District to close accelerated schools

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

UPDATED: The School District plans to close all 13 of its privately run accelerated schools designed to help dropouts and near-dropouts get a diploma.

The move is designed to save money and help close a $629 million budget gap.

A statement released through the District’s office of communications said it can run programs within existing schools for $24 million less, serve 500 more students, and give them "the same level of service."

"In order to provide the students in these programs with a quality education, the School District will operate accelerated programs within current School District facilities," the statement said. "These accelerated schools will have separate administration and teachers from the schools in which they are housed."

David Bromley, executive director of Big Picture Philadelphia, which runs El Centro de Estudiantes, said that school operators were summoned to individual meetings and told about the closings. He said District officials planned to notify students and families on June 10 and invite them to enroll in the new District-run programs.

The District statement says that the current providers were notified months ago that "major changes" were in the offing and said they were given the option of "contracting with specific schools as partners in providing direct instruction within a school." They will have to decide by next week if they want to be a provider under this new arrangement.

"Parents and students at the 13 alternative education sites closing will be notified in the coming weeks about the options for next year, including the facilities that will offer an accelerated programs and a summer orientation," the District’s statement said. "As a result of the change in management, we anticipate we will be able to serve more than 500 additional students." It adds that the District is "well-prepared to educate all students while maintaining the same level of service at a lower price."

Advocates plan to protest the closings at City Council hearings on the School District budget at City Hall next Tuesday and Wednesday, May 25 and 26.

"This is tragic," Bromley said. "We are going to lose a lot of these kids."

About 1,800 students are enrolled in these schools, run by organizations including Camelot, One Bright Ray, Ombudsman, OIC, and the Big Picture Company. Each one offered a different model to re-engage the students, from computerized one-on-one instruction to a more project-based approach that makes wide use of internships in the community.

On Wednesday, the School Reform Commission heard testimony from several students and staff at accelerated schools, urging the District to keep the schools open. Among the was Eli-Akim Y Hicks, a student at El Centro de Estudiantes.

"I feel that [an] accelerated school is a much better place for students to excel in their lives," said Eli-Akim Y Hicks, a member Youth United for Change. "At accelerated schools, teachers are your friends and we term them as advisors, not teachers. They don’t only teach us, they learn from us as well and become like an older brother or older sister and an aunt or uncle."

The schools were established as part of a much-touted "multiple pathways" approach to helping students earn a diploma. The first ones opened in 2004.