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Darryl Murphy

Darryl Murphy / The Notebook

District says Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences needs an intervention

Its School Progress Report average has remained in the lowest category for three years in a row, but parents say they are happy with the staff and principal.

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

Changes may be coming to Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences.

As part of the District’s Great Schools initiative, officials held a meeting Monday night at the school with students and families to announce the findings of a “school quality review.” The school is one of six “focus schools” set to receive possible interventions from the District to help it improve performance, but details of those interventions have not yet been revealed.

Three criteria are used to determine which schools are “focus schools.” Under the District’s School Progress Report, the school has remained at the lowest level, "intervene," for three years in a row. The SPR average is at or less than 15 percent, and the school isn’t receiving any major intervention, such as School Redesign, or being added to the Turnaround Network.

School closures or charter conversions are not options for these schools, but interventions can include significant overhauls in faculty and staff.

The scores may be low, but principal John Piniat said the school is on the upswing.

“It’s a process we’re going through,” Piniat said. “But we’re learning a lot from the process. It’s forcing us to bring the parents into the building and having more avenues to hear the feedback so we can use the feedback to help the kids.”

Feltonville’s SPR over three academic years, from 2013 to 2016, averages out to be 11.7 out of 100, sitting at 11 for the first two years, then bumping up to 13. Its test scores are also showing improvement. Reading rose from 20 to 22 percent, math nudged up from 6.4 to 6.8 percent, and attendance — students showing up to school 95 percent of the time — improved from 34 to 44 percent.

One of the benchmarks of the intervention is to increase reading and math to 60 percent, and attendance to 50 percent.

The review process was conducted by Cambridge Education, a consulting group whose contract with the District was approved for $100,000 this summer. Cambridge gathered data and identified possible challenges to learning by engaging students and faculty, and doing classroom walk-throughs.

A focus group, conducted by Temple University under a $70,000 contract with the District, also was held with parents to get their input on the school.

Representatives from Cambridge and Temple reported their findings to the audience of 100 parents, students, and teachers. The results showed that parents were pleased with the school’s climate, staff, and the principal, but were frustrated over lack of resources, danger outside of the school, and the need for more Spanish-speaking staff members.

Other challenges, according to the findings, included the fact that teachers weren’t making sure students fully understood the material, nor were they challenging them to think critically. Of 25 students participating in focus groups, only five felt like they were being challenged.

Also, the results indicated that while the school climate is conducive to learning, the discipline policy is inconsistent. Each grade has a dean who addresses discipline in his or her own way.

A list of suggestions to remedy some of these concerns was presented, but no official recommendations will be announced until early next year.

Parents voiced their concerns during the Q&A portion of the meeting, but most of them simply called for more resources, which is a District-wide problem. Lisa Chhoun, mother of a 6th-grade student at Feltonville, said the $170,000 spent on the evaluation and focus group would be better spent elsewhere.

She said that “if the District can pull money out of the sky” for these reviews, why not put it toward resources such as textbooks, and the additional support staff that the school had before the crippling budget cuts of four years ago.

Ryan Stewart, executive director for the Office of School Improvement and Innovation, said the undertaking is an investment in making sure that school’s specific needs are addressed instead of applying a blanket solution to every school.

“We think that this is a really important investment,” he said. “So we make sure that whatever new resources get put into the school are the right things that make a difference.”

The five other “focus schools” are Gideon Elementary School, James Rhoads Elementary School, Penn Treaty Middle and High School, Steel Elementary School, and Wagner Middle School.