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Two charters now facing termination, including the city's oldest

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 17, 2013 07:01 PM

The School Reform Commission voted unanimously Thursday night not to renew the charters of Community Academy and Truebright Science Academy Charter School. Both remain open pending expected appeals to a state board.

All four commissioners present voted to terminate the charters. SRC Chair Pedro Ramos was not in attendance. 

Both schools have been in bitter battles with the District.

With negotiations ongoing, Hite adds factors for teacher recall and assignment

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 16, 2013 04:31 PM

Among the items that Superintendent William Hite included in this week's "status report" to state officials that preceded the release of a $45 million state grant was an explanation of how seniority is no longer the sole factor in determining where teachers are assigned.

"For the 2013-14 school year, the primary factor in making assignment and transfer decisions -- including decisions about recall from lay-off -- has been and will be the best interests of the students and the school's educational program," the superintendent's letter to acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said. "Seniority will be among the relevant factors considered, but not the sole factor. For example, when restoring teacher, counselor, and secretarial positions in preparation for school opening this fall, decisions were driven by the best interests of school communities, including the need to have staff who are invested in the schools in which they were working."

Corbett to release $45 million that Pa. has been withholding; 400 jobs to be restored

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 16, 2013 11:10 AM

[Updated 5:10 p.m.] 

Gov. Corbett announced Wednesday that he would release the $45 million that the state had appropriated to the Philadelphia School District but had been withholding pending reforms, including in the teachers' contract.

In a statement, Corbett said that he felt sufficient progress had been made in the operations of Philadelphia schools by the School Reform Commission and Superintendent William Hite to justify release of the funds.

Hite immediately said that he would restore 400 jobs.

“Superintendent Hite and the School Reform Commission are working to build a system of public schools that has adequate resources and has the policies in place for students and teachers to thrive. The reforms they are pursuing are critical to the district’s ability to better manage costs, ensuring that any new money that goes to the district gets spent on things that will improve the quality of education for students," Corbett said in a statement.

The governor was responding to a letter dated Oct. 15 that Hite sent to acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq.

The argument over fair funding continues; some look to N.J. for a better way

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 11, 2013 04:47 PM

Across the river in New Jersey, the neediest school districts have more money per student to spend, not less, than their nearby and generally better-off neighbors.

What a concept.

This is directly opposite to the situation in Pennsylvania, where wealthy districts spend more and the gap is growing.

Poorly rated: Philadelphia dominates new Pa. 'priority' schools list

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 8, 2013 04:57 PM

Not surprisingly, Philadelphia schools account for more than half the schools flagged as among the lowest performing on the Pennsylvania Department of Education's new school rating system for 2012-13.

Among about 90 schools statewide designated as "priority" -- meaning that they are rated among the lowest 5 percent in the state -- 47 are Philadelphia District-run schools, and nine others are charter schools located in the city. 

The rating system combines a set of academic and climate factors to calculate a score for a school between 0 and 100.

Pa. releases new rating system for schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 4, 2013 04:09 PM

The state started to unveil its new system for rating schools on Friday, using a website containing school performance profiles that will ultimately provide a wealth of data for each school in the state and give a numerical performance rating to each.

However, it is ending the practice of comparing absolute proficiency rates on state tests from one year to the next, either for individual schools and districts or for the state as a whole.

The Philadelphia School District did not make that change, once again providing a comparison of this year's PSSA results to last year's, even though the news wasn't good.

Meeting of big donors inspires protests

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 2, 2013 02:35 PM

The Philanthropy Roundtable, with the help of the Delaware Valley Grantmakers, sponsored a meeting of big donors in Philadelphia on Monday and Tuesday. The philanthropic association offered advice, field trips, and workshops on how donors' money "can increase a city's total number of high-quality K-12 seats, regardless of the school sector(s)," public, charter, or parochial. 

That the meeting came in the middle of an unprecedented budget crisis that has stripped city schools of essential services was an insult to several dozen protesters, who said that they felt the donors' presence was part of a privatization agenda.

"The message of the young people is that they were upset that these groups had the audacity to come to Philadelphia in the middle of the worst financial crisis the School District has faced," said Hiram Rivera, executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union. "These are wealthy people talking on how they can capitalize on this crisis while students are going to schools with no counselors, no nurses, no programs."

Choosing a high school: New twists in the process

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 30, 2013 02:25 PM

Under the best of conditions, applying to high school in Philadelphia can be a trying exercise.

In this extraordinary year, the process will have new wrinkles, in large part because of unprecedented budget cuts and staffing shortages. There are some changed procedures and requirements, and several gaps caused by the funding crisis:

No shortage of counselors at Promise Academies

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 26, 2013 04:11 PM

Due to the District's fiscal crisis, most schools in Philadelphia are suffering a counselor drought. But Promise Academies are not among them.

In fact, the 12 Promise Academies -- the District's in-house turnaround schools -- have 19 counselors, which amounts to 15 percent of the 126 counselors available to all 220 or so District-run schools.

More than half the District's schools -- 115 of them, with a population of more than 48,000 students -- are sharing 16 "itinerant" counselors who travel from school to school and have caseloads averaging about 3,000 students each.

In the Promise Academies, which have a combined enrollment of about 8,000, the average caseload works out to one counselor per about 420 students, much closer to the recommendations of the American School Counselor Association.

Former District financial official Irv Davis dies

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 24, 2013 03:00 PM

Many Notebook readers undoubtedly remember Irv Davis, who was the managing director of the School District for many years, and, before that, a managing director for the city. He kept tight rein on the District's finances during most of the 11 years that Constance Clayton was superintendent -- a period that also saw some periods when money was scarce, but nothing close to what is happening now.

Davis' policy, as recounted in this story from 1992, was not to sign off on any new labor contract or long-term expenditure if he didn't think the money was there to fund it, and he took great pride in his ability to keep the District solvent. This was also an era when Philadelphia had more clout in Harrisburg, and city legislators and District lobbyists succeeded in keeping the District's state aid high, even when its student population was declining during the height of white and middle-class flight. When Davis was in charge, the District often ran surpluses.

What's happening with class size?

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 20, 2013 04:49 PM

Two weeks into a school year unlike any other, with severe cutbacks in teachers and other personnel in schools, the District is about to start its process of "leveling," or reassigning teachers based on where the students are.

According to District officials, fears of huge class sizes have not materialized.

State unveils new rating system for schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 18, 2013 04:36 PM

Pennsylvania is moving to a new school performance rating system that replaces the much-criticized AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, with a more complex evaluation that includes student proficiency in science and writing as well as reading and math.

Barring unforeseen problems, test scores and other academic indicators for each school in the state --  charters and cyber charters included -- will be released Sept. 30 on a new and highly interactive website.

Mayor seeking donations for school supplies

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 11, 2013 06:38 PM

Mayor Nutter wants people in the city and region to donate money so that schools in Philadelphia have adequate supplies.

At a press conference Wednesday, Nutter announced the formation of the Philadelphia Education Supplies Fund, with a goal of raising $500,000 by Oct. 15 and $2.5 million over the next five years.

He started out by donating $200,000 from the city's general fund and said the city would pledge up to $1 million in five years.

After budget cuts and closures, tremendous uncertainty surrounds the return to school

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 9, 2013 08:51 AM

As the Philadelphia School District prepared to open for the 2013-14 school year, teachers scoured for usable desks that they could stuff into classrooms with, in some cases, 40 or more students.

Some even contemplated bringing in spare chairs from home.

“We have a lot more students and fewer staff members,” said Barbara Keating, head of the English department at South Philadelphia High School. “Classes are going to be much larger than what we’re used to here, so there is a lot of scrambling to find enough desks, and desks that are usable.”

Southern is expected to more than double in size due to an influx of students from Bok Technical High School, which was among 24 schools that were closed down last spring.

Southern is not alone. Roxborough High School is getting students from Germantown, also closed. Enrollment is expected to jump from about 500 to 680 students.

Heidi Rochlin, a Roxborough teacher, is expecting 41 students in her Algebra 1 class.

But that’s not the half of it.

Countdown, Day 4: Talks to resume Friday; teachers are under a 'status quo' contract

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 5, 2013 04:11 PM

Teachers' contract negotiations took a break on Thursday for Rosh Hashanah, with plans to resume Friday and likely continue through the weekend.

"The expectation is that they are going to go on into the weekend," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

Meanwhile, teachers are working under what is known as a "status quo" contract. How is that different from a contract extension?

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