After spending the better part of six months designing a brand new high school – meant to be a model for transforming the educational experience for ordinary students – Saliyah Cruz disclosed abruptly this week that she will be leaving to take a new job.
To put it mildly, everyone from Superintendent William Hite to students and staff who had made leaps of faith to join the new school were surprised and disappointed. The school, called the LINC (for Learning in New Contexts), shares a building with Roberto Clemente Middle School in Hunting Park.
Arthur "Larry" Melton, the retired principal of the now-defunct Bok Technical High School, has become the seventh Philadelphia principal to face official punishment as a result of a probe into widespread PSSA test cheating in the Philadelphia School District.
Melton, who was at Bok for a decade, surrendered his teaching and administrative credentials in July, according to a state website that reveals disciplinary actions against educators.
The notice of action states that he "violated the integrity and security of PSSA testing for multiple years."
When students showed up in school Monday, Saliyah Cruz and Neil Geyette embarked on the most important phase of an ambitious effort to reinvent the high school experience for many students in Philadelphia.
The two educators have designed and are running two brand new, non-selective high schools in North Philadelphia. Geyette is principal of the U School and Cruz is leading the LINC, which stands for Learning in New Contexts.
There have been no meaningful teachers' contract negotiations all summer because District leaders have declined to schedule any talks, union leaders told several hundred members who came to a general membership meeting Tuesday.
Teachers are returning to school this week without a contract, facing bare-bones conditions in schools but still under pressure to agree to contract changes that would save the District about $30 million.
Beginning high school is daunting enough for most young people. But this year, students in Philadelphia face worries that most of their counterparts in more reliably funded districts don’t have.
Will their schedules be disrupted if more layoffs become necessary and some teachers disappear? Will counselors be available to make sure they are taking the courses they need? Will their high school even offer all the courses they want – in some cases, courses that attracted them to that school in the first place?
With more than 40 schools opening in a week with new principals, the District has filled vacancies at Lea and Cook-Wissahickon elementaries and at Kensington CAPA and Kensington Business.
Jennifer Duffy is the new principal at Lea. According to a bio posted on the school's site, she was born and went to college in South Africa and most recently worked in the District's Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs. She is also a member of the Philadelphia Writing Project.
Superintendent William Hite said that some 7,500 Philadelphia high school students may not lose their transportation subsidy back and forth from school after all.
"We are working with several partners, and we think and are hopeful we will have a solution on that," Hite said at a Thursday evening meeting of the School Reform Commission. "Stay tuned."
Through last year, students who lived more than 1.5 miles from their high schools were entitled to free student SEPTA TransPasses.
With D-Day upon us -- the Aug. 15 deadline for layoffs and other cuts without a guarantee of more funds for this school year -- District leaders on Thursday first announced a special meeting of the School Reform Commission, then canceled that and opted for a press conference instead.
Superintendent William Hite will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Friday in the atrium of District headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. SRC members will be present.
You can hear them calling in the street.
They lean on corners, squat on milk crates, rest on folding chairs – angling for a buck.
At the bustling intersection where Erie and Germantown Avenues slice through North Broad Street, they occupy every corner, calling to passersby:
They're the city's black market cigarette hawks.
From packs semi-hidden in coat pockets or under thighs, the hawks sell individual "loosie" cigarettes. On a recent hot Friday afternoon, the going rate on North Broad was 50 cents a pop.
Amarii Simpson, 9, was sitting up front, a copy of My First Dictionary on the table before him in a room at the McVeigh Recreation Center at D and Ontario Street in Kensington.
Why was he reading a dictionary?
He gave a "duh" look in response to the question.
"So I can learn more words!"
Notebook editors Paul Socolar and Dale Mezzacappa prepared a question-and-answer sheet, updating the budget crisis for distribution at E! Day, the District's annual back-to-school event to be held Friday at School of the Future. This is the event at which the District holds workshops and gives out information to families, as well as free book bags.
Following is the Q&A, and here is a link to the actual flyer. Feel free to copy and distribute.
What’s this about the schools not opening on time this fall?
The School District relies primarily on revenue from the city and the state to operate. Right now it does not have enough money to meet its expenses. This is because over the last several years, it has lost a lot of state aid while some of its costs continue to rise – and city and state leaders disagree over who is responsible to provide the necessary funds.
State Budget Secretary Charles Zogby says that Superintendent William Hite and the School Reform Commission should count on the eventual legislative authorization of a city cigarette tax to raise money for the city's schools -- meaning that they should not pull the trigger on layoffs and other school cuts on Aug. 15 that could delay the scheduled opening of school.
Sources also said that Gov. Corbett is planning to make an appearance in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning to discuss the schools' crisis.
Pennsylvania House Republicans have canceled a planned session on Monday to vote on a $2-a-pack cigarette tax in Philadelphia, jeopardizing the next school year for tens of thousands of students.
"Here we are again," said a frustrated Superintendent William Hite at a hastily called news conference Thursday afternoon.
Schools are now only weeks away from their scheduled opening day, but without assurances that the District will have enough funds to operate a functional system, much less one that offers an acceptable education.
Christopher Lehmann, founding principal of Science Leadership Academy, is one of three winners this year of the presigious Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education.
Lehmann was awarded the Rising Star award for his work in founding SLA, which opened in 2006, and pushing to open a second SLA campus at Beeber Middle School last year.
Marjorie Neff was looking forward to retirement after nearly 40 years as an educator when Mayor Nutter surprised her by asking if she would serve on the School Reform Commission.
"I was intending to do advocacy work, and when the mayor asked me, I thought this might be one way to continue that from the inside rather than from the outside," said Neff, who just retired after eight years as principal of Masterman School.
Neff, speaking by telephone during a summer respite at the Shore, frankly acknowledged that she wasn't quite sure what she was getting into. But when she thought about it, she said, declining the offer wasn't an option at this watershed moment.
More than just in Philadelphia, she said, there is a "national trend" toward "an abandonment of public education."