Schoolmageddon ’13: Schools Aren’t Ready To Meet Students

Philadelphia schools open in less than a week! Are you ready?

Well, uh, the schools aren’t.

Take the Andrew Jackson School in South Philadelphia: It will have no school-based counselor for its 494 students, two support staffers (down from six), and four fewer teachers, even though its enrollment grew by 95.

That means class sizes of 35 or more in some grades, at least for the first month or so. It means cramming more desks into crowded rooms, getting volunteer help from a laid-off staffer, and sending Jackson’s rock band out to a Main Line prep school to raise money.

“We’re facing overcrowded classrooms. We don’t have enough books. We don’t have enough desks,” said Michelle Brozdonis, who teaches first grade. “We just know it’s not feasible for the kids to get what they need with this.”

School Superintendent William Hite met with parents on Tuesday night, 6ABC reports:

The meeting was closed to the media, but it doesn’t sound like it went very well.

“Ultimately, none of our questions were answered,” said parent Katera Moore.

“I’m extremely frustrated,” said parent Pattie Gillett.

Parents and teachers emerged from the meeting at School District Headquarters feeling no better about how things may go on Monday than they did before the meeting.

“And some of the parents got a little feisty as you can imagine,” said parent Garth Connor.

“The violent schools, nothing about the safety, which I thought was why we were here to begin with, to figure out what the safety problem was,” said Marsha Dougherty, a student support assistant. “And he spoke mostly about the money.”

Meanwhile, the Daily News reports that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is busy … releasing ads:

The commercial, paid for by the PFT, shows a montage of school scenes, including a teacher walking down a hallway with students and kids sitting in a classroom.

“Facing overcrowded classrooms in unsafe schools, parents and teachers have offered real sacrifices and real solutions,” the female narrator says. “But Gov. Corbett and Mayor Nutter, they failed to provide the funding the schools need. They failed to lead. Failed our kids,” she says. The commercial urges viewers, “tell Mayor Nutter and Gov. Corbett [to] stop cutting funding for our schools now.”

The ad doesn’t sit well with Nutter and his people, who say he’s added more money to schools than has been cut. Still, the ads may not be helping him: The PFT also released a poll showing the public dissatisfied with his performance on education.

MSNBC reports on the “lost year” for Philadelphia schools:

Sonya Brintnall, a parent of two public school students who works as a speech therapist at a Philadelphia middle school, said that if the rocky run-up to the start of school is any indication of how the school year will play out, students, teachers and their parents are in for a tough year.

“It’s totally insane, they’ve shuffled people all over, people who thought they were coming back to jobs, don’t have jobs, people who we thought were laid off are here suddenly,” Brintnall told MSNBC on Tuesday, when teachers returned to school to prepare for next week’s arrival of students.

In Brintnall’s school, all of the operations officers and various support staff were laid off. They were the people who ordered supplies, checked people into the building and played a role beyond their job descriptions. Some were medical staff who administered medicine or kept children on their medication schedules. Others kept track of teacher and counselor assignments.

“It seems really small but they all add up. There are just fewer people here, fewer adult bodies to support one another and the level of disorganization is astounding,” Brintnall said.

Back at the Daily News, Ronnie Polaneczky says the district’s problems can be traced in part to widespread poverty at the family levl in the city.

Philly’s public schools educate the bulk of poor children in this city. They come to school with huge needs – for meals, for extra attention, for counseling and for services whose need is often not apparent until the child is evaluated by a competent, qualified teacher or administrator.

Such intervention costs money. And until someone has a better idea of how to educate kids from tough circumstances, we need to pay for it. If not because it’s the right thing to do, then, at the very least, because it’s a matter of enlightened self-interest. The struggling children we marginalize today will become the adults whose burdens society will shoulder later.