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District lays off more than 3,700 employees

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 7, 2013 10:38 AM

[Updated, 7:03 p.m.]

Calling the development "nothing less than catastrophic," Superintendent William Hite announced Friday that layoff notices have been sent to 3,783 of the 19,530 District employees, from teachers to food service workers, from counselors to maintenance staff, from community liaisons to lab assistants.

The layoffs will take effect July 1.

"Every aspect of the District will feel the impact – schools, regional offices and central office – along with employees ranging from senior administrators to support staff," said Hite.

He said the workers "are more than numbers: These are people – professionals – who play important roles in the lives of thousands of students throughout our city. They often do jobs beyond their titles and employee classifications. They are teachers, counselors, friends, protectors, and mentors to the children of Philadelphia.

"Without them, our schools will be just empty shells."

Philadelphia Young Playwrights celebrates 25th anniversary

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 6, 2013 12:03 PM

“It’s not about the play. It’s about what happens to you when you write the play.”

Thelma Reese, then a teacher and educational psychologist, said she eventually had this “aha moment” about the inspiration of her friend Adele Magner that students — no matter how young, how poor, how jaded, how troubled, how bored — could transform their lives by writing plays.

Magner’s vision blossomed, with the help of Reese and others, when she founded Philadelphia Young Playwrights, which celebrated its 25th anniversary Tuesday night. Throughout its existence, the program has reached about 40,000 students, not to mention their teachers, teaching artists, and parents.

Former charter assistant principal has his licenses suspended for cheating

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 31, 2013 04:03 PM

Another Philadelphia administrator has been disciplined for his role in Pennsylvania's widespread cheating scandal on state standardized tests.

Thomas Conway, a former assistant principal at Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter High School, has had his credentials suspended, according to the State Department of Education's website. Cited as the grounds for discipline: "Allegations that Educator violated the integrity and security of the statewide assessment by failing to follow proper procedures related to the handling and storage of secure documents, and by reviewing the assessment for purposes of creating an answer key."

SRC listens to pleas from students, but approves stripped-down budget

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 30, 2013 06:00 PM

After listening to hours of impassioned testimony and not a few lectures from students and others that they were shirking their responsibility, the School Reform Commission adopted a stripped-down budget by a vote of 4-1 Thursday night that its own members called unconstitutional and inadequate.

The $2.39 billion operating budget eliminates nearly everything from schools except a principal and a minimal number of classroom teachers. Counselors, librarians, sports, secretaries, support staff, music and art? All gone.

National report outlines problems with Philadelphia's policies on teachers

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 22, 2013 09:28 PM

[Updated, 5/23 with additional reaction]

A report by a national nonprofit studying Philadelphia has concluded that the District does a poor job of hiring and assigning teachers, fails to effectively evaluate or support them, and overrelies on seniority to govern placement and layoffs.

The report, from the National Council on Teacher Quality, also said that Philadelphia pays salaries competitive with surrounding districts and most charter schools for the first 10 years, but then rapidly falls behind -- largely because the only way to get a raise after that, besides a negotiated percentage increase, is for a teacher to accumulate more graduate credits.

Forum takes on standardized testing

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 16, 2013 11:21 AM

Two icons of the progressive education movement spoke in Philadelphia on Wednesday night to decry standardized testing and urge that a “justice-oriented framework” drive school reform instead.

“Test score gaps are used to label schools as failures without providing resources or strategies to eliminate the gap,” said Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools, an education journal and publisher.

Philadelphia students protest budget cuts at City Hall

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 15, 2013 02:02 PM


Farah Abney, a kindergarten student at Powel Elementary, holds up her sign during the City Hall protest. It says, "We need safety and books." ​(Photo: Dale Mezzacappa)

Parents and students from Powel, Henry, Penn Alexander and Masterman schools came to City Hall on Wednesday morning to protest proposed District budget cuts, converging in a staircase up to the second floor.

Mayor Nutter walked through the chanting crowd right after he had announced with Superintendent William Hite that he was proposing a package to raise $95 million in new revenue for the District, which is $35 million more than the School Reform Commission had requested.

The money would come from a new $2 city tax on a pack of cigarettes and a hike in the liquor-by-the-drink tax. For both measures, the District needs enabling legislation from Harrisburg that has been introduced and that Nutter and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams said has support. Nutter also announced that the city expects to step up property tax collections to raise $28 million in additional funds next year for the District, which faces a $304 million budget gap. 


District: No charter expansion next year

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 25, 2013 07:45 PM

Superintendent William Hite has decided not to recommend any charter school expansions for next year, saying it would be irresponsible to do so given the District's financial situation.

"Given our dire financial prospects, we must ask for shared sacrifices from our partners," said Hite in a statement. "It would be irresponsible for the District to endorse charter expansion while asking our principals to do the impossible with school budgets."

District looks to restructure top management

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 24, 2013 10:50 AM

[Updated, 2:12 p.m. with full text of email]

While it is trying to cope with its fiscal Armageddon, which includes plans to cut by 30 percent its already depleted central office staff, the School District is also seeking to restructure its top management and is advertising nationally for new personnel.

An internal email from Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn to senior staff was obtained by the Notebook and NewsWorks. In it, Kihn explains that everyone will be required to reapply for their present jobs and announces that the District is seeking people to fill new roles. These include a chief schools officer, as well as several assistant superintendents and deputies.  

Hite: School budgets down 25 percent without more funds

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 18, 2013 06:24 PM

Facing a $300 million structural deficit and still uncertain whether it will get the increased revenue and labor concessions it is seeking, the School District is asking schools to prepare to operate next year with a principal and a bare-bones allotment of teachers – and just about nothing else.

That means the contractual maximum class size in every classroom – 33 students in grades 4-12 and 30 in K-3. It means no dedicated money for guidance counselors, interscholastic sports, extracurricular activities, librarians, art or music.

No money, even, for secretaries.

SRC to vote this week on $15 million for new cyber school

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 15, 2013 06:20 PM

On the agenda for Thursday's School Reform Commission meeting is a resolution to approve $15 million to establish a District-run virtual school.

The District plans to release more details later this week, but Superintendent William Hite has spoken in the past of starting a cyber school in an effort to retain some of the nearly $50 million that the District now pays for more than 6,000 city students who have headed to cybers. Some of that growth has happened among students who struggled in traditional high schools.

Philadelphia lags behind other cities in getting children early intervention services

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 12, 2013 02:29 PM

Philadelphia lags behind other Pennsylvania cities in getting early intervention services to eligible infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who fail to meet certain developmental milestones, according to a recent report.

Public Citizens for Children and Youth found that thousands of children with developmental delays who could be getting services are not -- which potentially costs the city more later in special education and other expensive services.

Coalition wants teacher reforms, but opposes any pay cuts

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 10, 2013 07:20 PM

A coalition of advocacy groups wants groundbreaking changes in the Philadelphia  teachers' contract -- including the effective end of seniority privileges -- but is also urging the School Reform Commission to take off the table its plan for deep salary and benefit concessions.

Saying that such cuts would be demoralizing, the groups want the SRC to ask the city and the state to cough up even more than $180 million in additional funds.

Two District administrators surrender licenses in cheating scandal

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 3, 2013 10:50 AM

In the first clear fallout from investigations into the cheating scandal in Philadelphia, two administrators have surrendered credentials in lieu of disciplinary action by the state.

They are Barbara McCreery, the former principal of Communications Tech High School and this year principal of Bok Technical High School, and Lola Marie O'Rourke, former principal of Locke Elementary. Both Comm Tech and Locke were among the 53 Philadelphia schools investigated for irregular patterns on PSSA scores.

District releases recalculated SPI ratings for schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 2, 2013 02:56 PM

The School District released revised School Performance Index scores for 2010 and 2011 on Tuesday, saying it had corrected several calculations and problems that caused errors in the final results.

The District's press release said that about half the schools ended up with different scores, but most of those were off by just a point on the 10-point scale. SPI scores have figured into many high-stakes decisions, such as determining which schools to close or convert to charters.

The years in question included those in which widespread adult cheating on state standardized tests has been investigated. But Superintendent William Hite's statement said that "the underlying data feeding into the SPI was not in question nor considered to be faulty." Rather, "the calculation used to produce the SPI scores for traditional public and charter schools was in question."

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