The official business was a City Council hearing: Philadelphia School District officials called to testify on the remaining $25 million in new money Council has yet to appropriate to the school system.
But the Wednesday hearing was brief - a record 21 minutes - and it was clear that last week's announcement that the district had agreed to a data-sharing deal with Council had smoothed the way for the transfer. Council President Darrell Clarke, who for the last several months has expressed frustration and disappointment with district leaders, essentially said the agreement was a reset of the relationship.
He even praised Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and SRC Chair Marjorie Neff for their service.
Sweeping changes are afoot for the Philadelphia School District, with closures, conversions to charters and even new schools proposed Thursday by the superintendent.
In all, 5,000 students at 15 schools would be affected by the plan, which requires School Reform Commission approval.
Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia — which staved off closure once before, in 2013 — would be phased out, shuttering in 2018. Grades will be added at Beeber’s feeder schools.
Seven area schools have been recognized for their excellence by the U.S. Department of Education as National Blue Ribbon Schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made the announcement Tuesday.
In Philadelphia, Our Mother of Consolation in Chestnut Hill won the coveted distinction. No Philadelphia public schools made the list.
In the Pennsylvania suburbs, Holicong Middle School in Doylestown won the honor, as did Radnor Middle School and St. Norbert Elementary School in Paoli and St. Agnes Elementary in West Chester.
Already closed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for Yom Kippur and the upcoming Pope's visit, the Philadelphia School District just announced it will keep schools shuttered on Monday as well.
The call was made early. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. had said they would treat Monday as an inclement weather day, making the decision after consulting with city officials.
Hite, in an email to staff, said that "based on additional information we received today from the city and SEPTA," both schools and administrative offices will be closed" because services would be insufficient to open schools. Hence, the six day weekend for staff and students - and childcare headache for many parents.
UPDATE, 6:15 p.m.
Continued poor performance by the outside firm hired to provide substitute teaching services for the Philadelphia School District "puts this partnership in jeopardy," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday night.
Speaking at the September School Reform Commission meeting, Hite said Source4Teachers was tapped by the SRC to handle sub services because it was "a partner with experience."
Student performance on state exams dropped significantly in the Philadelphia School District, according to results released Wednesday.
District-wide, 32 percent of students passed English exams and 17 percent passed math exams. That's compared to last year, when 42 percent passed English and 45 percent passed math.
Thirty-seven percent of district students passed the state science exams.
Hundreds of students who attend Solis-Cohen Elementary in the Northeast will not be able to start their school year on time due to serious structural issues at the building.
The sprawling building at Horrocks and Bustleton was discovered to be structurally unsound a few weeks ago, Philadelphia School District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed.
The emergency repairs will require first through fourth grade students to delay the start of their school year until Sept. 16. Other district students will begin Sept. 8.
Weeks before the start of school, the state education department dropped a bomb on a unique charter school popular with Philadelphia-area families: stop using physical facilities for face-to-face learning, or risk being shut down.
The order means that 500 Philadelphia-area families — half the school’s population — will likely be scrambling for new places to learn in September. The changes forced the school, Education Plus Academy, to lay off or slash hours for half its staff, some of whom were just hired or promoted.
Shocked parents and the school’s CEO say the abrupt move, which came the same day as Gov. Wolf asked a Delaware County court to dramatically curtail funding for a large Chester charter school, is further evidence that the governor’s administration is out to get charters.
“Everybody knows the governor doesn’t support charters,” said Nicholas Torres, the school’s CEO and one of its founders. “He specifically doesn’t support cyber charters.”
Parent Amy Millar, whose three children were set to start first, third and fifth grades at Education Plus on Sept. 8, was more blunt.
“It was a kill order,” Millar said. “I feel like there’s been a death in the family.
EdPlus, which opened in 2012, operates on a blended model. It is a cyber school aimed primarily at special-education students, but it also has offered face-to-face learning opportunities with teachers and other education staff at “learning centers” throughout the state, including six in Philadelphia and its suburbs.
Most students had attend learning centers most days, Torres said. The school had supplemented the cyber curriculum with art, gym, and other activities, but those have all been cut because of the state’s order.
“You can have 15 kids in a classroom setting working at different levels, and they’re active, they’re engaged, they’re not frustrated,” said Torres, who has extensive background in Philadelphia education circles. He is the former president of Congreso de Latinos Unidos, and founded Pan American Academy Charter, a brick-and-mortar school.
Millar grew frustrated with her home district — Abington — when her two older children, both of whom have special learning needs, were languishing in their public school, she said.
At EdPlus, her children have made astonishing gains, Millar said — her daughter finished third grade at her public school barely reading at a kindergarten level. She’s set to enter fifth grade reading on level now. And Millar’s son, who has autism and a tic disorder, used to try to physically flee school daily.
He has had none at EdPlus, Millar said.
“And now, I’m in this spot where I have to call the school that failed my kids and re-enroll them,” said Millar. “I’m heartbroken over this.”
To comply with the state’s cease and desist order, EdPlus is shutting learning centers in Chester, Clifton Heights, Abington and Somerset immediately. It’s also limiting the number of hours regular-education students can attend learning centers to three per day. Those students will only be able to access tutoring, not instruction as they had been.
Special-education students can use the centers from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, but only for tutoring and supplemental services.
EdPlus had also planned to expand to high school this year. It now will not offer those grades, officials said.
Those dramatic changes mean that many families will be forced to go elsewhere.
Jo-Ann Rogan pulled her two sons from the Philadelphia School District in the face of budget cuts and frustrations with services for her older son, who has special needs.
Her boys found a home at EdPlus, she said, thriving academically with project-based learning, and socially, with a good mix of regular- and special-education students.
“It’s been amazing,” said Rogan. “My kid has made huge progress, and he’s been happy for the first time in school. The last two years have been healing and good for him.”
She will likely keep her older son at EdPlus for this year, but the new model won’t cut it for her younger son, a regular education student.
“He’s a really busy kid,” said Rogan. “He needs to go to school.”
Like Millar and many others, Rogan is poised to fight on behalf of EdPlus.
Torres said the EdPlus board will meet this week to discuss options, and may go to court to seek an injunction to bar the changes.