Cook-Wissahickon parents, students protest looming 'leveling' changes
Cook-Wissahickon Elementary in Roxborough is implementing a split-grade classroom.
Fernando Gallard, a spokesperson with the Philadelphia School District, confirmed Friday that a pair of fifth grade teachers was transferred as part of this year's "leveling" process, which is scheduled to wrap up Monday.
The move means the K-8 school will have a classroom that combines third and fourth graders.
"It is purely driven by our financial situation. We don't have the money to be able to resource the school as we would like," said Gallard.
The 'leveling' process
Each year, "leveling" adds and subtracts teachers from buildings based on actual enrollment figures and agreed-upon student-teacher ratios. Under the district's contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, there should be a maximum of 33 students per teacher in academic classrooms.
Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced that the state would release $45 million in promised funding. The money was tied to the district making sufficient progress on reforms in how it's run, spends money and provides education.
The funding was expected to eliminate the need for split-grade classrooms at most schools.
During a boisterous Friday morning protest, parent Rebecca Poyourow decried the decision at Cook-Wishackion, saying it makes "no sense whatsoever" now that the district has more funding.
"It's not like a factory where you move around parts," said Poyourow. "If you take these two teachers, you disrupt a third of the entire school, third through fifth grades will be affected, classroom routines that have been established since September — gone; relationships between teachers and their students and among peers — gone."
PFT President Jerry Jordan called split-grade classrooms "bad policy" for elementary school education.
"Children need the full-time attention of the teacher," said Jordan. "A teacher splitting himself or herself in half, spending a certain amount of time with the third graders and a certain amount of time with the fourth graders, that is just not the smartest way to educate young children."
'A slap in the face'
A pair of fourth grade teachers will take over the two fifth grade classrooms that are losing their teachers, said Karen Thomas, Cook- Wissahickon's principal.
That will leave the school with one third grade classroom, one fourth grade classroom and one split-grade classroom. There will be a total of three fifth grade classrooms.
"I know leveling has been in the contract forever, but I guess, at this school, we're not used to losing, we're used to staying level or gaining, so it's a little bit of a slap in the face sometimes when you're not used to that happening," said Thomas.
A protest was also held Friday morning at the George Sharswood School in South Philadelphia, where three staffers were transferred.