Archives for category: Philadelphia

This is a wonderful story of a public school whose students succeeded against the odds thanks to a dedicated and creative leader. Will Bill Gates or Laurene Powell Jobs come calling?

Philadelphia School Leader Named NASSP National Principal of the Year

Richard Gordon of Paul Robeson High School for Human Services announced as 2021 honoree during National Principals Month

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Bob Farrace, NASSP, 703-860-7252farraceb@nassp.org

Reston, VA—Richard Gordon, principal of Paul Robeson High School for Human Services in Philadelphia, PA, has been named the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) 2021 National Principal of the Year. The surprise announcement, part of the 2020 celebration of National Principals Month, took place during a virtual meeting of Philadelphia principals earlier today.

Gordon won the award for successfully leading Robeson High School from the brink of closure to what is now considered Philadelphia’s premiere high school.

“Any school turnaround is hard, and it takes a special leader to sustain it,” said NASSP President Robert Motley in his presentation of the award. “But Mr. Gordon led Robeson High School’s turnaround under extraordinary political and social pressures, and at no point did he lose focus on the students. Under Mr. Gordon’s leadership, Robeson High School models what personalization was always meant to be. Personalization begins not at the data or at test targets, but at the person–with all their interests, needs, traumas, and dreams. His leadership makes that happen.”

In 2013 Gordon assumed the reins of Robeson High School, a school in a converted garage in the poverty-stricken area of West Philadelphia that was slated for closure. By 2019, Gordon’s led Robeson off the Pennsylvania High Needs/Academically Low Performing List and onto the list of High Progress Schools with a graduation rate of 95 percent. At the heart of Gordon’s success is the school motto “Build Your Own Brand,” which is realized by his meeting with each of the school’s 315 students to build an educational pathway around their interests. To help students reach their goals, Gordon established countless business, community, and dual-enrollment partnerships specific to student needs. In one illustrative case of a student who dreamed of working on the NASCAR circuit, Gordon leveraged partnerships to secure the student an internship with the nationally renowned all-female Philadelphia mechanic shop Girls Auto Clinic. They plugged him into the NASCAR circuit in the Pocono Mountains, and he drove in his first professional NASCAR-sponsored race this past summer. This case is the norm, as all students are connected to mentors and a business coach to define actionable steps for achieving their desired outcomes.

“Richard doesn’t see obstacles, only opportunities,” commented Kerensa Wing, the 2020 National Principal of the Year who served on the committee that selected Gordon. “His passion for working with kids and helping them succeed is impressive.”

Finding opportunities is a hallmark of Gordon’s leadership. When two Black men were falsely arrested at a West Philadelphia Starbucks in an incident that made national headlines and resulted in a financial settlement with Starbucks and the City of Philadelphia, the men dedicated $200,000 for seed money to launch Project Elevate through their Action Not Words Foundation. Gordon convinced the men and city leaders to select Robeson for the pilot program to equip the most vulnerable Philadelphians with the financial tools, resources, and access needed to break the cycle of generational poverty. Through this partnership, student entrepreneurs are learning how to write and execute business plans to launch businesses in their communities.

Yet, Gordon recognized early that achievement was possible only on a foundation of student safety and wellness. To that end, he created the Safe Corridors Program, a collaboration between Robeson and the University City District (a partnership of the business community, universities, community-based organizations, Philadelphia police, University of Pennsylvania Security Officers, and West Philadelphia residents) to provide extra supervision for students traveling to and from school. Partnerships with mental health therapy programs provide trauma supports for students and build a trauma-informed school environment. Truancy rates have dropped precipitously to near 10% (-22.6%), suspension rates fell below 5%, and bullying has been eliminated, with zero reports in the past 5 years– transforming the school into a safe harbor and making Robeson one of the safest schools in Philadelphia.

Gordon holds a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University, and master’s degrees from both Coppin State University and Lehigh University.

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D. said Gordon’s commitment to serving children and families is the driving force behind his success at Robeson.

“From the moment he arrived at the District, Principal Gordon’s enthusiasm for creating a positive learning and instructional environment has yielded wonderful results,” Hite said. “We are thrilled to see him receive this recognition and look forward to even greater success for his students and the entire school community.”

“The PA Principals Association is proud that one of our very own school leaders has been named NASSP’s Principal of the Year,” said Paul Healey, the groups’s executive director, who identified Gordon as the 2020 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year. “Richard Gordon exemplifies the qualities of an effective principal and demonstrates his leadership skills, passion, dedication, and an outstanding commitment to his students and school community on a daily basis.  We are proud of his accomplishments and join in the well deserved congratulations from across PA and the nation.”

The NASSP Principal of the Year (POY) program recognizes outstanding middle level and high school principals who have succeeded in providing high-quality learning opportunities for students as well as demonstrating exemplary contributions to the profession. Each year, NASSP honors State Principals of the Year from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools, and the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity. Out of these exceptional school leaders, three are selected as finalists and one is ultimately selected for the National Principal of the Year award. The 2021 finalists include Adam Clemons of Piedmont High School in Piedmont, AL; and Michelle Kefford, formerly of Charles Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, FL, now principal of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

Gordon is one of only three principals from Pennsylvania ever to receive this national distinction, along with Kevin McHugh of the Pennsbury School District in 2002 and Michael Pladus of the Interboro School District in 1999.

For more information on the POY program, please visit www.nassp.org/poy.

About NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor SocietyNational Junior Honor SocietyNational Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council.

Over 600 faculty and staff at Penn have organized Penn for PILOTS and issued a statement calling on the university to make “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOTs) to the Philadelphia public schools. As is well known, the public schools in Philadelphia are chronically underfunded, thanks to a hostile Republican legislature, and they are currently facing devastating cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Penn is the largest property owner in Philadelphia and the only Ivy League university that doesn’t pay PILOTs. Calls for PILOTs have surfaced for years, but support for the idea has now reached an unprecedented level. A significant number of Penn faculty and staff believe that it is time for the university to pay its fair share for public schools.

As the organizing statement of the group says, Penn is the seventh wealthiest university in the nation, and the Philadelphia schools are among the poorest in the nation.

This is the petition of the organizers. The statement begins:

We are faculty and staff at the University of Pennsylvania who believe that Penn has a responsibility to ensure adequate funding for the Philadelphia public schools. Penn is the largest property owner in the city of Philadelphia, but as a non-profit institution, it pays no property taxes on its non-commercial properties. In other words, it contributes nothing to the tax base that funds Philadelphia’s public school system—this in a city whose schools are underfunded and facing deep budget cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Commitment

Penn should contribute to an Educational Equity Fund governed by the school district and city of Philadelphia. These would be payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs)—a fraction of what Penn would owe if it were subject to property tax assessment. We commit ourselves to seeing our university pay its fair share.

Nearly every other Ivy League university already makes payments in lieu of taxes. Penn would be joining the ranks of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, and Dartmouth in recognizing its financial obligation to the community of which it is a part.

The supporters of this demand explain their rationale:

This is not a matter of charity but of justice. Penn’s tax exemption is predicated on the notion that it is a non-profit institution that exists to fulfill a public purpose, not a for-profit corporation that exists to accumulate capital. That distinction must be made meaningful. Today, Penn is the seventh richest university in the country. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has the highest poverty rate of the ten largest cities in the United States. If Penn’s public mission is to have any meaning at all, the university must not be an exemplar or engine of urban inequality.

Yet the existing system of public finance ensures that Penn benefits from city services that it does not pay to maintain. Penn’s administrators, faculty, and staff rely on city schools, sanitation services, transportation, and other programs. Penn’s location in the city of Philadelphia is one of its defining characteristics that enables the university to attract faculty and students. When the university does not pay for the services and environment that make its work possible, other Philadelphians are left to make up the difference—or city schools and other institutions simply go without. Penn has a duty to contribute to the city that sustains it.

Here is their list of frequently asked questions.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about this remarkable movement.

I salute the faculty and staff at Penn who support this movement. The financial condition of the Philadelphia public schools is dire. They need all the help they can get. In this age on intense individualism and greed, it is wonderful to see people acting with a sense of social responsibility.

Charters in the Philadelphia area received more than $30 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds, while public schools in Philadelphia continue to be systematically underfunded. The big winner in the PPP sweepstakes is the for-profit Chester Community Charter School, owned by a major Republican donor and billionaire.

One of the largest loans, between $5 million and $10 million, went to Chester Community Charter School (CCCS), which is operated by a for-profit management company owned by wealthy Republican donor Vahan Gureghian.

The loan was received by Archway Charter School of Chester, Inc., which is the nonprofit name for CCCS under which it files its 990 tax form.

The CCCS charter already received more than $2.5 million from the CARES Act, intended for public schools. So CCCS, which aims for a complete takeover and privatization of its district, is funded both as a “public school” and a small business.

The most recent 990 form on file for Archway and available in Guidestar, which is for 2017, reports that almost all its more than $66 million in revenue comes from “government grants.” Gureghian has resisted releasing any information about his management company’s profits, but the 990 reports $18 million in management costs.

Chester Community is among those pursuing a court case that could privatize the management of all the schools in Chester. Charters already educate most of the K-8 students in the district.

Lisa Haver, a retired teacher and current activist in Philadelphia, wonders why state and city leaders are so fearful of democracy. When state control of the public schools ended—capping a two-decade era of defunding and additional privatization of public assets—it was replaced by mayoral control. She argues that Philadelphia needs an elected school board.

We vote for our leaders in every election.

But not for Philadelphia’s school board.

Unlike voters in every other district in Pennsylvania, those in Philadelphia continue to be disenfranchised when choosing their local school board….

Philadelphia’s new hand-picked Board of Education was sworn in recently, immediately after City Council’s one mandated confirmation. The hearing, confirmation vote and swearing-in created nary a disturbance in the force, without coverage from any major newspaper, radio or television outlet, save the independent Public School Notebook.

In fact, little notice was paid to the nomination process itself. Although many Philadelphians believe that “local control” was restored after the abolition of the School Reform Commission, the District actually operates under mayoral control. Months ago, the mayor selected his nominating panel which, at his direction, held deliberations in closed executive session, arguably violating the state’s Sunshine Act and shutting out those with a heavy stake in the District—parents, educators, students and community members.

The Council hearing on the mayor’s choices offered one brief opportunity for the public to hear from the nominees. For some reason, though, all questions were directed to the incumbents, none to the one new candidate. Ameen Akbar was sworn in without having to explain his philosophy of education, his vision for the future of the District, or his work in the charter sector, in particular his affiliation with the Universal charter network, whose former CEO and chief financial operator were indicted in January on bribery charges, alongside one Councilmember and his wife.

Will this unelected board resist the sales pitches from purveyors of technology? Will they insist on transparency and accountability for charter schools?

Philadelphia needs an elected board.

The charter industry has lots of problems with stability. The charters open and suddenly close. Scandals and corruption are commonplace so much so that Carol Burris says there is a “crisis of corruption in the charter industry.”

Theft and fraud are predictable when non-educators, entrepreneurs and grifters get public money and can open or close their school without any accountability or oversight.

So in Philadelphia, the second-largest charter in the City is in trouble.

Philadelphia’s second-largest charter school has a large budget deficit, a CEO on leave, and some sort of problem related to the identification of special education students.

It’s the kind of financial and administrative turmoil that would draw major headlines at a large, traditional school district. But the K-12 school at the center of the tumult refuses to say much of anything — and only recently published a six-sentence letter on its website explaining that it had made a personnel change.

Despite repeated requests for comment, First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School in Bridesburg has declined to explain why or how it found itself in, what one official called, a “difficult time of transition.”

Here’s what we know.

Longtime CEO Joseph Gillespie is on a leave of absence and has been replaced, on an interim basis, by Carleene Slowik. The 1,850-student school sent a brief note to parents Wednesday explaining the change — only after WHYY contacted the school and asked for clarification about the leadership situation.
Before that note, the school would not divulge whether Gillespie was still working at First Philadelphia — or even who was in charge of the school, which is affiliated with a charter management company called American Paradigm Schools.

A lawyer representing First Philadelphia said the school had no comment on the situation. Nor would he say who was currently running the campus. Several attempts to reach Gillespie were unsuccessful.

No oversight. No accountability. No transparency.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Trump singled out a child from Philadelphia who, he said, was “trapped in a failing government school.” In fact, the child attends one of the city’s most elite charter schools. Didn’t Betsy DeVos realize she had given $1.3 million to the self-same charter school in 2019?

President Donald Trump turned a Philadelphia fourth grader into a poster child for the school-choice movement Tuesday when he told the nation that thousands of students were “trapped in failing government schools” and announced that the girl was at last getting a scholarship to attend the school of her choice.

But Janiyah Davis already attends one of the city’s most sought-after charter schools, The Inquirer has learned. In September, months before she was an honored guest at Trump’s State of the Union address, she entered Math, Science and Technology Community Charter School III.

MaST III opened in the fall in a gleaming facility on the site of the former Crown Cork & Seal headquarters in Northeast Philadelphia, part of a charter network so popular that the school received 6,500 applications for 100 seats next year. Like all charters, it’s independently run but funded by taxpayers — meaning that Janiyah and the other 900 students at the school do not pay tuition.

How she landed in the audience during Trump’s prime-time speech Tuesday remains a bit of a mystery even to Janiyah’s mother, Stephanie Davis.

In an interview Friday, Davis, a teacher’s assistant who lives in Northeast Philadelphia, said she received a call several weeks ago from the principal at Janiyah’s former school, Olney Christian School at 425 E. Roosevelt Blvd.

After attending public kindergarten, Janiyah moved to Olney Christian for first through third grades. Tuition there is $5,200 for elementary students. She received a partial scholarship, Davis said, but it was still a struggle to afford. So Janiyah transferred to MaST III after she was accepted there last summer.

So the student was NOT attending what Trump and DeVos call a “failing government school.” She attended a private Christian academy, then transferred to a highly selective charter school. But she was singled out as Trump’s example of a student “trapped in a failing government school.”  Was she trapped in a a failing public kindergarten four years ago?

WHAT LIARS!

Time to register for the best education conference ever! 

Meet your allies and leaders of the Resistance!

I will see you in Philly March 28-29!

 

 

Nimet Eren, principal of the public Kensington Health Sciences Academy, runs a public school for 465 students that is open to all and offers four career pathways. Recently the school learned that a new charter would open nearby offering the same program. 

The principal was told that the competition would “help” her school by providing a “model” of what her school was already doing successfully.

She writes:

During the summer of 2019, the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), a nonprofit organization that invests in educational projects across the city, met with me to discuss the goals we had for our school. We talked extensively about what we have learned from the partnerships we have created, especially in medical settings. Then, PSP asked to visit us on Sept. 25 for the morning. It was a wonderful visit, and our teachers and students were engaged in great learning, as they are every day. The day finished with an in-depth conversation about the challenges of building partnerships with settings such as hospitals and clinics.

Then, before Thanksgiving break, I received an email from PSP stating that they had “an exciting opportunity for KHSA” and that they wanted to share it with me. I was, of course, elated and scheduled a meeting with them on Dec. 2.

The news they wanted to share was that they were giving seed money to a potential charter founder to form a health sciences charter high school in North Philly. I was confused. How was this an exciting opportunity for KHSA?

It actually felt like creating unfair competition for my school for resources that are already scarce, especially because charters can manipulate admissions and enrollment policies to their benefit, and neighborhood schools cannot.

I asked PSP how this charter school would be helpful to KHSA, and they said that my school “could learn from their charter model.” I replied that we are trying to build a model for our neighborhood students and that we need support. They then explained what I believe is the real answer as to why they were not investing in us: Because KHSA is a neighborhood school and not a charter school, they cannot control enrollment for their dream school.

Although it might appear that KHSA does not want a health sciences charter school to exist just because they copied our school’s theme, that is not the reason. The reason actually is that many charter schools create the illusion that they are educating children better than neighborhood high schools. The reality is that neighborhood high schools are serving our highest-needs children and that society should be investing the most in them.

The children who come to my school each day are the most resilient, charismatic, and loving people I have ever known. Some of my students’ reading and math levels are not as high, but that’s not their fault. It is society’s fault for not better supporting the children who are most in need. PSP’s explanation of why it is not investing in a neighborhood high school perpetuates this inequity.

I testified at the school board meeting on Dec. 12 and a charter school hearing on Dec. 20. I have had countless conversations with colleagues and opponents and have thought tirelessly about the charter vs. traditional school debate. I have heard so many arguments for both sides of the story, but the idea that I find the most compelling is one shared by one of my teachers, Jenifer Felix: Parents want what’s best for their own children. Teachers want what’s best for all children.

The problem with school choice is that it creates segregation. Choice takes away limited resources from inclusive neighborhood schools and leads to even fewer resources being spent on our students who are most in need.

For the first time in 70 years, a third-Party Candidate was elected to the City Council in Philadelphia. 

Kendra Brooks of the Working Families Party just won a seat that has long been Republican.

Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks held an insurmountable lead of 10,000 votes over her nearest rival, according to unofficial election returns. The insurgent third-party candidate, who campaigned on ousting Republicans from City Hall, declared victory just after 11 p.m. on Tuesday night

With nearly 95% of votes tallied, the five Democratic nominees clinched the remaining at-large seats, with the five highest vote totals. Two of Council’s seven at-large seats are reserved for candidates from a minority political party — and it was that bottom-ticket contest that proved the most competitive on Tuesday’s ballot.

Brooks was endorsed by the “wildly popular” Helen Gym.

 

 

 

 

 

It is illegal for public schools to refuse admission to students with disabilities.

A charter school in Philadelphia admitted a six-year-old, then rejected her when the parent told the school the child had special needs.

 

An education advocacy group sued a Philadelphia charter school on Thursday, alleging it barred a 6-year-old from enrolling after learning she required services for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

The Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School in July accepted the girl for first grade this fall, according to the lawsuit brought by the Education Law Center. But when she and her mother, Georgette Hand, went to the school later that month with her documents, Veronica Joyner, the school’s founder and chief administrative officer, said she could not enroll the child because of her special needs.

Joyner told Hand the school “did not have the class or teacher to provide the services required” by the girl’s Individualized Education Plan, which specifies how schools must meet her needs, according to the lawsuit filed in Common Pleas Court Thursday. The suit seeks to have the girl immediately enrolled at the charter and awarded “compensatory education services” for the time she was excluded from the school. It also asks the court to order the school to include students with disabilities, and to contract with a provider to train staff on inclusion and diversity.

Margie Wakelin, a staff attorney for the Education Law Center, called the case “explicit” discrimination.

Charter schools say they are “public schools,” but they act like private schools.