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Nunery seeks fresh start

Photo: Benjamin Herold

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook, WHYY/NewsWorks

In his first press briefing since becoming acting superintendent, Leroy Nunery emphasized that the School District is entering a new era following the end of Arlene Ackerman’s tumultuous tenure.

"I think it’s clear that the District has gone through a lot in the last several weeks and months," said Nunery. "We’ve got to restore confidence in public education."

Nunery said he would focus on rebuilding trust and repairing relationships that have grown frayed in recent months. He made conciliatory overtures to media members and to District’s five labor unions, from whom the District is still hoping to extract concessions.

"I am trying to send a message to all of our unionized members that we care," said Nunery. "We need everybody to feel as though they are part of the solution."

A teachers’ union spokesperson said earlier in the day that Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ Jerry Jordan does not intend to reopen the existing teachers’ contract until its expiration in 2012.

Despite the controversy that came to surround Ackerman, Nunery reaffirmed the District’s commitment to her five-year strategic plan, Imagine 2014, though he acknowledged the budgetary constraints that the District will be operating under.

"I think this is a year for us to consolidate what gains we have," said Nunery. "We’re trying to present the prudent course of action and extend what good work has already been done."

Nunery and Associate Superintendent of Schools Penny Nixon emphasized that the District is prepared for a seamless opening of schools on September 6.

“I am clear. We will be ready on the first day of school,” Nixon said.

She added that District leadership has been talking with principals weekly about five key areas considered most urgent for the opening of schools:

  • staffing
  • textbook and materials
  • facilities
  • transportation
  • internal systems

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 556 remaining teacher vacancies, according to District officials, who said placement sessions are ongoing. So far, 388 previously laid-off teachers have been recalled. Over the past week, the District has cut the vacancy count in half.

Numerous schools have a long way to go, however, especially some neighborhood comprehensive high schools and the eight schools that until another round of budget cuts earlier this month were set to become Promise Academies this fall.

For instance, Alcorn Elementary School in South Philadelphia, an aborted Promise Academy, has 19 vacancies. Rhodes High School in North Philadelphia has 11.

Nixon also reported that 87 percent of buildings have been cleaned and are ready for opening this year.

Earlier in the day, George Ricchezza, president of SEIU Local 32BJ, District 1201, said his members are still set to vote on a plan that would result in 100 school maintenance mechanics and 92 building engineer trainees being laid off. He said he was still hoping to find an alternative. Ricchezza expressed concern that all schools would have a building engineer after September.

The District’s ongoing commitment to Imagine 2014 will include a continued commitment to the Promise Academy model, which Nunery said would continue to “evolve.”

The nine Promise Academies in operation this year will have their extra hour of extended learning time during the week scaled back from four days to three, with one extra hour each week still devoted to professional development for staff. Saturday school at the Promise Academies has been discontinued.

Nunery initially indicated that there would be changes in the District’s facilities master planning process and said that he did not want to put recommendations about school closings, consolidations, and other changes in a "black box." But a District spokesperson later clarified that the previously announced timeline will stand. Formal recommendations will be presented to the School Reform Commission in October. After three months of public hearings, the SRC will vote on the recommendations in early 2012.

Neither Nunery nor Masch offered concrete answers to when the District’s final budget would be resolved.

Masch did say that a deal with SEPTA to continue to provide TransPasses to students would be announced at Wednesday’s SRC meeting.

Though he emphasized the need to rebuild public trust in the District moving forward, Nunery declined to say when he would speak on his involvement in a closed-door meeting regarding a potential charter contract for Martin Luther King High School. An investigation by city Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman is in its fifth month, with no definitive word on when the results will be released.

District officials encouraged parents with questions about the opening of school to call 215-400-4000.

Notebook intern Avi Wolfman-Arent contributed reporting to this article.

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