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Austerity, uncertainty loom large as Class of 2018 arrives

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 28, 2014 10:29 AM

Beginning high school is daunting enough for most young people. But this year, students in Philadelphia face worries that most of their counterparts in more reliably funded districts don’t have.

Will their schedules be disrupted if more layoffs become necessary and some teachers disappear? Will counselors be available to make sure they are taking the courses they need? Will their high school even offer all the courses they want – in some cases, courses that attracted them to that school in the first place?

New principals for Cook-Wissahickon, Lea, KCAPA, Kensington Business

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 26, 2014 05:04 PM

With more than 40 schools opening in a week with new principals, the District has filled vacancies at Lea and Cook-Wissahickon elementaries and at Kensington CAPA and Kensington Business.

Jennifer Duffy is the new principal at Lea. According to a bio posted on the school's site, she was born and went to college in South Africa and most recently worked in the District's Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs. She is also a member of the Philadelphia Writing Project.

Hite hopes to avoid transportation cuts

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 21, 2014 08:05 PM

Superintendent William Hite said that some 7,500 Philadelphia high school students may not lose their transportation subsidy back and forth from school after all.

"We are working with several partners, and we think and are hopeful we will have a solution on that," Hite said at a Thursday evening meeting of the School Reform Commission. "Stay tuned."

Through last year, students who lived more than 1.5 miles from their high schools were entitled to free student SEPTA TransPasses.

New research consortium to focus on Philly's District and charter schools

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Aug 19, 2014 06:59 PM

A first-of-its-kind research partnership that could prove highly influential to Philadelphia's public schools was announced Tuesday.

The Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC) – funded by a three-year, $900,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation – will "provide research and analyses on some of the city's most pressing education issues" for the city's District and charter sectors.

The nonprofit Research for Action will act as the consortium's home base.

Could 'community school' concept work in Philadelphia?

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Aug 14, 2014 07:11 PM

In Philadelphia, 40 percent of school-aged kids live in poverty.

One in five students has had some contact with the Department of Human Services.

The rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea among Philadelphia's 15- to 19-year-olds is three times the national average.

In an effort to help city children achieve academically despite socioeconomic difficulties, City Council has started examining the idea of turning schools into social-service hubs.

SRC meeting canceled; Hite will have press conference Friday morning

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 14, 2014 05:21 PM

With D-Day upon us -- the Aug. 15 deadline for layoffs and other cuts without a guarantee of more funds for this school year -- District leaders on Thursday first announced a special meeting of the School Reform Commission, then canceled that and opted for a press conference instead.

Superintendent William Hite will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Friday in the atrium of District headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. SRC members will be present.

Commonwealth Foundation's analysis of Philly school finances is flawed

By John Sludden on Aug 14, 2014 12:13 PM

Note: This is adapted from a brief that was published Aug. 8 by the Philadelphia-based group Research for Action. The full brief can be found here.

Philadelphia’s school funding situation is a central issue in state policy discussions. The recent debate has focused on city’s authority to raise taxes on cigarettes. But the essential questions on whether the school system has enough money have been present in the state capitol for at least two decades.

The Commonwealth Foundation released a brief on Philadelphia school trends recently that received prominent attention in the local press. It argued that despite a funding increase, the District has little academic improvement to show for it.

Can we trust the Philly cigarette tax revenue projections? A look inside the numbers

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Aug 13, 2014 03:34 PM

You can hear them calling in the street.

They lean on corners, squat on milk crates, rest on folding chairs – angling for a buck.

At the bustling intersection where Erie and Germantown Avenues slice through North Broad Street, they occupy every corner, calling to passersby:

"Loosie! Loosie!"

They're the city's black market cigarette hawks.

From packs semi-hidden in coat pockets or under thighs, the hawks sell individual "loosie" cigarettes. On a recent hot Friday afternoon, the going rate on North Broad was 50 cents a pop.

A citywide push on literacy -- Read by 4th -- has its official launch

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 13, 2014 02:37 PM

Amarii Simpson, 9, was sitting up front, a copy of My First Dictionary on the table before him in a room at the McVeigh Recreation Center at D and Ontario Street in Kensington.

Why was he reading a dictionary?

He gave a "duh" look in response to the question.

"So I can learn more words!"

Key questions and answers on the budget crisis

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 7, 2014 04:29 PM

Notebook editors Paul Socolar and Dale Mezzacappa prepared a question-and-answer sheet, updating the budget crisis for distribution at E! Day, the District's annual back-to-school event to be held Friday at School of the Future. This is the event at which the District holds workshops and gives out information to families, as well as free book bags. 

Following is the Q&A, and here is a link to the actual flyer. Feel free to copy and distribute. 

 

What’s this about the schools not opening on time this fall?

The School District relies primarily on revenue from the city and the state to operate. Right now it does not have enough money to meet its expenses. This is because over the last several years, it has lost a lot of state aid while some of its costs continue to rise – and city and state leaders disagree over who is responsible to provide the necessary funds.

Corbett aide says District should count on cigarette tax; Gov coming to Philly

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 5, 2014 06:09 PM

State Budget Secretary Charles Zogby says that Superintendent William Hite and the School Reform Commission should count on the eventual legislative authorization of a city cigarette tax to raise money for the city's schools -- meaning that they should not pull the trigger on layoffs and other school cuts on Aug. 15 that could delay the scheduled opening of school.

Sources also said that Gov. Corbett is planning to make an appearance in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning to discuss the schools' crisis.

Cigarette tax vote canceled; schools' opening in jeopardy

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 31, 2014 07:10 PM

Pennsylvania House Republicans have canceled a planned session on Monday to vote on a $2-a-pack cigarette tax in Philadelphia, jeopardizing the next school year for tens of thousands of students.

"Here we are again," said a frustrated Superintendent William Hite at a hastily called news conference Thursday afternoon.

Schools are now only weeks away from their scheduled opening day, but without assurances that the District will have enough funds to operate a functional system, much less one that offers an acceptable education.

SLA principal Lehmann wins national award

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 31, 2014 02:43 PM

Christopher Lehmann, founding principal of Science Leadership Academy, is one of three winners this year of the presigious Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education.

Lehmann was awarded the Rising Star award for his work in founding SLA, which opened in 2006, and pushing to open a second SLA campus at Beeber Middle School last year.

New SRC member Marjorie Neff plans to advocate from the inside

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 29, 2014 03:12 PM
Marjorie Neff (center) at a District press conference in June, when Superintendent William Hite, with the support of many principals, called for more funding.

Marjorie Neff was looking forward to retirement after nearly 40 years as an educator when Mayor Nutter surprised her by asking if she would serve on the School Reform Commission.

"I was intending to do advocacy work, and when the mayor asked me, I thought this might be one way to continue that from the inside rather than from the outside," said Neff, who just retired after eight years as principal of Masterman School.

Neff, speaking by telephone during a summer respite at the Shore, frankly acknowledged that she wasn't quite sure what she was getting into. But when she thought about it, she said, declining the offer wasn't an option at this watershed moment.

More than just in Philadelphia, she said, there is a "national trend" toward "an abandonment of public education." 

At institute, educators explore what teacher leadership looks like

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 25, 2014 03:40 PM

As the School District announced that it wanted teams of educators and others to submit plans for school overhaul, a group of young Philadelphia teachers was holding a summer institute on teacher leadership.

For three days this week, 18 of them met under the auspices of Teachers Lead Philly on the campus of Swarthmore College to discuss their challenges, draw from the wisdom of veterans, tell their stories and work on skills including mentoring, curriculum design, and writing for publication.

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