The expected snow—as of this 5 am writing, it still hasn’t materialized—has led to the shutdown of Philadelphia schools for the day. Trash collection will also be affected. And your commute is unlikely to be fun, should you choose to make it.
Councilman Bill Green has long been known for his heterodox ways: While other pols rely on glad-handing to make their way, Green spent his time writing white papers describing how he’d fix government in Philadelphia. Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Corbett appointed Green to chair Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission. (See Philly Mag’s new cover story on eight ways to fix Philadelphia schools.)
Thursday, Green talked to Philly Mag about Mayor Nutter’s reaction to that news, his views on charter schools, and whether he still has a shot at being mayor.
So it’s been a couple weeks now since Gov. Corbett announced your appointment to the SRC, what’s your take on the reaction you’ve received since then?
Well there’s been numerous and varied reactions, I think. [Laughs] Nobody is in the middle on my appointment.
1. Fix something old.
Greenfield Elementary mom Christina Stasiuk led an effort to overhaul the outdated library that included parent-volunteer redecorating; a remodel with “reading circle” areas, a local sculptor’s artwork and a bank of computers; new books; and a “weeding out” of old ones, including some that hadn’t been checked out in 40 years.
2. Build something new.
There is no library at the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School, where Roxanne Patel Shepelavy’s daughters go. But right next door is the Fumo Family Branch of the Philly Free Library, so Shepelavy worked with its children’s librarian to organize a book club for second- and third-graders, with meetings at the branch.
3. Be the teacher’s pet.
At Society Hill’s McCall Elementary and Middle School, Lauren Summers takes the role of class parent to new levels; she and another mom, who visits the classroom on a regular basis, take care of administrative tasks and home-classroom communiqués, so the teacher “can focus on the students.” Summers also puts together and emails a weekly newsletter with messages from the teacher and notes from the in-
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Science Leadership Academy
A partnership between the school district and the Franklin Institute, Center City’s SLA is proof that a strong outside collaborator can help produce strong results. The diverse students (45 percent black, 34 percent white, seven percent Asian, seven percent Hispanic) have to apply to get in, and once there, they follow a college-prep curriculum focused heavily on science, technology, math and entrepreneurship—with a special emphasis on project-based learning (plus some cool outside speakers, like Michael Dell). Eighty-eight percent go on to college, and SLA has been named an Apple Distinguished School from 2009 to 2013.
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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.
The Daily News reports that likely mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson’s children attend West Philly’s prestigious Penn Alexander School. The problem? Classroom slots are supposed to be open only to residents of the school’s catchment area — and the Johnson family lives four miles from the nearest boundary from the school.
The national media has suddenly taken notice of Philadelphia’s cheating scandal, in which more than 130 educators are accused of helping, er, improve the local results of standardized tests. Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office is mulling criminal charges in the matter.
The New York Times calls it “one of the largest such cheating scandals in the country.”
Some administrators were giving answer keys to teachers who passed them on to students. In other cases, principals took completed exams home at night and doctored the answer sheets. And in some schools, teachers and administrators gathered secretly in conference rooms with test booklets, pencils and erasers and changed wrong answers.
“Any time you’ve got cheating going on by adults, that’s egregious,” said Michael A. Davis, general counsel to the Philadelphia school district, who described some of the findings of the inquiry.
The tests spanned three years, from 2009 to 2011, and involved 138 educators at 27 schools, three of them public charter schools.
At The Notebook, blogger Ron Whitehorne examines the possibility of abolishing the School Reform Commission that oversees Philly schools:
With the SRC’s legitimacy at a 10-year low, there is a growing call for abolishing it and returning schools to local control. At a gubernatorial candidates’ forum in November, hosted by the Working Families Party, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), and a number of unions and community organizations, the candidates were asked whether they would support returning Philadelphia schools to local control. John Hanger and Allyson Schwartz both explicitly called for the repeal of Act 46, while the other Democratic candidates expressed general support for this demand.
The education advocacy community is not of one mind, however, on the question of what should take the SRC’s place. Some favor returning to the pre-state-takeover form of governance, a board appointed by the mayor. Still others prefer the SRC to the uncharted waters that an elected board would create.
TAGPhilly, a group of activist Philly teachers, says its report card shows all the Democratic candidates would favor abolishing the SRC.
Here’s what some people have to say about that on the district’s Facebook page:
Jess Ica: Bad call. Very bad call.
Nita Davis: Why smh it’s a damn mess outside ugh!!!!!
Carly Chante’ Asare: R U SERIOUS ???? HALF OF US HAVE TO TRAVEL SO FAR TO GET TO SCHOOL, SO DON’T EXPECT US THERE EARLY !
Tiffany Missgreen Mottershead: When there is a accident involving kids trying to get to school it’s going to be the school district of Philadelphia fault that’s it I know that the streets in my area are not cleared at all
Justin Smith: For you parents that are happy about this, you must not love your children.
Laura Catherine: My streets are a mess!!!! That’s beyond wrong!!!!
And then there is the pro-opening side:
Steve Judge: I’m glad. My kids are SO Annoying after a day in the house. God Bless Teachers :0
Mark Scott: What a bunch of wimps you have all become. People with private sector jobs all worked today and will have to work again tomorrow. We need to teach our kids and one of the things they need to learn is that the world doesn’t shut down just because of snow. Plan ahead, leave early, and stop whining.
Brian Cohen: Driving conditions aren’t bad, side streets are a little messy but not terrible. I bundle my kids up and the school is heated so it should be open. The world can’t shut down until 14 inches of snow melts, school would be closed for weeks if that was the case.
Jamie Roberts: Bundle up and buck up. Everyone else is getting back to work; if you’re a student, your job is to get to school. If you’re a parent, it’s your job to get them there on time. No one who is dressed properly is going to get frostbite. If you care about your child’s future, you get them to school. Please teach them character and resilience, rather than wimpiness and excuses.