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New SRC commissioners on Radio Times

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 24, 2011 01:20 PM

Three of the newest members of the overhauled School Reform Commission (SRC) appeared together on WHYY’s Radio Times Monday morning to talk about their new roles and the challenges facing a district running low on both cash and public trust.

State slow to provide information on PSSA probe

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 21, 2011 12:32 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and

Pennsylvania's inquiry into suspicious state test score results appears to have slowed to a crawl.

So far, the School District of Philadelphia has received no response from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to a state-ordered internal investigation of 28 schools with suspicious results on the 2009 Pennsylvania System of State Assessment (PSSA) exams.  The report was delivered to PDE in August.

Pew study: School closings bring pain, but not much money

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 20, 2011 11:51 AM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks  

UPDATED 10-21: Comment from the District.

Widespread school closings often fail to generate expected savings or meaningful student achievement gains, but can contribute to significant community upheaval and neighborhood blight.

Those findings are part of a new study of closings in six major cities released Wednesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative (PRI).

“This is not a panacea to cure all the ills of a school district,” said Larry Eichel, the project director of PRI. “Based on what we’ve seen in other cities, I think it’s hard to say that school closings have transformed school districts.”

Union leaders turn out to support Jobs Act

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 17, 2011 05:14 PM

Representatives of the School District of Philadelphia, its five labor unions, and the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) gathered with U.S. Rep. Bob Brady at Furness High School in South Philadelphia Monday to tout the potential local impact of President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act.

At Furness High, a tough choice looms

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 14, 2011 02:15 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

Horace Furness High School saved Felly Velicia, so the District's pending decision about whether to close the school couldn’t be more personal for the 18-year-old from Indonesia.

“You know the feeling if you’ve lived in a house, and you grew up there, and you have to leave?” she asked. “I won’t know where to come running to.”

Pritchett: 'A new day, a new relationship'

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 5, 2011 12:17 PM

Updated 7:30 p.m.

Still in the midst of a significant makeover, the School Reform Commission met Wednesday with two empty seats, a new chairman, and two new "executive advisors" closely observing their work.

Wednesday morning, Gov. Tom Corbett announced that he will name his most recent nominee, Pedro Ramos, as SRC chair. Senate confirmation of Ramos' nomination, however, is not expected until later this month. In the meantime, Corbett announced, new mayoral appointee Wendell Pritchett will serve as interim chair.

Nutter, Tomalis announce new supports for District

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 4, 2011 03:08 PM

Mayor Michael Nutter and state Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis unveiled Tuesday two new strategies to expand their respective roles in overseeing the School District and its leadership.

In a statement, Nutter described the strategies as "phase two" of the Educational Accountability Agreement with the District. The city and state will both name an "Executive Advisor" to work with the District's executive office. The city will designate Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr and the state will designate Edward Williams, a longtime District veteran and former chief academic officer.

Nutter defends Evans' 'passionate advocacy' at King

By Benjamin Herold on Oct 3, 2011 12:57 PM

State Rep. Dwight Evans' controversial behind-the-scenes involvement in a charter deal at Martin Luther King High worth an estimated $60 million over five years was "passionate advocacy," according to Mayor Michael Nutter.

Appearing on WHYY's Radio Times Monday morning, Nutter seemed to defend Evans' role, which his chief integrity officer blasted in a scathing report released last month.

Changes in how SRC operates? Maybe...

By Benjamin Herold on Sep 29, 2011 11:15 AM

Mayor Nutter and other key players are looking for ways to change the way Philadelphia’s beleaguered School Reform Commission (SRC) does business, according to several sources close to the situation. 

Big test score gains at Renaissance charters

By Benjamin Herold on Sep 27, 2011 05:34 PM

For the Notebook’s October print edition on school turnarounds, we took a comprehensive look at the city's initial group of seven Renaissance charter schools. This article looks at test score gains at the schools . You can also read more about the extent to which the schools remained neighborhood schools.

Scathing report blasts Archie, Evans on King charter deal

By Benjamin Herold on Sep 22, 2011 12:41 PM

[Updated 6:00 pm]  Former School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie has fired back with a statement in which he "emphatically" rejects  Markman's findings, and state Rep. Dwight Evans has also slammed the report. The District has offered a brief statement.

[Updated 2:26 pm]  The mayor's chief integrity officer has come down hard on state Rep. Dwight Evans and recently resigned School Reform Commission chairman Robert Archie in a long awaited fact-finding report released Thursday afternoon.

Much still unresolved with SRC

By Benjamin Herold on Sep 21, 2011 05:06 PM

Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission can now muster a quorum, but there's still no word on when it will resume business.

On Tuesday, the SRC indefinitely postponed its scheduled Wednesday meeting, the second such cancellation this month. By not meeting, the commission delayed action on approximately 29 pending resolutions dealing with issues ranging from operations to procurement.

Turning around West: Nothing worth saving?

By Benjamin Herold on Sep 21, 2011 11:31 AM

For the Notebook’s forthcoming October print edition on school turnarounds, we took a comprehensive look at the tumultuous turnaround process at West Philadelphia High.This article looks at the dueling educational visions at West. You can read more about West's lost year in part II of this series.


It was 2006.

Neil Geyette was a 23-year-old, first-year teacher standing outside a bathroom filled with smoke at West Philadelphia High School. He had just extinguished yet another of the 31 small fires blamed on students at the school that year.

An administrator, he says, walked up, took in the scene, and then walked away, all without saying a word.

Turning around West: A lost year

By Benjamin Herold on Sep 21, 2011 10:15 AM

As part of the Notebook’s upcoming print edition, we took a comprehensive look at the tumultuous school turnaround process at West Philadelphia High.  Read more about the competing visions of school reform at West in part I of this series.


Five different principals in the span of a year.

A serious spike in assaults, incidents of disorderly conduct, thefts, and arsons – all of which had been steadily declining.

And a teaching staff that turned over by 40 percent one year, then almost 90 percent the next.

All of this, was part of the price that West Philadelphia High School paid to be “turned around” during a dispiriting 2010-11 school year.

Children First Fund gave thousands on Ackerman's way in, too

By Benjamin Herold on Aug 31, 2011 03:44 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook, WHYY/NewsWorks

The same charitable foundation that is funneling $405,000 in controversial anonymous donations to support the buyout of departed Philadelphia schools superintendent Arlene Ackerman also gave the District $150,000 to support Ackerman’s arrival.

Over $10,000 of that money, which was used to create a “CEO’s Transition Fund” to cover expenses related to Ackerman’s transition team, went directly to Ackerman herself.

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