Tucked in today's story about "Occupy 440" - a group of school nurses' protest against the Philadelphia School District's latest round of budget cuts - was a line you may have missed:
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the Promise Academies had had "significant cuts," including the elimination of the entire central office staff that supervised those schools, which was also axed as of Dec. 31.
Promise Academies, of course, are district-run turnaround schools, the signature initiative of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. They operate with extra money and staff in an effort to turn around years of failure - and to combat years of inadequate resources. The first six Promise Academies opened in 2010; three more opened this fall. (Ackerman wanted to open 11, not three, but budget woes caused the School Reform Commission to drastically scale back that plan.)
Promise Academies initially operated on Saturdays and in the summer, plus an extra hour of instruction daily.
Saturday school was dropped and one extra hour a week was lopped off effective in September.
But these schools still get more resources than others, and that has irked many in schools that to make mid-year cuts are eliminating programs and laying off nurses, aides, secretaries, and other crucial staff who keep schools safe and functioning.
"Separate and unequal is alive and well in Philadelphia!" one protester shouted at the Occupy 440 protest Wednesday.
In addition to closing the Promise Academy central office, Gallard said, all Promise Academies were also forced to cut 2 percent cut out of their operating budgets. Other district schools had to make cuts of 1 to 3 percent, depending on school size.
Shutting the Promise Academy office doesn't mean the end of Promise Academies. It just means less direct support and a different reporting structure. The K-8 Promise Academies will fall under academic region 3, supervised by Francisco Duran. (Duran is the former head of the Promise Academies.) The high school Promise Academies will fall under the high school academic division, headed by Linda Cliatt-Wayman.
Is the district moving away from the Promise Academy model? Hard to say. But it certainly is signaling it doesn't have the money to run Promise Academies the way Ackerman envisioned them. In addition to shutting the Promise Academy office and cutting some of the schools' extra instructional time, there's also been cuts in enrichment programs, mentoring programs and the elimination of school-based instructional specialists, summer professional development, centrally-funded supplemental academic programs and centrally-funded library upgrades.
Early Promise Academy indicators show some progress - decreased violence, increased attendance, jumps in test scores. But those are results from last year, before the cuts took effect.
What do you think? Is the district honor-bound to do more for schools it's failed for years? Or does it simply not have the money to run this initiative?