by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
Where do we go from here?
That's the question that Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite put before the packed crowd gathered at District headquarters on Monday night for a School Reform Commission meeting on strategy, policy and priorities.
Like a college professor facilitating a philosophical discussion, Hite broke the crowd up into more than a dozen large, round tables and asked this overarching question of questions:
"What action should we take to get as many students as possible attending schools where at least 50 percent [of students] are reading and doing math at grade level?"
A meeting on "school report cards" will take place from 6 to 7:30 tonight at Baldi Middle School in Northeast Philadelphia. It is the fourth of five such meetings held by the District to gather community feedback for a new grading system for schools.
This summer the District announced plans for a new school report card to replace the school annual reports and faulty School Performance Index (SPI) scores that have served as measures of accountability. An earlier series of forums was scrapped after two contentious meetings where angry parents questioned the motives behind rolling out a new and costly accountability system during a time of tremendous financial and structural instability and the value of the project.
At the time, a District spokesman indicated that the reason for the cancellation was the unstructured, off-point nature of the discussions, saying the District was not seeking input on whether it should proceed with school report cards, but rather, what information they should contain.
by Isaac Riddle
[Note: Due to technical difficulties, portions of the video near the beginning are inaudible. Posted below is part of a pre-interview transcript of questions that relates to the affected section, which lasts up to about the 1:36 mark.]
Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite sat down for a live interview on Wednesday with Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa. The interview was part of the public access channel PhillyCAM's fourth anniversary broadcast.
Hite answered questions about the District’s lack of guidance counselors and nurses, teacher seniority, teacher salaries, state funding, and charter schools. He also responded to the question of whether he had taken a pay cut.
Pedro Ramos, who has served for two years as School Reform Commission chair, has resigned from his post and the commission, citing family matters.
Ramos’ term on the SRC expires in 2014. His replacement on the commission has not yet been named. Commissioner Wendell Pritchett has previously filled in as acting chair in his absence.
Ramos was a gubernatorial appointee. The governor appoints three of the five commissioners, and the mayor appoints two.
Ramos, 48, a former Philadelphia school board president, city solicitor, and managing director, was appointed to the panel by Gov. Corbett in 2011. He joined the SRC at a time of unprecedented financial crisis in the District and worked with school, city, and state officials to bring the District's budget back into balance. Advocating a fiscally responsible stance, he presided over deep cuts in spending.
At the School Reform Commission's monthly action meeting, the SRC unanimously reaffirmed their non-renewals for two charters: Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School and Truebright Science Academy Charter School. The commision rejected a resolution for the District to sell artwork that has been in storage for as long as a decade. Instead commissioners asked District staff to develop a plan for restoring the works of the art to the schools where they were originally housed.
The meeting began at 5:30 p.m.
Due to the District's fiscal crisis, most schools in Philadelphia are suffering a counselor drought. But Promise Academies are not among them.
In fact, the 12 Promise Academies -- the District's in-house turnaround schools -- have 19 counselors, which amounts to 15 percent of the 126 counselors available to all 220 or so District-run schools.
More than half the District's schools -- 115 of them, with a population of more than 48,000 students -- are sharing 16 "itinerant" counselors who travel from school to school and have caseloads averaging about 3,000 students each.
In the Promise Academies, which have a combined enrollment of about 8,000, the average caseload works out to one counselor per about 420 students, much closer to the recommendations of the American School Counselor Association.
by Mark McHugh
Student safety inside and outside the classroom has been a community concern as the District works on the transitions for students from 24 closing schools in the midst of a profound budget crisis. In response, Town Watch Integrated Services (TWIS) is spearheading an initiative called WalkSafePHL, intended to ensure the safety of students travelling to and from school.
The effort was the subject of a press conference Friday morning involving Mayor Michael Nutter, Superintendent William Hite, and Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Cynthia Dorsey. They are billing the campaign as “the city's strategy for ensuring students are able to travel safely to and from school this fall.”
The School Reform Commission approved the Renaissance charter agreements for three schools on Friday, officially turning Pastorius over to Mastery Charter Schools, Kenderton to Scholar Academies, and Alcorn to Universal Companies.
At a tense, four-hour meeting, the SRC also accepted $1.1 million in grant money from the Philadelphia School Partnership to expand three high-performing District schools: converting the experimental Sustainability Workshop into the Workshop School; creating a second campus of Science Leadership Academy; and expanding the middle school Hill-Freedman to include high school grades.
But it did so over the persistent objections of Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky, who did a financial analysis showing that the District will be absorbing considerable extra cost for these schools after this year -- a move he called financially irresponsible given the District's shaky budget picture. Earlier in the meeting, the District had announced that it only had enough funding to rehire a few hundred of the 3,800 staff laid off this summer.
by Holly Otterbein for NewsWorks
The Pennsylvania House passed a bill Monday that directs $45 million in additional state aid to Philadelphia's cash-starved schools, but only under certain conditions.
One of those conditions is that the money actually materializes.
The state has apparently persuaded federal officials to forgive a years-old debt, freeing up millions of dollars for public education.
However, Gov. Corbett's office said that negotiations between the state and feds over the debt have not been finalized. Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni declined to provide more details.
The other shoe has dropped: The School District issued layoff notices Friday to 76 employees in its central and regional offices, eliminating 137 jobs.
"The new round of layoffs will impact all central administrative offices, including academic and operational functions," said a District statement. The layoffs will save $23 million. Some departments were cut by 40 percent.