Thousands of Philly students still without permanent teachers

Superintendent William Hite and Principal Shakeera Warthen tour Bregy School last month.

Seven weeks into the school year, thousands of Philadelphia schoolchildren have yet to be assigned permanent teachers.

On top of a substitute-teaching predicament that leaves hundreds of jobs unfilled every day, the Philadelphia School District - with 190 vacancies - has created a crisis, "either through neglect or incompetence," union president Jerry Jordan said Monday.

At Northeast High School alone, 1,815 students are affected by 11 unfilled teaching jobs and three vacancies created by long-term medical leaves, most of which were known about months ago, officials said.

Some students have no permanent teacher in four out of five of their major subjects.

Jordan, speaking at a news conference outside Northeast, laid the blame squarely at the feet of Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., whose administration Jordan said knew about many of the vacancies and failed to fill them.

"The very least the district can do is provide a very basic management function: staffing our schools," Jordan said.

District officials refuted the union's charges, saying that although there are more vacancies this year than last year's 122, the higher number is largely a result of administrators' decision to move fewer teachers around in the process known as "leveling," the annual mid-October shifting of staff to account for enrollment fluctuations.

"We were really focused on maintaining stability for our students and in our buildings," said Kendra-Lee Rosati, acting human resources chief for the district. "Leveling is very challenging for our schools."

Now that leveling has concluded - 55 teachers citywide had been forcibly transferred by Monday - Rosati said she anticipated distributing as many as 80 qualified teaching candidates now in the pipeline. They could be in classrooms by Monday, she said.

Fernando Gallard, a district spokesman, said the school system had hired 600 teachers this school year, up from 400 last year, and was continuing to actively recruit. Among those recruiting efforts were emails sent to staffers and letters sent to retirees, beseeching them to refer qualified teachers, or, for former workers, consider coming back to the district themselves.

In the meantime, schools and students are feeling the pinch.

Millie Cappetti's daughter, who receives special-education services at Mastbaum High, has been jammed into several classes with 55 students because of the vacancies. In some rooms, students sit on windowsills or on chairs with no desks.

"Why should our kids be subjected to this?" Cappetti asked.

Dan Lynch, Northeast's roster chair, said the vacancies and the failure of a firm awarded a $34 million contract to handle substitute services have meant teachers at the city's largest school have had no time for common planning. Some teachers spend their prep period every day covering classes; counselors and administrators also cover classes.

"It's taking a toll on all of us," said Lynch.

He said the letters sent to staffers urging them to refer workers was particularly galling.

"People have had no raises in three years, and [administrators] make six-figure salaries, and they want us to do their jobs?" Lynch asked. "It didn't go over very well at all."

Staffing remains a big worry for students, too.

Jared Hynson, a sophomore at Northeast, has had no physical science teacher since the beginning of the year. Different adults cover the class, but "no one teaches, and he has no book yet," said his mother, Antoinette Hynson.

Hynson said she was told Jared could expect a teacher Monday, but no one showed. Grades for the first marking period go in soon, and it's not clear who will rate the students.

"He's just upset," Antoinette Hynson said. "He said, 'Mom, I'm not learning anything.' "

kgraham@phillynews.com

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