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En español: Escuelas aceleradas, p.8

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Vol. 21 No. 4 February-March 2014

Focus on

Keeping students engaged

ol District of Philadelphia graduation rates, 2003-2013 (first-time 9th graders from 1999 through 2009)















Data Data available available in Fall 2014 in Fall 2015



2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders

4-year on-time graduates


Students graduating in 5 or 6 years Source: School District of Philadelphia

Latest graduation rates

16 Bumpy road to a diploma

Harvey Finkle

South Philadelphia High students Isaiah Jackson-Boose (left) and Naim Dykes (right) discuss a project with engineering teacher John Evans. The school has expanded its career and technical education programs this year (see p. 22). Some see such courses as an effective way to engage students in academic work.

Motivated to learn

Superintendent Hite wants more discussion with students about what makes them want to come to school.

22 Expanding technical ed Also in this issue: Hite and Green: ‘In sync’ p. 4 Cheating probe p. 6 ting Celebruar o

20trh! Yea


educing the city’s high dropout rate has been a concerted 7. A group of high school students led more than 150 of their peers focus of Philadelphia’s education community for nearly a in roundtable discussions, gathering thoughts on what the District decade – and the topic of an annual edition of the Notebook can do to keep its students in school, challenged, and motivated. since 2005. Students spoke about their struggles inside During those years, the city has gained an and outside the classroom, the stress from budAn SRC meeting understanding of the gravity and the comget cuts, and their desire for more positive rein December gave lationships with educators. plexity of the problem. Young people who leave school without graduating are not a hoAfter the session, Superintendent William students a forum on mogeneous group. Many don’t fit the negative Hite said that he had heard three demands what can be done stereotypes of dropouts. There are many comthroughout the evening: Respect the students. to engage and monly cited causes: academic struggles, boreProvide them with rigorous experiences. Make dom, lack of adult attention, safety issues, and challenge students. learning relevant. other life circumstances. Hite, who has a student advisory board, says Philadelphia’s efforts to boost graduation rates, including the he is planning to hold another SRC meeting like this. He would Project U-Turn collaborative launched in 2006, have aimed also like to see a committee or other vehicle at every school to be community-wide, research-based, and targeted at diverse through which students can communicate with adults. ages and specific risk factors. Citywide, graduation rates have “Good principals are doing a lot of it already. It’s really imporindeed improved. But for Black and Latino males and students tant,” he said. “You heard the kinds of things kids communicatat most neighborhood high schools, the odds still are only ed. If we never talk to them, how do we get that information?” about 50-50 (see p. 14). The Notebook brought together a group of students (p. 16) It’s often been stated that we can’t make headway on this and educators (p. 18); both groups said schools could do more complex problem unless we listen to young people. to make students feel welcome. Coverage continues on page 14 The School Reform Commission took time to do that on Dec.


tableofcontents FOCUS ON keeping students engaged 1 l 14 l 14 l 15 l 16 l 18 l 20 l 22 l 24 l

Motivated to learn: What makes students want to come to school Two-thirds of District students graduate within 6 years A citywide focus on combatting chronic absences Data: School-by-school graduation rates Students tell of struggles on way to a diploma Educators share ideas for making school more welcoming Accelerated schools focus on individualized help Technical education students tackle real-life problems Where did they go? Displaced students aren’t where expected

OTHER NEWS 4 l 6 l

Hite and Green are ‘in sync’ on new action plan News in brief: Cheating scandal– Promise Zone designation

DEPARTMENTS 2 l 3 l 3 l 7 l 8 l 9 l 10 l 12 l 12 l 13 l 26 l 27 l

Our opinion From our readers: Consider the source – Our very best Eye on special ed: A better approach to funding Activism around the city: Funding suit – Discipline guidance Español School calendar Notebook news: Membership drive underway School snapshot: Literacy Day Parade at McClure Elementary Who ya gonna call? Summer camp guide From the Notebook blog: Can’t wait on raising standards Member profile: Former intern helps younger students excel

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Threats to progress ma, the District’s Re-engagement Center The School District’s graduation rate exists only as a shadow of its former self, continues to inch upward, although it’s without the array of supports it once ofnothing to brag about; the six-year rate is fered. Even the services for the students in now 67 percent. greatest need have been hit hard. This gain has been coupled with inThe bottom line: Far fewer adults are creased college-going among Philadelphia available to give students the attention graduates, but so far no increase in the perthey need. Again and again, students say centage of college-goers who earn degrees. relationships are key in This is not a moment for self-congratulation. Without The bottom line: overcoming hurdles they encounter on the path to evidence of increased postFar fewer adults graduation. secondary success, we don’t While the District is know if students are getting are available hamstrung by its funding better preparation or are to give students crisis, some measures unearning their diplomas via der discussion can make seat time. Increased accountthe attention a difference. At a Decemability can translate into they need. ber SRC meeting, where pressure to simply push kids students spoke out about through. Many students then issues of disengagement and boredom, Suget stuck in remedial tracks in college. perintendent William Hite proposed creMoreover, new state standards pose a ating channels at every school so students serious threat to the increased graduation can talk to adults about their concerns. rate. Pennsylvania now requires that high Some schools have that already. school students pass Keystone Exams in The District’s plans to expand career Algebra 1, literature, and biology, beginand technical education in neighborhood ning with this year’s 9th graders. In the high schools are also welcome. Well-exfirst round of Keystones last year, many ecuted CTE programs can be a powerful Philadelphia high schools had pass rates force – training students to do something below 20 percent, with proficiency rates they are excited about while helping them on the biology exam commonly in the see how their academic classes have pracsingle digits. tical relevance. But this will require new But the greatest threat is the impact investments. of this year’s drastic cuts triggered by the Given the desperate funding situaDistrict’s financial crisis. tion, it is hard to fathom the lack of urCounseling is hard to get when stugency from those in charge. From District dents need it. Course offerings have been headquarters to City Hall to Harrisburg, pared back, so students may not get the few acknowledge the reality that they classes they require. Books and even desks are subjecting an entire crop of students are lacking. Safety problems have escato a substandard education. It seems the lated. mindset of local officials is to limp through Schools need staff to track down stuthis school year. An opportunity is being dents who have stopped coming, but the missed: To build upon the anger and frusresources to prevent truancy have been tration among students, parents, and edugutted. For students who are off track and cators as a force for change. need help figuring out how to earn a diplo-

A step toward stability An independent, nonprofit news service and newspaper – a voice for parents, students, classroom teachers, and others who are working for quality and equality in Philadelphia public schools.

Board of directors: Christie Balka, Jolley Bruce Christman, Abigail Gray, Charlotte Hall, Harold Jordan (chair), Katey McGrath, Brandon Miller, Nina Moreno, Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, Maida Odom, Len Rieser, Brett Schaeffer Editorial advisory board for this issue: Brian Armstead, Bill Hangley, Dan Hardy, Paul Jablow, Connie Langland, Sameer Rao, Debra Weiner Editor/publisher: Paul Socolar Managing editor: Wendy Harris Contributing editor: Dale Mezzacappa Online publishing manager: David Limm Associate director for operations: Neeta Patel Advertising sales/business manager: Shawn Phillips Development director: Timothy Cravens Design: Joseph Kemp Photography: Harvey Finkle Copy editor: Juli Warren Cartoonist: Eric Joselyn Spanish translation: Mildred S. Martínez Editorial assistance: Len Rieser Interns: Daniel Hampton, Aurora Jensen, Khoury Johnson, Jeseamy Muentes Circulation and distribution managed by: CCN Logistics, Circulation, Distribution & Mail 1-877-700-6245 / Special thanks to… Our members, advertisers, and volunteers who distribute the Notebook. Funding in part from the Barra Foundation, Communities for Public Education Reform, Douty Foundation, Samuel S. Fels Fund, Ford Foundation, Allen Hilles Fund, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, William Penn Foundation, The Philadelphia Foundation, Wachovia Regional Foundation, Henrietta Tower Wurts Memorial, Wyncote Foundation, and from hundreds of individual members and donors.

2 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

The School District made the right decision in January, announcing that it will not close any District schools in 2014, after shuttering 24 last year. Last year’s closures were a damaging blow to the system, furthering the flight of students from traditional District schools. In advocating school closings in 2012 and 2013, officials and others argued that the District had far too many excess “seats” and said that by closing schools, they would fill the remaining ones with displaced students. But when schools reopened in the fall, Superintendent William Hite announced that 4,000 students who had been expected in District schools were unaccounted for. That’s alarming news in a system that has been losing large chunks of its population annually. It’s alarming too that the District has been slow to share any analysis of what happened to these students. Given the anger in many communities about school closings and the tremendous stress caused by 2013’s deep budget cuts, it is hardly surprising that

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some students and families would just walk away. More analysis is needed: How many students left for other districts? How many dropped out? We do know now that more students than expected went into charter schools, at a cost of millions. We know that thousands of students from closed schools didn’t go to the intended receiving schools, meaning that those schools are still underenrolled. The underutilization problem has not been solved. Some argue that students fleeing the District are a healthy sign that education has become a marketplace, where families have other options to choose from. But many of these options are the same or worse academically. It’s a marketplace in which most families still can’t access good school options. Meanwhile, as District enrollment spirals downward, it becomes less viable as an entity that can provide the necessary supports to city schoolchildren. Improving schools, not closing them is the way to stabilize this struggling system. February-March 2014

fromourreaders Consider the source

Response to Jan. 13 commentary post, “A universal enrollment process won’t improve neighborhood schools,” by Jerry Jordan. When evaluating any new idea proposed to or by the School Reform Commission, consider the source. The source for the universal enrollment plan is the Philadelphia School Partnership, a nonprofit group operating outside the District. PSP is dedicated to promoting school choice options that include blending public and private – with such projects as Independence Mission Schools, a privately run system under the auspices of the Archdiocese and funded primarily through tax-supported “opportunity scholarships.” The universal enrollment scheme is a direct attempt to encourage more privatization at the public’s expense. It is a way to sidestep our state constitution that basically forbids vouchers and to find a back door to funneling public money to private education providers, including independently managed charter and cyber schools. Part of this enterprise is to make education “teacher-proof,” or in other words, to make the pupil-teacher ratio as wide as possible via distance or blended learning, with as many avenues as possible for excluding collective bargaining. With those ulterior motives driving the universal enrollment plan, saying that it is intended to reform the application process is disingenuous at best – and dishonest at worst. Gloria Endres The writer lives in South Philadelphia and is a retired teacher.

Students deserve our very best

Response to Jan. 10 commentary post, “Technical solutions are insufficient to fix District’s problems,” by James H. Lytle. Penn professor James H. Lytle offered a thoughtful analysis of the District’s current woes and lessthan-successful attempts by the School Reform Commission and political leaders to address the problems of a dwindling public school population and inadequate achievement. While I heartily agree with Lytle’s key recommendation that the District should be “engaging parents, students, employees, and the larger community” in seeking solutions, I must truly wonder at his suggestion that we adopt “leadership expert” Ron Heifetz’s view that our challenges “require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments.” I believe we have experimented. Under Paul Vallas, an imported leader from a district that did not perform as well as Philadelphia, we divided struggling schools into three groups: Edison Inc.; a variety of other managers; and a school district with additional (read “closer to adequate”) resources. What we discovered was that schools run by our very own district, when more adequately resourced, did best! Our students are not lab rats. They are not “seats.” They should not be charity cases. They are young people deserving the best we can provide them. What exactly might that be? Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham recently wrote about a Radnor High School student who, apparently possessing more regard for Philadelphia students than any of our politicians, is attempting to diminish the inequities with volunteer time and donations of clothing and school supplies. Why don’t we dedicate ourselves as citizens and office holders to bring the resources, through policy and taxation, for Philadelphia – and all urban and rural schools in our commonwealth – to the same level as a Radnor, a Lower Merion, or a WallingfordSwarthmore? What is needed is not mysterious – just unacknowledged and denied. Barbara McDowell Dowdall The writer, a retired English Department head at A. Philip Randolph Technical High School, is a member of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. February-March 2014

eyeonspecialeducation Commission outlines better approach to funding students with disabilities by Brett Schaeffer

A bipartisan legislative commission has presented an improved approach to the way Pennsylvania allocates and distributes funds to educate students with disabilities. The 15-member Special Education Funding Commission released its report in December after six months of hearings and testimony from school officials, advocates, parents, and education researchers. Nearly 270,000 children with disabilities – one out of every 6.5 students – receive special education services in Pennsylvania public schools. Overwhelmingly, commission members heard that the state’s current approach to special education funding – a flat percentage rate, regardless of the number of students with disabilities a school district serves – is deeply flawed. Their report recommends a weighted approach to special education funding, using three cost categories, ranging from the least intensive to the most intensive. In addition, the recommended formula includes other factors, such as community levels of poverty, property tax effort, and accurate student enrollment data. “We commend the commission’s work,” said Nancy A. Hubley, Education Law Center’s Pittsburgh director. “This is an important step for students with disabilities and is the result of the work and strong commitment of dozens of parents, disability advocates, and other organizations throughout Pennsylvania,” she said. School districts could utilize any new state special education funding to improve programs and supports and implement other best practices that benefit students with disabilities. These improvements could include meeting state and federal performance indicators and providing curricular adaptation, co-teaching, assistive technology, and schoolwide positive behavior supports. Legislation currently being drafted in Harrisburg would put the commission’s formula into law. In addition, the General Assembly is considering adding dollars – which would be distributed through the new

formula – into the special education line item of the state budget, which has been flat-funded for six years. “If they put this into law, it will be a huge step for children with disabilities, but only one of many needed to fix the overall funding in Pennsylvania for public education,” said Hubley. It’s important to note that nothing in the bill will change the rights of students or the responsibilities of schools under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. While the work of the Special Education Funding Commission is commendable, it was noted throughout the hearings that addressing Pennsylvania’s flawed special education funding system must also be done with an eye toward addressing the state’s flawed basic education funding approach. The two – like the children they serve – are inextricably linked and should be considered as pieces of the same puzzle. Pennsylvania is currently one of three states without a basic education funding formula. State Rep. Bernie O’Neill (R - Bucks) – lead sponsor for the bill that created the Special Education Funding Commission – authored a similar bill to create a Basic Education Funding Commission. Much like the Special Education Funding Commission, the Basic Education Funding Commission would gather evidence and hear testimony from school officials, parents, advocates, and researchers in order to develop a formula-based approach to Pennsylvania’s basic education funding system. That bill, HB 1738, was recently approved by the House and is now in the Senate. It is not an immediate solution, to be sure. But as evidenced by the Special Education Funding Commission’s report, it is an important step. To read the full Special Education Funding Commission report, visit Brett Schaeffer is the communications director for the Education Law Center and a member of the Notebook’s board.


The Philadelphia Public School Notebook is an independent news service whose mission is to promote informed public involvement in the Philadelphia public schools and to contribute to the development of a strong, collaborative movement for positive educational change in city schools and for schools that serve all children well. The Notebook has published a newspaper since 1994. Philadelphia Public School Notebook operates as a project of the Investigative News Network. Send inquiries to: Philadelphia Public School Notebook • 699 Ranstead St., 3rd Floor • Philadelphia, PA 19106 Phone: 215-839-0082 • Fax: 215-238-2300 • Email: • Web: The Notebook is a member of the Investigative News Network and the Sustainable Business Network. Visit us online –

Philadelphia Public School Notebook 3


Hite and Green are ‘in sync’ on new action plan The superintendent and SRC chair nominee face a difficult budget season and a likely showdown with teachers. by Dale Mezzacappa

Midway through one of the most tumultuous years ever in Philadelphia public education, Superintendent William Hite is presenting a new “action plan” – his vision for the future – as he faces an unstable budget situation and prepares for determined new leadership at the School Reform Commission. Focused on improving student achievement, teacher and principal development, and financial stewardship, the plan “is going to require some investment,” Hite said. Councilman Bill Green, Gov. Corbett’s choice to be SRC chair, said in an interview that his and Hite’s goals “are completely in sync.” “The discussions we’ve had … we’re in broad agreement.” Both men want “100 percent great schools,” Green said, and recognize that major changes in the District are necessary and must be driven by “evidence and best practice,” not “emotion.” Green also said that he was fully prepared to use the SRC’s special powers to impose a contract on the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers if a ne-

Jeff Meade

City Councilman Bill Green, who was nominated to be SRC chair by Gov. Corbett in January.

gotiated agreement cannot be reached, a bold step that prior SRCs have avoided. Whether such a move would survive a court challenge is unclear. With the District asking teachers all at once for deep pay cuts, an overhaul of the compensation system, performancebased raises, dilution of seniority privileges, and changes in cherished work

rules, the two sides have met without resolution since last spring. “I hope we can have a negotiated settlement,” said the councilman when he was awaiting state Senate confirmation. “But whatever has to be done to have 100 percent good schools, if I have the power to do it, I’ll do it.” Hite described the four goals in

his action plan as: • To have 100 percent of students graduate ready for college and/or career, • To have 100 percent of 8-yearolds reading on grade level, • To have 100 percent “great principals and great teachers at all grade levels,” • To have 100 percent of the District’s funds spent efficiently and effectively. Each goal has action steps to go with it. Hite took pains, in an interview, to balance the need for reform with the need for adequate resources. “In order for us to have great schools, many of our actions have to change, and we think this plan gets to that,” Hite said. “But by the same token, you can’t do these things while you are worried about whether you are going to have essential resources in schools.” At the moment, those are lacking. As next year’s budget season warms up, the District’s financial situation is “fragile,” said Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski. Months of political posturing in Harrisburg and City Hall have resulted in very little revenue that the District can count on next year and going forward. “We’re still struggling to get to a (continued on page 5)

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4 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

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February-March 2014

districtnews Hite, Green

stewardship “is to have 100 percent of the funding we need for great schools,” (continued from page 4) he said. “We will still spend only what we have, but we will be explicit in what point where we have long-term sustainwe need.” able revenue equaling recurring expenGreen said that many of the needed ditures that allow us to … provide a changes won’t cost money. He included high-quality education to every student a longer school day and year in that catin Philadelphia,” said Stanski. egory, suggesting that he thinks this can District leaders must decide whethbe implemented without paying teacher to craft a spending plan using this ers more. year’s decimated budget as the baseline “Since the SRC – a year that saw a lack doesn’t have taxing of counselors during colDistrict officials authority, our job is to lege-admission season, no space in some cours- must decide whether take the resources we have and use them as es that students need to base next year’s best we can to achieve to graduate, principals scrambling for supplies, budget on this year’s the goal of 100 percent good schools,” Green parents raising money slashed figures. said. “We will take to restore staff members, what resources we can, laid-off workers volunincluding advocating for the resources teering in their old jobs. Or they may we need to be successful … and do the present a blueprint that adds on the best we can with [what we get].” cost of what Hite wants to do. Both men said that a key is improv“There’s one [number] you could ing teacher and principal quality. calculate if you just used the status quo,” Hite said his action steps “will be said one District official. “Or if you say “consistent with a lot of the things that this is what we … think schools need, [Green] has talked about.” there’s a [different] number.” “He talks about improving the qualThe District does intend to evenity of staff, we’re talking about strengthtually attach a “financial addendum” to ening the principal pipeline,” as well as Hite’s plan, sources said. supporting “continuous improvement But what they’ll actually ask for of all personnel tailored to their indifrom the city and the state in revenue is vidual needs.” still unclear. Their request for this year’s Doing that right, however, could be budget didn’t go well, prompting the seexpensive. vere cutbacks (see sidebar). Green was adamant that the curHite’s stated goal on good financial

The voice and vision of special education

rent practice of giving teachers automatic raises based on longevity and educational attainment must change, replaced by a system that rewards “results.” Doing away with automatic raises could provide some sought-after labor savings, or that money could be redirected to targeted teacher development and performance pay. PFT president Jerry Jordan has said repeatedly that although he’d agree to a pay freeze and benefit changes, he would resist salary cuts. He has also maintained that gutting seniority privileges won’t make much difference in school staffing. Hite and Green say it is necessary to give principals the ability to build their own teams. Improving schools “requires an ac-

ceptance that the best decisions aren’t made for children on the basis of seniority,” Green said. “Whether that’s getting rid of bad teachers or getting more good teachers into schools that need them most, those decisions are going to have to be possible to achieve the goal. There’s no other way to do it.” Hite’s plan does not emphasize charter expansion as the best vehicle for school improvement. “I’m talking about all schools, not District vs. charter. We need to shore up charters, too,” Hite said. “The notion is to improve the quality of all seats children have access to.” Contact Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa at

More budget challenges ahead Facing a $300 million budget shortfall last spring, local leaders called for a rescue package – asking the city and state for $180 million in additional recurring revenue and the unions for $133 in labor savings. But there is not much to show for it. The District has gotten little recurring revenue besides $28 million from improved local tax collections. On the labor savings, they have nothing: Negotiations with teachers’ and principals’ unions plodded on into February without a settlement. The budget gap this year was

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closed largely through a combination of layoffs, spending cuts, and $140 million in one-time revenues and devices – including a $50 million contribution from the city, $45 million from the state, and spending down the District’s remaining $39 million in reserves. To balance next year’s budget, the District must come up with a way to replace that $140 million as well as cover $75 million in new expenses arising from naturally occurring increases in items like utility and pension costs. But as of January, District Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski was not prepared to put a dollar figure on the size of a potential budget hole. City and state officials – they would add union leaders – have shown little urgency to resolve the crisis. Although the state legislature passed a bill last June allowing the city to extend a 1 percent sales tax surcharge and devote $120 million annually to the schools, City Council has balked. It wants to split the revenue between education and pensions. And although Council wants to hike the cigarette tax, Harrisburg hasn’t passed the enabling legislation. Stanski said that District officials have yet to decide whether to include the $120 million in next year’s revenue projection.

-Dale Mezzacappa

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Philadelphia Public School Notebook 5

newsinbrief 138 Philadelphia educators implicated in cheating probes Philadelphia’s PSSA test cheating scandal broke open in January when District officials provided a long-awaited update, revealing that 138 educators may have engaged in misconduct, such as erasing wrong answers and substituting correct ones, over a three-year period. At its Jan. 16 meeting, the School Reform Commission terminated three principals in connection with the scandal. Officials said they were proceeding with disciplinary actions against dozens more teachers and administrators. Sources also told the Notebook that the state attorney general has opened a criminal investigation and issued subpoenas. The scandal, uncovered when the Notebook obtained a forensic analysis of 2009 test booklets that was conducted by the testing company, showed that dozens of schools statewide had statistically improbable results. Those included abnormally large numbers of wrongto-right erasures on answer sheets. The Pennsylvania Department of Education did erasure analyses of 2010 and 2011 results as well, and began investigating several school districts and charter schools. In Philadelphia, 53 schools with suspicious results were divided into three groups. The state conducted the probe in 14, including three charters, and told the District to inves-

6 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

tigate the rest. a variety of federal agencies,” The state found evidence said Eva Gladstein, head of against 69 educators in its the mayor’s Office of Comprobe, while the District found munity Empowerment and evidence against another 69 Opportunity. at the first 19 schools that it “In essence, we get extra looked into. points when we submit an Of those 19 schools, 13 application for grants to covwere found to have cheating er the Promise Zone area,” behavior, evidence at three was Gladstein said. She added inconclusive, and another three that while the designation were cleared. School names does not guarantee funds to have not been released. the areas, it does include five Of the 69 educators impliAmeriCorps VISTA volunHarvey Finkle cated in the District’s investigateers to help push commuMcMichael Elementary, which has partnered with Drexel University, tion, 40 are still employed, while falls within the newly designated Promise Zone in Mantua. nity projects forward. 29 others have left the District. Lucy Kerman, vice proSuperintendent William vost for university and comPromise Zone designation Hite said he was “committed to ridding munity partnerships at Drexel’s School could bring support to schools our system of adults who participated in of Education, said that previous educathis type of behavior.” tion partnerships in the zone may have Philadelphia is one of five areas Robert McGrogan, head of the adhelped the area win the designation. nationwide that have been selected ministrators’ bargaining unit, said that “We’ve been working together for for a Promise Zone designation, a fedhe believes that parts of the investigayears, and I think the reason that [the eral initiative announced in January by tion, conducted largely by pro-bono atPromise Zone application] was successPresident Obama to accelerate efforts torneys, were done “in haste” and that ful is that the closeness of this working to revitalize neighborhoods suffering some implicated educators would have team was evident in our proposal,” Kerfrom high unemployment, poverty, and solid grounds for appeal. man said. crime, and low educational attainment. After the state put strict test protoDrexel has partnered with Morton The designation covers the Mancols in place at all Philadelphia schools, McMichael and Samuel Powel elementua neighborhood in West Philadelphia test scores dropped precipitously at taries, and is also involved in some pre-K and parts of surrounding neighbormany in 2012. Statewide, PSSA scores and adult education projects in Mantua. hoods. Within the Promise Zone are also fell. “We’re committed to doing [these more than a dozen schools, which could The state has offered few findings projects] anyway,” Kerman said. “Our benefit as a result of the designation. from its investigations in other districts belief is that being designated a Promise “It’s a promise of support from the and charters and has sanctioned only a Zone will help us get access both to more federal government. We will get a leg few educators. funding and also to more partners.” up on certain applications for federal -Dale Mezzacappa -Sameer Rao funds and get technical assistance from

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February-March 2014

activismaroundthecity Advocacy organizations to take funding debate back to court

“We think we have a very strong case, [but] it’s not going to be easy,” said Brownstein of the lawsuit. “We have to convince the courts they have to take a new look at this.” Philadelphia and a coalition of rural schools have filed previous lawsuits challenging the fairness and adequacy of the state funding system, but the cases that went to trial have been unsuccessful. The courts have ruled that is it up to the legislature to interpret the constitutional mandate and determine what level of education aid meets it.

The Education Law Center (ELC) and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) are preparing to file a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, charging that the current funding system violates the state constitution’s guarantee of a “thorough and efficient system of public education.” Rhonda Brownstein, executive director of the ELC in Pennsylvania, discussed the plans for litigation in January at a hearing convened by Democratic Philadelphia lawmakers. Brownstein said that Pennsylvania underfunds its schools and does not fairly allocate the money it sends to districts. Pennsylvania is one of three states without a predictable formula based on the total enrollment and economic needs of each district, she said. Brownstein said the time is ripe for another court challenge to Pennsylvania’s funding system, especially with the A recent protest at Northeast High School. Harvey Finkle adoption of the Common Core Last March, ELC, in partnership academic standards that are designed to with PILCOP, Education Voters of be more rigorous. Pennsylvania has also Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania League adopted a new set of exams, called Keyof Urban Schools, Public Citizens for stones, that high school students will Children and Youth, Public Associabe required to pass in order to graduate. tion of Rural and Small Schools, and These new mandates could help estabthe Pennsylvania Budget and Policy lish what the state means by “thorough Center, sent a joint letter to Gov. Corand efficient.”

bett urging the state legislature to rectify the funding issue. “Today’s students are tomorrow’s workers, citizens and taxpayers,” the letter read. “To the extent we fail them today, Pennsylvania’s communities will fail in the future.” -Jeseamy Muentes

New federal discipline guidelines encourage nondiscrimination The Departments of Education and Justice have released new federal guidelines for all K-12 public schools to ensure fairness in administering school discipline. The guidance, called Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline, provides instruction on how school leaders can handle infractions in a way that does not discriminate against racial or ethnic groups or overuse measures that remove students from school. The guidance discusses how school leaders can seek alternatives to “exclusionary” penalties like expulsion and suspension, which remove students from valuable classroom time and are often handed out for nonviolent offenses. “In Philadelphia, between 2003 and 2009, 30 to 42 percent of out-of-school suspensions were issued out on claims of ‘disruption,’” said Harold Jordan, a community organizer at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Jordan, who also chairs the Notebook’s board of directors, participated in discussions about creating the guidance. According to government data,

during the 2011 school year, more than three million public school students received out-of-school suspensions, and over 100,000 students were expelled. Students of color and students with disabilities are far more likely to be removed from school for disciplinary reasons than other students. African American students are more than three times more likely than their White peers to be suspended or expelled, though often for very similar offenses. Federal officials emphasized that wide variations in suspension rates by race and by region cannot be explained by differences in student behavior, Jordan said. “Sometimes it becomes convenient to use the discipline system to remove a kid from school who isn’t doing well academically, not fitting in, or not getting along with school staff in other ways.” Samuel Reed, a Beeber Middle School teacher, said he sees the effects of unfair discipline first-hand. “I see the disproportionate number of young males who are harshly disciplined because many schools lack the resources and personnel to address the root cause of trauma that many students bring with them to school.” Along with the guidance, accompanying materials include a directory of federal school climate and discipline resources and a guide of “best practices” for school district leaders who want to improve their policies. -Khoury Johnson

Delaware Valley Consortium For Excellence And Equity


EDUCATORS OF COLOR RECRUITMENT FAIR Saturday, April 5, 2014 • 9:00 A.M. - 1:00 P.M. Penn Center for Educational Leadership University of Pennsylvania 3440 Market St., 5th Floor Conference Center Philadelphia, PA 19104

To register, email your full name & e-mail address to: Bring multiple copies of your resume and/or professional portfolio. Human Resource representatives from over 31 DVCEE districts and intermediate units are expected. Teachers & administrators of color interested in exploring career opportunities are encouraged to attend.

February-March 2014

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Philadelphia Public School Notebook 7

enespañol Escuelas aceleradas se enfocan en atención individual Pero la crisis financiera del Distrito ha resultado en clases más grandes, menos servicios y estudiantes que necesitan más. por Paul Jablow

Después de graduarse de la Neumann University el año pasado, Brooke Monaghan hizo su práctica docente en la Escuela Intermedia Haverford, donde ella misma había sido estudiante. A ella le gustaba la escuela pero quería que su primer trabajo fuera diferente. “Ví que en una escuela intermedia grande los estudiantes pueden sentirse apenados”, dijo. Por eso Monaghan se fue a una escuela lo más diferente posible a Haverford en el ambiente educativo del área: la escuela acelerada Ombudsman South, ubicada en lo que antes era una tienda de un mall en el sur de Filadelfia. La escuela es una de 13 en Filadelfia que aceptan estudiantes mayores de edad que abandonaron la escuela y no tienen suficientes créditos, y tratan de lograr que se gradúen. Aquí, Monaghan da una clase de inglés tradicional, es orientadora académica de 30 estudiantes, y camina entre los estudiantes mientras éstos toman cursos en computadoras para guiarlos, alentarlos y gentilmente empujarlos a hacer más. “Es lo mejor de ambos mundos”, dice ella. “Los estudiantes se sienten más cómodos cuando piden ayuda. No están preguntando algo frente a otros 20 estudiantes. Uno puede realmente fomentar relaciones”. El principal Austin Gee dice que se siente muy a gusto con Monaghan en su personal pero que le preocupa la carga de trabajo que ella tiene. La escuela tiene 90 estudiantes. “Este año bajamos de cuatro a tres maestros”, dice él. “El año pasado era más fácil estar pendiente de un estudiante”. Las escuelas aceleradas, que a nivel de ciudad tienen una matrícula de unos 2,000, son administradas por compañías privadas bajo un contrato con el Distrito Escolar. Varios administradores entrevistados dijeron lo mismo: las reducciones en fondos han dificultado su trabajo, y no saben por cuánto tiempo más podrán mantener la calidad. “Es difícil, pero no ridículamente”, dice David Bromley, director ejecutivo de la compañía Big Picture Philadelphia, la cual opera El Centro de Estudiantes en Kensington. “Me preocupa agobiar a los maestros. Va a

regresar a la escuela) se ha visto afectado también. Justin Green, gerente de programa del centro, dice que han sido reducidos de más de 20 empleados hace cinco años a solamente tres empleados actualmente: él y dos estudiantes universitarios haciendo práctica. Una de las labores principales del Centro es guiar al estudiante a la escuela más adecuada para él/ella, lo cual es un paso importante cuando se considera la amplia variedad de escuelas en términos de ambiente, estilo de enseñanza y localidad. Hubo un momento en que especialistas del Departamento de Servicios Humanos y de la Oficina de Salud Mental conducían entrevistas de diagnóstico y referían a los estudiantes a servicios sociales. Eso ya no existe. El centro también Harvey Finkle administraba el sistema de Luis Lugo vino a la Escuela Superior Fairhill Community después de darse de baja de una escuela chárter por exámenes TABE (Tests of internet. Adult Basic Education), que también era valioso para saber dónde diante en Fairhill fue reducida este año ser difícil retener a la gente”. ubicar al estudiante. Ya no. de $10,000 a $8,750 por cada uno, dice Marcus Delgado, CEO de la comNi tampoco cuenta con los fondos Delgado. A la escuela le pidieron que pañía que opera la Escuela Superior para dar seguimiento después de la ubiaumentara su matrícula de 327 a 400, Fairhill Community en Kensington cación. lo cual mantuvo el presupuesto general, (One Bright Ray), dice que a medida “Ahora tenemos que usar un enpero a expensas de auque el Distrito lucha foque más básico y general”, dice mentar el tamaño de las con problemas fuertes Las escuelas Green, que ha sido sumamente eloclases de 25 a 30 estude presupuesto, esos aceleradas batallan giado por su labor en circunstancias diantes. problemas también se “Pero no tenemos otra opLa escuela añadió traspasan a las escuelas con un reto esencial: un maestro pero ya no difíciles. ción. Hay que mantenerse apasionado aceleradas en forma de captar la atención y comprometido”. puede pagar por una estudiantes que no han Él dice que el año pasado el centro enfermera. recibido orientación de sus estudiantes y atendió a unos 2,300 estudiantes, y “La diferencia es académica adecuada ni lograr que persistan. enorme”, dice Delga- que por lo menos él pudo entrevistar otros servicios. a cada uno para determinar por qué do. “Tenemos muchos “Lo que estamos habían abandonado la escuela y qué estudiantes con problemas médicos. La experimentando este año es completanecesitaban para regresar. mayoría es asma. El número de veces mente distinto a cualquier otro año”, Los recortes en fondos están llevando que hemos tenido que llamar a una amdice Delgado. “La salud emocional y a las escuelas a buscar apoyo de afuera. bulancia es ridículo”. mental de nuestros estudiantes ha estado Bromley dice que recientemente pasó dos ••• muy, muy mal”. días con un funcionario de la American Las escuelas aceleradas fueron Los problemas de ira y uso de droHonda Foundation, la cual seleccionó a El esta­blecidas en el 2004 mediante una gas han empeorado, dice él. “Están viCentro como uno de ocho finalistas para colaboración entre el Distrito y Projniendo de escuelas en las que no había una subvención de aproximadamente ect U-Turn, una coalición a nivel de límites. Esta es la población que siente $50,000. “Eso es suficiente para un emciudad dedicada a reducir el abandono que va a ser olvidada otra vez”. pleado más”, dice Bromley, que perdió un esco­lar y aumentar la tasa de graduEl sicoterapista de la escuela está de orientador académico y un orientador de ación. Una evaluación externa hecha acuerdo. “Vienen acá bajo estrés”, dice escuela postsecundaria en los recortes más por Mathematica Policy Research en el Suzette Hunt. “No han podido hablar recientes. 2011 indicó que ellos estaban marcon el consejero en la escuela anterior. ••• cando una diferencia: los estudiantes Nosotros sufrimos la consecuencia de Dos estudiantes que regresaron y en las escuelas aceleradas tenían más los recortes”. han persistido son Dontey Seong en la probabilidad de graduarse que los estuLa asignación de fondos por estuescuela Ombudsman South y Luis Lugo diantes comparables en escuelas tradien Fairhill. Aunque muchos estudiantes cionales, aunque el porcentaje todavía de las escuelas aceleradas llegan con era menos del 30 por ciento. situaciones personales precarias – alFairhill sola ha graduado más de gunas comunes son embarazo y falta de 500 estudiantes desde el 2011, dice Delvivienda – hay un hilo común en casi gado, incluyendo a 52 en diciembre. todas las historias: ninguno obtuvo la Sin embargo, hay observadores que atención individual que necesitaba. dicen que la reducción en la asigna“Eran demasiados estudiantes en cion de fondos ha tenido un impacto el salón”, dice Seong (de 18 años), que negativo. Adicionalmente, el Cenabandonó la Escuela Superior Furness tro de Reintegración del Distrito (que después de noveno grado. “Aquí recibo usualmente es el primer lugar al que un ex-estudiante acude cuando decide (continúa en la p. 9)

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8 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

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February-March 2014

enespañol Nuevas directrices de disciplina alientan prácticas justas por Khoury Johnson

Los Departamentos de Educación y de Justicia han publicado nuevas directrices federales para todas las escuelas públicas de K-12 a fin de asegurar que la disciplina escolar sea justa. La guía, titulada Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline (Administración no discriminatoria de disciplina escolar), contiene instrucciones sobre cómo los líderes escolares pueden manejar las infracciones de una manera que no discrimine contra grupos raciales o étnicos y qué hacer para no sobrepasarse en el uso de medidas que sacan a los estudiantes de la escuela. La guía habla de cómo los líderes escolares pueden buscar alternativas a los castigos “de exclusión” como las expulsiones y suspensiones, que privan a los estudiantes de valioso tiempo en el salón de clases y a menudo se usan para ofensas que no son violentas. “Entre el 2003 y el 2009 en Filadelfia, entre un 30 y 42 por ciento de las suspensiones fuera de la escuela se impusieron en casos de ‘alteración,’” dijo Harold Jordan, organizador comunitario de ACLU of Pennsylvania. Jordan (que también es presidente de la junta de directores del Notebook) participó en los diálogos sobre la creación de la guía.

Harvey Finkle

Samuel Reed, maestro de la Escuela Intermedia Beeber, dijo que él ha visto con sus propios ojos los efectos de una disciplina injusta.

Según los datos del gobierno, durante el año escolar 2011 más de 3 millones de estudiantes de escuelas públicas fueron suspendidos fuera de la escuela, y más de 100,000 fueron expulsados. Además, los estudiantes de color

y los estudiantes con incapacidades tienen más probabilidad de ser removidos de la escuela por razones de disci­ plina que los otros estudiantes. Los estudiantes afroamericanos tienen más del triple de probabilidad de ser suspendidos o expulsados que los estu-

diantes caucásicos, y a menudo es por ofensas sumamente similares. Los funcionarios federales enfatizaron que las grandes variaciones en los porcentajes de suspensión por raza y por región no se pueden justificar con diferencias en el comportamiento de los estudiantes, dijo Jordan. “A veces es conveniente usar el sistema disciplina­ rio para sacar de la escuela a un estu­ diante que no está haciendo buen trabajo académico, no se está adaptando, o no se lleva bien con el personal escolar”. Samuel Reed, maestro de la Escuela Intermedia Beeber, dijo que él ha visto con sus propios ojos los efectos de una disciplina injusta. “Yo veo un número desproporcionado de varones jóvenes que son disci­ plinados severamente porque muchas escuelas no tienen los recursos ni el personal para corregir la causa raíz de los traumas que muchos estudiantes traen consigo a la escuela”. Junto con la guía vienen materiales que incluyen un directorio de recursos federales de clima escolar y disciplina y una guía de las “mejores prácticas” para los líderes de los distritos escolares que quieran mejorar sus políticas. Traducción por Mildred S. Martínez.

138 educadores implicados en escándalo de hacer trampa por Dale Mezzacappa

El escándalo de hacer trampa en exámenes en Filadelfia se intensificó en enero, cuando los funcionarios del Di­ strito revelaron que 138 educadores han participado en prácticas engañosas durante un periodo de tres años, como por ejemplo borrar respuestas incorrectas y cambiarlas por correctas en el examen PSSA. En su reunión del 16 de enero, la Comisión para la Reforma Escolar despidió a tres principales en conexión con el escándalo. Funcionarios dijeron que estaban en trámites de tomar acción disciplinaria contra docenas más de maestros y administradores. Fuentes también le dijeron al Notebook que el Fiscal General del estado ha abierto una investigación criminal.

El escándalo, descubierto cuando el Notebook obtuvo un análisis forense de los cuadernos de examen del 2009 conducido por la compañía de los exámenes, demostró que docenas de escuelas en todo el estado obtuvieron resultados en el examen que eran esta­ dísticamente improbables. Esto incluyó numerosas instancias en que la res­ puesta incorrecta fue borrada y cambiada por la correcta, y que ocurrieron tanto que es casi imposible que fueran una coincidencia. El Departamento de Educación de Pensilvania también hizo análisis del mismo tipo en los exámenes del 2010 y 2011 y comenzó a investigar varios di­stritos y escuelas chárter. En Fi­ ladelfia, 53 escuelas con resultados sospe­chosos se dividieron en tres

Escuelas aceleradas (continúa de la p. 8)

ayuda cuando la necesito”. Seong, hijo de inmigrantes de Camboya, dice “Yo quiero ser el primero de mi familia en obtener un diploma” en Estados Unidos. “Yo quiero eso para ellos”, dice él. “Pero también lo quiero para mí”. Lugo vino a Fairhill después de abandonar una escuela chárter por internet. “Uno no se podía mover de su sitio hasta que terminara el día”, dice Lugo, de 17 años. “Uno podía buscar las respuestas en Google. No estaba apren­ diendo nada”. (Delgado dice que Lugo February-March 2014

es uno de varios estudiantes que abandonaron escuelas por internet.) Lugo, que quiere ser productor de música al graduarse – probablemente en agosto – dice que encontró que el ambiente en Fairhill era más acogedor que en otras escuelas. “No hay ‘drama’ aquí”, dice. “Se puede bromear con la gente. Siento que este es mi hogar”. Paul Jablow es un redactor independiente que regularmente contribuye artículos para el Notebook. Traducción por Mildred S. Martínez.

grupos. El estado condujo la investi­ gación en 14 de ellas, incluyendo a tres escuelas chárter, y le dijo al Di­ strito que investigara las demás. El estado descubrió evidencia contra 69 educadores, mientras que el Di­ strito encontró evidencia contra otros 69 en las primeras 19 escuelas que investigó. De esas 19 escuelas, se determinó que 13 exhibieron comportamiento de hacer trampa, en tres de ellas los datos fueron inconcluyentes, y las otras tres fueron eximidas. Los nombres de las escuelas no se han revelado. De los 69 educadores implicados en la investigación del Distrito, 40 están todavía empleados mientras que los otros 29 han dejado el Distrito. El superintendente William Hite dijo que estaba “comprometido a eliminar del sistema a cualquier adulto que haya participado en este tipo de conducta”. school calendar

Robert McGrogan, director de la unidad de negociación de los administradores, dijo que él cree que algunas partes de la investigación (conducida mayormente por abogados pro-bono) se hicieron “apresuradamente” y que algunos de los educadores implicados podrían tener bases sólidas de ape­ lación. Después de que el estado implantó protocolos de examen estrictos en todas las escuelas de Filadelfia, las puntuaciones se redujeron drásticamente en muchas de ellas en el 2012. A nivel estatal, las puntuaciones del PSSA también bajaron. El estado ha compartido pocos hallazgos de sus investigaciones en otros distritos y escuelas chárter y so­ lamente ha sancionado a un número reducido de educadores. Traducción por Mildred S. Martínez.


calendario de la escuela


Staff Only – Professional development day

No hay clases – Día de desarrollo profesional para personal


Presidents’ Day – Schools/ administrative offices closed

Día de los Presidentes – Escuelas/ oficinas administrativas cerradas


Spring recess – Schools closed

Vacaciones de Primavera – Escuelas cerradas


Spring recess – Administrative offices closed

Vacaciones de Primavera – Oficinas administrativas cerradas


Staff Only – Professional development day

No hay clases – Día de desarrollo profesional para personal


Memorial Day – Schools/ administrative offices closed

Día de la Recordación – Escuelas/ oficinas administrativas cerradas


Last day for pupils

Último día de clases

6/20 Last day for staff – Organization day Último día de trabajo para los maestros – Día Organizacional

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Philadelphia Public School Notebook 9


Keep the Notebook strong, independent, and free!

Membership drive underway; more events are coming up by Wendy Harris

The Notebook’s 2014 membership campaign is now in full swing, and this year the nonprofit is counting on signing up more members than ever. As the newspaper enters its 20th year of publishing, it is increasingly dependent on reader support to fund its work – and especially grateful to its long-time members, several dozen of whom have been giving consistently since 1994. Last year, the Notebook reached its highest membership tally to date, with 563 dues-paying members. As of midJanuary, the Notebook had 120 members for 2014. The nonprofit hopes to continue building its members at every level of giving, including a new category called the “Publisher’s Circle.” Recently Paul Socolar, editor and director of the Notebook, assumed the title of “editor and publisher” to better reflect his expanded responsibilities in the context of the Notebook’s establishment as an independent organization. To acknowledge the organization’s growth, the nonprofit created a new category, for those who generously donate $1,000 or more. Members shape the products and services that the Notebook offers, so the Notebook encourages you to become a member today. You can join for $40

10 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

or more by filling out the membership form on page 27 of this edition. Membership does have its privileges. A basic membership includes such benefits as a subscription to the Notebook by first-class mail and invitations to special events. A $75 associate or organizational membership includes discounts to the Notebook’s annual June celebration. One component of the membership drive is a series of house parties. The Notebook began holding house parties at the homes of supporters in spring 2012 to increase its membership, build connections among readers, and introduce itself to those not already familiar with it. Since then, there have been five house parties, and another round has begun. These events have raised more than $17,000 and recruited many new friends and supporters. More house parties are planned throughout the coming year. If you are interested in co-hosting one or would like to attend, contact Notebook development director Tim Cravens at

Celebrating 20 years This year represents a remarkable milestone for the Notebook, as it marks (continued on page 11)

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notebooknews Roundup

(continued from page 10)

20 years of publishing. The main event will be the annual Turning the Page for Change celebration, which is just a few months away. Staff members are already planning the big day, which will include student journalism awards, musicians, exciting door prizes, and networking

and conversation with some of the city’s most committed and knowledgeable voices in public education. The event will be Tuesday, June 10, from 4:30 to 7 p.m., at University of the Arts, 320 S. Broad St. The Notebook will be celebrating the impact it has had in covering Philadelphia’s public schools over the last two decades, while looking forward to

many more years of empowering parents, students, educators, and others to improve education in the city. The Notebook is seeking organizations and businesses to sponsor the event and individuals to serve on the host committee. For donation details – to become a sponsor or host – or if you would like to volunteer to help plan the celebration, contact Tim Cravens,

development director, at

Our open house The Notebook staff was happy to show off its new digs at Seventh and Ranstead Streets in an open house held Dec. 5. More than 50 Notebook members came out to see the freshly decorated office, enjoy refreshments, and engage in conversation with staff, board members, and one another about the issues facing our public schools. Attendees could watch the school closings documentary, Goodbye to City Schools, by Notebook summer intern Amy Yeboah. Some guests also enjoyed a tour of the Notebook’s downstairs neighbor, PhillyCAM, Philadelphia’s public access television organization, led by executive director Gretjen Clausing. The Notebook has additional desk space available for rent to other public interest media professionals. If you are a freelance writer or a small organization that can benefit from the synergies of co-locating in a nonprofit media space and would like to sublet space in the Notebook office, email Neeta Patel, associate director for operations, at

New interns Each semester the Notebook brings on editorial interns to help produce content for the website and the print editions. For the winter/spring cycle of internships, the Notebook welcomes two Temple University students, Daniel Hampton and Jeseamy Muentes, and Haverford student Aurora Jensen. Hampton, a senior journalism major, is co-founder of Nine Dots Media, a social media management company. He is also vice president of operations at, a family business that sets up robocalls and polls for politicians, political organizations, nonprofits, businesses, and schools. Muentes, also a journalism student, has sharpened her writing skills at Temple News, where she contributed to the paper’s multimedia section. She also worked with the university’s OwlSports Update, where she contributed to the biweekly TV show, and, serving as a website editor. Jensen joins the Notebook as a student in Haverford College’s Urban Politics class, which incorporates a fieldwork component. A California native, she is pursuing an interdisciplinary major – Growth and Structure of Cities. Her course of study brings together aspects of regional and urban planning, architecture, environmentalism, urban life, and society. Last fall, she studied sustainable design in Copenhagen. Contact Notebook managing editor Wendy Harris at

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Philadelphia Public School Notebook 11


whoyagonnacall? School District of Philadelphia William Hite (Superintendent): 215-400-4100 Paul Kihn (Deputy Superintendent): 215-400-4100 Assistant superintendents (with approximate geographic areas) Dion Betts, Learning Network 1 (south): 215-400-4201 Kenneth Cherry, LN7 (north): 215-400-4200 Dennis Creedon, LN3 (central): 215-400-4190 Donyall Dickey, LN2 (west): 215-400-4200 Lissa Johnson, LN8 (northeast): 215-281-3623 Karen Kolsky, LN6 (northwest): 215-400-4200 Cheryl Logan, LN5 (central east): 215-400-4201 Benjamin Wright, LN4 (central north): 267-292-6600 Each school is assigned to one of 8 Learning Networks School Reform Commission Office number: 215-400-4010 Sylvia Simms: 215-400-6270 Wendell Pritchett: 215-400-6269 Feather Houstoun: 215-400-6269

Jasmine Rosado

Students at McClure Elementary in Hunting Park participated in the Literacy Day Parade in October to celebrate reading and promote literacy in the community. Classes chose their favorite books, and created costumes, props, and reading responses to illustrate their selections. Then students paraded around the school yard, showing off their visual presentations. This class wore mustaches, white shirts, and red bibs, and held umbrellas to represent the book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Other stories highlighted included Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Greek Myths, The Cat in the Hat, and Anansi the Spider. Parents and community members also participated in the event, which has been a long tradition at the school.

Your Ad Could Be Here Over 60,000 copies are distributed six times a year.

Email the Notebook for ad rates:

City of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D): 215-686-2181 City Council members-at-large (elected citywide) W. Wilson Goode Jr. (D): 215-686-3414 Bill Green (D): 215-686-3420 William K. Greenlee (D): 215-686-3446 James F. Kenney (D): 215-686-3450 Blondell Reynolds Brown (D): 215-686-3438 David Oh (R): 215-686-3452 Dennis O’Brien (R): 215-686-3440 District City Council members Darrell L. Clarke, President (D): 215-686-3442 Mark Squilla (D): 215-686-3458 Kenyatta Johnson (D): 215-686-3412 Jannie L. Blackwell (D): 215-686-3418 Curtis Jones Jr. (D): 215-686-3416 Bob Henon (D): 215-686-3444 Maria Quiñones-Sanchez (D): 215-686-3448 Cindy Bass (D): 215-686-3424 Marian B. Tasco (D): 215-686-3454 Brian J. O’Neill (R): 215-686-3422

To find out which District City Council member, state senator, state representative, or member of Congress represents you, call The Committee of Seventy at 1-866-268-8603.

Teachers make education work.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R): 717-787-2500 State senators Lawrence M. Farnese Jr. (D): 215-560-1313 Christine Tartaglione (D): 215-533-0440 Shirley M. Kitchen (D): 215-227-6161 Michael J. Stack III (D): 215-281-2539 Vincent J. Hughes (D): 215-471-0490 LeAnna Washington (D): 215-242-0472 Anthony Hardy Williams (D): 215-492-2980 State representatives Louise Williams Bishop (D): 215-879-6625 Brendan F. Boyle (D): 215-676-0300 Kevin J. Boyle (D) 215-331-2600 Vanessa Lowery Brown (D): 215-879-6615 Michelle F. Brownlee (D) 215-684-3738 James W. Clay Jr. (D): 215-744-7901 Mark B. Cohen (D): 215-924-0895 Angel Cruz (D): 215-291-5643 Pamela A. DeLissio (D): 215-482-8726 Maria P. Donatucci (D): 215-468-1515 Dwight Evans (D): 215-549-0220 William F. Keller (D): 215-271-9190 Stephen Kinsey (D): 215-849-6592 Steve McCarter (D): 215-572-5210 Michael P. McGeehan (D): 215-333-9760 Thomas P. Murt (R): 215-674-3755 Michael H. O’Brien (D): 215-503-3245 Cherelle L. Parker (D): 215-242-7300 James R. Roebuck (D): 215-724-2227 John P. Sabatina Jr. (D): 215-342-6204 Brian Sims (D): 484-876-1820 John J. Taylor (R): 215-425-0901 W. Curtis Thomas (D): 215-232-1210 Ronald G. Waters (D): 215-748-6712 Rosita C. Youngblood (D): 215-849-6426 U.S. Congress Sen. Patrick Toomey (R): 215-241-1090 Sen. Robert Casey (D): 215-405-9660 Rep. Chaka Fattah (D): 215-387-6404 Rep. Robert Brady (D): 215-389-4627 Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D): 215-335-3355 Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R): 215-579-8102

Teach with magis.

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Certificate and Endorsements Professional Development Courses - Autism Spectrum Disorder Endorsement - Instructional Technology: Digital Teacher Leader NEW - English as a Second Language Endorsement K-12 (online) *Scheduled to launch spring 2014. - Deaf and Hard of Hearing N-12 Certification Saint Joseph’s special education programs have been identified as one of nine programs internationally to meet the rigorous standards of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).

Graduate Studies | College of Arts and Sciences | Saint Joseph’s University | 5600 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131

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12/19/13 2:19 PM February-March 2014


Camp leaves lasting memories by Madelyn J. Silber

After spending an evening bundled up around a campfire, singing familiar songs and telling stories, we came back to our bunk, shared our “highs” and “lows” of the day with our counselor and bunkmates and began to get ready for bed. We had just inched into our sleeping bags, lazily swatted away another pesky mosquito, and yawned through our last “goodnights,” when our counselor crept back into our bunk. “Listen close!” he whispered. Through our squinted eyes we saw him motioning for us to lean in. “At midSports

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pered excitedly. We patiently laid back down in our beds for two hours, checking our watches every two minutes, give or take. At exactly midnight, we gathered up the clues, grabbed our flashlights, and slowly peered out of our door. The scavenger hunt that followed was among the most exciting and spon-

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night,” he said very seriously, “you will be embarking on an adventure—just the four of you. No one else knows, not even the other counselors.” All of a sudden, we weren’t feeling so tired. “I’m leaving these envelopes here. Each one contains a clue. I’ll be by the campfire if you absolutely need me. You must not be seen. Don’t open the first envelope until exactly midnight!” With that, he slid back through the door just as softly as he had come in. The four of us looked at each other for a second and then did one of those girly, hand-flapping silent screams. “Not even the other counselors know!?” we whis-

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Philadelphia Public School Notebook 13

keeping students engaged

Two-thirds of District students now graduate within 6 years by Paul Socolar

A decade ago, it wasn’t far off to say that in the School District of Philadelphia, only half the students graduate. At least now you can say two-thirds. The District’s six-year graduation rate – the percentage of students who started high school in Philadelphia District schools in 2007 and earned their diplomas by 2013 – has climbed to 67 percent. That figure includes hundreds of students who don’t graduate on time, but persist through a fifth or a sixth year of high school to earn their diplomas. The four-year graduation rate, which had risen 20 points between 2002 and 2012, remains at 64 percent for the class of 2013. That is unchanged from a year ago. The six-year rate is still far shy of the 80 percent target set by Mayor Nutter shortly after taking office. The mayor’s stated goal was to cut the dropout rate in half by 2014. Since 2009, the six- and four-year graduation rates have climbed 7 and 8 percentage points, respectively. Nutter found encouragement in the numbers. “I am pleased to see that, despite the very challenging economic circumstances, we continue to make progress toward our education goals,” he said. These rates are called cohort graduation rates. They are based on tracking individual students over time. They show the percentage of students who

School District of Philadelphia graduation rates, 2003-2013 (first-time 9th graders from 1999 through 2009)






















Data Data available available in Fall 2014 in Fall 2015






1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders 9th graders

4-year on-time graduates

Students graduating in 5 or 6 years Source: School District of Philadelphia

started 9th grade together and graduated four and six years later. Students who transferred to other school districts are removed from the calculation. Comparable rates for Philadelphia charter schools for these cohorts were

not available. In prior years, reported charter graduation rates had exceeded District rates by 12 points or more. But in those years, Philadelphia’s charter high schools overall educated smaller percentages of special education stu-

dents and significantly smaller percentages of low-income students than District schools. Contact Notebook editor Paul Socolar at

A citywide focus on combatting chronic absences Regular school attendance can contribute to students developing reading proficiency, staying engaged in school, scoring higher on tests, graduating from high school and college, and maintaining a job. Research indicates that chronic absenteeism often leads to students dropping out. Average attendance below 90 percent – missing 18 days or more out of the school year – often translates into 3rd graders reading below grade level, 6th graders failing courses, and 9th graders leaving school altogether. Chronic absenteeism rates run as high as one-third of students in low-income, urban school districts, and the effect of absenteeism can be even more severe for students from low-income families. Last October, Project U-Turn, a citywide initiative focused on the dropout crisis, along with Mayor Nutter and Superintendent Hite, announced a new campaign to help raise awareness about the importance of consistent attendance. The campaign coincides with a national and state initiative called Attendance Works, an effort to highlight the important role that school attendance plays in achieving academic success, starting with school entry and the early years. Project U-Turn is working with local media partners to run PSAs and create billboards that address the importance of regular attendance and the consequences of missed time at school. -Dan Hampton 14 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

From the presentation “Taking Action on Attendance: How Parents Can Make a Difference at Home,” by Attendance Works ( Visit us online –

February-March 2014

keeping students engaged

School-by-school graduation rates

Wide racial gaps persist

4-year cohort graduation rates for first-time 9th graders from 2009

District and Renaissance Schools

School District of Philadelphia 4-year cohort graduation rates by race and gender Graduating classes of 2009-2013 (first-time 9th graders from 2005 through 2009)

























2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 9th Graders 9th Graders 9th Graders 9th Graders 9th Graders

African American

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 9th Graders 9th Graders 9th Graders 9th Graders 9th graders



White Source: School District of Philadelphia

Attendance is one predictor of graduation Attendance rates moved upward at Philadelphia schools, 2005-2013

100% 90.5%
















90% 80% 70% Figures are the median of all District schools' average daily attendance rate. Source: School District of Philadelphia

In 2012-13, attendance peaked in September, plummeted in June

95.2% 94.6% 93.9% 92.7% 93.2% 91.7% 91.3% 92.4% 92.3%













Figures are average daily attendance rates by month for all students in District schools. Source: School District of Philadelphia

February-March 2014

Source: School District of Philadelphia

The School District calculated updated graduation rates in fall 2013 for District schools and former District schools now under outside management as Renaissance charters. Comparable 2013 graduation rates are not available for other charter schools. There are different ways to calculate graduation rates, and results can vary widely, depending on the method used. These four-year cohort graduation rates provided by the School District track each school’s first-time 9th graders from fall 2009 (the cohort) through their high school years and measure what percentage earned their diploma by fall 2013. Under this system, students count as graduates or dropouts at the schools where they enrolled for the first time as 9th graders, even if they transferred to another Philadelphia public school. Students who move out of the District (for example, to another city) are excluded from the rate calculations. The School District’s system has been used in Philadelphia since 2006. By holding schools accountable for their 9th graders, using this method discourages a school from pushing challenging students to transfer out. But it does not measure how a school does with students who transfer in after the start of 9th grade. Pennsylvania calculates the cohort graduation rate in a different way. Graduates are attributed to the school where they finished rather than the school where they started high school. A school gets credit for a student who transfers in and then graduates but is not measured on students who transfer out. The School District is in the process of switching to a new methodology that aligns with the state’s graduation calculation. In the future, it will be attributing students to the last school enrolled. The District reports that it will be coupling this new graduation rate metric with a new retention rate metric, thereby neutralizing any incentive for schools to “push out” lower-performing students in order to inflate graduation rates. -Paul Socolar

About this edition

90% 80%

* High school now closed

More on graduation rates

School types S - Special admission schools - strict admission criteria C - Citywide admission school - some admission criteria N - Neighborhood high schools - open to all in catchment R - Renaissance charter - privately run, open to all in catchment

Attendance varies widely by month 100%

Grad. School Name Type rate Masterman S 99% GAMP S 98% Science Leadership Academy S 95% Central S 95% Arts Academy at Rush S 94% Carver - Engineering & Science S 94% Lankenau S 93% Motivation S 92% Academy at Palumbo S 91% Parkway Northwest S 91% Constitution C 91% Swenson Arts & Technology C 90% Parkway West S 90% Bodine - International Affairs S 90% Creative & Performing Arts S 90% Saul S 90% *Phila. Military Acad at Leeds C 87% Parkway Center City S 86% Phila. HS for Girls S 83% Robeson - Human Services C 80% Randolph Tech C 79% School of the Future C 78% *Phila. HS for Business & Tech C 77% *Communications Tech C 76% Mastbaum C 76% Washington N 75% Northeast N 75% Dobbins C 74% Phila. Military Acad at Elverson C 72% *Lamberton N 70% *Douglas N 67% Bartram N 67% *Bok C 65% Lincoln N 62% *Vaux N 61% Kensington CAPA N 59% Fels N 58% Frankford N 57% Furness N 55% Audenried R 54% *Rhodes N 53% West Philadelphia N 53% *University City N 53% Franklin N 53% *Carroll N 52% Roxborough N 50% Sayre N 48% Edison N 47% *Germantown N 47% *FitzSimons N 47% King N 46% Overbrook N 45% Olney R 44% Strawberry Mansion N 44% Kensington Business, Fin & Ent N 43% Gratz R 42% Kensington Culinary N 42% South Philadelphia N 41%

Major funding of this section of the Notebook on ‘Keeping Students Engaged’ was provided by Project U-Turn, a citywide campaign to understand, focus public attention on and, most importantly, resolve Philadelphia’s dropout crisis. Established in 2006, Project U-Turn is led by a citywide collaborative whose members include representatives of the School District, City agencies, foundations,

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youth-serving organizations, parents and young people themselves. Key accomplishments of the collaborative to date include groundbreaking data analyses and work with the District and others to create programs and pathways that reconnect out-of-school and struggling youth. For more information about Project U-Turn, go to Philadelphia Public School Notebook 15

keeping students engaged

Students tell of struggles on way to a diploma Three students who got back on track and earned GEDs talk about the supports they needed. by Bill Hangley Jr.

As three young men who once dropped out share their stories, Nasir Mack hears what could lie in store for his friends – or himself. One former student left school after butting heads with the deans. Another needed academic help but didn’t get it. A third just didn’t show up. Despite individual obstacles, all three graduated from Congreso’s GED program in North Philadelphia – but not before spending months out of school. Their stories bear the hallmarks of teenage life: confusion, frustration, big decisions, painful realizations – and in their cases, learning, success and growth. They came to the Philadelphia Youth Network to talk about their journeys and help the Notebook explore the kinds of experiences that lie behind students’ familiar complaints. Mack sat beside them, taking in every word. His friends back home aren’t living these stories – not yet. “I know kids two years older than me that don’t even go to school,” said Mack, 14, a bright-eyed, sharply dressed high school freshman. “Even one of my best friends. His parents let him stay home. He can say, ‘Oh, Mom, I’m not going to school today,’ and his mom will let him.” But sometimes, staying home turns into dropping out. Almost a third of District students don’t graduate. The reasons are myriad. In a 2011 survey by Youth United for Change, students were equally likely to cite problems at home as problems at school, but the recent rounds of budget cuts have exacerbated many longstanding student complaints about school environments. At a student-led School Reform Commission meeting on the subject this fall, young people consistently cited familiar concerns: classes are too big; troublemakers are too distracting; extracurricular activities are underfunded

On Charlotte Forten Moonstone’s Hidden History Project presents a citywide festival memorializing Charlotte Forten’s Centenary from March 9 to 15. Forten was the first African American schoolteacher to go south to teach former slaves.Today, she is best remembered for diaries narrating her intelligent, cultured, romantic vision. In poetry and prose, she chronicled her vocation to embody the intellectual potential of all Black people.As an educator, Forten’s eclectic philosophical, social, and cultural achievements ultimately evinced her unique spirituality. She was dedicated to social justice and a spokesperson for the greatest social movement in U.S. history. For more information about the event, visit www.moonstonearts­ or call 215-735-9600. 16 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

Harvey Finkle

Alvin Gonzalez (left) and Evan Harmon, graduates of Congreso’s GED program, participated in a student roundtable at the Philadelphia Youth Network offices.

or nonexistent; discipline is too harsh; and staff instability makes progress and relationships hard to sustain. Mack’s friend’s only explanation for not going to school is, “I don’t feel like it.” So while Mack can’t say exactly what’s behind his friend’s feeling, the stories of Alvin Gonzalez, Baraa Abdul, and Evan Harmon may offer some clues.

He wanted to draw Alvin Gonzalez may have dropped out, but he doesn’t consider himself a typical dropout by any means. “Around my neighborhood, they’re dropping out to do drugs, or deal drugs,” said Gonzalez, 19, from North Philadelphia. That’s not Gonzalez’s thing. Wiry and passionate, he’s an artist and that’s all he wants to be. “I was the one that does his work and then just draws,” he said. “Almost everyone in school loved my artwork.” But first at Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School and then ASPIRA Olney High School, he found himself at odds with administrators. He left Community because “just drawing” wasn’t enough. And he left Olney after being told he’d have to repeat a grade. It wasn’t that Gonzalez had no support. At Olney, he had good relationships with some teachers and deans. He was taken on trips to visit art programs and campuses. “They had a mascot, the [college] trips, the teachers being cool with the students – it was a nice experience,” Gonzalez said. But the academics, he said, were not as strong – and there was no wiggle room when he struggled. So he dropped out, finding Congreso’s GED program only after getting “tired” of life without a formal education. He has no regrets – but said he would have stayed if Olney had handled him more like a person and less like a number. “If I don’t like the way I’m being treated, I’m a person to say something,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not going to stay

shut and just say, ‘Oh, they’re doing their job.’”

He wishes he had listened The love for fun is written on Baraa Abdul’s face. His smile comes easily and lights up the room. But when it came time to sign up for high school, fun was all he wanted, so he didn’t enroll at all. Plenty of his friends in North Philadelphia felt the same way. Goofing off,

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chasing girls, finding odd jobs to make money – that was the plan. “It wasn’t so much doing drugs as just wasting time,” he said. Abdul, 18, grew up being homeschooled. As his freshman year approached, his mother expected him to be searching for a high school. She had no idea what he was actually doing, and “I made sure she didn’t,” Abdul said. When September rolled around, his mother said, “You’re going to go to school, right?” Abdul replied, “Nah, I thought about it, but I’m just going to work.” His family wouldn’t let him become completely untethered. They helped keep him engaged with sports and activities. The turning point came about two years ago when he won a championship in a Southwest Philadelphia basketball league. It was the first formal recognition of non-academic achievement Abdul had ever received. “Winning an actual trophy, something I wanted to do, not something I had to do, you get that feeling to make you push harder for something bigger and better,” Abdul said shyly. “Ever since, I’ve been taking basketball seriously.” Adults encouraged him, telling him he could earn a scholarship to college. (continued on page 17)

February-March 2014

keeping students engaged

Students tell (continued from page 16)

That helped bring him to the GED program, where he has thrived. But looking back, he says he wishes he’d started listening earlier. “I feel like I missed out on the whole high school thing,” he said. “As you get older, you’re like, ‘Man, that was stupid; I should have just went.’”

‘I just wasn’t excelling’ Like Abdul, Evan Harmon doesn’t blame anyone for his situation. In fact, he said, his school offered almost everything a kid could want: good academics, bands, plays, even a counselor to meet with whenever he wanted. “I loved the school environment,” Harmon said. “It’s like the high schools in the movies.” The problem, he said, was that when he started drifting away, nobody pulled him back. Harmon, 19, grew up in Glenside, Pa., and landed at Cheltenham High School, just across the Philadelphia city line. With 1,200 students, its sheer size made it easy to get lost. “I just wasn’t excelling there. … It wasn’t enough attention, to be honest,” said Harmon. “Sometimes you need someone to pull [you in]. A person to talk to, to sit down [with] and evaluate how everything is going.”

Harvey Finkle

Harvey Finkle

Still, Mack knows he’s better off than some – like the friend who stays home from school simply because he doesn’t feel like going. Mack’s friend now attends a neighborhood high school. Mack said that he knows from experience what it can be like – overwhelmed teachers, disrespectful students, “fights, chaos every day – nobody wants to be in that environment.” And Mack fears that his friend is falling into a vicious cycle: goofing off, doing just well enough to pass, but falling further behind with every year. It’s a recipe for dropping out. “It’s really hard for him to stay on track when he’s so far behind,” Mack said. “If you’re coming to school playing around, you’re not going to learn what you need.”

The turning point for Baraa Abdul came when he excelled in a Southwest Philadelphia basketball league.

Nasir Mack said though he likes his school, he has moments when he is tempted to stay home.

A series of academic problems was his undoing, particularly with math and English. What worked for him in junior high didn’t work in high school. “Ninth grade was where things really started going downhill,” he said. School counselors didn’t aggressively seek him out. Eventually, rather than go to summer school (in part because of the cost), he dropped out before his junior year. Harmon, a soft-spoken young man, is quick to shoulder the blame. “I was having too much fun. … It was time to get serious.” But he also hints at deeper conflicts. He liked attention, for example, but didn’t like standing out.

“I thought about many different opMack and the other young men portunities,” like school plays and polisaid that schools must build the kinds tics, he said, “but every time it came of relationships that bond students to into my head [I said], each other and to ‘Oh, you can’t do caring adults. Like this, people are gothe students who All four young men ing to look at you.’ took part in the urged schools to build There were always SRC’s “student encons.” gagement” meeting, relationships – both He eventually they said schools among students and found his way to need to offer the Congreso, where right combination between students he’s found some of of stability, flexibiland teachers. what he missed at ity, discipline, comCheltenham – not passion, high acajust help with schoolwork and college demic standards, and good, clean fun. applications, but the personal attenHarmon said schools should be tion. small – “maybe 200 students” – and “It’s like that girl who roots her intimate, with counselors meeting boyfriend on in football,” Harmon said. weekly with students. Gonzalez thinks “That push, that drive, that motischools should learn from students as vation has been very helpful.” well as teach them – “there’s things that students know that teachers don’t A freshman’s point of view know.” Abdul said schools should strive to create community, with “acAs Nasir Mack sat and listened, he tivities, trips, things for everybody, like found that he could relate. He’s a big a type of family.” fan of his charter school, String Theory And Mack made an obvious point High School for the Arts & Sciences. – to keep students engaged, school has He feels he gets the attention he needs to be engaging. from supportive teachers who care “Sometimes, students need a about him. break,” Mack said. But even he can be tempted to “Nobody wants to come to school throw in the towel. every day and just do work, do work, do “Sometimes I say, ‘I don’t feel like work. When it gets boring, it’s not fun.” going, I want to stay home today,’” Mack said. “Homework, getting up every day, dealing with people you don’t necessarBill Hangley Jr. is a freelance contributor to ily want to deal with – it’s hard.” the Notebook.

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Philadelphia Public School Notebook 17

keeping students engaged

Educators share ideas for making school more welcoming Fernandez-Vina said that on the school,” said Jenkins. had a 90-minute dialogue on what they way to the roundtable she saw some It helps to have someone greet do to keep students in school. Northeast students who were on their them at the door, a place to go if they They are Carroll and Elizabeth way to work. After talking with one girl, arrive early, a place to eat Fernandez-Vina, a teachshe found out that the student didn’t if they don’t feel comforter leader at Northeast; get off work until 7:30, had homework able in the cafeteria. And principal Dana Jenkins by Dale Mezzacappa to do afterward, and didn’t get to bed they need extracurricular and lead teacher Chrisphotos by Harvey Finkle until 1 a.m. activities – which, unfortine Arnold from Rox“They’re at school at 7 … [so] we tunately, can be lacking borough; and principal High school needs to be fun and need to think about where they’re comin these schools due to Sharif El-Mekki and welcoming, a place where students feel ing from, their home lives, and their othscarce resources, Jenkins literature teacher Ellen valued by caring adults and engaged by er responsibilities” besides academics. said. There is no money Speake from Mastery’s interesting coursework that they can Most of the staffing provided to to pay teachers to stay Shoemaker campus in see will prepare them for a future. schools to deal specifically with trackafter school to sponsor West Philadelphia. But, too often, high schools – espeing students down has been dismantled, clubs, although some do Some themes cially large, neighborhood institutions the educators said. Mastery Shoemaker it anyway. emerged: building rela– can be places where students get lost, has a part-time attendance coordinator “It’s not just what tionships, celebrating ignored, and bored. Elizabeth Fernandez-Vina and a social worker, Elhappens success, and making in“I really think that a lot of times Mekki said. in the classroom but struction rigorous and schools have beAt all the schools, beyond the classroom,” relevant to the students’ come more like penal teachers meet regularly said Fernandez-Vina. lives. There was no discolonies,” said Linda in groups, often during “The more we can do agreement that this is Carroll, principal of common prep periods that … the more we can what students need. 3,000-student Northor through grade-level bring kids into schools.” But they also painteast High School. “So teacher teams, to disNortheast contined a picture of harried, I think we have to do cuss students and keep ues to have many afteroverworked adults in some work around that after them. school activities beyond a much pared-down – making schools in“It’s a team effort in sports, but it, too, has school system trying viting for kids.” getting kids to school struggled. Its renowned their best to cope and For this edition and keeping them aerospace program avoid burnout – a situaon student engagethere,” said El-Mekki. called SPARC had to be tion that they hope will ment, the Notebook Dana Jenkins Linda Carroll “We’re in conrescued by private donot become the “new convened a group of stant communication. And I think nors this year. normal.” six educators from three of the city’s what’s most important is those kids that But it is also necessary, she said, for Even if conditions were ideal, neighborhood high schools that have struggle with attendance, the days that teachers and other adults in the buildeducators must do everything so stuhad relative success in maintaining at(continued on page 19) ing to know students’ stories. dents know it’s “your school, not our tendance and graduation rates. They

Principals and teachers agree that student engagement depends on relationships and rigorous instruction.

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18 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

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February-March 2014

keeping students engaged

Educators share

But it still is often not enough. “We had a process to get [students] (continued from page 18) there,” Carroll said, “but we didn’t have interventions. There was no follow they’re there, they’re incredibly valthorough because we have kids who ued. It’s making the point that those have a myriad of issues.” students should feel like this is a place She said the schools don’t do a they should want to come and we want good enough job “at addressing some of them there and even if their attendance the reasons why kids are may be inconsistent, it’s not coming to school [but] still a place where they we just don’t have the rebelong.” sources.” At Shoemaker, they At Roxborough, with borrow techniques from just one secretary and popular TV shows. Afone counselor for nearly ter a certain number of 700 students, “the teachabsences or latenesses, ers have to do a lot of the El-Mekki said, you’re “off counseling,” said Arnold. the island. And it generJenkins said that the ated a buzz, like, ‘I’m not school has now divided gonna be off the island.’ into four academies “so It’s that kind of creativity Sharif El-Mekki kids share common teachI think is important.” ers, and they have those Teachers go so far as teachers the whole time. to text students in the morning. “Everything goes back to relationShoemaker and some District ships,” Jenkins added. “You can’t surschools also have partnerships with vive if you don’t do that with your chilgroups like City Year, specifically to dren, your families, your partners, the engage students who may be at risk of teachers. Children won’t even let you dropping out.

February-March 2014

in English, math, and the other core help them if they don’t believe you resubjects. ally like them.” One of the career pathways is cinArnold also emphasized the power ematography, and students make vidof positive feedback. eos and public service announcements. “We have a dean who is tough, no They realize the impornonsense. She could lay tance of English classes them out, but they abas they write scripts and solutely love her. [That’s of math as they prepare because] she will find different angles for shots. that kid and say, ‘I heard All the educators you did something great,’ said that in this era of which you don’t get all cuts and instability, their the time. And she has jobs have become more great relationships with difficult, as they not only the parents, so that helps work hard to do everya lot, too.” thing, but also put on a But besides relationbrave face for students ships, there is also the and minimize the dismatter of making the Christine Arnold ruption as much as posacademics interesting. sible. “Bottom line, kids want to be sucCarroll and El-Mekki sparred a bit cessful. They have this inherent desire over whether they should motivate stuto succeed, whether they show it or dents to fight for social justice, or shield not,” Speake said. them from the reality that the larger so“The difference between a kid who ciety has concluded they are not worth wants to come to school and a kid who the investment. is just coming to school to be compliant Carroll said that she goes out of her is this idea of kids seeing themselves as way to make things happen for students. discoverers and as teachers.” For example, there will be a school muThis year, Speake said engagement sical this year, “The Wizard of Oz,” alin her classes has increased because she though she is still working on how the has tried to “let kids discover things on costs will be covered. their own. … It frustrates “I don’t want them them sometimes because to ever make the conthey want to know the nection that [this society right answers, but when doesn’t] invest in their they find it out on their children,” she said. “So own it is so much greater. I have to invest in them … It’s not just someone constantly. Every single at the front of the classday I’ll do whatever I room delivering matehave to so that our school rial. It’s really digging will continue to thrive.” into it themselves and El-Mekki said that discovering things and he sees an opportunity challenging each other.” Ellen Speake to engage students more Encouraging this fully by awakening them kind of teaching is not to what he called the “oppression” of easy. It has to be part of the school the current situation. “Part of our job culture, said Carroll. “It takes years to is to really help communities galvanize make a school move in that way.” and demand things like a fair [educaIt helps if the students know that tion] funding formula.” the adults in the school respect each “We’re also pulling the curtain other. “Everybody in our building is a back and saying, ‘You deserve more. leader … has the ability to create, [and] We’re going to help you demand more.’” has value, so that’s what helps us move But the real life lesson, Speake said, is a school,” Carroll said. that “If you want something, work for it.” Each of Roxborough’s academies has a theme and practical courses, Jenkins said. Students need to understand Contact Notebook contributing editor Dale the relevance of what they are learning Mezzacappa at

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Philadelphia Public School Notebook 19

keeping students engaged

Accelerated schools keep focus on individualized help But the District’s financial crisis has meant larger classes, fewer services, and needier students. by Paul Jablow

Before graduating from Neumann University last year, Brooke Monaghan did her student teaching at Haverford Middle School, which she had attended herself. She liked it there but sensed that she wanted her first job to be different. “I saw that in a big middle school, students can be embarrassed,” she says. So Monaghan went to a place about as different from Haverford as you can find in the area’s educational world: the Ombudsman South accelerated school, located in a storefront in a South Philadelphia strip mall. The school is one of 13 in Philadelphia that takes over-age, undercredited youth who have dropped out of school and tries to get them back on track for graduation. Here, Monaghan teaches a classroom English course, advises 30 students, and moves among the students plowing through computerized courses to guide, encourage, and gently cajole. “It’s the best of both worlds,” she says. “The students feel more comfortable asking for help. They’re not asking a question in front of 20 other students. You can really build relationships.”

20 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

Principal Austin Gee says he is happy to have Monaghan on his staff but is concerned about the workload she has to carry. The school has 90 students. “This year we went from four teachers to three,” he says. “Last year it was a lot easier to check on a kid.” Accelerated schools, which enroll about 2,000 students citywide, are run by private providers under contract with the School District. Several administrators interviewed tell the same story: Reduced allocations have made their job more difficult, and they don’t know how long they can maintain quality. “It’s hard, but it’s not crazy ridiculous,” says David Bromley, executive director of Big Picture Philadelphia, which operates El Centro de Estudiantes, in Kensington. “I worry about burnout. It’s going to be tough to keep people.” Marcus Delgado, CEO of One Bright Ray, which operates Fairhill Community High School in Kensington, says that as the District struggles with major budget issues, problems are also passed on to the accelerated schools in the form of students who have received inadequate counseling and other services. “What we’re experiencing this year is unlike any other year,” Delgado says. “The emotional and mental health of our students has been really, really bad.”

Harvey Finkle

Ombudsman South student Dontey Seong (left) says he gets the support he needs there. Teacher Brooke Monaghan (right) values the alternative school’s emphasis on building relationships.

Anger and drug issues are worse, he says. “They’re coming from schools where there were no boundaries. This is the population that feels like it’s going to be forgotten again.” The school’s staff psychotherapist concurs. “They come here under stress,” says Suzette Hunt. “They haven’t been able to see the counselor at their previous school. We get the backlash from the cuts.” The per-student allocation at Fairhill was cut this year from $10,000

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to $8,750 per pupil, Delgado says. The school was asked to increase its enrollment from 327 to 400, which kept the overall budget up, but at the cost of increasing class size from 25 to 30. The school added a teacher but can no longer afford a nurse. “It’s a huge difference,” Delgado says. “We have a lot of kids with medical issues. Mostly asthma. The number of times we’ve had to call an ambulance is ridiculous.” (continued on page 21)

February-March 2014

keeping students engaged


schools to seek outside support. Bromley says he recently spent two days with (continued from page 20) an official of the American Honda Foundation, which made El Centro The accelerated schools were set up one of eight finalists for a grant of about in 2004 through a partnership between $50,000. “That’s one position right the District and Project U-Turn, a citythere,” says Bromley, who lost a school wide coalition dedicated to reducing counselor and a postsecondary counselthe number of dropouts and increasing or in the most recent cutbacks. the graduation rate. An outside evaluTwo ex-dropouts who are sticking ation by Mathematica Policy Research with it are Dontey Seong at Ombudsin 2011 indicated that they were makman South and Luis Lugo at Fairhill. ing a difference: Students in accelerated While many accelerated school stuschools were more likely to graduate dents arrive with crushing personal than comparable students in traditional situations – pregnancy and homelessschools, although the rate was still below ness are not uncommon – a common 30 percent. thread runs through almost all their Fairhill alone has graduated over stories: They didn’t get the individual 500 students since 2011, Delgado says, attention they needed. including 52 in December. “There were just too many kids in But observers say that the reduced Harvey Finkle the class,” says Seong, 18, who dropped funding allocations have taken a toll. Luis Lugo (left), who came to Fairhill Community High School after dropping out of a cyber charout of Furness High School after freshAnd the District’s Re-engagement ter, talks with staff psychotherapist Suzette Hunt. “They come here under stress,” she says. man year. “Here I get help when I need Center, the usual first stop for a dropout it.” Seong, the son of Cambodian immiAt one time, specialists from the Dedent interns. looking to get back on track, has been grants, says, “I want to be the first one partment of Human Services and the One of the Center’s main jobs is to hard-hit as well. in my family to get a diploma” in the Office of Mental Health did diagnostic guide a potential student to the school Justin Green, program manager of United States. interviews and made referrals for social with the best fit, an important step the center, says they have gone from a “I want this for them,” he says. “But services. Not any longer. The center also given the schools’ wide variance in atstaff of more than 20 five years ago to I also want it for myself.” used to administer the TABE (Tests of mosphere, teaching style and location. three now: himself and two college stuLugo came to Fairhill after dropAdult Basic Education), which was also ping out of a cyber charter school. valuable in student placement. No more. “You couldn’t move from your spot Nor can the center afford to do until the day was post-placement folThe Teachers Institute of Philadelphia (TIP) over,” says Lugo, 17. low-ups. A partnership of the University of Pennsylvania and the School District of Philadelphia could Google “We have to take The accelerated schools “You the answers. I wasn’t more of a cookiecutter approach now,” grapple with two critical learning anything.” (Delgado says Lugo says Green, who is challenges: Engaging was one of several widely praised for his the students and getting students who had work under trying free curriculum units and lesson plans dropped out of cyber circumstances. “But free professional development seminars them to persist. schools.) we don’t have any Lugo, who wants choice. You have to to be a music producer when he gradustay passionate and committed.” • Academic topics • Led by Penn scholars • Act-48 Credits • ates – hopefully in August – says he Last year, he says, about 2,300 stu• Curriculum Units Now Online • found the atmosphere at Fairhill more dents passed through the center, and he welcoming than at other schools. was at least able to interview each one for information: 215-746-6176 “It’s ‘no drama’ here,” he says. “You to assess why they had dropped out and can joke around with people. I feel this what they needed to get back on track. is my home.” The funding cuts are driving the

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keeping students engaged

Technical education students tackle real-life problems The District is undertaking an expansion of career and technical education programs at neighborhood high schools like South Philadelphia.

school students in CTE programs. “This is an exciting time for career and technical education in Philadelphia,” said Philadelphia School District Career and Technical Education Deputy David Kipphut. “It used to be that the job of vocational education was to teach entryby Dan Hardy level skills. It is far beyond that now.” A new Center for Advanced ManuIn Steve Grosso’s spacious, wellfacturing will open at Benjamin Frankequipped computer lab at South Phillin High School, most likely in the fall adelphia High School, students in a of 2016, Kipphut said. Computer Repair and Networking class Clyde Hornberger, a nationallyare learning how to diagnose and repair known CTE expert who has been advisevery aspect of a desktop PC’s hardware ing the Philadelphia district, said that and operating systems. the center will eventually have at least A few floors below, their classmates 600 students. While low-tech manufacin John Evans’ engineering class are usturing has largely disappeared in most ing computer-assisted design programs U.S. cities, high-tech fabrication work and trigonometry calculations to come Harvey Finkle in numerous fields is still in demand in up with a plan for reconfiguring the Teacher Steve Grosso (center) works with Mustafa Bess (left) and Chandra Bista (right) in a Computer Repair and Networking class at South Philadelphia High School. The class is one of the United States, including the Philastormwater drainage system at Southern, several career and technical education programs at the school. delphia area, Hornberger said. a real-life application of their academic In all, the District plans to offer “We want smart people to go into Mack said that his program of study work. A 3D printer is the latest indus30 new CTE programs in fields that those fields – I want a smart mechanic, has given him clear objectives and a trial tool at their disposal, to help them should be ripe for hiring in the region, a smart electrician, and a smart plumbpathway to get there. “They say school raise their design skills to a new level. including biotechnology, pharmacy er. It’s not a place where you send the prepares you for life; this class prepares Southern’s career and technical technician and veterinary technician. kids who don’t do well academically. It’s you for a career.” education (CTE) programs have exAnd the number of job-related certifimore a matter of identifying kids with South Philadelphia High principal panded this year, and many particications in the Disthe right skill sets Otis Hackney said that he sees CTE, pating students are enthusiastic about trict’s nine existing and interests.” formerly called vo-tech, as a gateway to their future job prospects and engaged In the CTE program CTE areas of career Because Edsuccess for many at his school – a view in their course work. is ward W. Bok Tech- at South Philadelphia, many concentration shared by other District officials. “I like to learn how things work steadily expanding. nical High School At times in the past, CTE was re– how things are done,” said senior This school closed last June, participants are enthusiastic garded as a last refuge for students who Thomas Mack, an engineering program year, the three most Southern has bewere not succeeding in the classroom. student who is planning to go to college about their job prospects popular CTE areas come the latest No more, Hackney said. this fall, probably in engineering. and engaged in their are CommunicaPhiladelphia high tions and Graphics school to embrace course work. programs, which career and techincludes graphic nical education arts as well as cinematography and film/ in a big way. It already had some CTE PRACTICAL EDUCATION video production; Health Industry proprograms before last fall, but they have fessions, which range from emergency been greatly expanded with the addiAT A PRACTICAL PRICE medical technician to dental assistant; tion of several hundred Bok students, and Construction and Manufacturing, at a cost of about $3 million for school which includes everything from engirenovations. neering to construction trades. There are now about 360 CTE stuCosmetology, an old vo-tech staple, dents there, in grades 10 through 12, has the lowest enrollment. out of a total enrollment of 975. Also this school year, the curriculum The Philadelphia School District, Innovative graduate for CTE courses was standardized across too, is in the beginning stages of a draBE A PRINCIPAL programs in education, the city, raising the level of the offerings matic CTE expansion, pledging in its whether you want to in some schools. Principals are being five-year strategic plan to almost double EARN YOUR ED.D. trained in CTE administration. Advithe number of students in career and sory committees of industry experts are technical education, from about 6,600 being expanded, and discussions are unnow to 12,000 by 2017. That would put MASTER DIGITAL STORYTELLING BE AN EXPERT IN AUTISM more than a third of the District’s high (continued on page 23)





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Career-tech ed (continued from page 22)

derway about students getting more college credits while in high school. Behind the push for expansion is the District’s belief – backed by academic studies and Philadelphia statistics – that CTE provides skills and career pathways that lead directly to decent-paying jobs. It also helps keep more students in high school and headed toward postsecondary success, District officials say. Just-released graduation rates for 2012-13 show that on average, the percentage of students graduating from the Harvey Finkle District’s all-CTE schools – Dobbins, South Philadelphia principal Otis Hackney talks with Saleem Wright of Philadelphia Academies Mastbaum, Randolph, Saul, and SwenInc. Hackney said the CTE programs are a gateway to success for many students. son – is about 20 points higher than the the schools. Comparing students in CTE 10 or fewer absences a year; those who typical neighborhood high school. schools with those who met the admismeet the criteria go into a lottery. One reason for the higher graduasions criteria but were not selected in the But a 2013 Johns Hopkins Universition rates is the more selective nature lottery, it found that the students in the ty study of Philadelphia’s CTE programs of the CTE schools. To get in, most stuCTE schools were far more likely to sucindicates that their positive impact goes dents must have grades of C or higher, cessfully complete their required math beyond the more selective character of no serious disciplinary problems, and PCOM-notebook-9-2013_Layout 1 8/22/13 12:49 PM Page 1


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course sequence and to graduate than the comparison group. Kipphut said he believes the reason for the better results is that career education augments the traditional three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic – with another three that education guru Bill Daggett cites as keys to success: rigor, relevance, and relationships. Rigor, Kipphut said, because students earn industry certifications as part of their course work and have to pass difficult national industry assessments. Relevance because, for example, “in electronics, you use Ohm’s law, so as a result, you understand the need to study math.” Relationships, because students often have the same teacher for three years: “To succeed in school, each student needs a personal relationship with at least one adult.” As the District commits to more CTE, Kipphut said, it wants to make sure that the opportunity to participate isn’t limited to students going to allcareer and technology schools, which have far more applicants than open slots. So it will be expanding programs in the neighborhood schools as well. Starting this fall, students from anywhere in the city will be admitted to CTE programs outside their neighborhood if those programs have empty slots after the local students had the chance to fill them. One place where there will likely be plenty of open CTE spots next fall is South Philadelphia High, which would have had an enrollment of about 1,400 this school year if the great majority of current Bok students had transferred there last fall. But hundreds went elsewhere. As a result, many of Southern’s CTE programs are underenrolled. At Southern, students and teachers say that CTE’s real-world applications and the ability to learn through doing keep interest and success rates high. “They learn that there is something beyond academic math and science,” said engineering program teacher John Hutchinson. “There are connections to the real world and real-world problems.” Tim McCullough, an 11th grader taking Computer Repair and Networking, said he likes the way he is learning the subject matter. “Most of the time, we’re doing projects. I like being able to do my own thing,” he said. “And when we do lab work, we work together – that’s really good for building teamwork skills. “It’s really engaging. I’m doing what I want to be doing, so it makes my day go by really fast.” Dan Hardy is a freelance reporter who writes about education in the region.

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keeping students engaged

Where did they go? Displaced students didn’t end up where expected In the wake of closings and budget cuts, District enrollment fell more than anticipated. Details are still murky.

A slew of missing students turned up at charter schools. District reports showed that by January enrollment in the city’s charters had swelled to 61,000, more than 2,000 above what the District budgeted. According to Gallard, the excess enrollment reflects “a willingness on the part of some charter schools to go beyond the enrollment caps in their charter agreements.” The result, he said, is that “we’ll be spending more money on charters than we anticipated this fiscal year.” Several hundred other students can be accounted for: The Independence

Mission Schools, a network of 14 Catholic schools mostly in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, report expanded rolls from a year ago, when the schools were operated by local parishes. The schools now have combined enrollment of about 4,100 – about 300 more than the prior year. “When parents come in, their main concern is … they want to be sure the schools are going to stay open,” said spokeswoman Marie Keith. More than 60 percent of families are not Catholic. Families can apply for scholarships to (continued on page 25)

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Harvey Finkle

tions way off about where students from closed schools would land, but overall District enrollment fell 4,000 students below projections. Superintendent William Hite acby Connie Langland knowledged as much last fall: Total enrollment was down to 131,000, not the Last spring, the District predicted expected 135,000. that students from the shuttered Bok Questioned by the School Reform Technical High School would follow Commission and the media about what their training programs to South Philahappened, the District since December delphia High, more than doubling enhas released several data reports and rollment there, from about 600 to 1,400. flagged a group of 600 That projection was students who are still off by more than 400 stuunaccounted for but has dents. Scores of former not yet offered a full exBok students decided planation of what went against attending Southawry in enrollment calern. Just 355 students arculations and whether rived from Bok or other it’s cause for concern. closed schools, according District spokesman to data released by the Fernando Gallard said District. District officials “don’t The District also know why the District closed the Military Acadprojected a much lower emy at Leeds, with enrolldrop in students for this ment of about 250, profiscal year. Given the jecting that the District’s Superintendent William Hite historical data [related other stand-alone milito enrollment], we acknowledge the tary education facility, Elverson, would projection was not as accurate for this more than double its enrollment, to 440. year.” But only about 100 students selected ElOne critical question is whether verson because their school had closed. dropouts account for some of the attriElverson’s enrollment grew to just 327. tion. But the District has yet to report School closings and budget cuts on the numbers of students identified as made for a turbulent year across the sysdropouts since last June. tem. And not only were District predic-

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Where did they go?

Harvey Finkle

ing out if all the students did go to King der whether some students not yet acclosed University City High School. … and some of them didn’t.” counted for have dropped out of school. Many of his students followed him: (continued from page 24) Simmons added: “The School DisMike Sack, education and developAbout 200 students, many of them from trict should be helping to find those ment director of YESPhilly, a group that University City, opted to attend High help with tuition. students, and I can’t say serves the dropout populaSchool of the Future, boosting enrollA key unanswered question is what where they have gone. tion, said disenfranchised ment to 670, far exceeding the springhas happened to the students displaced They were just dispersed. students ages 16 and 17 time projection. by the closing of 24 schools. Although It was horrible.” represent a “very vulnerA Notebook analysis found that exthe District has issued a report on the It is clear that many able population.” pectations were off at whereabouts of those turned up in charters, in“Those are the critimany other receivstudents, several cluding cyber charters. cal gap years,” Sack said. ing schools. Among key numbers have Educators who work Charter enrollment “They don’t have the 36 schools identified not been publicly totaled 61,000 in Januskills to advocate for reported: one, how with out-of-school youth as receiving displaced ary, a gain of 5,600 stuthemselves and they have many students trans- wonder if some students students, nine received dents over January 2013, to work so hard to reconmore than anticipated, ferred out of the not yet accounted for including 2,400 more nect.” That often hap10 boosted enrollment District after their students in so-called Repens, he said, as they maas expected, while 17 school closed; two, have dropped out. Joseph Dworetzky naissance turnaround ture, at about age 18, and others waited for stuhow many students schools. Another 7,000 city students are then pursue a diploma via accelerated dents who did not dropped out; and enrolled in 13 virtual charter schools – studies or a GED. arrive. Compared to the projected enthree, how did the migration of students 1,000 more than last year – while the The Rev. LeRoi Simmons, a comrollments, Southern was short by 423 stufrom each closed school compare with District’s new virtual academy has 269 munity activist who lobbied unsuccessdents, Penn Treaty by 252, Vare by 243, what was projected. students. fully to keep Germantown High open, Ben Franklin by 230, Overbrook by 169, The District has accounted for noted, “We predicted many of the deBurgos by 120, and Elverson by 113. about 6,400 students who moved to children would drop out,” but once the Meanwhile, educators who work other District or charter schools. AnConnie Langland is a freelance writer on high school closed, “it was difficult findwith out-of-school young people wonother 600 displaced students, according education issues. to Gallard, are unaccounted for. So far, he said, there has been no concerted effort to track down those students, though their names and contact information are on file. The District’s failure to make public a thorough analysis of the massive shakeup troubles Joseph Dworetzky, whose term on the SRC ended in January. Dworetzky insists such analysis is essential to any future discussion of school closings. “I think the District should share the information it has developed about the loss of enrollment,” Dworetzky said in an email. “I believe the information is relevant to a number of important issues in active public debate.” Dworetzky said he had become alarmed by evidence that the District GRADUATE TEACHER PROGRAMS had lost enrollment as a result of the closings. That potential loss, he said, “affects three fundamental questions: 1) MEd in Educational whether to close a particular school; 2) Program Design what is the plan for students at a school AND to be closed; and 3) how should the 4 Graduate Certificate District interact with families during the closing process and the post-closing Programs transition period.” He added that there is “a lot that A total of 30 credits, our unique can be learned from analyzing the reMaster of Education combines sults of the closures last year” and that theory and practice. Complete five he had repeatedly urged the District to core courses, plus five courses in a do that analysis. concentration area of your choice: Gallard said analysis of the closings and the aftermath is ongoing. • Educational Technology Professional Institute for Programs for Students in “What places enrollment at risk is • Inclusion the lack of options for students to attend Educators Grades K-12 • Literacy higher-performing schools – schools that • The Arts are successful at improving the academic Graduate-level courses for K-12 Saturday classes for K-12 achievement of students,” Gallard said. in-service teachers regardless students in the fall and spring Concentrations can be taken as a “Students must be given a better of discipline in Educational semesters as well as summer stand-alone graduate certificate option than the school they are comTechnology, Classroom intensives for high school for individuals not seeking a ing from,” he added. “That is the most Management + Instruction, students in Art, Media + master’s degree. important lesson learned, and [that lesLiteracy, Museum Resources Design, Dance, Creative son] drove the District’s decision not and The Arts. Remember, Act 48 Writing, Music, Music Business + Visit for to move forward at this time with any more information. Technology, and Theater. returned July 1, 2013! further closings.” Gallard said the District is studying “how this all played out” with special attention to the role that school leadership plays, especially in the receiving schools. He cited as an example the High School of the Future, where the prin215.717.6006 | cipal, Tim Stults, arrived from the now-

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Philadelphia Public School Notebook 25


We can’t afford to wait on raising standards by Joan Benso

ters graduated at least 20 percent more students in 2012 than scored proficient There’s been a lot of much-needed or advanced on the 11th-grade PSSAs. discussion about Pennsylvania’s acaSimply put, this is a worrisome demic standards – known as the Pennproblem that exists statewide. So we sylvania Core Standards – and the reneed a statewide, comprehensive solated Keystone Exams for high school lution. We need students. Much of that talk has focused c o m m e n ta r y the Pennsylvania Core Standards on school funding and Keystone Exams. This proposal has issues, the notion of “over-testing” stulong been under consideration and, in dents, and fears of unfunded state manfact, a more rigorous version was prodates being pushed on school districts. posed and enacted during Gov. Ed RenThose arguments have clouded dell’s administration. the main reason that the Pennsylvania These standards – developed by Core Standards and Keystone Exams Pennsylvania teachers, not federal are badly needed. For too long, Pennbureaucrats – ensure that every pubsylvania schools have been graduatlic school in the commonwealth has ing tens of thousands of students each high, uniform expectations for student year who failed to show proficiency in achievement. This way, we can make core subjects like reading and math. In sure all Pennsylvania students are col2012 alone, one-third of all Pennsylvalege- and career-ready when they renia public high school graduates – about ceive their high school diplomas, re44,000 kids statewide – did not score gardless of where they attended school. proficient or advanced on the 11thSome have argued that the Penngrade PSSAs or the 12th-grade retake, sylvania Core Standards should be but they were handed diplomas anyway. delayed until more state funding is And if you think these unprepared provided to struggling schools. Taking students come from only a handful of steps to provide adequate and equihigh-poverty or low-performing school table state resources to every school districts, you’re wrong. These students district must be a priority for lawmakcome from all types of schools throughers. But if we wait until every school out the state, not just our most disdistrict is adequately funded before we tressed ones. In fact, 428 of Pennsylvaadvance reforms designed to increase nia’s 500 school districts and 74 charter student achievement, we shortchange schools and career and technical cen-

ously and try to do their best. our students. Far too many PennsylIt is important to note that the vania students graduate from high regulations actually relieve districts school and enroll in community or of some existing mandates, including four-year colleges, job training proeliminating a state requirement that all grams, or try to enlist in the military students complete a senior project to only to discover they cannot succeed graduate and a state-mandated stratebecause they weren’t adequately pregic-planning requirement pared in high school. for school districts. Plus, if That’s unacceptable. a school district wants to Some have raised use its own locally crafted concerns that Keystone assessment in place of Exams amount to more Keystone Exams, it can, testing of high school stuas long as the local assessdents – another barrage of ment is validated to be exams on top of the 11that least as rigorous as the grade PSSA. In reality, Keystone Exam. the Keystone Exams reIf we truly want our place the PSSA as a betstudents to succeed, both ter tool to gauge student in school and beyond, we readiness. Keystone Exhave to raise expectations ams are given at or near Joan Benso for those students – all of the end of a course, when them, not just those who live in cercontent is fresher and more relevant in tain communities. The Pennsylvania a student’s mind and teachers can more Core Standards and Keystone Exams quickly identify content areas where do just that, and that is why Pennstudents are struggling in order to prosylvania Partnerships for Children vide support. Students who fail to score strongly supports these improvements proficient on a Keystone Exam can get to public education and will continue supplemental instruction and retake to advocate for adequate and equitable all or part of the exam. If unsuccessful, state education funding to make good students can move to a project-based on our promise to every child. assessment to demonstrate proficiency. And because Keystone Exams will be required for graduation, students will Joan Benso is the president and CEO of be more likely to take these exams seriPennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

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26 Philadelphia Public School Notebook

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February-March 2014


Former intern now helps younger students excel Profile of Oscar Wang, Notebook member by Wendy Harris

When Oscar Wang was a sophomore at Haverford College, he had to pick his top three internships from a list for his “Grassroots Politics in Philadelphia” course. Wang now admits the Notebook was not one of them. But when his professor recommended that he also apply to the news organization, Wang did – and landed the position. “The Notebook was commonly touted as one of the premier resources in Philadelphia, and it was highly recommended to me,” Wang said. “But not until interning did I fully become aware of the Notebook, all that it stands for, and all the reporting associated with it. [Interning there] was one of the best decisions that I made in college.” Once on board, Wang, a Los Angeles native, was immediately thrust into covering Philadelphia’s education scene. A major news story broke on his first day. “I’ll never forget that day – January 19, 2012. That’s the day [School Reform Commissioner Feather] Houstoun announced the District’s budget gap, and Thomas Knudsen was brought on as the chief recovery officer,” Wang recalled. The District was entering a tu-

2012, he landed multuous pea fellowship riod, having anworking for the nounced nine School Reform proposed school Commission. closures just a Almost a few months earyear later, he lier. started teaching “I attended at the school he two Facilities covered while Master Plan interning at meetings on my the Notebook. first day and [reWang, 22, now member] activteaches in E.M. ists with yellow Stanton’s Civshirts cheering ics and Rhetoric for [E.M.] Stanprogram, an enton because richment class Stanton was on Wendy Harris where he talks the list of school Oscar Wang is a Haverford College senior. with students closings. After about how to maximize their academic that I got my feet wet blogging and potential. writing short pieces,” said Wang, who “One of the capstone projects was ended up closely following those who to create a course they would want to rallied to save Stanton. take at a post-secondary institution. After completing his internship One student created a math course. Anin the spring of 2012, Wang became a other student created an art class where Notebook member. on different floors they could learn dif“I became a member because I had ferent types of art,” Wang explained. a fantastic experience there, but also “So a lot of different ideas were prebecause of the respect I have for the sented which affirmed the things that organization,” he said. “It is a great restudents felt passionate about, so it was source, and I wanted to support that.” about engaging them in a way to know After his stint at the Notebook, that their passions have a place in the Wang plunged back into the Philadelworld.” phia education scene. In the summer of

Parents United for Better Schools (PUBS) provides • Tutoring in all subjects with State Certified teachers • A $10.00 donation for two hours of tutoring • 20 Years Experience and a Proven Track Record Please also call the PUBS office if you have any school-related problems. 215-844-5525 Parents United for Better Schools (PUBS) 31 Maplewood Mall, Philadelphia, PA 19144 Veronica Joyner, M.Ed. National President & Founder

A political science major and now a Haverford senior, Wang also helps students through a nonprofit he and college classmate Ben Wohl launched last August. The organization, Mentor for Philly, helps high school students assess their post-secondary options and prepare college applications. It works with counselors and administrators to provide student support through volunteer mentors from Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and the University of Pennsylvania. The organization has received curriculum from the National College Advising Corps, as well as training and support for its mentors from the three colleges. Mentor for Philly has assisted about 100 students at Parkway Center City, Parkway West, and Central high schools. Though Wang has a busy schedule, he said he always makes time for the Notebook. “The Notebook is unique because it exclusively covers the Philly education news sector through in-depth reporting that not everyone can do. There is a lot of amazing content that is in a simple and digestible form, so I read it constantly because I’m always looking out for that next story and what will break.” Khoury Johnson, a Notebook intern, contributed reporting to this article.

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Philadelphia Public School Notebook 27

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Focus on Keeping Students Engaged  
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