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What were the top education stories of the year?

Members of the school board listen to comments from elected officials during the first Board of Education meeting in 2018. Board Vice President Wayne Walker (second from right) is the only current board member who did not seek another term.

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

The biggest story in Philadelphia public education in 2018 was the return of the School District to local control, and our list of the most-read Notebook stories includes several covering this momentous event.

Mayor Kenney appointed a Board of Education nearly two decades after a state takeover that was sold as a way to save the District financially and improve it academically, but delivered on neither promise. To the extent that the District progressed during those years, it was not due to the change in governance. In fact, it was under state control that the District suffered some of its deepest funding cuts, resulting in devastating losses of nurses, counselors, and other personnel in many schools.

The return to local control comes with high hopes, but no guarantees. The underlying issues that plague the District and face the nine-member Board of Education remain intact, primarily the deep poverty of so many of its students and the political barriers to raising enough money from any source to truly meet their needs.

None of our stories about the landmark funding lawsuit made our top 20 most-read pieces, but clearly, the progress of this litigation to a full trial ranks as one of the year’s top stories, even though the trial won’t start until 2020.

The District is now in a period of apparent fiscal stability, but it has come at a price – namely, the inability to spend enough money to maintain, make safe, and modernize dozens of aging and deteriorating school buildings.

What’s happening with charter schools also drew attention, as did efforts to cope with the effects on students of trauma and mental health issues and the impending closure of Strawberry Mansion as a neighborhood high school. Topics regarding race were also well-read, including our recent series on teacher diversity and desegregation.

20 Most-Read Notebook Articles in 2018

1 Boy dies at North Philadelphia school
2 Ceilings collapse at Palumbo after water builds up on roof
3 Strawberry Mansion high school slated for closure
4 Here we’re not outcasts
5 Franklin Towne accused of discriminating against special needs student
6 SRC denies 6 charters and approves one with conditions
7 City releases names of applicants and nominees to school board
8 Nikole Hannah Jones issues a challenge to parents in Philadelphia and beyond
9 Kenney appoints nine new school board members
10 Creative arts therapists tap into the antidote to anxiety
11 Nominating panel sends 18 new school board candidates to Kenney
12 Teacher diversity, or lack of it, in the Philadelphia suburbs
13 SRC approves Franklin Towne’s third charter school and votes to close Eastern University Academy Charter
14 Heating problems in Philly schools rise as temperatures plunge
15 Why does Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion High School only enroll 235 out of 2,267 eligible students
16 Panel submits 27 names to mayor for new school board
17 Is the new school board diverse enough?
18 More than half of Pa. districts have no teachers of color
19 Educators and Mayor Kenney celebrate best and most improved schools
20 The quest to help traumatized children learn

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