This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
At its October meetings, the School Reform Commission:
- Heard a report from the chairs of the Renaissance Schools Advisory Board (RSAB), outlining recommendations for closing and re-opening up to 25 of the District’s lowest-performing schools.
- In August, a 60-member RSAB board convened, with three subcommittees to develop the process for selecting schools, engaging the community, and choosing providers to operate the schools.
- Mayor Nutter’s Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr summarized the process of selecting schools. Based on measures including standardized test scores, graduation rates, student attendance, and parent and teacher satisfaction surveys, a small subset of schools will be targeted from the 90 schools in Corrective Action II. Board members will also conduct site visits and perform a school audit to help finalize the list. Then a Renaissance School Advisory Council made up of parents and community members will be formed for each school to flesh out the process for transforming that school and select a qualified “turnaround team” to run it.
- A series of community feedback sessions are being held. The first set of schools, less than the 10 originally planned, is slated to be reorganized by next fall.
- Heard a report on the District’s final budget. Chief Business Officer Michael Masch said the District faces a total funding gap of $196.5 million and discussed 20 planned cuts to existing programs and services to help deal with the shortfall. Savings include slashing $36.3 million from Imagine 2014, primarily in the area of business systems upgrades. Other cuts include $6.8 million for Classrooms for the Future, and a $4.2 million reduction in the Multiple Pathways program, scaling back a planned expansion.
- Witnessed the swearing in of two new commissioners, Joseph A. Dworetzky and Ambassador David F. Girard-diCarlo. Both were appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell. Dworetzky, a former city solicitor, replaced James Gallagher, who resigned in January. Girard-diCarlo, the lone Republican on the board, fills the seat formerly occupied by Heidi Ramirez, who stepped down in September.
- Voted to approve several contracts that had been withdrawn during its September meetings, including a $75,000 contract with Elois Brooks, a former colleague of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, to provide support to the Empowerment Schools Initiative; a $45,000 agreement with Maven, Inc. to provide governmental relations consultative services; and a $2.5 million grant fund to authorize the purchase of instructional materials from Voyager Expanded Learning, Inc. for the extended day program.
- Approved a contract of more than $41 million with Daniel J. Keating Company to build a new West Philadelphia High School. The new building is slated to open by September 2011.
- Heard the presentation Imagine 2014 Implementation Goals and District Report Card Targets for FY 2010. Chief of Accountability David Weiner presented a districtwide report card, monitoring progress toward the District’s 2014 targets in the categories of student achievement, school operations, and community satisfaction. Baseline data from the 2008-09 school year in areas such as PSSA math and reading proficiencies, on-time graduation rates, and dropout rates were used to make the projections.
- Voted to approve a contract of $813,217 to authorize six vendors to help the District with truancy intervention/prevention services. ASPIRA Inc., Harold O. Davis Memorial Baptist Church, Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Lutheran Children and Family Services, Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, and Presbyterian Children’s Village Services will make home visits and intervene and advocate for families of chronically truant students in targeted grades in 30 high schools, 13 middle schools, and 14 elementary schools with high truancy and low average daily attendance rates.
- Heard testimony from students, parents, alumni, and staff of Esperanza Academy about the proposed policy on charter school expansions.
- Under a draft amendment to charter policy, charter schools would be allowed to add grades and expand enrollment “at the time of a charter school’s renewal," which is typically every five years.
- The testimony was critical of a provision making expansion contingent on test performance. To be eligible for an increase in enrollment, "the charter school must be in the status of achieving AYP (not simply having made AYP for prior year) as defined under the federal AYP guidelines. To be eligible for a grade reconfiguration, the charter school must not be in School Improvement I or below.” Previously, the School Reform Commission considered requests on an ad hoc basis and approved changes before a charter’s renewal.