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Report: Preschool literacy gains fade by 3rd grade

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 11, 2013 03:08 PM

Children who enter District schools after having a District-affiliated preschool experience have better literacy skills when they start school and through 2nd grade, but much of that advantage "fades" by 3rd grade, according to the latest report from the Accountability Review Council (ARC).

The ARC, a watchdog group created during the state's takeover of the city schools, did a statistical analysis of students in 2011-12 who had attended one of four different preschool programs in 2007-08.

Preschool "seemed to have narrowed the reading gap for their students when compared with their peers [who didn't attend] in the year or two immediately following the pre-K services," the report concludes. "By the time students took the PSSA in third grade, the benefits of [preschool] in reading proficiency tended to fade." 

Where did the 4,000 lost students go? District says 1,500 in charters

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 6, 2013 04:58 PM

School District officials say that just over 1,500 students more than the number that they budgeted for are enrolled in charter schools this year, opening up a new $12 million to $15 million hole in its budget.

Spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the District was not prepared to say yet what steps it may take to close the gap.

The charter law requires the District to pay charters for each Philadelphia student enrolled. The District itself does not get money for those students from the state or the city on a per capita basis.

"We are closely monitoring the District's monthly revenues and expenditures to determine possible savings in order to meet the new cost estimates for charter schools," Gallard said. The District had already allocated 29 percent of its $2.4 billion operating budget, or $708 million, in payments to charter schools.

What would Bill Green do as chair of School Reform Commission?

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 2, 2013 12:40 PM

City Councilman Bill Green has long taken a special interest in the School District of Philadelphia, and a few years ago he laid out a detailed education agenda that, in essence, favored the abolition of the School Reform Commission, expansion of charters, and more parental choice. 

Sources confirm that the councilman now would like to head the SRC and has spoken to members of Gov. Corbett's administration. One Harrisburg source said that Green is "definitely in the mix" as Corbett looks to fill the vacancy left by Pedro Ramos, who resigned for personal reasons. A second vacancy is expected when Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky's term expires in January. Dworetzky is a holdover appointment of former Gov. Ed Rendell.

In an interview, Green would not comment on whether he is interested in the SRC post or had talked to Corbett's team about it. However, he was willing to discuss education policy generally and clarify how his thinking has evolved since he released the policy papers on the School District in 2010 and 2011.

2 June Brown charters are still in limbo; People for People charter amended

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 21, 2013 08:24 PM

The School Reform Commission approved an amended charter for People for People Charter School on Thursday, allowing it to expand from a K-8 to a K-12 school, as long as it doesn't increase its total enrollment.

But two charters founded by June Brown, who is now on trial in federal court on charges of fraud, did not get SRC approval, although both were on the agenda.

Students advocate for better food

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 21, 2013 06:33 PM

Students from Youth United for Change continue their efforts to improve the quality of food served in school.

They took their case to the School Reform Commission meeting on Thursday night to publicly ask that students have a role in choosing a new provider for food that is prepared elsewhere and that the District set standards to require that at least 75 percent is fresh rather than frozen. YUC also wants rules for the request-for-proposal that will allow more companies to apply.

Despite suspension of school code, state still paying charters for disputed students

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 18, 2013 01:39 PM

Back in August, the School Reform Commission suspended the state school code, using special powers it was granted by legislators when the state took over the District. Among the provisions suspended was one that prevented school districts from setting enrollment caps for charter schools.

But based on what the Pennsylvania Department of Education has done so far, it would seem that the code suspension -- designed to prevent unregulated charter growth that officials say would seriously impede the District's ability to plan financially -- has not had any effect.

After the SRC voted to suspend the code, Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn sent warning letters to charter schools that the District says have enrolled too many students, saying the schools should no longer seek direct payment from PDE. He also threatened charters that continue to "overenroll" with non-renewal or revocation. 

The District and state, however, don't appear to be on the same page regarding this issue. Since the suspension, PDE has continued to pay charter schools directly for expenses that the schools claim they are owed and that the District refused to reimburse. 

After counselors, District brings back assistant principals, teachers, secretaries

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 13, 2013 03:59 PM

With the $45 million in state aid released by Gov. Corbett, Superintendent William Hite has restored 40 additional positions to schools.

Nearly half of those -- 19 -- are assistant principals. The 40 positions are in addition to 80 counselors that were restored earlier.

The Notebook calculates that with each position costing about $100,000 (the assistant principals cost closer to $150,000 each, including salaries and benefits), the restored professionals in the schools will eat up between $12 million and $15 million of the $45 million. The District has yet to provide a breakdown.

PhillySchoolApp site debuts

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 8, 2013 06:32 PM

A new website called PhillySchoolApp launched Friday, the first step in what eventually could be an overhaul in how students apply to high schools and to charter schools in the city.

Despite the name, the site is not yet itself an "app." For now it describes itself as "an online resource for applying to Philadelphia K-12 schools." 

It includes the District's high school application form, as well as a new common application for charter schools that so far is being accepted by 30 charters, including 11 high schools, and a Catholic school application form, allowing a student to select up to three city or suburban Archdiocesan schools.

The application process is not online, however. Anyone using the site must print out the application forms and send them to the relevant places. 

Turnover plagues District's charter office as state considers changes to law

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 7, 2013 05:32 PM

The School District's charter schools office, faced with the task of monitoring and managing renewals for more than 80 charter schools, has been without a permanent executive director since the spring, when Doresah Ford-Bey left to take a job in Chicago. 

Meanwhile, the District has been tussling with charter schools over renewals, and the General Assembly has been considering an overhaul of the charter school law. 

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn is overseeing the office while the District conducts a national search. Kihn said that despite the lack of an executive director, he thinks that, with six people, the office is adequately staffed.

If enough of the missing students turn up in charters, District budget worries would grow

By Dale Mezzacappa on Nov 1, 2013 05:19 PM

The School District is trying to find 4,000 students that it expected to enroll in September who didn't show up.

Many of those may have switched to charter schools. Superintendent William Hite has said that of the $45 million that the state released last month, about $10 million has been set aside in anticipation of higher charter payments, which are mandated based on enrollment.

If it turns out that more than 1,000 or so of the missing students turn up in charters, that $10 million figure could go higher and create a new budget hole. District officials say they still don't have a definitive count of charter enrollment citywide.

The District has sought for years to impose enrollment caps on charter schools to contain the rapid growth of its payouts to charters. Still, it would be possible for charter enrollment to increase sigificantly citywide without any charters breaking their agreements, because many are not enrolled up to their limit.

After $50 million deal, District finances still precarious

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 31, 2013 04:52 PM

Wednesday was a rare sight in City Hall: Mayor Nutter and City Council President Darrell Clarke standing next to each other and agreeing on something.

The something was a deal for the city and District to work together to get $50 million in promised revenue to the School District through the sale of empty school buildings.

However, when all the self-congratulation was over, the District's financial position was at least as precarious as ever, if not more so.

New curriculum adds arts literacy to classrooms

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 22, 2013 11:46 AM

Dennis Creedon likes to say that arts education saved him. Dyslexic as a boy, he was able to realize his potential and focus his gifts through music.

Now one of the Philadelphia School District's assistant superintendents, who oversees a learning network, Creedon has also been in charge of arts programming. And with art and music teachers a dwindling breed in District schools, one of his major projects was the creation of a curriculum that helps teach literacy through the arts.

More than seven years in the making, with a grant from the William Penn Foundation, the curriculum was delivered to all 1st- through 8th-grade classrooms at the start of the school year. 

Philly groups file blanket complaint on counselor shortage

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 17, 2013 11:05 PM

Parents United for Public Education and Philly School Counselors United filed a complaint with the Department of Education Thursday saying that Philadelphia chidlren are being denied an adequate education due to the counselor shortage in city schools.

"The lack of counselors impedes the ability of teachers to deliver as effectively instructional services," according to the complaint, filed with the help of the Public Interest Law Center of Pennsylvania (PILCOP). 

SRC rejects plan to sell off art

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 17, 2013 10:11 PM

The art will not be sold.

The School Reform Commission rejected a proposal Thursday to hire two companies, including Sotheby's, Inc., to market and sell about 60 pieces of artwork that were taken out of schools nearly a decade ago -- under what some people still consider questionable circumstances -- and put in storage.

The artwork, including paintings by prominent African American artists Henry Ossawa Tanner and Dox Thrash, was at first estimated to be far more valuable than experts now say it is. Commissioners nixed the idea of selling the pieces after hearing that appraisers have put their collective value at less than $1 million, and after being told that the intention was to put any proceeds in the general fund instead of dedicating it to arts-related programming in schools.

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.

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