Philly students, educators frustrated by many closures early in the year

It’s been a bumpy start to classroom instruction in the Philadelphia School District.

Between holidays and days off during the papal visit, by the end of September, kids will have had only 11 days of classes.


With Columbus Day sailing on the horizon, the city district schools will only have three full, five-day weeks before Thanksgiving.

Surely, some kids celebrate the freedom, but it’s unsettling many others.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said students have reached out to Superintendent William Hite to express their concerns.

“Students have actually commented on this and said that they are very eager to get started on their projects, and these on and off days have made it difficult for them,” he said.

The district, though, said the closures couldn’t be avoided during the papal visit, which is cancelling Thursday, Friday and Monday.

“Truly, the consideration is: Can we transport students safely, and can staff get to school safely and on time?” Gallard said.

Some teachers are frustrated, too.

Students “are coming off the summer slide, you’re trying to get them ramped back up, and then, bam, they’re out six days,” said Andrew Saltz, who teaches English at Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia.

“School is about getting in a rhythm and making relationships,” he said. “And I feel like the Eagles offense right now … once it seems like I have a good thing going, we just get pulled back.”

Saltz is worried about the well-being of his students in general – many of them are used to getting breakfast and lunch at the school, and they come from neighborhoods where classrooms can be sanctuaries.

“If you have a couple thousand stir-crazy teenagers, that’s a bad recipe,” he said. “So I’m all types of concerned and worried.”

Saltz took to Twitter Monday to urge his colleagues to keep the needs of students and their parents in mind during the papal break.

Pope Fact 2: Too many teachers celebrating not going to work. If we want to be treated as professionals, we need to be professional #phled

— Andrew Saltz (@mr_saltz) September 22, 2015

“I think teachers need to understand, we’re fighting for our contract and everyone else is fighting to get to work,” said Saltz. “A lot of our parents are so upset, ‘How am I getting into Center City?’ Their jobs are still going on, and I’d like us to be more sensitive to those concerns.”

Despite all of the closures, district schools are scheduled to send their first grading reports home a few days after Columbus Day.

Other closures and considerations

The papal visit has pushed city charter schools to close on various days as well.

KIPP’s network of schools, which began classes in mid-August, will mirror the district’s decision to cancel three days.

“Everything is up and running and at full speed, and to hit pause on everything is frustrating,” said KIPP Elementary Academy principal Ben Speicher. “When we get back, we’ll have to spend extra time reminding students of expectations, especially our kindergartners and first-graders.”

Some suburban districts will see closures as well. For instance, the Lower Merion District has cancelled classes Friday and will open late on Monday.

Within the Philadelphia School District, the numerous closures are compounded by a few other factors.

Schools citywide have been struggling mightily to fill substitute teaching positions after the School Reform Commission voted to outsource the work to a private firm. With a vacancy fill-rate thus far at a paltry 15 percent, classrooms have lacked consistency that students need.

Also, the annual “leveling” process — when the district adjusts its building-to-building faculty allotments based on actual enrollment numbers — hasn’t yet occurred.

When it does, teachers may be reassigned and student rosters may need to be reworked – causing further upheaval to the beginning of the year.

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