Students key in saving accelerated schools, officials say

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

City officials yesterday gave students credit for their efforts to save a network of accelerated schools that were initially put on the chopping block by the School District as it sought ways to slash $629 million from its budget.

Of $53 million in additional funds for the District expected to be approved by City Council Thursday, $8.2 million will go towards maintaining the 13 accelerated schools, which serve mostly over-age, under-credited students looking for a second chance to graduate.

The funds will be added to $8 million that the District had set aside for a scaled down in-house program to serve those students, for a total of $16.2 million.

Lori Shorr, head of the mayor’s Office of Education, said that it has been agreed on how much money will be available and that private providers, not the District, will run the alternative schools. “The parameters are set,” she said.

Originally, the District planned to create alternative programs in existing high schools. Officials said that they could maintain quality programming and serve more students with less money, a claim met with skepticism from both students and many in City Hall.

Shorr said negotiations are still going on over how exactly the money will be spent, but the intent is to “preserve quality before quantity.”

Because the $16.2 million is less than the $19 million spent this year in provider contracts, that means in all likelihood that the number of seats will go down. This year, those schools served 2,300 students.

Besides Shorr, Council members Bill Green and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez attended the press conference, as did District Associate Superintendent Penny Nixon.

At the event, Shorr and the Council members said that the students, most of them members of Youth United for Change, were well organized and persuasive.

Laura Shubilla, in an interview later, also extolled the students’ role. Shubilla is president and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network and one of the prime movers, through Project U-Turn, in working to build the system of privately run schools designed to re-engage students who have dropped out.

“There were a lot of good examples of leadership in the negotiations, and ultimate success, and the students provided one of the best examples,” she said. “The young people stood up and it mattered.”

The providers are in the third year of a three-year contract, so all of them will continue to operate programs. After next year, however, it is possible that some will be dropped, since they are being judged according to their effectiveness.

Programs offered range from computer-based curricula for a half-day – to accommodate students who must work or care for children – to a project-based approach that relies heavily on outside internships.

Emily Moronta, 19, a member of Youth United for Change, was one of the students who participated in two weeks of lobbying, including a rally last week outside City Hall that culminated with Mayor Nutter leading a cadre of about 200 young people inside to meet with Council members.

Moronta, a student in the twilight program at Edison High School, said she felt “much better” that the accelerated schools have been saved in their current form.

“I think every student deserves a second chance at getting their education,” she said.