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District gets specific on impact of community input on school closing recommendations

By Benjamin Herold on Dec 17, 2011 12:11 AM

by Benjamin Herold for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

District officials are genuinely listening to what the public has to say about their proposal to close nine schools, Deputy for Strategic Initiatives Danielle Floyd told the School Reform Commission on Friday. 

Since announcing a package of 31 facilities recommendations last month, the District has so far hosted six community meetings. Already, said Floyd, public input gathered during the meetings has made a difference.

An outpouring of emotion for Sheppard

By Benjamin Herold on Dec 14, 2011 03:17 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

The tears fell freely at Julia de Burgos Elementary School Tuesday night.

During the fifth of 17 community meetings on the School District of Philadelphia’s facilities master plan, a flood of over 150 supporters of Sheppard Elementary implored District officials to reconsider their recommendation to close the tiny K-4 school in Kensington. Located just a few blocks away from de Burgos, Sheppard is one of nine schools the District has targeted for closure by 2014.

Still full of life, 114-year-old Sheppard School faces its demise

By Benjamin Herold on Dec 12, 2011 02:53 PM

Text and audio production by Benjamin Herold
Photographs and slideshow production by Jessica Kourkounis
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Isaac A. Sheppard Elementary School, now 114 years old, could be living out its final days.

A tiny K-4 elementary school at Howard and Cambria in the heart of one Philadelphia's toughest neighborhoods, Sheppard is one of nine schools slated for closure as part of the School District's facilities master plan. At a Tuesday community meeting, District officials will make made their case for closing the ancient building and reassigning its students, prompting a huge outpouring of emotion from Sheppard supporters.

For SRC, voting "no" an extreme rarity

By Benjamin Herold on Dec 8, 2011 04:11 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

[Updated 12/9 with clarification on Girard-diCarlo resignation]

In recent years, it became commonplace for advocates and editorial boards to accuse Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission of being a rubber stamp.

If only rubber stamps were so reliable.

According to a Notebook/NewsWorks review of more than 1,500 SRC votes between October 2009 and August 2011, the recent iteration of the School District’s powerful five-member city-state governing board voted unanimously in favor of a whopping 98 percent of the resolutions that came before it for a vote. Only seven resolutions that came up for a vote failed to pass.

District takes its school closing recommendations to the community

By Benjamin Herold on Nov 21, 2011 01:44 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

After recommending earlier this month that nine schools be closed, District officials stressed that they wanted feedback from the public.

During the first of 17 community meetings on their plan, they got an earful.

Despite gains, Renaissance expansion uncertain

By Benjamin Herold on Nov 17, 2011 01:05 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Despite encouraging signs of progress in their first cohort of 13 Renaissance Schools, District officials are not yet sure if they will attempt to turn around more low-performing public schools next year.

Thomas Darden, the District's deputy chief of strategic programs, said that “no decision has been made yet” about whether to hand more struggling public schools over to outside managers for conversion to charters.

Ramos SRC confirmation hearing today

By Benjamin Herold on Nov 14, 2011 12:06 PM

The Pennsylvania Senate is set to consider Gov. Tom Corbett's nomination of Pedro Ramos to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission - finally.

The office Senate Education Committee chairman Jeffrey Piccola said that a hearing should occur sometime Monday afternoon.

Behind closed doors, SRC has kept a busy agenda

By Benjamin Herold on Nov 8, 2011 07:25 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

On March 17, 2010, 18 people showed up at the School Reform Commission’s public session to decry the District’s handling of a daylong series of attacks on Asian students at South Philadelphia High three months earlier.

Before the public comment period began, then-Chairman Robert Archie read a prepared statement. After the students and their supporters testified, former Commissioner Johnny Irizarry asked a few questions. And that was as far as the SRC would go in publicly sharing their thoughts on the episode.

Going inside an SRC executive session

By Benjamin Herold on Nov 7, 2011 02:08 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Since a shakeup began almost two months ago, members of Philadelphia’s powerful School Reform Commission have been vocal in declaring their newfound commitment to transparency and accountability.

Last week, the three current commissioners set out to show that they’re serious about walking the talk.

Q&A with SRC Chair Wendell Pritchett

By Benjamin Herold on Nov 7, 2011 02:04 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for The Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Over the course of five remarkable days last week, Philadelphia’s recently overhauled School Reform Commission set out to show that it’s serious about becoming more transparent.

In addition to granting a Notebook/NewsWorks reporter and photographer unprecedented access to one of the commission’s executive sessions and releasing a collection of confidential documents, new interim SRC Chair Wendell Pritchett agreed to a request for an extensive sit-down interview, his first as a commissioner.

District recommends just 9 schools be closed

By Benjamin Herold on Nov 2, 2011 05:00 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks


View an interactive map of the District's facilities recommendations.

[UPDATED Thursday a.m.] After months of speculation that dozens of schools across the city could be shut down, District officials have recommended to the School Reform Commission that just nine schools be closed by 2014.

The recommendations come as part of a package of facilities changes that District officials say will reduce their excess capacity by 14,000 seats – a far cry from the target of 40,000 seats they had earlier set.

“The path we’re taking, we think fits the times that we’re in,” said Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery. 

District finalizing new org. chart

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 27, 2011 02:05 PM

Eight months after they announced their plans to close a staggering $600-plus million budget hole and three months after the departure of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman, District officials say they are still finalizing a new organizational chart.

In the meantime, the District has released an updated listing of names and titles for its executive team and assistant superintendents:

Millions more in cuts on the way

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 26, 2011 02:25 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and 

[Updated 10:30 pm] There was more bleak budget news at Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission (SRC) meeting Wednesday.

Presenting a first-quarter financial report, District Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch announced almost $17 million in possible new cuts, then said there’s still another $22 million left to go. In this latest round, school budgets could be chopped by another one percent – or an average of about $40,000 per school. 

Getting geared up for college

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 26, 2011 01:24 PM

Across the city, it's a big week for helping Philadelphia students get to college:

Vouchers advance in Harrisburg

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 25, 2011 04:17 PM

UPDATE: According to state Sen. Dominic Pileggi, Senate Bill 1 is on Wednesday's Senate agenda.

School vouchers have taken another step forward in Pennsylvania.

And they're taking charter school reform with them.

On Tuesday, an amended version of Senate Bill 1, as the measure is known, was approved by the Senate Education Committee. The new plan calls for a limited school voucher program, as well as a package of changes to state charter school law that had been advancing separately, reports Mary Wilson of WHYY/NewsWorks.

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