Seeking to create a “pipeline” of principals and teachers who are better equipped to deal with the real-world challenges found in Philadelphia’s toughest schools, city education leaders submitted a three-year, $2.5 million grant proposal this week to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Updated 10:00 p.m.
A School District review found “significant barriers to entry” at numerous city charter schools, according to a draft report obtained by the Notebook/NewsWorks.
In at least one case, an unidentified charter made its enrollment application publicly available on only one day during the year. Another unnamed charter required applicants to complete an 11-page application, write an essay, respond to 20 short-answer questions, provide three recommendations, be interviewed, and provide records related to their disciplinary history, citizenship and disability status.
“The District does not believe this is a fair system, nor does it help build a robust system of school-choice,” wrote District spokesperson Fernando Gallard in response to questions submitted by the Notebook/NewsWorks.
After a series of public missteps, Thomas Darden, the head of the District's Office of Charter Schools, has stepped down.
Even as federal investigators were finalizing a massive fraud indictment against one of Philadelphia’s most prominent charter school operators, the School Reform Commission was moving thousands of students and hundreds of millions of dollars into the city's publicly funded charter sector.
It’s a massive gamble, made riskier by the meager staffing in the School District’s Office of Charter Schools. Currently, 80 independently managed Philadelphia charters serving more than 50,000 students are monitored by just six people – a number that observers on all sides of the heated charter school debate agree is woefully inadequate.
The William Penn Foundation has paid more than $160,000 for work being done by two private communications firms to support the School Reform Commission’s much-debated “transformation blueprint.”
It's just one of several efforts undertaken by the city's civic leaders on behalf of the cash-strapped District that was revealed by a review of William Penn's recent grants.
The organizations doing the communications work, Sage Communications and the Bravo Group, are being paid through William Penn funds that have been passed through the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, respectively. Each grant was for $82,500, the maximum allowable without the approval of William Penn’s board, which meets three times a year.
Jeremy Nowak believes that Philadelphia is at a crossroads.
“There’s a scenario where this becomes one of the great cities in America, and there’s a scenario where we keep going in decline,” said Nowak.
“I think this is a critical time for us to decide which direction we want to go.”
Charter school expansions approved by the School Reform Commission this spring are projected to cost the cash-strapped School District $139 million over the next five years – $100 million more than District officials had previously stated.
Incoming Superintendent William Hite is set to begin working in Philadelphia "a couple days a week," but there's still no official word on when he will assume the troubled School District's top job on a full-time basis.
Private philanthropists have been using a complicated series of pass-throughs to fund the Boston Consulting Group’s far-reaching work to help overhaul the School District of Philadelphia.
But where critics see a coordinated back-channel effort to privatize the city’s public education system, Jill Michal sees evidence of an unusual consensus among Philadelphia’s civic leadership to actively engage in the city’s troubled school system.
The Boston Consulting Group has identified up to 60 Philadelphia school buildings as potential candidates for closure and helped line up private vendors willing to replace the School District’s unionized blue-collar workforce at a $50 million discount.
These steps are just part of the blue-chip consulting firm’s far-ranging behind-the-scenes effort to help the beleaguered city school system rethink how it does business.
The broad scope of BCG’s efforts this spring are detailed in previously unreleased “statements of work” obtained by the Notebook/NewsWorks under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law.
Read the documents:
Thirty-two District schools will have new principals this year, according to information released last week.
This is an edited transcript of Benjamin Herold's interview with William Hite.
Benjamin Herold: What impression did Philadelphia make on you during this process?
William Hite: I was surprised with the level of passion that was on display. … I was pleasantly surprised with the passion that was demonstrated by all the individuals there around making sure that there were quality schools in all of the neighborhoods, regardless of location of those neighborhoods, or historical experiences, or anything else. The fact that so many individuals wanted quality schools in their neighborhoods, that was impressive.
New Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite says that he will not reconsider the direction and reform strategies set forth by the School Reform Commission, maintaining that “some of those things have already left the station.”
By Benjamin Herold for the Notebook and WHYY/Newsworks
Former teacher, principal, and Prince George's County, Md., schools chief William Hite is the new superintendent of Philadelphia schools.
“Philadelphia is one of America’s greatest cities, and I am excited about the opportunities it offers,” said Hite in a statement released late Friday.
Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission renewed all five charters up for consideration Friday, but not before a sometimes brusque debate among the commissioners about the growing cost to the District of expanding charter enrollment.
Friday’s renewals and modifications added more than 1,600 charter seats to the District at a projected cost of $40 million over five years. District officials were not immediately able to provide an overview of the total number of charter seats added during this year’s renewal and modification process or how much those new seats are projected to cost.
High-profile charters including Mastery-Pickett, KIPP West Philadelphia, and Boys' Latin were among those renewed on Friday.