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Q&A: Giving your child a good start

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 5, 2015 12:59 PM

The Notebook interviewed Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, who is a Temple University psychology professor, director of the Infant Language Laboratory, and author of several books about how children learn. She offered tips for parents of young children regarding daycare, preschool, and activities to do at home.

Notebook: What should I look for in a pre-K or child care center?

Hirsh-Pasek: The first thing I look for in a pre-K is, “Is it safe?” You want to make sure there aren’t things literally swept under rugs, things that are accessible that shouldn’t be, things that look dangerous.

Hite plan: More charter conversions, closings, turnarounds, and new schools

By Dale Mezzacappa of the Notebook and Kevin McCorry of NewsWorks on Oct 1, 2015 08:27 PM

Superintendent William Hite announced a package of recommendations Thursday that will turn over three additional elementary schools to outside charter providers, while closing two middle schools, Beeber in Wynnefield and Leeds in East Mount Airy. 

The plans, which officials said will impact 15 schools, also include the creation of two non-selective, inquiry-based schools: a high school in North Philadelphia and a middle school in Powelton.

SRC votes down new Belmont charter; Hite expresses regret at substitute mess

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 17, 2015 09:34 PM

Superintendent William Hite said at Thursday night's School Reform Commission meeting that the $34 million contract with a private firm to find and place substitute teachers is "in jeopardy" unless the company rapidly improves the rate at which it is able to fill empty classrooms.

Q & A with Superintendent Hite

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 15, 2015 05:51 PM

Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa interviewed Superintendent William Hite for an article in our Fall Guide the week before school opened. Here are additional excerpts from the interview, which occurred before the problems with outsourcing substitute services became evident. The interview was edited for length.

Optimism, theme of equity emphasized at first day of school ceremony

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 8, 2015 07:04 PM

As the familiar yellow buses crisscrossed the city in an unmistakable sign that summer is over, Superintendent William Hite continued to sound a theme of optimism and hope Tuesday morning at the ceremonial bell-ringing to open the new school year.

Maybe this year: A teaching life revisited

By Marsha Rosenzweig Pincus on Sep 4, 2015 03:16 PM

Editor's note: Marsha Pincus retired several years ago after more than three decades of teaching in Philadelphia public schools. She wrote this as an entry on her blog, "On Her Own Terms," and it has resonated with teachers since. Almost everything bad that can happen to a teacher has happened to her, and yet she always dug deeper to tap into the common humanity she shared with her students, and, for that matter, with the higher-ups who were trying to hold difficult schools together. It is important reading in an era when good teaching is defined and judged mostly as helping students do well on tests. It is so much more complex than that. As the new school year approaches, we are reprinting it here, with the writer's permission.

Buried beneath the test scores, the rosters, the class lists, the attendance statistics, the roll sheets, the interim reports, the report cards, the serious incident testimonies, the counseling referrals, the truant officer’s legal briefs, the probation officer’s assessments, the lesson plans, the behavioral objectives and the specific learning outcomes, Bloom’s taxonomy of critical thinking skills, "directed reading activity," and the five-step writing process, the think-pair-share activity, the split-page notetaking method, the SATs, the APs, the PSSAs, the benchmark tests, and the core curriculum -- real people are gasping for breath.

PSSA scores drop, as expected; Keystones largely flat

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 2, 2015 03:36 PM

Updated | 5:30 p.m.

Student proficiency rates in Philadelphia District schools in math and language arts dropped precipitously on PSSA tests in 2015 from the prior year, reflecting the rollout of a new test and following a statewide trend.

Just 17 percent of students grades 3 through 8 scored proficient in math, down from 46 percent the year before. In language arts, the rates went from 43 percent to 32 percent. Science stayed steady at 37 percent.

In a press release, the District said the new state tests "differ significantly from the tests given in 2014" and are based on "more challenging content and skills." It said that an "apples to apples" comparison is "not appropriate."

Chester Upland can't pay its teachers -- but they're working anyway

By Laura Benshoff for Newsworks on Aug 28, 2015 10:55 PM

Teachers' union president Michele Paulick said she received some unwelcome news at the Chester Upland School District teacher convocation this week.

"Our superintendent, Gregory Shannon, read a letter from our receiver, Francis Barnes, that informed the teachers that there are no funds," said Paulick, who described feeling "shock, frustration and anger" at the news.

Commonwealth Court rules District can't force charters to cap enrollment

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 27, 2015 07:06 PM

Commonwealth Court ruled Thursday that the School Reform Commission lacks the power to impose enrollment caps on charter schools, a decision that hands a big victory to charters seeking to limit school districts' control of them.

The ruling throws another wrinkle into the School District of Philadelphia's ongoing effort to remain solvent. The District has maintained that unrestrained charter growth depletes its own limited funding and doesn't allow it to plan for its own schools..

District sued over translation services for families of students with disabilities

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 24, 2015 05:12 PM

The School District of Philadelphia is facing a lawsuit alleging that thousands of children are denied special education services due to a lack of translation and interpretation services for families that don’t speak English.

Wolf warns Chester Upland schools may not open without drastic interventions

By Kevin McCorry of NewsWorks and Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 18, 2015 08:10 PM

Without immediate action, Gov. Wolf said Tuesday, the Chester Upland School District will not be in a financial position to open its doors next month.

Wolf has a plan to rectify the situation, resting partly on the backs of area charter schools.

With school opening near, many city schools still have teacher vacancies

By Fabiola Cineas on Aug 13, 2015 08:03 PM

Under the pressure from administrative turnover and plunging PSSA results, school principals and high-level District officials have convened at Fels High School beginning last week to develop action steps for school improvement. And they brought their challenges with them.

Looming large is staffing uncertainty. Many of the District’s highest-needs schools are still scrambling to fill teacher vacancies. This comes on top of the continuing effects of counselor layoffs and other cutbacks.

Pa. starts seventh week without budget

By Mary Wilson for WHYY NewsWorks on Aug 12, 2015 10:51 AM

The engineers of the Pennsylvania budget impasse will sit down for another design meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The new fiscal year began July 1. Negotiations between the governor and top lawmakers have been held about once a week since then.

"We had productive discussion," said House Speaker Mike Turzai after a budget confab last month. "We really rolled up our sleeves."

CTE success stories: Precious Terry, culinary arts graduate

By Michaela Ward on Aug 11, 2015 07:14 PM

The Philadelphia School District’s career and technical education (CTE) programs give students an opportunity to choose a career path that best matches their interests and talents, while gaining hands-on training in high school. Many students who have participated in one of the District’s 41 CTE programs have transitioned to post-secondary institutions – college, university, or technical school -- and some have also gotten jobs in their chosen fields right out of high school.

School District sees big shakeup at the top, but principal turnover recedes

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Aug 10, 2015 05:26 PM

Winds of change have been blowing through the Philadelphia School District.

Several top administrators have announced their departures in the last few months.

In May, Chief Financial Officer Matt Stanski said he was leaving to take a similar post in the Montgomery County, Maryland, school district.

In July, Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn resigned.

A few weeks later, Chief Academic Officer Donyall Dickey accepted a position as chief schools officer in Atlanta.

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