This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A group of nine students from West Philadelphia High School painted a vivid picture of disarray at the school in testimony at the School Reform Commission meeting today and in a follow-up conversation with reporters. But after a closed-door meeting for more than an hour with Associate Superintendent Tomás Hanna and new West Principal John Chapman, the students emerged more hopeful.
Senior Marie Hines, in testimony to the commission, faulted the leadership changes at West and the demise of the academy structure at the school for the deteriorating school climate, saying that when the academies were functioning last year, “We felt like we finally had a voice. We said “’This is what we want,’ and we got it.”
“You rushed to make a change, and everything we worked for is now falling apart,” Hines said. She added that she was speaking out even though she feared that students were being subjected to disciplinary transfers when they protested conditions at the school.
Hanna and Chapman said they assured the students that they would be heard through listening sessions and small group discussions, and that there would be no consequences for speaking out.
“There’s some work that needs to be done,” Chapman acknowledged afterward, adding that while he has only been at the school since Monday, the District is looking for “quick results."
“We can’t let this languish through the year,” he added.
More on the students’ comments and District response to come.
Also at today’s School Reform Commission meeting, Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch presented an update on the District’s budget, which is still in balance for this year, despite reductions in state funding, thanks in part to a larger-than-expected surplus of $40 million at the close of the fiscal year that ended June 30. Next year’s picture is still uncertain, however, with some spending reductions inevitable, Masch said.