This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
In a just-released list of graduation rates for District high schools, there is a new name among the leaders: Paul Robeson High School for Human Services.
Robeson’s graduation rate of 90 percent places it among the top 10 District high schools in four-year graduation rates for freshmen who started in 2008.
That may seem like good news — except that the District wants to close Robeson next year and send its students to Sayre, with a graduation rate of 53 percent.
So unless the School Reform Commission votes down the recommendation on Thursday, the District will be sending students from a school where only 1 of 10 students fails to graduate on time to a school where 5 in 10 fail to graduate on time.
Robeson, which is a citywide admission school, came in ahead of more than half of the city’s special admission high schools, including Bodine and Girls’ High, which have more stringent entrance requirements. Robeson’s 2012 graduation rate climbed from 83 percent a year ago.
District officials maintain that there would be an up side to the transition. Moving the Robeson community, they say, will infuse new academic strengths into a struggling neighborhood school and serve as a positive example for the students already at Sayre.
Robeson is the most stark example, but it isn’t the only case in which the District is planning to shift students to schools with graduation rates 25 points or more lower than the one they want to close.
Lamberton High students (graduation rate is 80 percent) are to be sent to Overbrook (52 percent).
Bok students (graduation rate is 71 percent) will go to South Philadelphia (46 percent).
For Robeson and Bok students, District officials say that Sayre and Southern will establish new academies that will maintain the high standards of the two closing schools, both of which are “citywide admission” schools with academic entrance requirements.
For students moving from Robeson to Sayre, the human-services academy planned for Sayre “will retain its admissions requirements and it will also maintain its staff,” said District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. “Our expectation is that as an academy, it will continue to maintain its high graduation rate.”
The same is planned for the career and technical education programs that will be relocated from Bok to Southern, Gallard said.
However, some Robeson students have testified to the SRC that they are not part of the school’s human services academy and are unclear about their fate in the transition. They also say that many of their peers will look for a school other than Sayre.
As for the Lamberton High students slated to be absorbed into Overbrook, Gallard said the District would “provide supports to the entire school community to make sure the graduation rate improves at Overbrook.” Those school-specific plans are still being developed, he said.
In all three cases, Gallard said, the new programs and initiatives would be “seeding the receiving schools with more opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Some of the high schools targeted for closing do not look so good in the new graduation numbers: Carroll, Germantown, and University City all had rates under 50 percent, and Vaux and Douglas were only slightly better at 53 and 57 percent respectively.
Here is a complete list of graduation rates for District-run schools. These are the four-year cohort graduation rates for first-time 9th graders from fall 2008. Students are assigned to the school where they started 9th grade.
Graduation rates: District high schools (2012)
|School name||Graduation rate|
|Carver – Engineering & Science||94%|
|Science Leadership Academy||93%|
|Creative & Performing Arts||92%|
|Swenson Arts & Technology||91%|
|Robeson – Human Serv||90%|
|Bodine – International Affairs||90%|
|Academy at Palumbo||88%|
|Arts Academy at Rush||88%|
|Parkway Center City||88%|
|Phila. HS for Bus & Tech||86%|
|Phila HS for Girls||86%|
|Phila. Mil. Acad. at Elverson||79%|
|Phila. Mil. Acad at Leeds||77%|
|School of the Future||72%|
|Kensington Bus, Fin & Ent||49%|
|Widener Memorial School||30%|
Note: Some schools that had 9th graders in 2008 are now closed but still have graduation rates based on those students’ outcomes.