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Philly school concerned about budget cuts, losing students over school selection process


Philly school concerned about budget cuts, losing students over school selection process

Mar 25, 2023 | 6:30 am ET
By Special to the Capital-Star
Philly school concerned about budget cuts, losing students over school selection process
Franklin Learning Center is located at 616 N. 15th St. (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Chanel Hill

Teachers at Franklin Learning Center (FLC) are concerned about possible staff cuts and losing students next school year due to the School District of Philadelphia’s new school selection process.

Jessica Way, who teaches medical assisting at FLC, said the school will have 50 open seats for ninth graders next year because of flaws in the district’s high school placement algorithm.

“This is not just happening at our school, but it’s happening at special-admissions schools across the district,” Way said.

“It makes me sad because I know there are parents who are still looking for places for their children next year,” she said. “We have room for those students and because of the flaws in the algorithm they are not able to come here.”

FLC is a special admissions high school with nearly 900 students. The school has programs in music, dance, visual arts, computer science, business and medical assisting.

The school was among a group that held a rally Thursday to protest the changes made to the district’s special-admissions process.

The event was held outside the district administration building before the Board of Education meeting. Earlier this week, FLC held a similar rally outside their school building.

Other schools that have been affected by the new school selection process include Motivation High School, W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences, the U School, the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, Parkway West High School, William W. Bodine High School for International Affairs, Lankenau Environmental Science Magnet High School and Hill Freedman World Academy.

“FLC will be down 200 students next year compared to where we are right now due to this process,” Way said.

“As a result, our budget will change and it will force us to lose 20% of our staff, which will be nine teachers,” she said. “We want the district to allow us to have more control again over admissions at our individual schools.

“We want them to allow us to open up the school to children who may not have gotten into a school of their choosing and for us to be able to see if we’d be a good fit. We would also like them to freeze the budget so that we can keep our teachers,” she added.

FLC math teacher and test coordinator Tarzan MacMood said he is among the teachers who could lose their jobs next year.

“Our school has to restructure its programs to make sure that the kids who are currently here are able to get through their program requirements,” MacMood said.

“I’m worried that the future of our programs are going to fade away,” he said. “We’re not only losing people who have been here for a while, but who are passionate about teaching these kids.

“We’re all collectively upset and worried about what the future will look for our school, but also what it will look like for all schools and people who are trying to get an education within this new process,” he added.

MacMood said he wanted to be a district teacher after attending Academy at Palumbo in high school. He graduated from the school in 2016.

“Palumbo is the reason why I returned to this district as a teacher,” MacMood said. “I wanted to emulate all those great teachers. I continue to think about them as I continue my work.

“It’s very unfortunate that I have to see my district from this angle. I hope that there are other folks who are currently studying within this district who, like me, could feel motivated and moved by everything that the district has to offer,” he added.

In a statement, School District of Philadelphia spokesperson Monique Braxton said the school budget has yet to be finalized and no decisions have been concerning district staff.

“There have been no decisions regarding layoffs or transferring of teachers or staff,” Braxton said. “The budget process is underway and school budgets are not yet finalized. Therefore, we cannot comment on how many teachers or staff a school might lose. School leaders are reaching out to colleagues at FLC.”

The school selection process allows students in pre-kindergarten through 11th grade to apply to attend any school with available space outside of their neighborhood or catchment area.

During the 2021-2022 school year, the school selection process switched to a lottery system, giving applicants from six ZIP codes preference for admissions at four criteria-based high schools — Carver Engineering and Science, Central, Masterman and Academy at Palumbo — as well as two criteria-based middle schools, Masterman and Carver Engineering and Science.

The school selection lottery and waitlists are managed centrally rather than being managed by the schools in the past. Students are no longer accepted out-of-order on the waitlist. All students must meet the school’s criteria.

This school year, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment admission criteria was adjusted due to learning loss and other challenges students experienced during the pandemic. The writing assessment used by five schools last year was also eliminated.

The overall change to the admission lottery was intended to make the district’s special admission schools more diverse and inclusive.

“We just want transparency and accountability in the new admissions process so that students, teachers and parents feel confident as we go into this new academic school year,” MacMood said.

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared