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Groups press civil rights complaint on school closings

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Mon, 01/28/2013 - 16:19 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

A coalition comprised of an array of political, religious and civic leaders on Monday reiterated its call that the School District to impose a one-year moratorium on closing schools, presenting an analysis showing that the proposal to shutter 37 buildings disproportionately affects Black and Latino students and those with disabilities.

At the same time, they announced that the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education will investigate its complaint that last year's closings of eight schools schools was similarly discriminatory.

Sylvia Simms will replace Cary on SRC

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Mon, 01/28/2013 - 15:33 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

Mayor Nutter  has named parent activist Sylvia Simms to replace Lorene Cary on the School Reform Commission.

Simms, who was a District bus attendant for 15 years, said she was "honored," "excited," and "surprised" by the appointment.

In a statement, Nutter said that Simms "will bring an incredibly important and unique perspective to educational advocacy" to the SRC.

Message to a Germantown congregation: Educational inequity dishonors King

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Mon, 01/21/2013 - 18:15 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

“How are the children?”

That is the traditional greeting of the Masai tribe in Africa, said Barbara Moore Williams in the annual Martin Luther King Day address at First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) on Sunday morning.

A longtime teacher and former Philadelphia School District official, Williams reminded the congregation that the answer for the Masai was, “All the children are well.”

Admission to coveted Penn Alexander now by lottery

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Fri, 01/18/2013 - 17:33 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

After dozens of parents had already camped out in the freezing cold for the better part of a day outside the Penn Alexander school, District officials decided to change the process and conduct a lottery to determine who would get a coveted spot in September's kindergarten class.

"We're making the change for equity and safety," said Karyn Lynch, the District's chief of student services. She said that a lottery would "bring fairness to the process," and that officials had "great concern about people remaining outside for three days in cold weather."

By Friday afternoon, 68 people were lined up outside the school in freezing weather, hoping for one of the 72 kindergarten seats. The first parent arrived early Friday morning, setting off a scramble. Registration starts Tuesday morning and was on a first-come, first-serve basis.

SRC votes to revoke charter of Community Academy

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Thu, 01/17/2013 - 21:43 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

The School Reform Commission voted at Thursday's raucous meeting to begin the non-renewal process for Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School, the city's oldest charter and a school that has existed for more than 30 years.

The SRC said that the school underperformed academically and also has a questionable financial history, assessments that were heatedly disputed by the school's founder and its lawyer. They vowed a long legal fight.

Ramos: 'I'd be lying if I said a moratorium was in any way feasible'

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Thu, 01/17/2013 - 21:40 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

Hundreds of parents, students and teachers came directly to the School Reform Commission on Thursday night to noisily challenge the District's plans to close 37 schools and reconfigure many more.

Carrying signs, chanting, shouting and interrupting, the overflow crowd made it difficult for the SRC to conduct business. More than 80 people signed up to speak, almost all to argue on behalf of individual schools and many to demand a one-year moratorium on any closings.

SRC approves new career and technical education initiative

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Thu, 01/17/2013 - 19:51 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

Struggling to be heard over protesters who came to oppose school closings, the School Reform Commission approved a plan for improving career and technical education across the District on Thursday night.

The plan includes a new state-of-the-art CTE high school, although details weren't provided on where it will be located or how it will be paid for. Other objectives are more access for students, more work-based learning experiences, a districtwide curriculum for CTE programs, and a "talent pipeline" to train CTE teachers and principals.

District shares the rationale behind each school-closing recommendation

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Wed, 01/16/2013 - 12:47 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

At the three regional community meetings held so far on school closings, the District has been displaying information explaining the reasons for each decision.

On Wednesday morning, officials shared three PowerPoint presentations and they have posted them on the District website. (The presentation for the Northwest planning area can be viewed below, and the two North-Central region presentations can be found here and here.) 

District investigating security breach at Bryant in wake of abduction

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Tue, 01/15/2013 - 17:03 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

Now that 5-year-old Nailla Robinson is safely home, District officials are investigating what breaches of security occurred when she was taken from Bryant Elementary School on Monday morning.

Spokesman Fernando Gallard said that "at first glance, it looks like procedures and protocols were not followed" when a burka-clad woman, who identified herself as Tiffany, took Nailla from her kindergarten classroom.

Former CFO Masch named VP of Manhattan College

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Mon, 01/14/2013 - 17:56 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

Former District fiscal chief Michael Masch will start work next week as vice president for finance and chief financial officer of Manhattan College, a Catholic institution in New York City.

The college's press release announcing his appointment praised his work in Philadelphia. It said he "generated the district’s first surpluses in a decade, significantly reduced operating costs, pioneered new investments in smaller class sizes, and improved instructional technology and other reform measures. In 2011, he relinquished supervision of district operations to focus full time on a massive budget crisis that confronted the district in the wake of a 15 percent cut in state and federal funding."

District faces another large, passionate crowd on closings

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Wed, 01/09/2013 - 22:49 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

Superintendent William Hite and other District officials faced another crowded and emotion-laden meeting Wednesday night over proposed school closings.

A day after some 1,000 people attended a raucous meeting at Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School, at least 500 teachers, parents, and students filled the auditorium at Edison High School in Kensington. Most pleaded to keep open or not relocate their schools, some tearfully. Many expressed anger that they had not been consulted before the recommendations were made. A line of speakers stretched to the door, and many in the audience held signs, shouting and cheering while speakers made their points.

Lessons from Michelle Rhee

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Tue, 01/08/2013 - 18:46 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

Tuesday night, Frontline is airing a documentary, by my friend John Merrow, on Michelle Rhee. Merrow, who has been following Rhee's career since her days with the New Teacher Project and was granted unprecedented access to her, includes allegations from a former principal that the Washington, D.C., school district failed to pursue allegations of adult cheating on tests.

I know -- many Notebook readers are growing weary of our coverage of cheating allegations in Philadelphia schools. But this is important stuff, folks. Whatever you think of the value of these tests or of misguided incentives attached to giving them such high stakes, we should not ignore evidence that educators may be behaving dishonestly, undermining the integrity of the whole educational enterprise.

District chief to present turnaround plan for schools on Monday

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Fri, 01/04/2013 - 12:11 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

Four months after William Hite took the helm of one of the most troubled big-city school districts in the nation, the new Philadelphia superintendent is set to release his blueprint for turning the system around on Monday.

Hite is facing a grim reality. He is already committed to closing 37 schools -- nearly one in six -- and needs to stave off what will turn into a $1 billion annual shortfall by 2018 if austerity measures aren’t taken now.

Children's Literacy Initiative gets new William Penn grant

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Thu, 12/20/2012 - 13:32 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

I've been writing about the Children's Literacy Initiative since it started nearly 25 years ago, training home day-care providers in low-income neighborhoods to read with their  young charges.

I wrote about it again in 1999, describing its model classroom in a Camden kindergarten.

Since then, the homegrown initiative has expanded greatly, and it is now a national force. In 2010, it was one of 49 projects chosen from nearly 1,700 applicants for a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant. And among those, it was one of only 19 awarded a "validation" grant, meaning that it has already shown evidence of success.

District leaders field questions on closings

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on Fri, 12/14/2012 - 23:28 Posted in Latest news | Permalink

Here are highlights of an hour-long press briefing Wednesday with Superintendent William Hite, Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn, and Danielle Floyd, who headed up the School District's facilities planning process, on the rationale and the process for closing 37 school buildings and relocating or reconfiguring dozens of other schools in the District.

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