Dale Mezzacappaon Dec 1, 2014 02:24 PM
Update: A hearing in Commonwealth Court on the PFT's challenge to the cancellation of its contract and the imposition of the health care changes will be held in Harrisburg on Dec. 10. The District is arguing to have a stay of the changes lifted.
For students, parents, and teachers, as well as the leadership of Philadelphia public schools, this fall has been a time of heightened uncertainty and bitter conflict.
After two years of drama about whether there is enough money to operate schools safely, the District is still not on sound financial footing. Its leaders have expended energy and political capital on extracting new revenue streams, but its victories have been hollow.
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 midnight,” 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.
Evynn Pendergrass had fought the good fight, appearing twice before the School Reform Commission to plead that the District not close the University City High Promise Academy, where she is a junior.
She lost. And now she must find someplace else to complete high school.
In the wake of the 23 school closings and five relocations or mergers approved by the SRC in March, she is just one of thousands of students and District employees scrambling to sort out their options.
“This is not unique to Philadelphia. This is happening in large, urban centers all over the country. These large, urban centers…can no longer sustain the type of physical inventory that is not in use.” – Superintendent William Hite
Like most of the public, I’ve been baffled by the District’s latest rationale for closing down an unprecedented number of schools in a single year. In observing the school hearings, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou: “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.”
With dozens of new school closings looming, the School District of Philadelphia has started selling off some of its properties that are already vacant.
Three building sales were approved by the School Reform Commission in November: the former Walton and Muhr elementary schools in North Philadelphia and Jones Annex in Kensington.
For three of this year's four Renaissance Schools, the selection process is over. The public meetings are complete, the School Reform Commission has voted, and barring any unforeseen complication, next September they'll open as neighborhood charter schools.
But at Creighton Elementary in the Lower Northeast, supporters of a unique plan for a teacher-led administration are holding out hope that their school can buck a very big trend.
While the plan for Creighton is still to be finalized, three other District schools are being converted to Renaissance charters next fall:
Cleveland Elementary in Tioga will be run by Mastery Charter Schools, Inc.
H.R. Edmunds Elementary in Frankford will be run by String Theory Schools.