As usual, Karen Lewis is trying to manage a dozen things at once.
And as usual, Lewis’s son, 8-year-old Cooper Harbol, is the focus of her efforts.
While Lewis cleans the kitchen and scrambles to find her shoes, Cooper gets lost in the elaborate toy world he has constructed on the coffee table. He’s oblivious to his mother’s pleas to brush his teeth.
“Cooper, put down the Lego, please,” says Lewis. “Today’s the first day of school. At least we can show up at a reasonable time.”
Hot on the heels of our Fall Guide to High Schools, the Notebook's October-November edition, available now, takes a look at portfolio management of schools and what it means in Philadelphia for parents, educators, and policymakers.
The print edition will be distributed to schools, libraries and other locations starting on Friday. Next Tuesday, we will begin posting full stories online, along with a radio piece by Benjamin Herold that chronicles one mother's search for the ideal school for her son.
In Philadelphia, gaining admission to a charter high school sometimes involves a scramble to gather burdensome paperwork – not to mention the luck of the draw.
But obstacles or not, thousands of students pursue the charter option. Notebook data show the city’s 35 charter high schools this year expected to enroll more than 15,000 students in grades 9-12.
By Benjamin Herold
for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner
For years, parents have had to jump through astonishing hoops to apply to the popular Green Woods Charter School in Northwest Philadelphia.
Interested families couldn't find Green Woods’ application online. They couldn't request a copy in the mail. In fact, they couldn't even pick up a copy at the school.
By Dale Mezzacappa and Benjamin Herold
The School District released a 119-page document on Thursday that summarized the analyses and recommendations of the Boston Consulting Group, an outside firm retained at private expense to help the District avert a financial meltdown by radically overhauling its business operations and delivery of education.
The document details BCG’s work and thinking on hot-button topics ranging from charter expansion to labor negotiations. It also includes the previously unreleased analyses behind controversial District proposals to close dozens of schools and reorganize those that are left into decentralized, independently managed “achievement networks.”
Updated 10:00 p.m.
A School District review found “significant barriers to entry” at numerous city charter schools, according to a draft report obtained by the Notebook/NewsWorks.
In at least one case, an unidentified charter made its enrollment application publicly available on only one day during the year. Another unnamed charter required applicants to complete an 11-page application, write an essay, respond to 20 short-answer questions, provide three recommendations, be interviewed, and provide records related to their disciplinary history, citizenship and disability status.
“The District does not believe this is a fair system, nor does it help build a robust system of school-choice,” wrote District spokesperson Fernando Gallard in response to questions submitted by the Notebook/NewsWorks.
The William Penn Foundation has paid more than $160,000 for work being done by two private communications firms to support the School Reform Commission’s much-debated “transformation blueprint.”
It's just one of several efforts undertaken by the city's civic leaders on behalf of the cash-strapped District that was revealed by a review of William Penn's recent grants.
The organizations doing the communications work, Sage Communications and the Bravo Group, are being paid through William Penn funds that have been passed through the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, respectively. Each grant was for $82,500, the maximum allowable without the approval of William Penn’s board, which meets three times a year.
June Brown, a longtime School District administrator who jumped on the charter bandwagon early by founding three small charters and then co-founding a cyber school, has been charged in a massive fraud case by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Jeremy Nowak believes that Philadelphia is at a crossroads.
“There’s a scenario where this becomes one of the great cities in America, and there’s a scenario where we keep going in decline,” said Nowak.
“I think this is a critical time for us to decide which direction we want to go.”