by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner
The Philadelphia School District is vowing to take a hard line on two issues that have caused confusion when charter operators take over traditional public schools: special education and facilities costs.
Even as the District tries to convert three more of its schools into charters, officials and parents alike are wading through confusion over “exceptions” that past administrations granted to outside managers in previous years of the District’s Renaissance school turnaround initiative.
By Bill Hangley, Jr.
[UPDATE: The final transitional chart has been released]
The Philadelphia School District says it is preparing to release an updated organizational chart for the first time since the departure of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.
The School District of Philadelphia and its largest charter school turnaround operator have agreed on the outlines of a deal that will prevent the relocation of 12 severely disabled children from one of the city’s Renaissance charters.
The deal avoids a potentially traumatic move for students in two Multiple Disabilities Support (MDS) classrooms at Mastery Charter Clymer Elementary in North Philadelphia. It also allays, at least for now, the concerns of disabilities rights advocates that the District had established a precedent for exempting charters from their responsibility to educate some of the city’s most vulnerable – and expensive to serve – students.
“I think we came up with a really positive solution,” said Courtney Collins-Shapiro, deputy chief innovation officer at Mastery Charter Schools.
“I think this is a good sign of the District and charters partnering.”
The best proof yet that the School District of Philadelphia’s modest school closings plan is provoking only minimal political controversy came in the form of a sparsely attended City Council hearing on the subject Monday afternoon.
El Distrito Escolar de Filadelfia no debe esperar ni por Supermán ni por una Supermujer, sino buscar un nuevo líder que pueda – de acuerdo con las palabras de un experto en educación interno – "tocar tierra aprendiendo".
La ciudad debe considerar su reciente experiencia con tres personas externas de renombre como una advertencia y considerar para la superintendencia a alguien que conozca a Filadelfia y tenga una predisposición para construir sobre lo que ya existe en vez de comenzar de nuevo.
There are many questions about Black male achievement that the Mayor's Commission on African American Males wants to answer.
Among them: Are there curriculum changes that can improve high school graduation rates of Black males in Philadelphia? How could the city's educational system better prepare them for the workforce? Do Black males – and males in general – learn differently from females, and how might differences be addressed?
The commission, a 38-member volunteer group, convened its first meeting November 1 to begin exploring these issues.
Ten years after the School Reform Commission was established to pull the School District out of a financial tailspin and accelerate academic progress, the current panel is trying to rebuild credibility with new personnel and a new commitment to transparency.
The five-member volunteer body replaced the local nine-member Board of Education as part of a state takeover of the perennially beleaguered district. It presides over a $3 billion budget and is the third largest public entity in Pennsylvania, after the state and Philadelphia governments.
The School District of Philadelphia should not be waiting for Superman, or Superwoman, but looking for a new leader who would be – in the words of one knowledgeable education insider – "hitting the ground learning."
The city should regard its recent experience with three big-name outsiders as cautionary and consider someone for the superintendency with a feel for Philadelphia and a predisposition for building on what exists rather than starting over.
That is the picture that emerged from a series of interviews with local and national education figures familiar with the travails of big-city school districts in general and Philadelphia in particular.
Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery says the challenge for today’s school leaders is to manage the District’s many mandates while harnessing the power of its communities – and do it all on a shoestring budget. To Nunery, growing competition and rising expectations mean that school leaders, like business leaders, need to set clear priorities and rely on flexibility, creativity, team-building, and constant communication.
Nunery became acting superintendent in August after spending 16 months at the District, most of it as Arlene Ackerman’s second-in-command. He has expressed interest in getting the permanent appointment. Here are the highlights of an hour-long interview in which Nunery shared his views on leadership.
After months of bracing the city for the possibility of widespread school closings and consolidations, District officials recommended in early November that just nine schools be shuttered.
Five elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools are being targeted for closure.