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Creighton supporters stave off charter conversion - for now

By Benjamin Herold on Apr 19, 2012 11:18 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Responding to passionate support from parents, community members, and teachers for an “outside-the-box” plan to keep Thomas Creighton Elementary under District control, the School Reform Commission decided Thursday evening to delay a planned vote to convert Creighton into a Renaissance charter.

“I agree with my colleagues that we should table this motion at this point,” said Commissioner Wendell Pritchett.

“We have a lot of schools to turn around, and we need to take advantage of every opportunity to engage with our teachers to do that.”

 Listen to Benjamin Herold's radio report for WHYY from Thursday night's meeting.


19 high-performing District schools to expand

By Benjamin Herold on Apr 17, 2012 02:50 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

The District will add 2,272 seats across 19 high-performing traditional public schools beginning next September, officials announced Tuesday.

“This lets the city of Philadelphia know that the District is investing in the growth of high-quality, high-performing school options,” said Penny Nixon, chief academic officer.

A total of 1,802 seats will be added in 11 high schools, all of which are either special admission or citywide admission schools. In six elementary and two middle schools, 470 seats will be added. All of the schools are highly rated, with scores of 3 or better on the District’s 10-point School Performance Index (SPI) scale. On that scale, 1 is the top score.

New budget worries lead SRC to delay charter renewal and modification votes

By Benjamin Herold on Apr 17, 2012 01:07 AM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Alarmed by new threats to the financial stability of the District, Chairman Pedro Ramos said Monday that the School Reform Commission will likely delay an expected April 19 vote on 17 charters that have been recommended for renewal, as well as an unspecified number of charter modification requests.

Ramos said that he still expects the SRC to vote Thursday on District staff’s recommendations to not renew the charters of three schools: Arise Academy, Hope, and Truebright Science Academy.

But he said he was looking for a different process to handle the other renewals and suggested that it may require many more SRC meetings to resolve.

District to recalculate school ratings in wake of cheating investigation

By Benjamin Herold on Apr 16, 2012 11:28 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Calling it a “grave concern” that “we’re looking at data that may not be accurate,” District officials said Monday that the findings of an ongoing state investigation into possible cheating on standardized tests in more than 50 schools could throw into doubt dozens of school ratings.

“Once we have some decisions from the state, we will recalculate” the School Performance Index (SPI) results for individual schools and for the District as a whole, said Fran Newberg, deputy for accountability and educational technology .

For some schools, Newberg said, such revisions “may be very devastating.” But the overall picture of test score growth in the District, she added, should not dramatically change. 

SRC to talk School Performance Index at Monday meeting

By Benjamin Herold on Apr 12, 2012 12:45 PM
by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/

How are schools rated, and what kinds of big decisions are informed by those ratings?

Both questions promise to be part of the discussion during the School Reform Commission's upcoming "Strategy, Policy and Priorities" meeting, which will focus on the District's School Performance Index (SPI). The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, April 16, at District headquarters, 440 N. Broad St.

With Renaissance vote approaching, SRC seeks to balance results and cost

By Benjamin Herold on Apr 11, 2012 05:41 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

As the School Reform Commission prepares to vote on converting four more District schools to charters, it will weigh the hope of duplicating preliminary test score gains in its first cohort of Renaissance turnaround schools against the reality that expanding the initiative is likely to cost the District between $800 and $1,000 per student in the first year.

“That is the calculation,” said Commissioner Feather Houstoun.

“We have a pretty good sense of what the [new charter conversions] may mean in terms of budget impact. There’s a return because of the value of what happened to children that has not happened in decades.”

To get into prestigious Masterman, it's 5th grade or bust

By Benjamin Herold on Apr 11, 2012 01:56 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

For many Philadelphia families, a diploma from ultra-selective Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School is the holy grail of public education in the city.

But how do parents get their children into the prestigious magnet school at 17th and Spring Garden Streets?

Stanton, Sheppard spared; eight other schools to close

By Benjamin Herold on Mar 29, 2012 06:49 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/NewsWorks

The School Reform Commission voted Thursday night to close eight District schools, but spared E.M. Stanton and Isaac Sheppard Elementary Schools.

"The SRC has been very clear in its commitment to maintain its focus on student achievement while we work toward fiscal stability,” said SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos. “Tonight’s vote reflects those priorities.”

The schools that will close are Harrison, Drew, and Levering Elementaries; Pepper Middle and Sheridan West Academy Middle; FitzSimons and Rhodes High Schools (the latter to become a middle school); and the Philadelphia High School for Business and Technology. 

Listen to Benjamin Herold's radio report on the closings vote for WHYY. 

District responds to commissioners' questions on school closings

By Benjamin Herold on Mar 29, 2012 12:19 PM

Just hours before tonight’s long-awaited vote on the proposed closure of nine schools, the District has released a wealth of information about each of its recommendations.

A detailed spreadsheet projects that closing all nine schools would save the District just over $8 million for next school year. The two most hotly contested closures, E.M. Stanton Elementary in South Philadelphia and Sheppard Elementary in West Kensington, would save the District a projected $850,000 and $1.2 million, respectively.

SRC hears urgency, skepticism on Great Schools Compact

By Benjamin Herold on Mar 12, 2012 03:11 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Philadelphia’s new Great Schools Compact lays out an ambitious goal: replace or transform 50,000 seats in low-performing schools with better options.

But will the Compact include a push to close low-performing charter schools and help successful District-managed schools flourish? Or will it function solely to accelerate existing efforts to close District-run schools and expand the city’s burgeoning charter sector?

Those were the biggest questions on the table during a lively discussion Monday night attended by about 100 people before the School Reform Commission’s “choice, rightsizing, and turnaround” committee.

A chorus of concern over Great Schools Compact

By Benjamin Herold on Mar 9, 2012 05:27 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

The Notebook/NewsWorks' coverage of the Great Schools Compact continues
with a preview of Monday's SRC meeting. Last week, we took a look inside a
charter on the verge of expansion and talked to Mark
, the executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership.

Proponents of traditional public schools are expressing growing concern that the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact could end up favoring charters and being a raw deal for the School District.

On Monday, they’ll get the chance to voice their worries before the School Reform Commission, which plans to highlight the compact at its March strategy, policy, and planning meeting.

As Renaissance match process gets underway, intrigue begins

By Benjamin Herold on Mar 7, 2012 06:18 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

In a new twist on the District’s process for converting low-performing schools to charters, six pre-approved turnaround teams have publicly declared at the outset of the Renaissance match process which schools they will – and will not – be competing to manage.

Two developments stand out:

  • Mastery Charter, the city’s largest charter operator, will put all of its considerable resources into competing for just one school, Cleveland Elementary.

Four new Renaissance Schools announced

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 29, 2012 01:49 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

UPDATE 6 p.m. 

Buoyed by promising results from their initial group of turnaround schools and largely undeterred by the District’s ongoing fiscal uncertainty, officials announced Wednesday that four more low-performing traditional public schools will be converted to charters as part of the Renaissance Schools initiative.

“By continuing this initiative, the District underlines its commitment to the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact,” said a press release announcing the news.

The four new Renaissance charters – Grover Cleveland Elementary in Tioga, Thomas Creighton Elementary in the lower Northeast, Henry R. Edmunds Elementary in Frankford, and John Paul Jones Middle in Kensington – currently serve more than 3,000 students. Although the schools will be turned over to outside managers, they will remain neighborhood schools, joining the 13 existing Renaissance charters already serving roughly 9,400 students.

Great Schools Compact set to reshape city's education landscape

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 27, 2012 05:04 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

Philadelphia already has some schools that are really good. So why not focus on sending those schools more money and more students?

Mark GleasonThat’s the basic challenge facing the District, says Mark Gleason, the executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership.

“Ideally, you could channel students and dollars out of programs and schools that are not getting the job done. We have plenty of those in Philadelphia,” said Gleason. “The goal should be to move those tax dollars and those kids into better performing schools.”

With charter schools looking to expand, communities could feel ripple effects

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 27, 2012 05:02 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

In this multimedia feature, reporter Benjamin Herold examines Philadelphia's Great Schools Compact through a look inside Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter, a new study by the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project, and an interview Mark Gleason of the Philadelphia School Partnership.

Every morning, 11-year-old Quentin Davis practices ballet for 90 minutes.

Davis isn’t a prodigy. He's just a regular 6th-grader at the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School in South Philadelphia. At PPACS, one of the city’s most popular and highest-performing charters, kids get seven hours of classical arts instruction every week, and they can "major" in everything from ballet to vocal arts.

“This school is incredible,” said Davis. “You get to do different things and express yourself how you like to do it.”

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