Philadelphia school district changed its special admissions process in the name of fairness, but some parents say it penalizes children

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Walette Carter’s grandson was in the first grade five class to attend Science Leadership Academy in Beeber in West Philadelphia. The family chose the project-based school for Dallas in part because of a promise made by the district.

“When we first arrived we were told the kids would go straight up to grade 12, provided they did well,” said Carter, who lives near the school in West Philadelphia.

That changed abruptly this fall when Dallas, now 13 and an eighth grader at Magnet School, learned that the Philadelphia School District was changing its criteria-based school admissions policy this year from ” a system where administrators have a say in the development of their classes through recommendations and tests to whoever works by lottery for those who meet the admission criteria, with some schools giving more weight to applications from children from historically under-represented zip codes.

READ MORE: Admissions to Philly Magnet Schools Being Overhauled – In The Name of Fairness

Dallas was concerned when he heard about the changes, announced the day the school selection window opened. Carter and Dallas’ mom were “livid,” Carter said.

For decades, the demographics of many of Philadelphia’s 37 special admissions schools – including Masters, Central, and Science Leadership Academy – have not matched those in the district, with an overrepresentation of white students and children from families who are not economically disadvantaged. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said an immediate overhaul of admissions policy is needed to correct generations of racism and systemic inequities.

Carter, who is Black, understands this.

“But our school meets the demographics of the Philadelphia school system. We are predominantly black, ”Carter said of SLA Beeber. “We are multicultural. We have children from almost every postcode in the city of Philadelphia. Why are we affected by this? Carter is a member of the school board’s family and community advisory board.

District officials dispute the idea that middle school families have ever been promised preference for high school admissions.

Karyn Lynch, district student support services chief, said Thursday evening that while principals may have used a preference for high school admissions to encourage middle school students to keep good grades, “this It is not in any policy that there would be automatic admission for eighth graders to go to high school.

Still, more than a dozen parents with children in special admission colleges interviewed by The Inquirer said they were told: If your child is doing well in college, he’s a good shot for high school.

Nerves are on edge for thousands of families with children hoping to attend criteria-based middle and high schools as the school selection process deadline approaches. Students must submit their completed applications, ranking up to five choices, by Sunday.

Several parents pleaded their case before the school board Thursday evening in written and live testimony, asking it to intervene on the admission policy based on criteria.

One of the parents stressed out as the deadline approaches is State Representative Donna Bullock (D., Philadelphia), whose son is a grade eight student at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science in North Philadelphia.

Bullock believes that correcting the District’s Special Admission Courts is a unique and misguided solution to a nuanced problem. She also believes the solution will actually hurt some kids, including those with A’s and years of expectations that as long as they did it right, they could have access to the best schools in Philadelphia. Change, according to her and other parents, is especially difficult for children who now attend magnetic colleges that power high schools, like Carver and SLA Beeber. (Masterman, Girard Academic Music Program, and Hill-Freedman World Academy have the same setup.)

“Adults made mistakes and biases in the system, creating school communities that weren’t as inclusive or mirrored the city of Philadelphia,” said Bullock, who lives in Strawberry Mansion. “Students are being punished for the actions of these adults. “

The district officials’ commitment to be an anti-racist organization requires changes, officials said in October, when the changes were announced. Sabriya Jubilee, district director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said at the time that the organization recognized “that there will be people who will be uncomfortable, but we let’s address this discomfort, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to do it right through our schools.

The whole process was controversial and racially charged. When some parents started a petition on change.org asking the district to put the changes on hold to allow for a more thoughtful and transparent policy that incorporates family and community feedback, they received a backlash on social media, labeled as racist and opposed to fairness.

Bullock, who is black, praises the district’s efforts to make the best schools more accessible to all children, but said that was not the right way to do it. And while the district said community feedback helped inform policy, no parent interviewed by The Inquirer said they had a chance to speak out, or even know that changes were coming.

“There was a broad line: ‘This is the policy’, but not enough detailed answers to address the concerns of parents and students,” Bullock said. “Along the way, we’ve seen the school district making promises and breaking promises, not responding with transparency and accountability, and the process at this point seems to be repeating the same mistakes.”

Jenny Aiello of Mount Airy has two children who attend Carver, one in grade 10 and one in eighth. Her youngest daughter, an “end-to-end STEM kid,” is now worried and struggling: what if she didn’t win a lottery spot in Carver, one of five schools that favor students from five postcodes across the country? north of Philadelphia?

And that leaves Ailello, like many parents, scratching his head over last-minute decisions – the preferred zip codes weren’t announced until weeks after the changes, and details on a new write-down prompt noted by computer also arrived late.

“Overall, it was not a well thought out plan, without transparency and without input from parents, students, teachers,” said Aiello, who is Caucasian. “We love Carver, and that’s why we’re here; I can’t imagine going to a suburban school. Carver is perfect the way he is.

Aiello and Tanya Folk, another Carver parent, said the timing for the changes was particularly bad given the challenges of this pandemic, an already difficult school year. And both said they believe the district should take a closer look at inequalities in elementary schools in the city, so that all students are well prepared for Magnet admissions and children have more equal opportunities earlier in the day. their school career.

“It looks like the district has conceded – ‘We can’t fix this,’ so they’re trying to put the system in place,” said Folk, who is black and lives in East Oak Lane. “If we look fairer on paper it would make the district look good, but I’m not sure we’re going to get to where they want to go with these changes.”

If her son, who has the best grades, does not go to any special admission school, Folk said she would home school him rather than send him to Fels, their neighborhood high school.

“It’s very difficult to take the district seriously if it applies solutions to schools that are already beacons of what they’re trying to do,” Folk said.

Bullock’s son still hopes Carver and applies to other magnets. But the family are also now considering a private high school, an option that had not been considered before.

But it weighs on the family, especially her son.

“He said, ‘Wait, can’t I stay at my school? “Now he feels like he did something wrong, and I feel like I lied to him because I made promises that were taken over by the administrator,” Bullock said. “It has just been a blow to him and to his classmates, to students all over town.”

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