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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.

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:

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