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District invites outside bidders to maintain its buildings

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 22, 2012 06:29 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

Still searching for millions of dollars in savings and hoping to extract concessions from its largest blue-collar union, the cash-strapped School District has issued a request for proposals for outside vendors to provide facilities management services in hundreds of District-owned buildings.

The District is "seeking greater operational efficiencies and reduced costs through innovative building management solutions" at "approximately 400 buildings. comprising 10 million square feet of space," according to the RFP.

Foundation to pay for District consultant

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 22, 2012 05:45 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

The William Penn Foundation will be picking up the $1.4 million tab for the five-week contract for an outside management consultant approved last week by the School Reform Commission. 

"This is a defining moment for our schools," said WPF President Jeremy Nowak in a statement. "To close the achievement gap for Philadelphia's students, we need to get as much of the District's funds into the classroom as possible. Moreover, we must be able to trust the financial projections and long term operations of the system."

SRC suspends Pa. school code on closings

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 16, 2012 04:50 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

[Updated 1:30 a.m.] In an unexpected move, the School Reform Commission voted Thursday to approve a previously unannounced "walk-on" resolution to suspend a portion of the Pennsylvania Public School Code so that it can expedite its pending decision on the District's recommendation to close nine schools.

State cheating probe was widened to involve more than 50 District schools

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 16, 2012 01:33 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

Pennsylvania’s inquiry into possible cheating on state standardized tests in Philadelphia recently widened to involve more than 50 District schools, far more than previously believed to have attracted the attention of state officials.

But with the administration of the 2012 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams barely a month away, District officials say they don’t know how many of those schools are under active investigation or how the state is deciding which schools warrant further scrutiny.

District sets $6.5 million sale price for old West Philly High building

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 14, 2012 07:34 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

UPDATE: The District made a few changes, noted below, in the RFQ document.

West Philly High

Got $6.5 million and a fondness for Gothic architecture?

If so, the School District of Philadelphia wants to talk with you.

According to District documents, $6.5 million is the sale price for the 100-year-old, 250,000-square-foot building at 47th and Walnut Streets that used to house West Philadelphia High.

District to stop mandating use of scripted curricula

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 13, 2012 04:00 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

UPDATED 12:30 a.m.

Centrally mandated scripted curricula will soon be a thing of the past, New Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon told the School Reform Commission Monday.

“We believe the curriculum should say to teachers, ‘Here’s the what’ and give them the flexibility as to the ‘How,’” said Nixon.

“From the District level, will we say, ‘You have to use this scripted curriculum?’ No.”

Such a change will mark a significant shift in the District’s approach to classroom education. Currently, dozens of low-performing Empowerment Schools are required to follow strict curricular mandates, including use of scripted remedial programs like Corrective Reading and Corrective Math that are anathema to many teachers.

District eating millions in facilities costs at Audenried, other Renaissance charters

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 10, 2012 01:08 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

[Updated 3:45 p.m. with clarification on maintenance staff.]

Even while slashing staff, programs, and hours at schools across the city in an effort to close an enormous budget gap, the School District has been swallowing millions of dollars in facilities-related expenses at its 13 Renaissance Schools now run by outside charter operators.

Nowhere is the situation more pronounced than at Audenried High in South Philadelphia. There, the District has allowed Universal Companies to operate cost-free in a new, $55 million District-owned building since July because the parties have yet to come to terms on a facility license agreement.

Pritchett talks superintendent search

By Benjamin Herold on Jan 30, 2012 02:01 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

The School Reform Commission intends to “cast a wide net” in order to snag the right superintendent for Philadelphia.

But in a wide-ranging interview about the search process, commissioner and search committee chairman Wendell Pritchett was clear that he is looking for candidates who will embrace the existing District initiatives – Renaissance Schools, the facilities master plan, and the Great Schools Compact – that have already begun reshaping the way public education happens in the city.

“We have lots of different kinds of schools. That’s the world we live in,” said Pritchett. “And so the next superintendent is going to have to…help us manage, understand, and move forward with a portfolio of schools.”

Listen to Wendell Pritchett discuss the superintendent search on WHYY Radio.

Shorr to chair Great Schools Compact group

By Benjamin Herold on Jan 26, 2012 02:39 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

A committee has been established to oversee the development of Philadelphia's Great Schools Compact plan. Its eight voting members include:

District turning to consultants for big help

By Benjamin Herold on Jan 24, 2012 03:25 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

As he tries to deal with the School District’s "unprecedented" budget crisis, new Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen intends to rely heavily on outside consultants to help implement what could be a radical transformation of the District’s operations.

According to a Request for Qualifications issued late last week, the District is looking for providers of “managerial and financial consulting services” to help:

More from Tom Knudsen

By Benjamin Herold on Jan 20, 2012 05:28 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Tom Knudsen is going to be asked to do a lot in the next six months. 

During a dramatic meeting Thursday night, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission told a stunned audience that the District is on the brink of financial disaster, then announced a leadership shakeup that resulted in Knudsen being appointed the School District’s new “Chief Recovery Officer.”

SRC hears about school violence

By Benjamin Herold on Jan 18, 2012 01:49 AM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

A new committee of the School Reform Commission attempted Tuesday evening to tackle an old issue – school violence.

First, the SRC’s new Safety and Engagement Committee was presented with a report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Safe Schools, originally convened more than a year ago by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. 

28 districts and charters cleared in probe of 2009 PSSAs

By Benjamin Herold on Jan 12, 2012 12:52 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

UPDATED: 4:15 p.m. with complete list of districts cleared thus far  

Over half of the 38 school districts and 10 charter schools across Pennsylvania that were flagged for statistical irregularities on 2009 state exams have been cleared of any improprieties, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Hoping to glimpse the future of city schools, Nutter and SRC head to Denver

By Benjamin Herold on Jan 5, 2012 02:31 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/Newsworks

Could there someday be a single lottery for all of Philadelphia’s charter schools? 

What about more charter school programs for students with severe disabilities?

How would Philadelphia taxpayers feel about charter school operators being included on School District bond initiatives?

All the above are strategies currently being implemented or explored in Denver, where Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and city educational leaders are visiting Thursday in the hopes of  learning more about its efforts to promote greater collaboration between the school district and charter schools. 

Renaissance Schools to expand

By Benjamin Herold on Jan 4, 2012 03:54 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/Newsworks

UPDATED 9:30 p.m.

There will be a year three of the Renaissance Schools initiative after all.

Despite significant uncertainty caused by ongoing budget cuts and leadership changes, the District announced today that it will expand its program for converting low-performing schools to charters. Prospective "turnaround teams" are invited to submit proposals by February 7, three months later than last year.

"Even in this difficult budget environment, the District is not sitting still on our goal of improving outcomes for students," said District Deputy for Strategic Programs Thomas Darden. "The decision to move forward with another round of Renaissance Charter Schools is an important part of our overall strategy."

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