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District sends out list of principal vacancies

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

The School District has sent out a list of 53 principal vacancies for next year, and they include some of the city’s most sought-after schools, as well as 14 that are designated to receive students from schools that are closing.

The extensive list will set off a chain reaction of principal moves at a time when the District is trying to maintain as much stability as possible in school leadership.

Among the listed vacancies: GAMP, Masterman, the High School of Creative and Performing Arts, Carver HS of Engineering and Science, High School of the Future, and George Washington High.

Superintendent William Hite sent out the list Friday night to all the District’s principals and assistant principals. Under their collective bargaining agreement, principals must notify the District of retirement plans by March 15 to be eligible for the continuation of benefits over the summer.

But in the past, the District has not put out a list of vacancies so quickly because many principals put in the paperwork while still deciding whether they will go through with it and have not informed their staffs.

This year is different, however. Because the number of District-run schools will be reduced by at least 26 next year and more likely 28 (23 that the School Reform Commission voted to close on March 7, three being converted to Renaissance charters, and two more closings to be considered soon), there are potentially 28 displaced principals looking for other positions.

Besides those schools where principals have indicated their intention to retire — about 35 — vacancies are also listed at the five new Promise Academies and 14 designated receiving schools. Most of the receiving schools’ principals have not indicated that they want to retire, but their jobs are now up for grabs, which is the District’s prerogative under the contract, said Robert McGrogan, head of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, the principals’ union.

Those 14 are schools "significantly impacted by [the school closing process] as receiving schools, grade reconfigurations, and/or program mergers," according to a letter from Hite that was also sent to all the principals Friday night. Among them are Bartram and Sayre High and Lea Elementary, as well as three of the four Kensington high schools — Business, Heath, and Urban Education.

The current principals have been invited to apply to keep their jobs, but most of those at receiving schools had "no idea" that their jobs were being opened up for others to apply for, McGrogan said.

Still, McGrogan added, "I am sympathetic to all parties in this situation."

The principals at the closing schools are in a particularly tough spot, McGrogan said. "They are being asked to prepare a school for decommissioning — with all the administrative work that requires, including inventory of materials and funds — apply for another job, and oversee the adminstration of state standardized tests all at the same time." The deadline for applying for a new position is March 25, according to Hite’s letter.

Principals do have the right to rescind planned retirements up until the end of June, McGrogan said, but this year the pressure will be on to make a final decision much sooner. Hite said in the letter that his intention is to "move rapidly through this process so that the newly assigned principals may participate in the budget process, the completion of the school’s Comprehensive Plan and site selection" to fill teacher vacancies.

In selecting principals, Hite has the final decision. But that is preceded by an interview process with a team at each school that includes a representative from the teachers’ union, the Home and School Association, and the community, which makes a nonbinding recommendation to the superintendent.

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