The Comcast Foundation — the philanthropic wing of cable/Internet giant Comcast — has continued with its mission of investing in, and partnering with, individuals, programs and organizations that move our communities forward through leadership, empowerment, technology and innovation. The foundation has awarded $188,000 in scholarships to 179 high school seniors across the state, including 38 students from the Philadelphia region.
The Comcast Foundation furnished the scholarships through its Leaders and Achievers Scholarship Program. All of the recipients received scholarships worth $1,000, save one student, Cristal Liriano, a senior at I-LEAD Charter School in Reading, who received $10,000. Ten students also received Netbook laptop computers to take with them to college.
“Comcast recognizes the importance of fostering leadership and excellence in the next generation,” said Comcast Regional Senior Vice President Jim Samaha. “These students are role models in their communities and at their schools. We commend them for their exceptional achievements and wish them the very best in their future endeavors.”
The 38 local students hail from a variety of schools, with only Parkway having multiple awardees. Heather Amos is a senior at Parkway Center High School, while Kyshon Johnson attends Parkway Northwest High School. And lastly, awardee Yanique Seac attends Parkway-West High School.
In a prepared statement, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley said both he and Governor Tom Corbett were impressed by the students who earned the scholarships and by the Comcast Foundation for funding them.
“Governor Tom Corbett joins me in congratulating these gifted students for their outstanding achievements,” Cawley said. “We also commend the Comcast Foundation for its ongoing charitable support of programs like this scholarship.”
There were also seven awardees who attend charter schools: Dharielle Dorsett of Delaware Valley Charter High School, Selena Duvvier of Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School, Natalie Jusino of Nueva Esperanza Academy Charter School, Ryan McKinney of Imhotep Institute Charter School, Dimone Mokum of Freire Charter School, LizMarie Perez of Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School and Khalil Thompson of Mastery Charter High School.
“The Comcast Leaders and Achievers Scholarship Program provides one-time $1,000 scholarships to students who strive to achieve their potential, who are catalysts for positive change in their communities, who are involved in their school and who serve as role models for their fellow students,” read a note provided by the Comcast Foundation. “The philosophy behind the program is to give young people every opportunity to be prepared for the future, to engage youth in their communities and to demonstrate the importance of civic involvement and the value placed on civic involvement by the business community.”
Mayor Michael Nutter, flanked by Senator Anthony Williams, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr., School Reform Commission members and roughly a dozen charter school operators, reaffirmed his call for supporting the twin tax bill aimed at reducing the district’s $304 million budget gap.
The gathering of elected and academic officials at Boys’ Latin Charter School on Thursday looked to underscore a main, albeit forgotten, theme, as the district tries to right its financial ship — that all schools, both public and charter, will suffer if the district doesn’t come up with the $180 million it has requested.
Nutter’s plan calls for a five percent increase on the liquor-by-the-drink tax (raising it from its current 10 percent rate to 15 percent), and implementing a cigarette tax of $2 per pack. Those taxes, which will go into effect on July 1, 2013, and January 1, 2014, respectively — along with a more aggressive form of debt and tax collections — will provide to the district an extra $94 million annually in added funds. Both tax measures require authorization from the State General Assembly.
“In all schools, it’s about all of our young people, about their hopes, their dreams and their desires, and that means we collectively have the ability to educate them and to provide an adequate and sufficient education for them,” Hite said. “I’m thrilled that we are all here together to talk about how this will positively impact our collective ability to serve our children.
“The call for funding, and I am appreciative of what the mayor has done in his request for additional funds and what state Senator Williams has done in his request for additional funds … this is a time we are talking about austerity and cuts, when quite frankly, we should be talking about the investment in the future of this city and that of our young people,” Hite continued. “I’m committed to continue to advocate on behalf of every last one of the young people who live in this city. I actually don’t care where they go to school, as long as it’s a good school that provides them an adequate education and adequate opportunity for their future.”
While Williams said “a healthy level of distrust” has festered between the charter schools and the traditional public school systems, the senator also made clear that it is time to end that division and for all parties, politicians included, to come together and embrace Nutter’s vision. To that end, Williams implored his colleagues to act, stopping just short of calling those that don’t liars for betraying the public.
“For every politician who stood up over the past ten years and argued about full funding, raising taxes and taking care of our children who are now running away from the mayor’s proposal, then you are a hypocrite,” Williams said. “If it’s truly about the children’s performance and the future, then you need to find a way. If you don’t like this bill, then you need to come up with whatever plan you come up with, because you can’t have a public school, be it charter or district, without an assistant principal, without art, without counselors, without sports … so whatever the differences are with this proposal, if you don’t see vision of this plan, you better come up with another one. Schools will not operate in the fall upon whimsical comments, theatrics, protests or even strikes. “
Nutter, the last of the dignitaries to speak, echoed Hite’s sentiment in that Nutter doesn’t care what school a student attends, just as long as that school is of the high-performing variety. And while Nutter touched on the recurrent theme of “shared sacrifice,” the mayor also painted a picture of what life in Philadelphia would be like if that investment is not made.
“The only proven, known way [to improve student outcomes] is by investing in our children. When we invest in our young people, we actually invest in ourselves. There is no return on investment that will ever be greater than one of these young men and women who go to our schools being able to read, write, comprehend and make their own smart decisions for themselves,” Nutter said. “I’m not talking about funding schools — schools are a building, and is a place you go. Those dollars are spent to invest in education to make sure there are counselors, after-school programs, that there are sports, and arts. They are all important. And until we do right by all of our children, we will not be right.
“The point is, if we don’t make these investments, think of what the future costs will be,” Nutter added, noting that 30 percent of the city’s budget is devoted to safety and that those in charge of building new prisons view the academics of third-grade boys to determine how many jails will need to be built 20 years from now. “You’ll pay later. We have 9,000 people in prison right now in this city … the overwhelming majority of people we arrest for violence in this city are high school dropouts, and you don’t need to be a social scientist to make the connection. That is what’s going on.”
Mayor Michael Nutter, in a wide-ranging discussion with the Tribune’s Editorial Board, offered his most expansive comments yet on his three-pronged approach to helping the School District of Philadelphia climb out of its gaping fiscal hole, while providing more insight into matters related to the controversial Actual Value Initiative – or AVI.
Nutter’s tax plan - which requires authorization from the General Assembly – includes an increase in the liquor-by-the-drink tax and the introduction of a cigarette tax; that, along with a more vigorous form of debt and tax collections, will result in the city funding the school district with an extra $94 million annually.
That number is roughly a third higher than the $60 million the district asked for from the city, along with an additional $120 from the state and $130 million in union concessions and savings incurred from contract negotiations.
In making his comments, Nutter wanted to reassure a jittery public that the School Reform Commission and Superintendent William Hite Jr. are providing welcomed leadership and guidance, and this group has separated itself from the stewardship of the district with its forthright transparency and eagerness to engage the community.
“The school district presently has a $304 million structural deficit, and there are three large proposals from the district as to how to solve that problem,” Nutter said. “I would say the five members of the SRC, along with Dr. Hite, are the strongest, most consistent and focused [group of leaders], and are the best five folks I’ve seen working together on these types of issues. These are the folks that have made some of the toughest decisions that any oversight entity has ever had to make.
“They’ve closed 30+ schools, cut $700 million from the budget, and cut more than in half the administration offices at 401 N. Broad St., as there are less than half the people working there today than a year to a year and a half ago,” Nutter added. “Then a 10 percent reduction in costs from one of their unions, and have made a number of other steps to try to save money and take action from a management standpoint to try to put the best teachers in places their needed the most…Hite is focused on the fundamental issue of how to best educate our students.”
While many critics of both Nutter’s plans and the stewardship of this current SRC, focus on the dollar figure, Nutter said the focus should entirely be on what the district cannot provide should the district not receive the funds it has requested.
“Hite has said, ‘this is how much money we have. And if this is all we have, this is what we will be able to provide in the way of education – or not provide.’ We need to focus on the ‘not provide’: counselors, nurses, after-school programs, extracurricular activities, art, music and all of those things. Gone,” Nutter said. “It’s not to scare people, it’s not the Washington Monument, and it’s not strategy…we do have a confidence in that team in what they have laid out is the reality.
“If we as adults in this city to allow that outcome to happen, we should all be ashamed of ourselves,” Nutter continued. “Because what is being proposed is not a school. It’s a building, with a principal, some teachers, students and some books. That’s it. The kids of this city deserve better.”
Nutter also reminded critics that Hite has been on the job for less than a full academic year, and the superintendent is still putting his executive team together and finalizing and implementing a five-year fiscal plan. And besides, Nutter implied, while former incarnations of SRC boards were tasked with fiscal oversight, the true damage came when the Governor Tom Corbett slashed education funding and stopped the reimbursement to the district the costs related to funding the charter school system.
Nutter also said the local legislation should shoulder some of the weight, as the city has never once given the district all the money it requested or needed.
“The problem is, over the past few years, we’ve given a little here, given a little there, the state has cut some, the city has put some on, and the district has made some cuts, but we have never really given them what they have asked for,” he said. “So, if you ask for $90 million and you only get $40 million, then you know they are going to be back next year asking for at least looking for $50 million and might need $60 million, because [the district] was short-changed. Keep short-changing, but all those short-changings add up.
“Contract costs have gone up, stimulus dollars have gone away and state cuts,” Nutter added, noting that the city has infused into the district $90 million in city funds since FY2010, and had to reluctantly raise city real estate taxes to do so. “The way I’m looking at this as Chief Executive of Philadelphia, the district has asked for $60 million from us and $120 million from the state. From the two funders, it’s a $180 million overall request. It’s my job to figure out how a city and state can work together to put a $180 million package together….I look at it as $95 million on a $180 million request means we still have $85 million to go to figure out that piece.”
Nutter said he would hope for movement in Harrisburg soon on the issue of taxes, as the liquor tax will go into effect on July 1, while the cigarette tax is slated for January 1, 2013. Nutter doesn’t anticipate the district will face any cash flow problems that could put September’s school opening in danger.
Nutter also offered brief insights into recent comments by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, in which Butkovitz hinted that Nutter’s administration and the Office of Property Assessment weren’t accurate in the assessments and that the assessments affect poor and minority neighborhoods at a disproportionate rate. Butkovitz also contended that the district should be allowed to crumble entirely so the city could sue the state for negligence, as it is the commonwealth’s duty to provide fair and equitable education to all its young residents.
Nutter dismissed the critique and idea as little more than election-cycle dribble.
“I think that is insane and is an insult to the students, parents and tax payers in this city, and is also irresponsible,” Nutter said, noting that he has never heard such a reckless opinion before. “I’m not going to play games with the future of our children just because adults don’t have the intestinal, personal or political fortitude to do what’s necessary. It’s an irresponsible response for a public official to make.”
What had been merely a rumor has now been confirmed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett: Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis will end his controversial tenure as the top education official in the state when he vacates the position on May 31.
Corbett’s administration announced Tomalis’ departure, which comes shortly less than two years after Tomalis’ January 2011 appointment, via a statement that highlighted Tomalis’ career to this point.
“Secretary Tomalis has worked hard to make Pennsylvania’s public education system benefit all Pennsylvania students,” Corbett said, “to ensure their successes beyond graduation.”
Corbett’s administration hailed Tomalis’ record, which included implementing sweeping education reforms, including making changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system, while also putting an added emphasis on standardized testing.
Although characterized as a zealous education reformist, Tomalis’ tenure hasn’t been free from controversy. Tomalis was one of the first to endorse and embrace the crumbling No Child Left Behind plan, and initiative that many states are petitioning to the Department of Education to opt out of the program. Many have seen Tomalis as the point-man for the controversial Common Core Standards testing method — a Corbett-sponsored initiative that the governor himself has hinted to postponing, due to protests from teacher and parent groups concerned with the governor’s plan to boost pupil outcomes while simultaneously cutting public education funding.
Still, Corbett praised Tomalis for his work in creating the helpful Opportunity Tax Scholarship Program and the further implementation of the Schools for Sciences summer program.
Calls and emails to the Pennsylvania Department of Education seeking comment on Tomalis’ departure weren’t returned as of Tribune press time.
And it appears that Corbett will reward Tomalis for his work, as Tomalis will become special advisor to the governor on higher education. Tomalis’ new appointment will require state senate approval.
Corbett is looking to replace Tomalis with a career educator with local ties.
Dr. William E. Harner, Corbett’s likely nominee, is currently the superintendent of the Cumberland Valley School District, which is based in Mechanicsburg. After a 20-year career in the military, Harner worked his way up the education administration chain, first by becoming principal of a middle school in South Carolina to becoming deputy chief executive officer of the School District of Philadelphia.
“From his days at West Point to his service at Cumberland Valley, Dr. Harner has shown himself as an effective problem solver able to unite all side in a common goal of educational excellence,” Corbett said. “Those who have worked with him describe Dr. Harner as an accomplished student, born manager and decisive leader who can carry out our agenda of educational excellence in the face of any challenge.”
And those challenges facing Pennsylvania public education are severe; more than 75 percent of the state’s roughly 500 school districts have had to raise taxes to meet costs, and many of those have been labeled as “distressed” by the PDE. Compounding matters is the issues orbiting the School District of Philadelphia and its massive, $304 million projected budgeting gap for the coming school year.
For his part, Harner seemed acutely aware of the issues and appears up to task.
“I am truly honored that Governor Corbett has asked me to serve as the next secretary of education,” Harner said. “I look forward to working closely with the governor and members of the General Assembly as we strive to provide all Pennsylvania students with an exceptional education.”
While Corbett’s nominee still needs the approval of state legislators, the choice of Harner received an endorsement from the influential Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which hailed Harner’s career and managing methodology.
“Dr. Harner’s brings years of field experience leading schools and school systems in a wide array of educational environments across the state and the nation. His energy and enthusiasm for education and the students of Pennsylvania are contagious,” said PSBA Interim Executive Director Stuart Knade. “Dr. Harner is a respected leader in Pennsylvania’s education community with the ability to foster open dialog with school districts, career and technology centers, intermediate units and other school entities in the commonwealth.
“The association members and leadership look forward to working with Dr. Harner in his new role as nominee for secretary of education.”
Mastery Charter Schools — the nonprofit charter school operator who has long partnered with the School District of Philadelphia and currently manages 12 schools in the region — celebrated on Monday the 450 high school students who have either applied to and been accepted to post high school institutions, or received partial and full scholarships to their targeted school.
In what had the feel of a homecoming or pep rally, the 450 students were led down the aisles of Temple University’s Liacouras Center, each holding placards with the name of their school emblazoned on it.
In all, those 450 students are going to attend roughly 90 institutions in the fall.
“I’m so proud of Mastery’s seniors. Today, we are demonstrating what we know to be true: Public school students, through hard work and high expectations, will rise to the challenge and succeed,” said Mastery Charter Schools CEO Scott Gordon, who also served as Mastery’s first principal. “Today our community celebrates seniors, not only for their hard work and accomplishments so far, but for the inspiration they are providing to the rest of Mastery’s students.
“Our seniors signed a pledge to attend and graduate with a degree in 2017,” Gordon continued, imploring the students to become the leaders and role models he knows they can be. “I look forward to celebrating with these same students four years from now.”
While all 450 students deserve congratulations, some in the graduating class have managed to separate themselves even further, by achieving rare academic heights. Master Charter School’s Thomas Campus senior Kevin Beaford became Mastery’s first Gates Millennium Scholar, and will use the attached scholarship to attend local Ivy League school University of Pennsylvania, while Keiya Rankin, a senior at Mastery’s Shoemaker Campus, becomes Mastery’s first Dell Scholar and will attend Drexel University.
Other graduating students have endearing stories that made Monday’s even that much more important. Aimee Chhorn, a senior at Mastery-Thomas, is from a family that escaped the sheer brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime during its bloody rule in Cambodia, while Mastery-Pickett senior O’Shay Knox’s parents have battled substance abuse issues for the majority of Knox’s life, forcing Knox to be raised by her grandparents since she was an infant.
Chhorn will attend Esperanza College, while Knox will go to Bloomsburg University.
The Mastery graduating class also has among its ranks a Keyholder Award recipient (Felicia Lewis, Mastery-Lenfest) and 12 Lenfest Scholars.
Mayor Michael Nutter joined a litany of elected officials in congratulating Mastery’s 450 graduates, while imploring them to continue their education.
“In today’s world, a high school diploma is not enough,” Nutter said, adding that he has been a staunch supporter of Mastery and was very excited when the charter management company appeared on the educational horizon. “To succeed in the 21st century economy, individuals need at least some level of post-secondary education. Mastery Charter Schools’ College Signing Day is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of this year’s graduating seniors, who are pursuing higher learning, to encourage these students to complete their studies and to give back to their communities later as successful adults.
“The most important people in this building are you, the graduates.”