Any 4th graders going back to David Hensel’s class in Taggart Elementary School to retrieve something they forgot might have seen an odd sight last year: “Mr. Hensel” on his knees poking at a wall outlet with tweezers.
“I was trying to pull out the phone jacks,” Hensel said. “I was told there was only one person in the District who could do it. The Internet was down in my classroom all last year. It was really frustrating.”
While today’s news headlines talk of massive budget cuts making schools almost unrecognizable when they open, teachers and administrators at several schools say that the last two or three years are already an object lesson in what happens when schools try to operate with a skeleton staff.
About one quarter of the District's schools will open in September under new leadership, a rate of principal turnover that is higher than normal as the District is coping with unprecedented upheaval and major questions about its financial stability.
According to a listing of principal appointments provided by the District, 58 schools will see new leaders. Among their number are neighborhood high schools like Overbrook, George Washington, and Roxborough, magnet schools like GAMP, Carver, and CAPA, and a cross-section of elementary schools all over the city.
"There is a tremendous proportion of schools under new leadership, and research shows that administrative stability is a key indicator for success in a school," said Robert McGrogan, head of the administrators' bargaining unit, CASA.
At South Philadelphia High School, under principal Otis Hackney’s leadership, students don’t all bolt for home the minute the bell rings.
That’s because partnerships between the school and the community are providing them with a wealth of opportunities, from new sports like boys’ and girls’ lacrosse to programs like video production that engage their minds in different and exciting ways.
by Dale Mezzacappa and Charlotte Pope
The seven principals honored Tuesday night with the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation's Distinguished Principal Award had strikingly similar explanations for their success -- and it had nothing to do with achieving high test scores, implementing the Common Core standards, or no-nonsense discipline.
In accepting their honors, most of them talked about love. Some described themselves as missionaries.
“Every day I pray and ask God to send angels to surround the building,” said Kensington CAPA principal Debora Carrera. “We are saving lives. … [Students] need to know there are adults in their lives who love them and accept them for who they are.”
Comprehensive neighborhood high schools across the nation struggle with dropout prevention, and Philadelphia’s are no different.
“What you see in that research is that these schools tend to have a higher concentration of really at-risk kids,” said Kate Shaw, executive director of Research for Action.
“In part because of that, the percentage of kids who graduate is much lower.”
And although principals at a handful of neighborhood high schools – Roxborough, George Washington, Germantown and Ben Franklin – said that helpful strategies aren’t hard to identify, most also acknowledged that implementing changes in an age of budget cuts, staff turnover, and districtwide strategic shifts is a constant challenge.
by Benjamin Herold and Dale Mezzacappa
For months, state and local education officials have had ample evidence pointing to likely cheating on standardized tests in some Philadelphia public schools.
Incoming Superintendent William Hite told a roomful of school leaders at the District's annual leadership summit Monday morning that enforcement of rules is just one piece of school discipline and that "zero tolerance" to him means "a preventive set of strategies," rather than a punishment tool.
Seeking to create a “pipeline” of principals and teachers who are better equipped to deal with the real-world challenges found in Philadelphia’s toughest schools, city education leaders submitted a three-year, $2.5 million grant proposal this week to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Thirty-two District schools will have new principals this year, according to information released last week.