in a small, highly selective magnet school is the best strategy for sparking citywide educational improvement.

For Mr. Hite, though, the options are limited, and the stakes are plain.

Philadelphia must make its schools attractive to families, he said, or "we will turn into a district that is not able to do anything but reimburse charters, pay debt service, and manage every other student who has either been refused, sent back, or is not interested in attending a charter school."

In early June, Mr. Lehmann, 42, watched proudly as students and staff from the original Science Leadership Academy oriented new families to the school's second campus, co-located with Dimner Beeber Middle School inside an 83-year old building.

Sitting cross-legged on the stage of Beeber's auditorium, Mr. Lehmann, a compulsive user of social media, tweeted a photo to his 20,000-plus followers: "The first families of #SLA-Beeber—so exciting!!!"

Much of the national attention that Science Leadership Academy has garnered—including recognition from President Obama and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates—has focused on the school's abundance of technology. Since its founding in 2006, every student has received a laptop, and SLA was named an Apple Distinguished School in each year from 2009 to 2013.

What makes Science Leadership Academy special, Mr. Lehmann emphasized, is how that technology is used.

"I'm passionate about this idea that schools can be authentic and empowering and relevant and caring places," he said. "And what we have seen over the last seven years is there are a lot of families who want that for their children."

For the current school year, Mr. Lehmann said, SLA had 125 available slots, but more than 2,100 applicants, most of whom met the school's demanding admission requirements around grades, test scores, and attendance.

Critics argue that the ability to handpick top students minimizes the significance of Mr. Lehmann's accomplishments and the potential impact of replicating his model, especially in Philadelphia, where independent charter operators have successfully brought to scale strategies for dramatically turning around some of the city's most challenging neighborhood schools.

Mr. Lehmann bristles at such comparisons and highlights what he sees as major pedagogical and cultural differences between his approach and that of many large charter management organizations.

"I want to build a structure that smart, creative, kind people can come in and imbue with their own energy, ideas, and passion," he said. "I don't want standardization."

The new SLA@Beeber, as the second campus is called, will grow slowly, from a lone 9th grade class this school year to a full 500-student high school by 2016-17. Mr. Lehmann is also preparing to test the SLA model next school year in a neighborhood middle school that admits all students.

Among those benefiting now is Renee Hughes, a 53-year old business analyst who is between jobs. Ms. Hughes said her oldest son graduated from the original SLA, and she is eager to provide her 14-year old son Caleb with a similar experience.

"What really makes the school is the teachers," she said. "They know how to ask the students the right questions to get them engaged."

'A pain point'

Mr. Hite said Science Leadership Academy is the type of school he wants to see proliferate throughout the 136,000-student district.

But the superintendent ticked off a long list of structural barriers that have thwarted his plans: Onerous state regulations. Untenable contracts with labor unions. Lack of will inside the district's central office. And, of course, money.

Across the nation, it's a familiar refrain, said Ethan Gray, the executive director of the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, a network of 32 foundations, nonprofits, and organizations pushing education innovations in their cities. Given the barriers to change inherent in most district bureaucracies, Mr. Gray said, "it's almost hard to [imagine] what replicating an innovative school means in that context."

As a result, most of the trust's member organizations avoid giving money to traditional public schools altogether.

Locally, the Philadelphia School Partnership is bucking that trend, bankrolling much of the first-year startup costs for the three district programs that Mr. Hite wants to expand. But despite Philadelphia's financial woes, the partnership's $6 million grant offer, which included $1.9 million for Science Leadership Academy, quickly emerged as a source of controversy, highlighting the limited space Mr. Hite has for maneuvering.

Critics vilified the superintendent and Mr. Lehmann for taking money from an organization they accuse of seeking to starve regular neighborhood public schools of resources—a claim that Mark Gleason, the partnership's executive director, does not dispute.

"As you invest in new schools, as you put resources into turnarounds and expansions, systemically, you are shifting resources out of the most-challenged schools," Mr. Gleason said. "That is true. That is happening. And that is a pain point in this process."

The tensions came to a head in July, when Philadelphia's governing School Reform Commission debated whether the cash-starved district should accept the partnership's grant offer.

Commission member Joseph Dworetzky grilled Mr. Hite and his staff about the numbers: Expanding the three school programs could cost more than $28 million over the next five years, more than 90 percent of which would likely have to be covered by a district currently unable to buy adequate supplies of paper for most of its schools.

"You've got to keep track of where the money is coming from," said Mr. Dworetzky, his voice rising, "and this money is coming from everybody else!"

How it works

The commission ultimately voted 4-1 to accept the grant. But before the real work of creating the new SLA@Beeber had even begun, Mr. Lehmann was bruised. "I'm a person," he said. "It's painful."

Mr. Lehmann regained his enthusiasm in time for a weeklong training session for the eight educators hired to staff Science Leadership Academy's new campus, held in early August.

"What you are about to do is exhausting and rewarding," he told the teachers, "and if you do it right, you get to make a difference in a way you only think you understand."

Veteran Philadelphia administrator Christopher Johnson, an intellectual comrade-in-arms of Mr. Lehmann's who was tapped to lead SLA@Beeber, and staff members from SLA's flagship campus then plunged the teachers into a crash course on their new school's unusual way of doing business. The focus was on creating lesson units that build upon student questions and culminate in project-based assessments, as well as using digital tools to track and share a wide range of student work and data.

"I was pretty much blown away," said Karthik Subburam, hired to teach math and engineering at SLA@Beeber after spending the past four years at Philadelphia's Germantown High, a struggling neighborhood comprehensive high school that closed over the summer.

Mr. Lehmann's insistence that technology be "ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible" will be a significant change, Mr. Subburam said: "At Germantown, it was more a specific use of technology to enable students to do well on tests."

But what kept Mr. Subburam, a 40-year-old former engineer, up at night was the entirely new way he will be teaching: "I'm coming from a very structured environment, where we had to follow the district's seven-step lesson format. I have to become more of a facilitator."

Mr. Peurach, the University of Michigan professor, said getting teachers like Mr. Subburam quickly up to speed is a big challenge when replicating outside-the-box school models.

Mr. Lehmann's commitment to facilitating collaboration and mentor-apprentice relationships should help, he said, as will the external grant support, $20,000 of which paid for the summer training. But such resources can only be stretched so far.

"In the early stages, they can solve problems with closeness and intimacy," Mr. Peurach said. "But going from one school to two is a lot different than going from two schools to 25."

On Sept. 9, as Renee and Caleb Hughes pulled up to Beeber for the first day of school, the forces working for and against Philadelphia's innovation gamble swirled.

On the school's front steps, Superintendent Hite, Mayor Michael A. Nutter, and a bevy of elected officials held a press conference on student safety, while protestors called for more funding for public education.

"Well, at least this school's going to get a lot of attention," Ms. Hughes sighed.

Center of attention

Inside Beeber, sharp disparities were evident between the new high school and the struggling middle school now sharing a building.

On the first and second floors, middle schoolers—nearly all poor and African-American—wore uniforms and passed by glazed windows that let in only a hint of the bright fall sun outside.

On the third floor, SLA@Beeber's new 9th graders, a multiracial mix drawn heavily from the city's top elementary and middle schools, were dressed in an array of colorful styles. Through newly installed windows, they could look out over the tops of the nearby rowhouses, on to the city skyline in the distance.

In the mad dash to open the new school, the new staff of SLA@Beeber hadn't quite reached the finish line: Mr. Johnson's office, for example, consisted of nothing but a chair and a telephone.

But already, the school's many advantages were on display, fodder for the skeptics who dismiss Mr. Hite's gamble as little more than grabbing after "low-hanging fruit."

"I don't think it's a very significant accomplishment to replicate a magnet school," Mr. Gray of the CEE Trust said. "At the end of the day, it still results in a broad group of underprivileged kids being continuously underserved."

For Mr. Johnson, though, the time for such concerns had passed.

With Mr. Lehmann back running Science Leadership Academy's flagship campus, the flamboyant Mr. Johnson, 45, who grew up just a stone's throw from Beeber, circulated among the classrooms, answering student questions and beginning to mold the new campus to his own personality.

In Caleb Hughes' room, Mr. Johnson began to speak, but he was interrupted by the press conference and protests still taking place outside.

He closed the classroom window to block out the noise.

"Now," he told the students, "I think we're ready to get started."

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Comments (57)

Submitted by linda (not verified) on September 26, 2013 12:38 pm
"Inside Beeber, sharp disparities were evident between the new high school and the struggling middle school now sharing a building. On the first and second floors, middle schoolers—nearly all poor and African-American—wore uniforms and passed by glazed windows that let in only a hint of the bright fall sun outside. On the third floor, SLA@Beeber's new 9th graders, a multiracial mix drawn heavily from the city's top elementary and middle schools, were dressed in an array of colorful styles. Through newly installed windows, they could look out over the tops of the nearby rowhouses, on to the city skyline in the distance. In the mad dash to open the new school, the new staff of SLA@Beeber hadn't quite reached the finish line: Mr. Johnson's office, for example, consisted of nothing but a chair and a telephone." That says it all.....haves and have not...phase out the middle school thus overcrowd the k-8 schools and what do you have?..... Segregation....and I would not be surprised when Beeber/SLA stays open with less than 600 kids and other schools close. Linda K.
Submitted by Anonymous on September 26, 2013 1:28 pm
An idea would be for the district to partner with PSP to get funds to convert more "have not" schools to offer more appealing programs. Then establish entrance and retention requirements in them pertaining primarily to behavior. Then give students from across the district the opportunity to tour them and see what these good schools look like and tell them they could go to a similar school one day if they work hard and can control their behavior.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 3:08 pm
Neighborhood high schools had internal magnet / special admit academies / small learning communities until Vallas. Vallas removed them and created dozens of small, special admit schools. This emptied out neighborhood high schools - Vallas' intent. Now, we have many small high schools rather than neighborhood schools with internal special admit programs. For example, The Workshops, a new school which received Phila. School Partnership money, could have been part of West Philly HS. (It was the automotive program at West Philly). Instead, there are 9 teachers, a principal and secretary for 75 students. Meanwhile, many schools go without. Hite also appears intent on emptying out neighborhood high schools rather than investing in them. He will leave a few open - except in the Northeast - to "dump" students that charters won't accept.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on September 29, 2013 10:15 pm
Anonymous, Many "have not" schools are neighborhood schools which cannot have admission requirements like special admit schools. How would these standards of behavior apply to students in low incidence programs or Emotional Support, for whom behavioral issues can be a part of their disability or the disability? As a Special Education Teacher for the SDP, I can tell you first hand that the District could be facing lawsuits if it tries to put really strict behavior codes at neighborhood schools. I'm not saying I disagree with higher standards for behavior, but I'm presenting the reality that the District faces. There is a very important principal in special ed law called Zero Reject. Many charters have found ways to circumvent Zero Reject. The District, on the other hand, can't reject anyone. And if they do reject a student, the District must pay for the student to go elsewhere. Educator of Great Students
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on September 26, 2013 1:22 pm
Of course, it's segregation, no doubt about it. Everybody knows it, sees it and allows it to continue. How do you think the Beeber kids feel, knowing that a few feet north of them, kids are being treated MUCH better. For them, it's up close and very personal. Yes, Beeber is only open because of that killing next to Overbrook last Spring. Otherwise, SLA would have the whole building now and again, everybody know it, sees it, and allows it to continue. Until the people challenge all this abuse, it will only get worse and The Mack Daddy, as Rev. James Manning calls him, knows it, sees it and allows it to continue. It is up to us, friends to stop this obvious discrimination.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 10:23 pm
Wow! Just wow! The window situation is just incredible. And don't tell me that whatever grant paid for the windows wouldn't allow it to be used for the Beeber kids. It is so clear a case of "we are too good for glazed windows". And if Beeber got new windows, the next day SLA would have windows that tint/shade with voice command so they could again be better. The uniform policy still gets me. I am against school uniforms. No need to go into reasons why, doesn't matter, but why are a few schools exempt from these rules? And why is it that the only schools who don't have a uniform policy have a noticeable white population? Why is that? Has anybody asked Hite that? Seriously. Ask him that question directly. Did anybody ask any of the previous Supes that going back to Hornbeck? I know I should have bigger things to worry about, but the uniform disparity just strikes me as, oh, I don't know, racist as hell! And sometimes it is the little things that are so telling of the bigger picture.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 11:56 pm
Look at Beeber's reading scores. Those students need to spend every minute in books and not looking out of windows. Screw the windows when they can't read. Even if they had the same windows their test scores would still be amongst the lowest in the city. With those scores enough daydreaming is taking place why add windows to the equation? Hell the windows in my classroom are dingy & dirty. But I don't need clean windows to be an accomplished educator & teach what my students need. Beeber should've been closed--- underutilized & horrendous test scores.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 9:38 am
when you went to school as a kid, did you have to learn under these same conditions? I didn't and the home where I grew up was the same, neat and clean. I attended public school and teach in public school. Put people in environments where learning is important. Linda K.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on September 29, 2013 10:00 pm
And Beeber tends to have many of the hardest to serve kids in the area, the ones who can't get into special admit schools or charters. Don't talk about test scores as the end all be all because test scores have a lot to do with WHO is taking the test. Masterman has higher scores because the kids that go there are smart and more well behaved than at other schools. EGS
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on September 27, 2013 12:13 am
There's an old saying, maybe by Ernie Banks, " Little things teach big lessons." You are right; that is racist and is designed to separate not bond together and that, alone, is despicable. George Wallace and Bull Connor would think it spiffy.
Submitted by Tom (not verified) on September 26, 2013 12:44 pm
"we will turn into a district that is not able to do anything but reimburse charters, pay debt service, and manage every other student who has either been refused, sent back, or is not interested in attending a charter school." This is nearly a reality today. If the district is serious about fixing it, it needs to do a lot more. Existing district managed schools need to be overhauled with regard to programming especially in high schools. The student code of conduct needs to be rewritten and actually enforced to prevent students from turning otherwise effective schools/classrooms into zoos. Special admit and magnet schools could be greatly expanded to offer their programing in other schools similar to how SLA was recently expanded, or they could be moved to larger buildings. If 50-60% (ideally more) of district run schools (especially high schools) had entrance and retention requirements primarily regarding behavior and truancy educational opportunities for the majority of students in the district would be greatly improved. Then bad apples could either be prevented from getting accepted into one of these better schools or get transferred out of one if they could not meet the school’s requirements. They could be sent to the remaining schools in the district. These schools could offer adequate BASIC programming to any student that is capable of controlling their behavior and academic output but chooses not to, or students/families not interested in attending a high performing school.
Submitted by Headstart teacher (not verified) on September 26, 2013 1:07 pm
Wouldn't we all like to teach in an environment like SLA? Not as structured to teaching to a test, unlimited and expensive resources to engage students and enhance learning AND a select, hand picked, exceptional student body who are eager to learn and grateful to be in school. To bad real life in SDP is not like that for everyone. It's offered to a select few at the expense of the rest. The most offensive bit about this "experiment" is that every decision maker involved is ok with the decision to favor a few and make the rest of the district suffer. Immoral, offensive and segregated.
Submitted by rob (not verified) on September 26, 2013 1:54 pm
I am a big fan of Chris Lehmann but I do not think SLA is anything special. WIth 2,100 applicants, the acceptance rate of the school 6%, more competitive than Ivy League schools. I don't think 'cherrypicking' students solves any of the problems of the district. I suspect the SLA demography it is different from other public schools in terms of racial makeup, and poverty levels. It may appease parents and limit charter school growth but does not address the problem. The problem has always been what do we do with poor, unmotivated, students who come from difficult family situations and are not nearly at grade level. What do we do with violent offenders who have no interest in education? Until we get to the root of the problem we will not be able to improve the district. Dr. Hite may believe that untenable contracts with labor unions and money is the barrier to a good education but any educator will tell you that the real issues are poverty and the children who take pride disturbing others' progress.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 7:15 am
I agree with you - well said!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 28, 2013 8:37 am
My daughter is a freshman at SLA Main. The student body is approximately 60% African American, 30% Caucasian and 10% others combined. While this may not reflect the demographics in City schools, it reflects the demographics of the city. These are kids who are all motivated to learn.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 28, 2013 10:08 am
Your stats on SLA are wrong. Per SchoolNet (the School District data system), as of today, 9/28/2013, these are SLA stats: African America - 264 or 46% European America - 198 or 35% Latino/a - 62 or 11% Asian American - 52 or 9% There are 328 female and 273 male. Are they more reflective of Philly than Masterman and Central - yes. But, certainly not reflective of the School District. Please DO NOT assume all students are neighborhood high schools are not motivated to learn. Most are - the 10 - 15% who are not motivated to learn hurt everyone.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 28, 2013 10:34 am
These are Masterman's stats for this year: African American - 271 European American - 486 Asian - 289 Latino/a = 73 Other - 58 Central's stats: African American - 710 European American - 590 Asian - 716 Latino/a - 204 Other - 84
Submitted by Headstart teacher (not verified) on September 26, 2013 1:49 pm
This is so backwards! The needs of the few are outweighing the needs of many. (Spock would be so sad)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 1:22 pm
Totally agree Headstart teacher ,and as a reader I find the over emphasis on technology quite troubling. Most often the true beneficiaries of this are computer related businesses. This is not conjecture, it's a fact. So where is HIte getting the money to pour into these expansions, ON THE BACKS OF LAID OFF TEACHERS AND COUNSELORS? It's appalling.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 2:36 pm
ive never seen such GALL..............
Submitted by Mayday (not verified) on September 26, 2013 3:27 pm
Where are the people in the streets? This is the problem. Most of Philadelphia's parents are just leading their kids to the slaughter like sheep. We need a revolution! You have power! Don't stand for this. Show up.
Submitted by Mayday (not verified) on September 26, 2013 3:27 pm
Where are the people in the streets? This is the problem. Most of Philadelphia's parents are just leading their kids to the slaughter like sheep. We need a revolution! You have power! Don't stand for this. Show up.
Submitted by Marc B (not verified) on September 26, 2013 4:20 pm
I got to see SLA model first hand for an extended amount of time while training to be an administrator. Their pedagogical approach is fantastic, reflects progessive learning principles, and is scalable. A few things contributed to this school's success that were not mentioned in the article: 1) they were able to develop an internal curriculum and own benchmark testing approaches; 2) teachers wrote units of study not weekly lesson plans; 3) the school's instructional vision was aligned throughout much of what they did, whereas, what does the SDP vision "all children come first" have anything to do with instruction; 3) substantial efforts were put in place to create an intranet that helped to facilitate communication between students, faculty, and parents. This seemed like a key system that most schools do not have; 4) and the more important feature is that teachers (I am not sure if they still do) had every Wednesday, for half of the day, to meet and develop professional learning communities. These are scalable features that do not need to be recreated by forming a new school at the expense of others.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 4:07 pm
SLA teachers still have 1/2 day with students on Wednesdays. They still only teach 4 (instead of 5) classes. (They count advisory as a class - all high school teachers have an advisory which includes a lot of paper work.) They have two counselors and reasonably sized classes. SLA also has highly selective admission requirements. Many students attended the premiere neighborhood K-8s (Meredith, Greenfield, Penn Alexander) and private schools (The Phila. School, Friends schools, etc.) The parents often have the political / social /economic capital that matters. Are there a few exceptions, sure, but there are a disproportionate number of students with the resources needed for academic success. Yes, what you've listed is scalable if the District wants to fund it. It is even more scalable if all school had as many students of means and academic success.
Submitted by Marc B (not verified) on September 26, 2013 5:12 pm
Yeah, I think that is the problem...there is this belief that less advantaged kids can do the really interesting and engaging work. One of my points in my post is that teachers were given freedom from scripted curriculum and a stern centrally imposed benchmark system AND provided time to collaborate to build rigorous studies. These types of reforms are scalable. But of course, we are in living in a policy environment right now in which it becomes really difficult to think about innovation when people are losing their jobs, pay, and semblance of a healthy work environment. sigh.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on September 26, 2013 6:44 pm
Marc B: Just for a point of institutional memory: You are describing what we did in many schools within our district prior to the state takeover of our schools and the imposition of the marching ants test preparation curriculum. But instead of just doing it for our best and brightest students, we did it for all types of students including the disabled and including the dyslexic. I love the concept of SLA. Really I do. I know and respect and admire Chris Lehman. He wants to expand SLA because he believes in their school. I do , too. There are others, too, who have great ideas. But there are, to put it in Jonathan Kozol's title of his book, "Savage Inequalities" festering in our district. Diane Ravitch talked a bit the other night about the difference in students, parents and communities as being "customers" vs. being "citizens." Citizens have a responsibility to each other to see that the students in "those other schools" get an equal and adequate education. It is called the -- common good.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on September 29, 2013 11:36 pm
Rich, Thank you for raising the issue of customers versus citizens. Customers are self-interested whereas citizens look at both their own interests and the interests of others. Businesses generally don't function in order to support the common good. Even efforts of a business aimed at "the common good" are often self-interested. EGS
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on September 30, 2013 6:04 am
You are welcome. I have also raised the issue that school districts are "public trusts" and the beneficiaries of that trust are students, parents and citizens of that community - even teachers. Charter schools were also supposed to be public trusts. That is why by law they must have boards of "trustees." The customers vs. citizens issue was thoughtfully raised by Diane Ravitch in her recent book presentation at the Free Library. There is a reason I keep asking people to think deeply about "all of this." Public education is at stake and so is democracy.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 28, 2013 10:11 am
The time to collaborate is key. SLA had money this summer for teachers to spend considerable time together to plan. They also have 1/2 days every Wednesday. All other schools have next to no time. The first 1/2 day PD isn't until Oct. 23. There are very few on the calendar.
Submitted by The_Professor (not verified) on October 3, 2013 7:00 pm
Yes, the SLA approach is built on progressive principles, updated especially through the 90's. The Webquest approach is only one manifestation of an inquiry-oriented, project-based curriculum that is not just student-centered, but largely student-directed. There's good evidence, too, that this approach can with all kinds of students, not just the economically advantaged "pre-motivated" student. SLA could take some "risk" by deliberately diversifying its student body, supporting teachers in differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students, and developing the kinds of social-wrap around services already known to support students who need it. This more layered model would also be scalable. There is nothing new here, as someone mentioned before; Deborah Meier has led the way in New York. The Sustainability Project here in Philly has shown that "regular" students can be self-directed learners if they are offered a community of respect and meaningful work to accomplish.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 9:48 pm
The "Workshop" took top students from a few neighborhood high schools. It used this highly selective group to build its data to open as a school while other schools were forcible shut. Now, they have 9 teachers - including brand new hires while the District laid off hundred - for 72 students. That is not "scalable."
Submitted by Lisa Haver (not verified) on September 26, 2013 4:35 pm
"We have to have an investment conversation about the types of schools we would love to see in our district," Mr. Hite said in an interview. "This whole conversation cannot just be about what we're taking away, what we are starving, what we are eliminating." What conversation? There are not any conversations about how Hite and the SRC are starving schools at the monthly SRC meetings. There are pages of resolutions about grants and contracts, with no explanation and almost no discussion (except for Dworetzky), but the only way to be heard about what is happening in schools is for individuals to sign up to speak--for three minutes. And please tell us, what is an "investment conversation"? That has to mean a conversation which takes place at closed-door meetings between Hite and PSP. Or between the SRC and the people from the Gates Foundation. The SRC's decision to pour millions into just three schools, when the rest are dealing with what they have taken away, is indefensible. The SRC's policy of allowing the distributors of private money to decide which schools are worthy of it and how they should spend it is a dangerous one. Hite's blaming "untenable labor contracts" for the conditions which schools find themselves in this year is a shameful act of trying to pass the buck.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 4:05 pm
Lehmann / Hite / Khin / Gleason / Nutter / SRC are endorsing and funding a plantation / apartheid school system. A few haves and the rest are have nots. Hite may attempt to "spin" the message but the reality is what is happening on the ground.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on September 26, 2013 5:35 pm
Yes, it is a plantation environment and again, imagine how the Beeber kids feel not only knowing but SEEING the massive differences between themselves and the kids upstairs and how they're treated. I agree with your post; now what are we going to do about it????
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 8:18 pm
The "doing" needs to start with so-called progressives like Lehmann denouncing the Philadelphia School Partnership. If Lehmann, Hauser (The Workshop), etc. have any integrity, they will get off their high horse and work for a public school system for the common good - not just their little oasis.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 11:59 pm
Maybe it'll motivate the Beeber kids to excel. The only reason Beeber stayed open was because of that young man's death & God bless his soul. However, Beeber's test scores across the board were just disgraceful. I attended the SRC meeting where Beeber students, staff and families spoke. They were passionate but I believe they only had 35 students total for certain grade levels and out of the 35 across that particular grade only 2 were on grade level. Life is filled with haves and have nots that's the reality. Beeber parents were more concerned about safety over academics. Out of all if the schools that were slated for closure Beeber's test scores were simply disgraceful. This was not a school that was working or needing the needs of their students. They were failing at the basics. I don't feel badly for Beeber students and they shouldn't begrudge SLA but allow those students to motivate them. Race is not stopping Beeber students from being eligible to attend SLA academics are. For the students who do attend I say bravo. Parents need to be accountable for their child's education period. Everyone at SLA is not middle class or affluent but each student has someone in their lives that value education. Beeber parents should've raised a ruckus that Beeber was open and not adequately educating their children. That's the real crime and disservice here.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on September 29, 2013 11:12 pm
Anonymous, Beeber has programs for students who have low incidence disabilities. SLA doesn't have such programs. Also, I go to church with a young lady who went to Beeber. She was attending a parochial school, but her reading problems were beyond what the parochial school could support. The girl's mother said that she and her daughter had a good experience at Beeber. There were teachers there who could work with the girl's reading problems. The test scores don't tell the whole story. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 4:33 pm
One stupid thing after another for the SRC and Hite. Hite has done nil for the District since his arrival.Once again,he will eventually leave and SDP will be more in debt and NOTHING accomplished but turmoil. Will SDP ever,ever wise up and get genuine human beings to work at the top instead of cold blooded, uncaring, money-hungry,selfish, division causing,imcompetent puppets?
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on September 26, 2013 6:11 pm
Your post is right on except that the incompetent piece is totally wrong. Hite is a cold blooded, mean spirited vermin but not incompetent.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 7:50 pm
My daughter goes to SLA and I work at a SDP neighborhood high school. While I love SLA for my child, this is not the answer for the district as a whole. We need to reduce the number of magnet schools and put resources back into the neighborhood schools. When EVERY child in Philadelphia has an opportunity for an excellent education in their own neighborhood, then we will be accomplishing our mission as a district. In the meantime, touting the accomplishments of SLA, Central, Masterman and the other magnet schools is a joke. You send all of the best students in the city to my school and we will be a model of excellence as well.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 8:28 pm
Thank you!
Submitted by The_Professor (not verified) on October 3, 2013 7:59 pm
I agree, but great neighborhood schools are not in conflict with the progressive principles underlying SLA. The problem, of course happens when schools can select students on the basis of supposedly "academic" credentials, especially test scores. We know that differences in GPA and test scores are highly associated with socio-economic differences--hence the re-segregation of schools. the problems today differ little from those in the 70's, when Philly Schools were mandated to de-segregate and politicians such as Frank Rizzo, Sr., maneuvered mightily to resist. The result, here, and in other cities, was magnet schools. The Charter Schools of today are just magnet schools on steroids.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on September 26, 2013 9:13 pm
You know what was a "point of pain" to me? Reading this unbearably fulsome garbage. Mark Gleason has got to be the world's luckiest man--talk about money for nothing! That guy has it made. And he gets to be soulful at the same time. I think in the movie he should be played by Don Knotts. And Lehmann? I have my doubts, with all due respects to Rich Migliore. He cherry picks his kids. 'Nuff said.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 10:59 pm
Lehmann has also played games with hiring staff. He has gotten away with not following the union contract since SLA was created. The Workshop did the same. So, Lehmann and Hauser (The Workshop) have no respect for a union contract. (Of course, they want their contract enforced. Lehmann was give the title of "principal, high needs school" so he receives a higher salary than he should. Convenient, huh!)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 10:58 pm
What percent of SLA teachers are parents? What percent of district teachers are parents? Just asking.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on September 26, 2013 11:36 pm
What do you think that information would reveal? Do you think SLA screens for marital status? (I doubt it.) To what end?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 6:16 am
What are you talking about? There is an emphasis now in education (big article in The New York Times recently) about schools go after young people. Getting rid of the old heads. 20 somethings. No kid in daycare/school to run home after.
Submitted by tom-104 on September 26, 2013 11:09 pm
Is this someone here to spread more divide and conquer?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 11:45 pm
SLA sure does not follow union rules.During last layoff (2011) and am sure this layoff too,he brought in his own people ,new hires, when people were out on layoff.Seniority rules -right not with the SLA,among others. But the more important issue is what did the PFT leaders do,just like now? Take a guess-i bet you know that answer? Probably missed that grievance (worst grievance representative /dept. in the world) taking their coffee breaks. New norm for the PFT is don't file grievances.Tell members anything to encourage them not to file and if they do-- it won't be executed,sit there in the dust for years. Why have a union then,since we have to resolve all our own issues anyway?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on September 29, 2013 11:52 pm
Why didn't PFT hold the District accountable regarding SLA?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 30, 2013 7:21 pm
The PFT didn't handle the SLA issue just like many other issued before it. When you let issues circumvent the contract and know it, as the PFT did and does, (even if it's a small issue) and do nothing the District sees this and tries it again and again as the union idly sits stunned,shocked,in awe or any adjective the leaders in the PFT use to avoid enforcing CBA.This inaction festers and festers until the issues are not just small but huge. This is the main reason, with some others, why the PFT is having such a hard time implementing a decent contract and a wide variety, numerous issues before it. When will they learn you nip things as soon as it done and it prevents things from expanding until it is out of control? The contract should have been started in 2010 and gaining support of parents, community, politicians and unify their members-not just use that phrase as a talking point. Time to do what the Mexico City, Mexico teachers have done to get back their rights and rescind some of the new rules they are trying to implement on them. New stratigies,tactics are needed right now PFT leaders-they old and used up ones you're so use to are not effective. The District is again walking all over you and ultimately your members. This is how I see it coming down and asked to vote on with PFT stating we did our best in the contract. No, you didn't -seriously. 1-Step raises squashed-stuck forever whatever step you're on 2-Seniority squashed-all site selections appointments. If you aren't lucky to get picked, during a transfer, by the patronage SDP -you're out of luck-no job. A way to exit all high paid teachers and get their buddies a job. On layoffs done arbitrarily and most likely no recalls 3-High premiums for health care 4-No annual raises for probably 3+ years 5-Cafeteria, hall or other duties instead of full prep time with no extra pay 6-30 minutes longer work day -no extra pay 7-A cap of $165 for all termination pay for unused personal, sick 8-Then the whole work rules stipulations which are too many to list email and ask his strategies
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on September 27, 2013 6:40 am
Good morning Joan, Thank you for your dose of reality. Yes, that is the truth. No matter how it is spun SLA and all high performing schools" (by test results only) are so mainly and arguably only because they attract the best and brightest students. The teacher whose daughter attends SLA said it best, those students would make any teacher and any principal look good. There is a world of difference between teaching high achievers and low achievers. Teachers who have taught students with diverse abilities and backgrounds understand that stark reality. Inequality and academic segregation are burning issues in our district. The real people who earn my highest respect every day are teachers like you and the others who hold our schools together and pour your hearts out to students every day and work under almost impossible conditions. Beyond that, you have the courage and dedication to stand up for children and our community for what you know is right. You, and teachers and advocates like you -- hold my highest respect. You, and the teachers -- are Heroes.
Submitted by Julie Stapleton Carroll (not verified) on September 30, 2013 10:29 pm
If this argument is to be truly constructive then posters need to attach their name to their posts. Otherwise they are simply instigators and not problem solvers. How many of us remember these sorts of folks from our high school experience?? Grow up please people for the benefit of our students.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 2:37 am
So, you're the only adult on this blog post? You post your name because you have enormous power (and a nice salary to go with it.) You will not face retribution from a principal or other administrator because you are the boss. You also are very anti-union so you aren't about to share power.
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