School District of Philadelphia

School District of Philadelphia
School District of Philadelphia logo

The School District of Philadelphia is a school district based in the School District of Philadelphia Education Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,[1] that includes all public schools in the city of Philadelphia. Established in 1818, it is the eighth largest school district in the nation.[2]

The School Board was created in 1850 to oversee the schools of Philadelphia. The Act of Assembly of April 5, 1867, designated that the Controllers of the Public Schools of Philadelphia were to be appointed by the judges of the Court of Common Pleas. There was one Controller to be appointed from each ward. This was done to eliminate politics from the management of the schools.[3]

Eventually, the management of the school district was given to a school board appointed by the mayor. This continued until 2001 when the district was taken over by the state, and the governor was given the power to appoint a majority of the five members of the new School Reform Commission.[4][5]



Enrollment 184,560 as of mid-October 2005, including early childhood programs as submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.[2]

Number of Students by School Type[2]

4,525 Head Start & Preschool Schools
97,466 Elementary Schools
24,890 Middle schools
47,960 High Schools
4,679 Vocational/Technical Schools
1,113 Programs
3,927 Special Schools[6]
184,560 Public School Total
25,872 Charter Schools
210,432 Grand Total

Percentage of Students by Ethnicity[2]

Ethnicity Public Schools Charter Schools
Black 64.4% 65.3%
Asian 5.6% 2.3%
Hispanic 15.8% 13.3%
Native American 0.2% 0.2%
White 13.3% 18.9%

As of 1998, the district had 213,000 students. Of them, 12% were Hispanic and 5% were Asian. The entire School District of Philadelphia student body, as of 1998, spoke over 70 languages, including Chinese, Khmer, and Vietnamese. There were more Khmer and Vietnamese speakers than Chinese speakers. In 1998 increasing numbers of non-English speakers enrolled in the Philadelphia schools. 10,000 students received English support. 98 schools had special programs for non-English speakers.[7]


Each day, the School District provides free transportation for students who meet the eligibility requirements. In 2005-2006, 39,755 students received free school bus service. This included 19,250 public school students, 10,104 private and parochial school students, 9,496 charter school students and 905 early intervention students. The District also provided free student tokens for 13,089 students who also meet the eligibility requirements. There were 10,697 public school students, 811 non-public school students and 1,581 charter school students who receive free tokens. In addition, for students who do not meet the eligibility requirements, reduced fare tokens that are subsidized by the District may be purchased. Based on figures from last school year, approximately 19,700 students purchased subsidized tokens. This figure includes 12,700 public school students, 4,200 non-public school students and 2,800 charter school students.[2]

Food Services

On an average school day, the district serves approximately 117,000 lunches, 52,000 breakfasts, 4,200 after-school snacks and between 5000 and 8000 CACFP "at-risk" dinner meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). A study by Temple University shows that 76 percent of the District's students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.[2]


There are 291 public schools in the School District of Philadelphia:[2]

174 Elementary schools, including Lamberton (K-12)
39 Middle schools
45 High Schools
5 Vocational/Technical Schools
9 Special Schools
19 Programs[8]

There are 55 charter schools in Philadelphia:[2]

29 Elementary Schools
6 Middle schools
16 High Schools
4 Special Schools

The district is organized into 11 regional offices, each with its own Superintendent. Nine of these are geographically determined regions. The Alternative Education and Comprehensive High Schools Regions were created in 2008, replacing the CEO/EMO Region.[9]

  • Alternative Education Region - Ben Wright
  • Central - Marilyn Perez
  • Central East - Francisco Duran
  • Comprehensive High Schools Region - Michael Silverman
  • East - Gregory Shannon
  • North - Lucy Feria
  • Northeast - Lissa Johnson
  • Northwest - Pamela Brown
  • South - John Frangipani
  • Southwest - La Verne Wiley
  • West - Diane Hathaway, Interim


The School District of Philadelphia is governed by the five-member School Reform Commission. The commission was established in December 2001, when oversight of the district was taken over by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Governor of Pennsylvania appoints three of the members, and the Mayor of Philadelphia appoints two members of the commission.[2][10]

The School District of Philadelphia Education Center, the Philadelphia Board of Education Building at 440 North Broad Street in the right foreground.

The following is the current district leadership.

Superintendent of Schools - Dr. Leroy Nunery (Acting)
Deputy Superintendent - Dr. Leroy D. Nunery
Associate Superintendent of Academic Support - Tomás Hanna
Associate Superintendent of Academics - David Weiner
Associate Superintendent of Schools - Penny Nixons
Chief of Talent & Development - Estelle Matthews
Chief Finance Officer - Michael Masch
Associate Superintendent - Diane Castelbuono

School Reform Commission[11]

Robert L. Archie Jr. , Esq. - Chairman
Martin G. Bednarek [12]
Denise McGregor Armbrister
James P. Gallagher, Ph.D.
Joseph A. Dworetzky



In 1967, high school students demonstrated in front of the Board of Education building, demanding better treatment, especially for African-American students, and better funding. The demonstrators were met with force by the Philadelphia Police Department, and the resulting riot left 22 injured and 57 arrested. [13]

Takeover by the state

The state takeover of the District had its roots in the chronic low test scores of district students and a history of inequitable financing which left the District with substantial and perpetual deficits.[14] In 1975, Pennsylvania provided 55 percent of school funding statewide, in 2001 it provided less than 36 percent.[15] An analysis determined that increased district spending was limited by a state system which relies heavily on property taxes for local school funding. As a result, wealthier school districts with proportionately more property owners and more expensive real estate have more funds for schools. The result is great disparities in school system expenditures per student. In 2000, the Philadelphia school district spent $6,969 a year per student. Seventy percent of Philadelphia’s students are at or near the poverty line. This contrasts with expenditures per student in wealthier suburban school districts: Jenkintown, $12,076; Radnor, $13,288; and Upper Merion, $13,139.[15]

In February 1998, then-superintendent David Hornbeck threatened in February to close the city's schools if the state did not provide the funds needed to balance his proposed budget. [16]

State lawmakers responded to the threat with fast moving legislation, Act 46,[17] on April 21, approving a school funding package that included a takeover plan for the nation's sixth-largest school system.[16] The legislature’s plan was a reaction to Hornbeck’s threatening to shut down the schools because of a financial crisis.[10] [16]

"Holding students and their parents and teachers hostage in an effort to gain additional funding is certainly bold but not very wise", commented Representative Dwight Evans, Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee and prime architect of the takeover bill. [16]

Two lawsuits were filed by the city and the Philadelphia School District in 1997 and 1998 to address these inadequate funding levels. The first, filed by the school district, the city and community leaders, contended that Pennsylvania did not provide a "thorough and efficient" education; it was dismissed outright by the state court. The second case, a civil rights suit filed in Federal District Court, by the district, the city, and other interested parties, contended that the state's funding practices discriminate against school districts with large numbers of non-White students; The School District of Philadelphia was a key complainant in this case. The city agreed to put this case on hold when Mayor Street negotiated the "friendly" state takeover of the District, with the promise of additional funding from the state.[14]

In June 2000, under increasing pressure to find a solution to the fiscal and academic problems facing the district, school superintendent, David W. Hornbeck, ended his six-year tenure. Hornbeck resigned saying he did not have the financial support of state and city officials to continue his school reform program (and a year later launched a statewide advocacy organization, Good Schools Pennsylvania, to mobilize citizens in support of improved state funding for public education).[18] Merrow called improving public education "one of the great civil rights battles of this generation." [19] The Board of Education then implemented a new management structure, replacing the superintendent's position with two new positions, a chief academic officer, Deidre Fambry, and a chief executive officer.[19]

In 2001, the district had a projected deficit of $216.7 million in its current $1.7 billion budget. There was a crisis in making the school payroll and paying $30 million in vendor bills.[15] In recognition of the assistance, Mayor Street agreed to postpone for three months a 1998 federal lawsuit brought by the city claiming racial discrimination in the way the state funds the Philadelphia school district. In a study released in July by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, Pennsylvania was ranked as having the sixth most segregated schools in the United States.[15] Under the legislation enacted in 1998, in 2001 Governor Mark Schweiker moved to take control of the schools. The state takeover of the fifth largest school district in the United States was seen as the most radical reform ever undertaken in a large urban school district.[15] This move was opposed by Mayor John F. Street and many members of the city of Philadelphia.[20] The negotiations dragged on because of the state’s insistence that the city pay its fair share, while the city fought to retain some control over the governance.[21] Also at stake was the control of patronage jobs controlled by the mayor in the district’s central administration.[22]

In the end, the city put up an additional $45 million for the schools instead of the $15 million initially offered and the state provided an additional $75 million. In return, the mayor gets to appoint two commission members rather than just one under the governor's initial plan.[10][23]

The schools were clearly failing, but the state and the city could not agree on reform and local governance issues.[24] As negotiation continued, a coalition of labor unions and community groups called the "Coalition to Keep Our Public Schools Public", filed a lawsuit to stop the state from signing a contract for Edison Schools to manage city schools. The state backed off on a hostile takeover and negotiated with the city. One of the chief concerns was the complete privatization of the school district.[25]

The reform plan was opposed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers [16] because of the loss of beneifits and rights they would suffer. Protestors like J. Whyatt Mondesire of the NAACP vowed "... to shut down the streets", in protest. Members of the NAACP and a group of black ministers blocked an intersection in front of City Hall during rush-hour traffic. The day before, several hundred students walked out of classes.[26][27] And earlier a crowd consisting mostly of unionized district employees marched on City Hall, where they disrupted the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony and drowned out the choir with their chants.[20]

On December 21, 2001, Secretary Charles Zogby of the Pennsylvania Department of Education signed a Declaration of Distress for the Philadelphia School District. This triggered the state takeover of the school district from the City of Philadelphia. The state of Pennsylvania formed the School Reform Commission to oversee the troubled public school system.[10]

This action was the end result of a months long negotiation under the legislation enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in April 1998. The takeover plan had six main elements: putting the district under the control of a School Reform Commission; hire a CEO; enable the CEO to reform the teaching staff by hiring non-certified staff, reconstitute troubled schools by reassigning or firing staff; allow the commission to hire for-profit firms to manage some schools; convert some schools to charter schools; and reallocate and redistribute school district resources.[10]

At the time of the takeover, it was expected that Edison Schools, Inc. would be one of the prime beneficiaries of the partial privatization. It had been involved in developing the plan for privatization commissioned by then governor Tom Ridge.[10] Edison was not given as many schools as it had hoped, primarily because of conflict of interest concerns [10] Youth organizers from the Philadelphia Student Union staged protests, and engaged in civil disobedience to prevent the School District from handing over control of the central administration to Edison. Youth leaders were ultimately successful in preventing a takeover of the central office, and also prevented the take-over of any high schools by for-profit companies. As of 2007 the company had not delivered the promised improvements.[28]

After the state takeover, the district adopted what is known as the “diverse provider” model, turning over the management of some of the lowest-achieving schools to for-profit and nonprofit organizations and two local universities and providing additional resources to the private managers.[28] The most controversial of the 2001 reforms the partnership program saw "educational management organizations" (EMO) Edison Schools, Foundations Inc., Victory Schools, Universal Companies, Temple University, and University of Pennsylvania brought in to manage some of the District’s lowest-performing schools.[28][29]

To date, the schools managed by private providers were doing neither better nor worse than district-wide achievement trends. District-managed schools given additional resources but no specific intervention were likewise doing about as well as other schools in the district. In contrast, district-managed schools given additional resources and a “restructuring” intervention showed larger achievement gains in mathematics.[28][29]

Strategic Plan

Under the leadership of the former superintendent Arlene Ackerman and with approval from the School Reform Commission, the district implemented, at the end of 2008, a five year strategic plan. The strategic plan, call 'Imagine 2014' outlined many measures to accelerate student's academic achievement. The plan seeks to achieve by 2014

"a great city system of schools in which teachers, principals, parents, staff, policymakers, and the entire community collectively focus all energy, efforts, planning and development, resources, and initiatives on building a 21st–century culture of achievement … where children come first, excellence is the norm, talent is nurtured, opportunities are made equal, and success is measured by the steady improvement of teaching and learning in classrooms system-wide … resulting in accelerated student progress … a school system in which all students succeed, families have many quality choices, the staff is great, adults are accountable, and world-class operations support the entire enterprise.

The major components of the plan revolve around increasing accountability, restructuring schools and school support systems to provide more choices for parents, and augmenting parent and community engagement.[30] The school district releases semi-annual report to gauge the progress of the plan.

Classifying Schools

The Philadelphia School District rates and categories schools based on performance. Vanguard schools are considered the leading performing schools within the district and requires special admission process for students. Non vanguard schools that make adequate yearly progress are considered traditional district schools. Empowerment schools are schools that are struggling. Traditionally failing schools are privatized and are called renaissance schools.

Staff Hiring and Performance Measure

Under the strategic plan, the district allows principals to hire teachers and staffs and create incentives for high performing teachers and schools, such as tenure. The district also created tracking tools, performance indicators, to gauge the progress of schools and how schools effect student achievement. The district increased the staffs and accessibility of its call centers to provide services and allow parents and community to report directly to the main headquarter.

Parent and Community Engagement

The district's many parent and community engagement policies are combined in a central office called the Office of Parent Family, Community, Engagement, and Faith-Based Partnerships. One such programs, the Parent University of Philadelphia, offers a variety of free courses to parents, such as basic computer skills, lessons on legal rights of parents, English as a second language, and other evidence-based knowledge and skills enhancement courses. Parent University is funded heavily by Federal Stimulus grant. The district also set up city wide resource centers where parents can get resources seek help from the district on issues that could not be resolved at the school, such as bullying problems or complaints. The number of Parent Ombudsmen, school based staff who works directly with parent, were increased to serve 173 schools. Many of the programs have received local and national attentions for pioneering the field of parent engagement.[31]

Current issues

A current issue in the district involves the concept of Renaissance schools.[32]

Physical condition of campuses

A 2002 entry of NewsHour Extra's editorial page features a Central High School student stating that funding for non-magnet schools in Philadelphia is sub-par [1].

Art in the public schools

The school district has an art collection with an estimated worth of between $5 million and $30 million.[33]

See also

External links


  1. ^ "Contact Us." School District of Philadelphia. Retrieved on March 31, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Philadelphia School District - About Us". Philadelphia School District. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  3. ^ Edmunds, Franklin Davenport (1917). "The Public School Buildings of the City of Philadelphia from 1853 to 1867". 
  4. ^ Rieser, Len. "Analysis: do Philadelphians still have a voice at the School District? Understanding the state takeover of Philadelphia's schools". University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  5. ^ Favro, Tony. "US mayors are divided about merits of controlling schools". Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  6. ^ CEP Miller, Hunting Park, Allegheny, Widener Memorial, Hill-Freedman, Overbrook Educational Center
  7. ^ Kadaba, Lini S. "AN EFFORT TO SPEAK TO MORE STUDENTS \ THE SCHOOL DISTRICT IS EXTENDING THE REACH OF ITS BILINGUAL PROGRAMS." The Philadelphia Inquirer. October 6, 1998. B01 City & Region. Retrieved on November 8, 2011.
  8. ^ Primarily Disciplinary Programs: Cornel Abraxas, Camelot/Fels, Fairhill Community HS, OIC of America, Reti-Wrap, Boone
  9. ^ a b "Philadelphia School District - New Leadership and Stronger Support". Philadelphia School District. Retrieved 2008-10-01. [dead link]
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "State Takes Over Philadelphia's Failing Schools". The Heartland Institute. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  11. ^ "Philadelphia School District - School Reform Commission". Philadelphia School District. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  12. ^ "Mayor Street Reappoints Sandra Dungee Glenn and Martin Bednarek to the School Reform Commission". City of Philadelphia. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  13. ^ Ron Whitehorne. "1967: African American students strike, survive police riot to force change". Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  14. ^ a b "Philadelphia School Reform: Historical Roots and Reflections on the 2002-2003 School Year Under State Takeover". University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. June 28, 2003. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  15. ^ a b c d e Bishop, Tom (15 November 2001). "Pennsylvania prepares privatization of Philadelphia public schools". World Socialist Website. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Clowes, George (June 1, 1998). "Philadelphia Schools Face State Takeover". The Heartland Institute. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  17. ^ Johnson, Rosita (2001-12-22). "Philadelphia Schools Face State Takeover". People's Weekly World Newspaper. Retrieved 2007-02-20. [dead link]
  18. ^ "TOUGHEST JOB IN AMERICA". PBS: The Merrow Report. Retrieved 2007-02-20. [dead link]
  19. ^ a b "Philadelphia School Chief Ends Tenure of 6 Years". The New York Times. 2000-08-15. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  20. ^ a b "City of Brotherly Thugs". The Wall Street Journal. December 3, 2001. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  21. ^ "MAYOR, GOVERNOR CONTINUE TO BE AT ODDS OVER PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL DISTRICT TAKEOVER". Philadelphia Daily News. November 12, 2001. Retrieved 2007-02-20. [dead link]
  22. ^ Bishop, Tom (29 November 2001). "Deal to privatize Philadelphia schools". World Socialist Website. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  24. ^ "Philadelphia". The Wall Street Journal. November 14, 2001. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  25. ^ Bishop, Tom (6 December 2001). "State takeover of Philadelphia schools temporarily delayed". World Socialist Website. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  26. ^ "The Philadelphia Student Union". Z Magazine. October 2002. Archived from the original on 2006-10-22. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  27. ^ Bishop, Tom (29 December 2001). "State takeover of Philadelphia schools paves way for privatization". World Socialist Website. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  28. ^ a b c d Brian Gill, Ron Zimmer, Jolley Christman, Suzanne Blanc. "State Takeover, School Restructuring, Private Management, and Student Achievement in Philadelphia". RAND Corporation. Retrieved 2007-02-20. 
  29. ^ a b "PHILADELPHIA NEARLY TRIPLES PUBLIC SCHOOLS MEETING FEDERAL PROGRESS REQUIREMENTS IN ONE YEAR". School District of Philadelphia. Retrieved 2007-02-20. [dead link]
  30. ^
  31. ^ Cruz, Gilbert (2009-11-08). "To Help the Kids, Parents Go Back to School". Time.,8599,1931170,00.html. 
  32. ^
  33. ^ Snyder, Susan. "Phila. schools' art to get audit". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2007-02-20. [dead link]

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