Outside providers play growing role in alternative schools
As the School District embraced an expanding role for outside companies and organizations in managing District schools last year, they were following an approach that they had previously adopted in providing alternative school settings for students facing disciplinary issues.
In 2000, the District struck a deal with Community Education Partners Inc. (CEP) to run an alternative school for disruptive students.
CEP is a Tennessee-based, for-profit company that now manages two schools in Philadelphia. The other sites of Philadelphia alternative programs include three District-run "Remedial Discipline" schools — Boone, Shallcross, and Miller.
Last November, the District put out a request for proposals (RFP) for additional organizations to manage alternative schools, and respondents are still being considered.
The past year has seen over 1,200 students placed in alternative discipline schools. According to Len Rieser of the Education Law Center, one major reason for this influx is that "with few exceptions, there are no more lateral transfers."
In addition, a state law, Act 88, now mandates that Philadelphia students coming out of juvenile justice placements must go to an alternative school before they can return to a regular educational program.
Boone’s enrollment has doubled in just a few months — a change from the underenrollment of a year ago.
To deal with the increased population, CEP expanded one site and added a new one strictly for students returning from juvenile placements. The District has now asked CEP to rehabilitate and run an alternative program at the Miller School in West Philadelphia.
Gwen Morris, the District’s director of alternative education, said another RFP for providers may be issued soon. She said the District’s vision is to create more "small, regional alternative programs," so that students in alternative education don’t have to travel long distances.
"Our primary goal is to get these students back into regular programs," Morris said. The District has limited data on the success of students returning from CEP.
With over 1200 students, the CEP site at Front and Hunting Park has grown to an unmanageable size, according to CEO Paul Vallas. The District has heard repeated complaints from the Edison High School chapter of Youth United for Change that Edison students are assaulted and harassed by students from nearby CEP.