How to Thank Philadelphia Principals for Their Pay Cut? Let Them Do Their Jobs.

Philadelphia School District Building

This week, and by an overwhelming 83% margin, the union representing Philadelphia’s high school principals agreed to enormous pay cuts, a 10-month work year, and to contribute more toward their health insurance. We are grateful. We thank you.

“There’s not a cavalry coming,” union president Robert McGrogan said. “With a new fiscal year on our doorstep, we needed to do something to help right the district. We’ve ratified a contract, but we’re hardly celebrating.”

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“Cyber Snow Days” Could Keep Classes on Schedule

NewsWorks reports on the possibility of Pennsylvania educators implementing “cyber snow days” to keep education rolling when the snow makes travel impossible:

Following this winter’s rash of snow-related school closings, Sen. Elder A. Vogel, R-Beaver, pitched this idea to state Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq at a recent education budget hearing:

“I have a private Catholic school in my district who’s gone to a virtual school day. Basically, when it snows, they literally make all the kids go online, the teachers go online and you get your class instructions for the day,” said Vogel. “Any thought to trying to do this on a larger scale statewide?”

“Yeah, I think folks call that ‘cyber-snow days,'” Dumaresq said.

The big obstacle: At-home broadband access isn’t as widespread as it needs to be to ensure all students would be able to continue classes, officials say.

Charter School Operator Sent to Prison reports that a former charter school operator has been sentenced to three years in prison for taking $90,000 in student-related money. “Masai Skief, 32, was the chief executive officer of the Harambee Institute of Science in West Philadelphia. He also served as chief administrator of the Harambee Institute Inc., a related non-profit organization, that provides children with vocational training. Skief pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud in August 2013, but even after agreeing to the plea, he allegedly continued to steal $12,000 from the Harambee Institute.”


5 Questions: How to Increase PA Education Funding

Sen. Larry Farnese

Sen. Larry Farnese

Today, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats are holding a press conference to announce their intention to seek $300 million in new spending on public education—this after nearly a billion dollars has been cut from the state ed budget in recent years. During that time, they say, Pennsylvania students have dropped from 25th to 37th in the country on college exam scores.

Sen. Larry Farnese, a Philadelphia Democrat, will be part of today’s events. He talked with Philly Mag about the proposal this week. Some excerpts:

1. Okay, first of all, Senate Democrats are going to be offering a new proposal to restore funding to education throughout the state. Tell me about the bill. How big is it? What’s it gonna do?

One of the topics that we’re gonna be talking about on Thursday is a topic that Senate Democrats have been speaking about and advocating for increased funding for for years now and that is, specifically, the $900 million dollars, almost a billion dollars that have been cut by this administration in public education funding and classroom education funding since its inception.

So, we’re gonna be talking about those cuts and how we believe that we can restore those cuts, this year specifically calling for a $300 million dollar investment. It’s just basically a first step to restore that billion dollars that we have seen devastate public education from the ground up, and we’re hoping that this year the Senate Republicans will be willing to work with us to implement some of these programs.

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Philadelphia’s School Crisis: A City On The Brink

Photography by Clint Blowers

Photograph by Clint Blowers

My family and I moved out of Philadelphia last year. We did so reluctantly, and with a crippling heaping of guilt.

It wasn’t the crime, or the taxes, or the grit. No, we left for the same reason that untold thousands have decamped for the suburbs before us: the crummy state of the city’s public schools, a chronic and seemingly immutable fact of life in Philadelphia.

The failings go way beyond the typical struggles of a big urban district. In December, the latest national assessment found that just 14 percent of Philadelphia fourth-graders were proficient or better at reading, compared to 26 percent in other big cities and 34 percent nationally. Of the 25 largest U.S. cities, Philadelphia ranks 22nd in college degree attainment. Graduates of the School District of Philadelphia are particularly bad off; only about 10 percent of district alums go on to get degrees.

Still, it wasn’t the statistics that drove us away. It was the deflating sense that there was no clear and affordable path for our two young kids to get the education they need—particularly our son, who has some special needs. Despite our love for the city, our belief that Philadelphia is genuinely on the rise, and endless conversations in which we tried to rationalize staying, my wife and I decided we had to leave. The day the moving van arrived, I didn’t feel angry so much as I felt ashamed. That embarrassment is, I think, not entirely uncommon. And it’s a sign that the failings of the city’s schools are damaging Philadelphia even more than in the past.

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Helen Gym: The Agitator


Helen Gym Parents United P.A.

Photograph by Colin Lenton

Helen Gym advances, and Mayor Nutter inches warily back. She waves a thick stack of papers at him, each sheath a complaint lodged by parents lamenting the calamitous conditions in Philadelphia’s reeling public schools. There’s the kid with dangerous asthma at the school without a nurse on hand. The dyslexic, orphaned high-school senior applying for colleges with no counselor to lean on. The bullying victim who fled Overbrook High only to find it impossible to enroll at another school.

“This is what we’re fighting against,” Gym tells Nutter. The Mayor is just a few yards from his office door, but he’s the one shifting his feet, looking to get away.

Minutes earlier, Gym had wrapped up a news conference in the ornate Mayor’s Reception Room, where, with the assistance of City Council, she’d usurped a podium usually used by Nutter and his invited guests. Gym and her allies were there to tout their latest pressure tactic: written complaints designed to compel the state to meet basic education standards and shake loose some badly needed dollars for the district.

“It would be nice to have your support, Mayor,” Gym tells him. Nutter issues a few noncommittal mumbles, cleans his glasses, and back-steps for the stairway. Gym shrugs. Powerful figures often look for the exits when she approaches.

That’s what happens when you develop a rep as perhaps Philadelphia’s preeminent public agitator. Relentless, whip-smart, meticulously prepared and utterly fearless, Gym—a private citizen who works without the heft of any meaningful institutional support—has managed to build herself one of the city’s largest bully pulpits.

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Twitter Fight! About that Epic Tom Ferrick-Helen Gym Dust-Up

I feel your pain, Tom Ferrick.

I once got caught up in the emotions of the moment when Philebrity slammed a post by Greg Meckstroth on the blog I edit that slammed a facelift that the legendary local hangout Doobies Bar gave itself for not making the place look more like Ubar.

I jumped into the fray in the comments section — and quickly argued myself into a corner from which I couldn’t extricate myself. Greg, of course, was entitled to his opinion, and others are free to disagree, even obnoxiously, with that opinion. But usually, when that disagreement takes the form of a zinger, taking on the dart-thrower makes the respondent — not the critic — look like a hypersensitive fool.

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