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Bill Green to chair SRC, Jimenez to replace Dworetzky, sources say

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 17, 2014 01:01 AM

Notebook sources and other news reports indicate that Gov. Corbett intends to nominate Councilman Bill Green as chair of the School Reform Commission on Friday and appoint Farah Jimenez, executive director of the People's Emergency Center, to fill a second seat on the commission being vacated by Joseph Dworetzky.

More than 130 Philly educators implicated in cheating, officials say

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 16, 2014 10:04 PM

After more than two years of investigations by both the state and the School District, 138 Philadelphia educators have been implicated in test score cheating, according to information given to the School Reform Commission on Thursday.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has filed or is pursuing actions against 69 current and former employees based on its investigation of 14 so-called Tier 1 schools -- 11 District schools and 3 charters -- District officials told the SRC. They provided no more details on that group.

The District found grounds for disciplinary action against an additional 69 educators in 19 so-called Tier 2 schools that it investigated with the help of the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Officials gave more details on the results of its own investigation.

Dworetzky announces that this is his last SRC meeting

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 16, 2014 07:13 PM
Commissioner Dworetzky has been a member of the SRC since 2009. (Photo: Harvey Finkle)

Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky has announced that his term on the School Reform Commission expires on Saturday and that Thursday is his last meeting. His departure leaves the SRC with just three members.

Dworetzky, who was appointed by former Gov. Ed Rendell, could have stayed until his replacement was seated, which could take months. Gov. Corbett has not made appointments to fill either his seat or that of Pedro Ramos, who resigned as chair in October for family reasons. 

Commissioners must be approved by the state Senate, and for previous appointees, including Ramos, that process took months.

Corbett is due to visit Philadelphia on Friday morning to declare three high-performing District schools as Governor's Schools of Excellence -- Central, Masterman and Carver. A knowledgeable Harrisburg source said Thursday only that the SRC appointments will be made "soon." 

SRC to vote on terminating three principals related to cheating investigation

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 16, 2014 02:08 PM

Updated, 3:40 p.m.

The School Reform Commission is hearing a presentation on testing integrity at its meeting tonight -- likely the result of its long-awaited investigation into PSSA test cheating in dozens of city schools.

And in a personnel resolution coming to an SRC vote, three principals are up for termination, effective Friday: Michelle Burns, Deidre Bennett, and Marla Travis-Curtis. All three worked at schools under investigation for cheating on the PSSA exam.

Burns, now principal of Kensington Urban Education High School, was principal of Tilden Middle School when the alleged cheating took place. Bennett, principal of Cassidy, was on the staff at Huey Elementary. Travis-Curtis has been the principal of Lamberton Elementary School.

SRC to vote on closing Arise Charter, renewing three others with many conditions

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 15, 2014 06:25 PM

The School Reform Commission will vote Thursday on a resolution to close Arise Academy Charter High School, which was set up to educate foster children but had been plagued by difficulties since its establishment almost five years ago.

It will also vote on resolutions to renew two charters founded by Dorothy June Brown, Laboratory and Planet Abacus, as well as the Philadelphia Electrical & Technology (PE&T) Charter High School.

Stepped-up mediation in contract talks

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 7, 2014 07:19 PM

With the start of the new year, the two sides in the ongoing labor talks between the School District and the teachers' union have jointly agreed to stepped-up mediation, a development that both sides described as an effort to reach some conclusion -- but not a sign that they are at an impasse.

The high-stakes negotiations have been going on since last spring with no public sign of progress. The contract expired Aug. 31, more than four months ago. Talks were scheduled for every day this week.

Attendance low Tuesday; District must make up at least one snow day already

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 7, 2014 07:18 PM

Attendance was lower than usual Tuesday, one of the coldest days in recent memory, with just 64 percent of students attending elementary and middle schools and 45 percent in high schools.

"It wasn't a wasted day," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard. Attendance rates at different schools varied widely, ranging from near perfect to numbers in the 30s. Average daily attendance for last school year was just over 90 percent. 

New report finds gains at Renaissance schools -- but not across the board

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jan 2, 2014 11:29 PM

Schools turned over to charter operators -- and to a lesser extent, District-run Promise Academies -- have shown improvements in academics and climate under the three-year-old Renaissance schools turnaround initiative, a new report has found, although big first- and second-year gains have started to slow down or reverse. 

According to the study, conducted by the District's Office of Research and Evaluation, most Renaissance charters continue to have higher proficiency rates than those schools did pre-turnaround, despite the leveling-off of earlier gains.

The reported improvements occurred during a time when overall proficiency rates for District-run schools were declining after years of increases; the downslide began after strict test protocols were put in place in District schools in the wake of a statewide cheating scandal.

Local campaign launched to have all students reading proficiently by 3rd grade

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 20, 2013 05:48 PM

A newly formed coalition in Philadelphia is joining the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, an effort to make sure that as of the year 2020, all city students read on grade level by the end of 3rd grade. 

District again postpones votes to renew two charters

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 20, 2013 12:22 AM

The School Reform Commission postponed scheduled votes on two charter schools Thursday, pulling one at the last minute for reasons related to an investigation of test cheating.

Philadelphia Electrical & Technology Charter High School was one of three city charters flagged by the state for potential cheating after analyses of test results for 2009, 2010, and 2011 showed statistical irregularities. The charter was directed by the state to conduct an investigation, which resulted in the dismissal of an assistant principal and the imposition of stricter testing protocols. 

The renewal vote on PE&T was delayed, officials said, not because of problems with the school's own probe, but because the District is not yet ready to release its investigations into possible cheating at more than a dozen District-run schools.

Ethics Board rejects lobbying complaint against BCG, William Penn Foundation

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 18, 2013 06:37 PM

Philadelphia's Board of Ethics has rejected a complaint filed by several advocacy organizations contending that the William Penn Foundation was lobbying when it financed the hiring of a School District consultant in 2012 and was given access to its work.

The complaint, filed last December, argued that the William Penn Foundation and the Boston Consulting Group, whose services the foundation paid for through a grant to the District, should register as lobbyists. 

Philadelphia's NAEP scores are below average for big-city districts

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 18, 2013 03:42 PM

Philadelphia students in District-run schools lag 7 to 14 percentage points behind the average for big cities in math and reading achievement in 4th and 8th grades on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only test that compares students across the entire country. 

State has paid millions to charter schools since SRC suspended the code

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 13, 2013 06:11 PM

The Pennsylvania Department of Education revealed today that it has directly paid more than $3.7 million in disputed per pupil allotments to six Philadelphia charter schools this fall. That's $3.7 million in expected state aid that the School District won't be receiving.

The state's payments to charters appear to defy an August decison of the School Reform Commission that suspended the part of the school code requiring the state to make such payments when a charter and a district disagree about how much the district should pay them. 

The SRC action was designed to allow the District to control charter growth -- to impose enrollment caps -- so that it could plan financially. But the issue of whether the District can limit a charter's enrollment has long been the object of legal and political wrangling between the Philadelphia District and its charters.

Report: Preschool literacy gains fade by 3rd grade

By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 11, 2013 04:08 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 05:58 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.

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