Happy Sunday everyone. This morning we're talking with our colleague Kristen Graham about an annual tradition happening right now in Philly schools that causes a lot of angst amongst teachers, students, and parents. Plus, your look ahead at this week includes what happens now that Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed, a note about your taxes and more. Let's dive in.
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Each week we'll go behind the scenes with one of our reporters to learn how they reported their latest story and the challenges they faced along the way. This week, reporter Kristen Graham explains the process of leveling, a tactic that many school districts throughout the country have abolished, but one Philly teachers and students are all too familiar with.
For those who have never heard of it, what is "leveling"? What should parents know about it?
Leveling is essentially the process of switching teachers' schools — a month into the school year — based on enrollment. Teachers are allocated based on projected enrollment, which the district calculates in the spring. Parents: if your child does not attend schools in Philadelphia, you don't need to worry about it. If they're students in the Philadelphia School District, however, it's possible that the teacher they meet on the first day of school may not be their teacher in October.
Why has this practice persisted in Philly schools when other districts around the region and country have done away with it?
Some large city school systems level; others have stopped it or amended the process so staff changes happen in the summer, not a month after school begins. Philadelphia schools say the reasons for leveling are layered — it's about money (it would cost about $12 million to leave under-enrolled schools as-is and just hire extra teachers for the crowded schools) and it's also, officials said, about equity. That is, without leveling, some schools might have classes of 10 students and others would be over 30. That said, no suburban districts, even the large ones, use the practice.
How do Philly teachers that you've spoken with feel about "leveling" and its impact on students?
In a decade of covering Philadelphia schools, I have yet to find one person who likes leveling. Seriously — not one. To be fair, the administration isn't super fond of it either, but they call it a necessary process. Keiko Glover, a parent at Kearney Elementary in Northern Liberties, took her concerns to the school board. Her daughter's school has lost teachers in leveling for each of the last four years; it's October, and her first-grader just met a new teacher. "These are students' lives, not numbers on a balance sheet." Cindy Farlino, a retired district principal and teacher, said she dreaded leveling. "I remember the chaos of both adding and taking away teachers," Farlino said. "The impact is not just a money impact, but really delays the academic process of the school year."
Since your report, is the school district looking to make any changes when it comes to "leveling"?
The school board's finance and facilities committee heard a report on leveling a few days after my story ran. Final numbers? 118 Philly schools were affected by leveling, with 101 teachers moved. The schools most affected were Mitchell, Cooke, Lowell and George Washington (gained staff) and Martin Luther King, Lincoln, Overbrook High and Lamberton (lost staff.) No changes are planned at the moment, but school staff said they were constantly looking to refine the process, and if changes are to be made, they'll be made at budget time, in the spring.
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