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Robbing Peter to pay Paul: ‘Leveling’ Philly schools in the time of budget crisis

Photo: Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

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

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

It’s gone from bad to worse.

Packed classrooms. Lack of a full-time guidance counselor. No education in arts or music.

Those were the complaints of parents at South Philadelphia’s A.S. Jenks Elementary School through the first month of school.

And now this.

On Monday, parents received word that that the District was removing another teacher from their school – this in addition to the teacher they lost to layoffs in June. As a result, the K-4 school will now serve its 1st through 4th grades only with classes that combine multiple grade-levels in one classroom.

Every 1st grader will be in a class with 2nd graders. Some 3rd graders will be combined with 4th graders; others will be with 2nd graders. Only the school’s kindergarten students will not be affected.

"I’m so disgusted. When I got the letter, I just cried. I can’t believe this is the education I need to give my children," said Jennifer Miller, an A.S. Jenks parent of 4th grader Alyssa and 1st grader Natalie.

Miller, who’s now sent four complaints on behalf of her children to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, says the reshuffling will have negative consequences on Jenks’ young students.

"Socially the kids are very different," she said. "I know my 4th grader came home crying because she doesn’t want to be with 3rd graders. It’s just so much change for these children."

The decision didn’t stem from pedagogical philosophy. Like most things within the Philadelphia School District these days, it came down to money – or the lack thereof.

In the letter Jenks principal Siouda Douglas sent to parents Monday, she wrote: "I learned in a conference call that the District does not have money to fund all of our teaching staff."

Douglas called the news "devastating" and said the faculty would work to make the transition "as smooth as possible."

Based on seniority provisions, 3rd-grade teacher Melissa Schwartz, a five-year District veteran, received notice that her tenure at Jenks would terminate Friday.

Schwartz couldn’t be reached for comment. Douglas said she would speak, but only with District permission, which never came.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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