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POSTED: Monday, April 15, 2013, 3:41 PM

Hi, all.  Tonight, I'll be livetweeting the School Reform Commission's strategy/policy/planning meeting, which will tackle the subject of career and technical education (also known as vocational education.)

We talk a lot about kids being ready for college, but we know that strong career and technical ed programs are crucial for many kids. And the Philadelphia School District has acknowledged that its programs need to be significantly strengthened.

So, follow along here, or on Twitter. On a mobile device? Click here. You can also stream the meeting directly at the district's website.


POSTED: Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 1:02 PM
District headquarters for the School District of Philadelphia
A newly-formed umbrella group of many of the city’s leading education nonprofits hopes to affect the upcoming Philadelphia teachers’ contract.
The “Coalition for Effective Teaching,” made up of the Aspira Association, Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Education Voters of Pennsylvania, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and the Urban League of Greater Philadelphia, has studied the current Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract and is today announcing recommendations for changes, both for teachers and the Philadelphia School District management.
The Coalition says this is a critical moment for Philadelphia, an “opportunity to adopt reforms that will improve the capacity of the district’s teachers and principals to make a more signifcant contribution to student success and achievement.”
The highlights of what the Coalition is recommending for the PFT contract, which expires in August:
--The group believes that “the district should not have to ask its employees to reduce their pay to balance the district budget.” That’s key, because the district’s opening proposal recommended pay cuts of up to 13 percent, plus benefit contributions of that much.  Instead, the group says, “more funds must be made available to the district to enable it to attract and retain high achieving staff.” There’s no explanation as to where those funds might come from, but the district has said that it will request $120 million more from the state and $60 million more from the city - and those numbers assume big givebacks in the contract already.
--The group believes that class size should not increase, but that exceptions should be made for “blended learning” opportunities - instances when classroom instruction is combined with online or other innovative forms of instruction. This should only be done “to increase student access to high quality courses and instruction.”
--It also recommends the elimination of seniority-based hiring. That is, a move to universal site-selection, the process now in place in some instances in the district that allows principals and their teams to hire the teachers they feel are a good fit for the school, rather than teachers choosing from open positions by seniority, with no principal input.  “This will ensure that in all cases, the teacher is a good fit on the school’s instructional team,” the group says.  Similarly, the group wants to end any transfer/rehiring policies that now overrule the decisions of site selection committees. This would eliminate seniority rules governing staff reductions.
--The group believes that a teacher’s pay should only be increased for new degrees and certifications “in cases where research demonstrates that the degree correlates to gains in student achievement.”  It also wants to create new pay grades rewarding teachers who move into teacher leader positions, to bolster professional development.
--Outside of the contract, the group also recommends changes it wants the disrict to effect, including implementing “an effective principal evaluation program.”  It also wants management to find more money to reward principals deemed effective on multiple evaluation measures, including school safety.  It also wants the district to be able to remove ineffective principals.
--The group also wants the district to help develop better teacher evaluation skills, and to “create the expectation that all teachers be evaluated fairly and honestly so that they clearly understand their strengths and areas in which they might improve.”
--The group also calls for principals to be held more accountable for keeping their schools safe. It calls for the district to tie safety to principal evaluations, and in the district’s toughest schools, require principals to adopt “proven practices” to calm violence and promote a positive school climate.  Under the coalition’s proposal, principals who haven’t shown progress in making their schools safer would be removed.
--The group wants the district to attract and keep the best teachers and principals.  It acknowledges that fixes have been attempted in the past decade, “yet the improvements are not substantial enough to ensure that Philadelphia can successfully hire the best teachers and principals.” It wants the district to rely on expert organizations to devise a plan for recruitment of “promising teachers of diverse backgrounds.” New teachers should get better orientation and a full year of coaching, as well as stronger teacher training.
--To bolster public confidence in these reforms, the group calls on the School Reform Commission to “adopt a meaningful process for tracking progress on these reforms that provides for regular public reports.”
More from the group’s formal announcement, scheduled for 1 p.m., soon.

A newly-formed umbrella group of many of the city’s leading education nonprofits hopes to affect the upcoming Philadelphia teachers’ contract.

 The “Coalition for Effective Teaching,” made up of the Aspira Association, Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Education Voters of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Education Fund, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, The Urban League of Philadelphia and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey has studied the current Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract and is today announcing recommendations for changes, both for teachers and the Philadelphia School District management.

POSTED: Monday, April 8, 2013, 5:43 PM
SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos speaks at Thursday's raucous public meeting on school closings while general counsel Michael Davis, and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. (right) listen.

Tonight, the School Reform Commission will be hearing from parents, teachers and community members in two more formal school closing hearings - for M.H. Stanton Elementary, in North Philadelphia, and Beeber Middle School, in West Philadelphia.  (They were late additions to the closing list, and so not voted on when the SRC moved to shut 23 schools last month.)

I'll be livetweeting; follow along here or on Twitter. On a mobile device? Click here.

Earlier today, my colleague Karie Simmons covered a press conference where concerned citizens - and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell - said they will continue to try to halt the closings.


POSTED: Thursday, April 4, 2013, 11:06 AM

Two city schools in Feltonville were locked down and police besieged a home in the neighborhood Thursday after four students reported a woman had pointed a weapon at them on their way to school, police said.

Using a robot, police, however, determined no one was in the house and declared an all-clear just before noon.

Police later executed a search warrant at house on the 4600 block of Ella Street but left empty handed.

POSTED: Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:56 AM
Exterior photo of Communications Technology High School, in Philadelphia. A former principal has surrendered academic credentials.

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m.

That two Philadelphia principals whose schools are under investigation for cheating have surrendered their administrative licenses sends a clear message, a state official said Wednesday afternoon.

"This is evidence that the department is serious about cracking down on this type of activity," said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education. "We're intent on weeding this type of behavior out; it ultimately hurts children."

POSTED: Thursday, March 28, 2013, 5:23 PM
William R. Hite, Jr. (cq) had lunch and talked with district school students June, 26, 2012, as he was in town to meet the public as the second finalist for the Philadelphia School District's top job. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )

5:50 p.m.:

     Nobody thought the Philadelphia School District’s 2013-14 budget would be pretty, and it’s not: a $2.6 billion spending plan with a gap of $242 million.

    The best-case scenario to fill that gap, district officials said Thursday night, was the city coughing up an additional $60 million, the state an additional $120 million, and unions agreeing to $134 million in givebacks.

    Everyone involved acknowledged it was a brutal spending plan.

Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski described it as a “shared sacrifies budget,” and said that after the School Reform Commission was forced to borrow $300 million just to pay its bills through the end of June, and close over 30 schools in the last 18 months, the new budget would at least wipe out the structural deficit.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said protecting classrooms was a top priority.

“We’re trying not to impact schools any more than they’ve been impacted already,” Hite said.

The operating budget will not require the loss of any classroom jobs. But the loss of $134 million in federal grant funds - that’s a separate pool of money - could mean the loss of 1,300 school and school-related positions.

    Expiring federal stimulus money, cuts to Title I, the loss of large Department of Labor and Department of Education grants all mean that the district’s neediest children are likely to be affected.

    Hite described the federal cuts as affecting “highly impacted groups of students - special ed, free and reduced lunch, English language learners.”


POSTED: Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 6:03 PM
Robert L. Archie Jr. (File Photo / Staff)

Former Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. violated the state’s ethics act when he voted to ratify a contract between the school system and the production company responsible for a Tony Danza reality show shot at Northeast High, Ethics Commission officials said Tuesday.

In 2009, Teach Productions, Inc. agreed to pay the Philadelphia School District’s legal fees related to the TV show — legal fees that ultimately went to Duane Morris, LLP, the law firm where Archie is a partner. The ethics panel ruled that was “a transgression” of state law.

Archie must pay Pennsylvania $6,600. It’s believed to be the first time an SRC member was found to violate ethics laws.

POSTED: Monday, March 25, 2013, 1:10 PM

The Philadelphia School District just announced three companies won the right to be considered to run three public schools being given to charters.  They're all familiar names - Mastery Charter Schools, Universal Companies and Scholar Academies.

All currently run at least one Renaissance school - that's a low-performing district school given by the district to a charter company.

Mastery runs Harrity, Mann, Smedley, Clymer and Gratz High; Universal runs Bluford, Daroff, E. Vare and Audenried; and Scholar Academies runs Frederick Douglass.  All three operators also have freestanding charter schools in the city, as well.

About this blog

Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham writes the Philly School Files blog, where she covers education in Philadelphia, both in and out of the classroom.

During the school year, you’ll frequently find her hosting live chats about the district on Philly.com.

Please do pass along the scoop about what’s going on at your Philadelphia public school; Kristen welcomes tips, story ideas and witty banter.


Kristen Graham Inquirer Staff Writer
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