This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Yet another battle over the future of West Philadelphia High School broke out Tuesday morning in the school’s auditorium.
But for the moment, at least, the latest struggle didn’t involve any accusations against parents, dire predictions by teachers, District denials, or behind-the-scenes posturing by community groups and consultants – all of which have come to define West’s strange and oft-delayed foray into Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Renaissance Schools initiative.
That intrigue will apparently resume at Wednesday afternoon’s meeting of the School Reform Commission (SRC), according to an announcement by the West School Advisory Council (SAC). Tuesday, the council members made public their demand that the SRC vote to ratify the council’s recommendation to match West with turnaround partner Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now for next year.
But this morning’s drama, part of West’s annual “Move-up Day,” bore no trace of the messy politics that currently cloud West’s future. Instead, the battle centered around a dance-off between this year’s outgoing seniors (the self-described “Class of Dimes”) and the juniors who will replace them next year as part of West’s Class of 2011 (the "Class with Class").
”At the end of each year, the seniors move up, [the juniors] move into their spots, and the teachers celebrate all of us,” explained junior Anyae Myers.
And quite a celebration it was. Over a hundred students packed West’s auditorium to be thanked by their teachers for a successful year. After a series of musical tributes from staff to students, Principal Saliyah Cruz and several teachers took the stage and launched into a well-choreographed adaptation of a popular teen dance.
Predictably, the hundred-plus students in the auditorium went bananas at the site of their popular principal "doing the Westie."
For many students, teachers, and families at West, the immediate promise of summer jobs and vacations are of more pressing concern than constantly shifting rumors about Promise Academies and turnaround teams.
One veteran teacher, who didn’t want his name used, was among those taking a long view of the situation.
“This is a great staff," he said, laughing at the musical performances by his colleagues, many of whom became actively involved in the Renaissance selection process at West. “But they’re young and maybe a little [naive]. They haven’t seen the business side of how this works. The bottom line is we had three years to get test scores up, and we didn’t get it done."
The teacher said he’s "89 percent sure" he’ll be back at West next year. Given his tenure in the District, he seemed to think it wise to allow for the possibility that a few more major shakeups might upend any firm plans he makes.
Indeed, less than two weeks before the end of the school year, the final tally on how many current teachers will be back are not yet available, and details about what West will look like next year as an Empowerment School and Renaissance School-in-waiting are still sketchy.
And with the SAC’s press conference scheduled for Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. at District headquarters, and with the District still not providing details about how the school’s Renaissance process got derailed, it looks unlikely that anything will be settled soon.
A letter sent by the West advisory council to SRC members and to Ackerman points to the likely next act of the ongoing drama.
”We urge the SRC immediately to approve the resolution that [sic] Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now as the turnaround providers for West Philadelphia High School,” wrote the SAC. “The interruption of the vote occurred without opportunity for response of explanation…As far as we can tell, this process – which was supposed to have included parents and community members – is now moving forward completely behind closed doors.”
District officials did not immediately respond.
With the multiple sides in the West mess seemingly becoming more entrenched, and with the whole process seeming unlikely to be resolved any time soon, many students – in whose name, presumably, this battle is being fought – seem content to let the situation play itself out.
Eleventh graders Anyeah Myers and Todra Sanders, for example, focused on the practical.
Referring to the extended school day and other likely changes that would have come to a Renaissanced West, the girls expressed their relief that the Renaissance at West will be delayed until 2011-12, after they graduate.
“Who wants to stay [in school] til 4:00 and come to school on Saturdays during your senior year?”