Cruz Seeks State Audit of School District

cruz schools

A Philly Democrat is once again seeking a state audit of the Philadelphia school district’s finances, saying the district needs to show a “greater level of accountability” for its spending.

Rep. Angel Cruz, who represents a portion of North Philly, sent a memo to colleagues last week, asking for their support of his effort. Read more »

Will Supreme Court Break the Power of Philly’s Municipal Unions?

The U.S. Supreme Court | Shutterstock.com

The U.S. Supreme Court | Shutterstock.com

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard a case that could undermine the power of Philadephia’s powerful municipal unions.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, doesn’t directly involve Philadelphia. But the issue it decides — whether civic unions that serve the School District of Philadelphia, City Hall and other public institutions can force non-members to pay union dues as a “fair share” of the benefits they receive from union activity — could have a big impact here.

“All of the unions in the city of Philadelphia, certainly the school district, and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, have negotiated fair share agreements. So if the court were to overrule that decision, it would have very serious consequences for all local unions, including the uniformed services,” attorney Elaine Williams told KYW. Read more »

State: Four Philly Schools Have “Curriculum Deficiencies”

Since 1997, the restored building, with a large addition in the rear, has been occupied by the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. | Beyond My Ken, Wikimedia Commons

The Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts is one of four schools cited by the state for “curriculum deficiencies.” | Beyond My Ken, Wikimedia Commons

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has ruled that four Philly schools have “curriculum deficiencies,” and must come up with corrective action plans within 45 days.

The ruling was disclosed Monday morning by the Public Interest Law Center, which is suing the state over what it says are shortcomings in education funding to public schools. The organization said it discovered the ruling as part of discovery for the lawsuit; a Department of Ed official confirmed that a letter was sent to the district on Dec. 8, confirming the finding of curriculum deficiencies.

The schools: Bodine High School of International Affairs, Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, and C.W. Henry School.

“We are delighted the department has decided to take action,” Amy Laura Cahn, staff attorney with the Public Interest Law Center, said in a written statement announcing the finding. “These actions show the Department has finally acknowledged its legal responsibilities.”

District officials said the ruling shows the state has failed sufficiently fund schools. “The findings again highlight an issue that plagues all Philadelphia public schools: a lack of resources due to reductions in revenues from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. ” district spokesman Fernando Gallard said. “For all Philadelphia schools to operate with robust curricula, programming and resources, we must have adequate public education funding.”

Read more »

Al Jazeera Features “Philadelphia’s Filthy Schools”

Well, this is unsettling:


That’s right: Al Jazeera has been taking a look at “Philadelphia’s Filthy Schools.” And it has no shortage of bad stuff to report.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, in fact, provided the network with pictures — some of them from reports by City Auditor Alan Butkovitz — documenting the mess at some 150 schools across the city where deficiencies like “rotting walls, standing water, mold and crumbling ceilings” have been found. Read more »

Central High School Named Nation’s Most Diverse

"WTP B26 Audrey 1" by See below - Wiki Takes Philadelphia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

WTP B26 Audrey 1” by Wiki Takes Philadelphia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Not only is Philadelphia’s Central High School one of the top high schools in the city, the region and the state of Pennsylvania, it’s also the most diverse high school in the nation.

This honor was bestowed on the school by Niche.com, a school-rating website that annually produces lists of the top high schools in the country on various metrics.

Niche released its “2016 Most Diverse Public High Schools in the Country” list today, and topping that list was Central High. Read more »

Op-Ed: Why We Need 300 Different Plans for Philly’s Schools

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from Susan Gobreski, a member of Mayor-elect Jim Kenney’s transition team. She serves on his education committee.)

Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It is a perfect way to understand schools, too. Successful ones are alike in key ways. Children are learning, there is a supportive community, and parents and teachers are happy.

But each struggling school is not succeeding in its own individual way. They have specific children with individual needs. Even schools that appear to be alike may be quite different.

Consider two schools in the same city, each with an 85 percent of their students in poverty and 20 percent of them English language learners. One might have an especially high number of special-education students with mild needs, and English language learners from four different native languages. Plus, they may have an experienced special education staff, a local grocery store, a strong neighborhood organization, an old building and a recent neighborhood outbreak of shootings. The other might have a low special education rate but higher-needs students, English language learners from just one native language, a high asthma rate, high absenteeism, limited health resources in the community, a couple of strong math teachers and a new principal.

The challenges are very different, as are the interventions, strategies, tools and resources needed to make improvements at each school.

The current education reform trend to emphasize governance, district administrative leadership structure and rules, and a strategy to create more charter schools or a portfolio district model, is inherently the wrong emphasis. The focus needs to be on providing and aligning supports sufficient to meet student needs, and school leadership that understands how to do it. Read more »

Op-Ed: Join the Grassroots Movement to Support Philly’s Neighborhood Schools

Students from Kearny Elementary School wave Philadelphia civic flags and dance during a ceremony in Philadelphia. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

Students from Kearny Elementary School wave Philadelphia civic flags and dance during a ceremony in Philadelphia. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from guest writers Christine Carlson, Jeff Hornstein and Ivy Olesh.)

Mayor Michael Nutter said in a recent policy address that Philadelphia needs “more parental and community involvement in our schools” and the “formal establishment of School Advisory Councils at every neighborhood school.”

As leaders in a growing citywide network of friends groups emerging to support our neighborhood public schools, we wholeheartedly support the intention behind the mayor’s proposal: to establish robust, community-driven support structures for every school, composed of stakeholders that include parents, teachers, community members and businesspeople working to ensure a quality education for every child in our city.

But what Nutter has proposed is already happening from the ground up. A number of community-organized groups have evolved organically over the past five years or so, thus far largely following the trajectory of gentrifying areas of the city. Additionally, there are numerous long-standing communities where families have for many years supported their schools. Read more »

Philly Schools Have to Borrow Money to Stay Open

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Good morning, Philadelphia. Here’s what you need to know today:

The Philadelphia School District has to borrow money to keep the lights on.

The budget logjam in Harrisburg has left the school district nearly broke. Officials say they will soon need to borrow money to keep schools open, but it’s unclear exactly how much funding they will seek or what the debt service will cost. “You have to find someone who’s willing to lend you the money,” says district spokesman Fernando Gallard. “And you gotta figure out how much they’re willing to lend you, and what are the rates and all the requirements they have.” NewsWorks reports that the district borrowed $275 million at the beginning of the school year, at the cost of $1 million in debt service. Read more »

District Announces School Closures, Charter Conversions

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

In a move that will affect more than 5,000 students in the district, Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite today announced dramatic changes involving 15 schools.

The moves are a familiar list of school consolidations, charter conversions and closures. Among the actions: Dimner Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia will be phased out over a two-year period. In Northwest Philly, Morris E. Leeds Middle School and Hill-Freedman World Academy would merge, with Leeds students starting to go to Hill-Freedman. Both Beeber and Leeds, though closed, would still house district schools in their buildings.

“This is an exciting step forward in achieving our mission of having great schools in every neighborhood,” Hite said in a statement. “These recommendations address parental demand for better academic programs in safe, familiar environments while presenting rigorous and engaging opportunities for students.” Read more »

How to Find the Best Philadelphia School for Your Child

Photography by Christopher Leaman

Photography by Christopher Leaman

The move to the ’burbs used to be almost automatic for Philadelphians with means — families of all races picked up and left the city when their kids were old enough for school, and they did it without much handwringing.

But something’s changed. Philadelphia parents aren’t so eager to quit on a city that’s bigger, better and more vibrant than it’s been in decades. And they’re not at all convinced that what’s best for the kids is a big backyard and often homogenous classrooms. For them, picking a school is about much more than standardized test scores; it’s about finding a place that fits their family’s expectations, values and lifestyle. Read more »

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