Monday, September 10, 2007

Back to school!

Welcome back to the start of a new school year! This year Parents United is committed more than ever to being a watchdog in the schools, particularly around staffing, funding, services and supports.

We're particularly interested in whether you notice: split grades, larger than normal class sizes, and any change in non-teaching personnel, classroom assistants, librarians, art and music programs, and services for special needs students. We'll be using your information to demand answers and accountability from the District and SRC.

Post your comments here and help us make Philadelphia public schools better!


Heidi said...

Back to school at Bache-Martin
Not exactly as uneventful as was described in yesterday's inquirer:

Our parents and children came back to the news of a 41-student 5th grade class and a split class of 1st/2nd graders. We're also missing a gym teacher, yet my son has gym scheduled for twice a week.

So how did this happen? The district says that they'll take a wait-and-see approach, of 10 days. In that time, they'll watch enrollment, and then determine if our 5th grade gets a second teacher. Interesting, because I met at least 2 new parents in the morning - not enrolled, and my son said he had 2 new children in his class, as well.

Meanwhile, at least someone is getting an accurate picture of enrollment - the inquirer reported that 166,000 children were going back to school, and then today, revised that number to 172,000. It's time to get us more teachers, now.

I requested a meeting with our regional superintendent and principal to see what was being done to address this. Both were too busy to meet, but advised that regarding our lack of teaches, that John Owens was notified. This doesn't mean much to me, considering John knew about our 5th grade enrollment size back in May when we submitted our budget.

mansei said...

GAMP: posted Sept. 10 8:34 a.m.

we do have a school library and the teacher was cut...

mansei said...

An anonymous posting sent to Parents United from Olney area. Sept. 10, 7:12 p.m.

First Day of School 2007

Tom Brady the interim CEO of the School District of
Philadelphia appeared on the evening news today at
length noting how smoothly the school year opened.
What’s the surprise? We teachers and principals for
the most part are not new to the job. We’ve done this
before, and while it's always exciting, it’s not news.
Mr. Brady insists classrooms have not been affected by
the budget cuts that have ensued due the budget
So here is some news for Mr. Brady. My school opened
today with two classrooms still in need of teachers.
That’s right, two classrooms, sixty kids, with no
Those of us who were in the classroom had not received
copy paper. How could we print letters introducing
ourselves to our parents? How could we send home
information about requirements our students must meet?

My colleague who teaches math doesn’t even have
procedural fluency books to hand out to her students.
On the bright side I met more parents on this first
day of school than I had met on previous first days.
One parent told me her child will not be in school on
Wednesday as he has a court appearance t=due to an
arrest for rape which occurred over the summer.
Another parent brought her daughter in and informed
she was only going to be here for a short while as the
daughter feared for her safety in our school and would
soon be transferred out.
The third mother wanted her son in my room as four –
five children in the room he had been assigned to
consistently rolled on her son last year.
Actually, I had a really good first day in my
91-degree room. I covered the opening day rituals,
began teaching, and assigned homework. Now at 7:00,
I’m going to sleep for the second time today.

mansei said...

An anonymous email sent to Parents United, posted Sept. 10, 3:17 p.m.:

Our library is being converted to a "success center." A LIMA instead of a librarian for a high school with no books or magazines or other materials ordered for the last four years. A. Philip Randolph Career Academy will never be confused with Chestnut Hill Academy. Check out Chestnut Hill's library on the web. Then weep.

jk said...

Back to school at Powel went reasonably smoothly, and though we do have enough teachers to cover each classroom, we do not have a librarian and at least two staff mentioned how there isn't money for supplies [i.e. paper]. All in all, this is not a complaint. Powel is lucky to have its parents, staff and children. It is too bad we live in a country that does not value children and their education, however.

Also have heard that due to money issues, there will not be TerraNova testing this Fall.

Bret said...

My daughter started her first day at Masterman fifth grade. After five years in the public schools, the thing that struck me the most? It was the first time I walked through a discernible front door.

The other schools she attended, you couldn’t even tell that the building was a school building, and it used to take us several tries to even figure out which door to enter. For the first time, my daughter felt a bit awestruck by walking up stairs, through a courtyard and into a front entrance. Every child should feel like they're making an entrance at their school.

The other thing that struck us? What the school promised to teach her: science 5 days a week, art – (her first art class ever!), music, and a library that stayed open from 7:30 in the morning till 4:30 in the afternoon.

The first thing my daughter checked out? The girls bathroom to see if they had running water, stall doors, soap and toilet paper. She pointed out with tremendous relief that it was “yes” to all items.

On the face of it, being struck dumb by a gift of music, art, science, library, and bathroom doors should be ridiculous. All of those ought to be a basic for every school. But for us it wasn’t, and I know for many of my daughter’s non-Masterman peers it may not be the same.

At the same time, Masterman is an old building, filled beyond capacity with 33 students in every class. Its library is a dream for us, but probably a shame to any suburban high school nearby. At one point there was talk of a Masterman middle school and a separate high school that would allow more students to attend, but the idea of improving or even addressing Masterman's meagre facilities has been routinely quashed. It's yet another example that the District's facilities issue needs serious attention.

jk said...

In my previous post, I forgot to mention that at Powel our special-ed teacher was cut from full- to part-time.

Parents United said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. Heidi, the situation at Bache-Martin is indeed alarming. Please report back when you can with further information on what's going on.

And to the rest of you, let's keep the information flowing!

mansei said...

An email sent to Parents United from Nebinger Elementary, Sept. 12, 12:30 p.m.

Our split was eliminated Today. We lost our NTA (of over 35 years) Pleas to the SRC did no good. We are told we will be given someone from school climate to help with the duties our NTA had done -- this is a sad situation, as we may have a body, but not someone so invested in the community and who
understood the children so well. Additionally, facility problems exist from rain damage, including peeling and falling paint in the main corridor, that concerns me (getting into children's eyes when it falls)

Many Spec ed classes in the district are in chaos (although not at Nebinger)

mansei said...

From Shahrazad Ali, George Washington Elementary, sent Sept. 10, 6:26 p.m.

Our day used to be 8:20 AM to 2:50 PM. Now it is 8:01 AM to 2:40 PM - and the difference regarding the traffic is terrible. I heard from someone at the school that they changed this because the students that get bussed in were getting home too late. ???

I really don't know why we all have to be inconvenienced because of the students who ride the bus to George Washington Elementary. ???

This was just the first day. I'll get back to you next week after I see what the schedules are. Thank you.

mansei said...

From Shahrazad Ali, George Washington Elementary, posted Sept. 12, 9:06 a.m.

My 7 year old son attends Geo. Washington Elementary, and I found out this morning that 3 classes at this school have 37 or more children in them.

This is rediculous. I actually saw the long lines myself on the playground where the children line up before class. I imagine this is going on at all the schools with all the cutbacks.

emer said...

It's great to hear that the deficit has been cleared but it's not true that the classrooms have been protected.

It looks like Greenfield lost 3 teachers during the summer (on top of losses to cuts and to leveling last year). We have also heard that the MG program will be cut in half because of staff losses. Tech has been dropped, at least for some of the grades (including the second grade), and so far there appears to be no art program. We are waiting to see what losses are pushed on us this year if and when leveling occurs.

Greenfield is lucky to have a great staff and very active home and school association but frustrated as programs are cut and staff lost year after year.

Heidi said...

So the deficit is closed - now what?

When will we actually start to see the teachers coming back to our schools? Are we holding anyone accountable following the press announcement?

Anne LaBrum said...

Where I teach there are several over stuffed classrooms. But, worst of all, our staff has found some serious inappropriate conduct by our administration.

We have found that the new required uniforms were ordered from, shipped and produced by our roster chair's brother. In India.

For more than the previous company charged. That company was located in Philadelphia, paying our hefty taxes, cooperating during billing, delivering quality shirts for years.

This is one example of how poor judgement, near criminal , in my view, about spending money once it is allocated to a building can adversely affect our children.

Parents United said...

Parents United is hoping to direct the media back to this site to get rid of the notion that just because a deficit is eliminated on paper has nothing to do with whether there are consequences in the classroom. We're specifically asking them to investigate class size problems.

We encourage you to bring your concerns to the parent-District meeting slated for Sept. 24 at 6 p.m., 440 N. Broad Street. This is an open meeting. We'll be raising most of the concerns posted on this website.

Finally, we've been lobbying in the media, and in the District to address the teacher situation and class size/split grade situation immediately. We met with the Mayor last week and brought up Bache Martin's situation specifically, and will do so as well with George Washington Elementary.

The next SRC meeting is Wed. Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. You can register to testify by calling 215-400-4040. In October we'll be asking parents from any school with an overcrowded class to attend the first October SRC hearing to testify.

Gretchen said...

From Albert Greenfield Elementary:

We did lose several teachers, and also one experienced and by all accounts wonderful math specialist who prevously assisted with the math curriculum at all levels of this K-8 school is now back in the regular classroom full-time, which is fine with me as she is now my son's math teacher. My daughter just started at Masterman and I am still just learning about it. Seems quite good. School building is overcrowded though, 33 kids in a class, and 66 kids in gym class. They have gym only once a week (one gum teacher and one adult assistant for the 66 kids). Must share lockers as not enough room for more. Still, Masterman has good students, good teachers, and good parents, and even the administrators seem nice so far so we are expecting a good year.

Gretchen Cowell

sb said...

I am happy to report that Back to School at Samuel Powel Elementary was very positive. Thanks to the hard work of parents and advocates (like Parents United) we only lost one full-time teaching position this year. The effects of this loss are not immediately apparent because rather than creating split classes Powel opted to lose a literacy support teacher. We also lost our talented & gifted/special education teacher to part-time. Again, these losses are a blow to the school and the effects will become more apparent as the year (s) progress if not reversed. Finally, we have fewer non-teaching aides in the building that had previously been supporting our school library to remain open to classes.

This year the Home and School Association is working very hard to preserve our school library. Powel parents strongly believe that a school library is a key to literacy and a lifelong love of learning. Home and School is scrambling to cultivate parents, community members, and community partners to help us keep our library going!

I was informed that H&S had spent a great deal of money on the library only a few years ago!! It seems strange that the SDP does not realize the value of the library to students' education and would leave it to parents to preserve such a valuable resource. In fact, while researching ways to support the library I found that the library services department in the SDP no longer exists; it is known as educational technology....

Parents United said...

We're happy to report that this blog, young though it is, already seems to be having an effect.

On Sep. 12 Metro Philadelphia ran a report about the class size problem at Bache-Martin that may well have been inspired by this very thread. Read it on the Parents United website.

Parents United said...

From Greg Wade, Phila. Home & School Council president, sent to Parents United on Sept. 8 at 8:29 a.m. and updated on Sept. 17.

As for back to school news, the overcrowding is worse than ever. At Fitzpatrick, they have 46 kids in one 7th grade class, and 43 in another. There are situations like that one all over the district. At Disston it's so bad, they have kids in the basement and they don't have enough desks. The East region and northeast region in particular are bad, and there's just no place to put kids unless they build. It's out of control.

Parents United said...

From an anonymous email sent to Parents United, Sept. 17 8:48 p.m.

Wait until the second week of October to get the school headcounts for any article. The majority of the grades, at our school, are over their caps and it's changing daily. At the end of September is when the leveling process takes place and the new teachers are suppose to be assigned to overcrowded classes.

If an article appears now all you'll get is the school district propaganda about how things will change once the Sept. count is finished. It's in Oct. that the truth will come out.

Ask for attendance sheet for each class if you want to see how many kids are in each class. Better yet, if you can get in to classes do a count of how many kids are actually sitting in the rooms. Often the sitting figure will eclipse the attendance sheet. Any class oversized in Oct. means that it will probably stay that way for the year.

Last year all our kindergardens and 3rd grades were over their limits. It stayed that way in my room for the year except for a month or two in middle of year when it dipped to 29. Despite the contract stipulation that an assistant will be sent to any class over the cap none were sent for the entire year.

Our school was entitled to a new teacher last year and the district said they had no money for one. The next week they came and took away our newest teacher and made her re-pick a new school. This caused much disruption as the principal had to reassign teachers for new grades and break up classes to be distributed to the remaining classes. I suspect that it will be worse this year. Add to this sixth grades that are being forced into elementaries, but no new teachers are being sent. Instead elementary teachers are being pressganged into these grades with books arriving the week school opened.

girasole9 said...

Why do we have all these staff development days? I know our school does do something for the teachers, but I've heard from several teachers outside of Meredith in the district that it's just an excuse for a long weekend.

When the kids have half day, kindergarten ends up eating lunch at 10am or so. What can be accomplished in 2 hours? Basically, it's a wasted day. And that counts toward their 180 days too. If we're so worried about falling behind, then give them back their 15 (+-) half days.

My friend is a teacher in Bucks County and she said they have 3-4 in-service days during the year, and the rest are done in the summer (since they are getting paid for the summer but not having to work.) They are able to cover a lot of ground in those two weeks, especially teacher training programs. How much do you think teachers accomplish in 3 hours (minus lunch) every other week?

It amounts to working parents having to take off or scramble for child care constantly, and to our children getting ripped off for 15 days out of the year.

Parents United said...


Before Vallas left he said the Terra Novas cost the district $2 million and he was considering canceling the contract.

When I asked about the Terra Novas at GAMP's back to school night, I was told by the principal that Terra Novas would still be given this academic year.

I also requested the testing schedule for the year. I'll follow up re: what tests will be given this year.


kelly said...

It seems that it's getting harder to be an involved parent in the district. The new volunteer policy that our district has put forth requires FBI & criminal background checks plus child abuse clearance for all volunteers in the schools. On the face of things, this policy, obviously designed to protect our kids, will cripple many schools, at least for the month or so that it takes to obtain these clearances.

Our school's (Meredith) interpretation of this policy is that any parent who wants to volunteer in the classroom, even for a couple hours a month, must undergo this process. One mother was almost turned away when she brought cupcakes to the school for her daughter's birthday. Because these clearances take several weeks, for now, there are virtually no parents in the classrooms helping the teachers prepare homework folders, doing literacy activities, etc. It is this type of involvement that we hear over and over again makes our school successful, but now our schools are forced to turn willing volunteers--who won't be left alone with the children--away.

The cost ($60) and time involved is going to keep some parents from being able to participate in their kids education as fully as they might otherwise. Some parents simply can't afford to do it, or would have to take several hours off work to get this clearance. Parents with distant or minor convictions will probably not volunteer anymore, even if they have done a great service to the schools in the past and are living law-abiding lives right now. The school district has not defined what types of criminal histories will leave parents unable to volunteer. They have also not clarified whether parents who want to do activities that will not leave them alone with kids--such as occasionally helping out with 100 book challenge reading or helping in the office with paperwork, or organizing the annual Harvest festival, will need to get these clearances.

And for now, our kids are suffering because there are no volunteers to help them read, and many teaching assistant positions have been eliminated. I would be very interested to hear the thoughts of parents from other schools.

jeffzamoff said...

I really do not get it. How much money is being spent on incarceration of youth in Philadelphia as compared to education? Literacy is the number one factor best predicts future school success or failure in life. In fact, some prison systems base their expansion from 3rd grade reading scores.

parents know the answers- educators know the answers- children knows the answers - is it possible that policy makers do not care because their children go to private schools ?

jeffzamoff said...

whoa- how much money is spent per child for a public school education ? how much is spent per child to be incarcerated and managed in a juvenile detention facility ? I do not know the exact numbers but across the country the disparity is tremendous- in New Jersey it is 70,000 vs. 7,000. The punishment industry is growing and making money for a lot of people-

literacy level is the most reliable predictor of future success in school or failure in life- and some prisons base their expansion from third grade reading scores- so basically when you take away libraries and librarians, and reading specialists, and make class sizes bigger so that children get less one on one instruction and create classes that demand much more management and make it an extreme challenge to offer creative and dynamic teaching- you are in essence generating prisoners down the road.

children love to learn , all of them- teachers know what conditions work best, parents know as well - which politicians and policy makers actually are doing something about this and not just going through the motions because their kids are in private school?