Superintendent William Hite told principals Tuesday that he would not transfer teachers out of schools in October if fewer students show up than planned for, but instead wait at least until in-person school resumes and enrollment can be more accurately assessed.
The annual practice of moving teachers, known to educators as “leveling,” is dreaded among principals, parents, and teachers. Although it is meant to adjust teacher assignments to match actual student head counts instead of projections, it can throw schools into turmoil if one or more teachers leave and others are moved around. For decades, the district’s administration has maintained the reallocation of teachers is necessary to make efficient use of resources.
Robin Cooper, president of the the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, or CASA, said that Hite confirmed his intentions in a Zoom call with principals.
Hite said that some movement might occur in “extreme circumstances,” but he assured principals that mass movement of regular education teachers would not occur, according to Cooper and one principal who was interviewed by Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Current enrollments in virtual school “is not an accurate count of what we will have,” said Cooper. “It’s a pandemic, and we have to come up with policies that actually fit a pandemic. We can’t account for the kids yet, but they were moving full speed ahead with leveling. It sent principals into a panic.”
Frustrated with that and other policies, Cooper and the CASA leadership started an online petition last week that urged support of a “no confidence” position on the Hite administration. By Tuesday afternoon, it had accumulated nearly 2,000 signatures. The union did not take a “no confidence” vote and hasn’t scheduled one.
After the meeting with the principals and Hite, Cooper sounded a more conciliatory tone. She called Hite’s move on leveling “a step in the right direction” and said the principals felt “listened to.”
Enrollment at many schools is much lower than in normal years, especially in kindergarten. One principal leads a school that normally has 100 kindergarten students; this year, only about half that number registered. Typically, this would mean a loss of at least one teacher, maybe two.
Some parent groups have posted on Facebook and other social media platforms about schools in danger of losing four or five teachers based on lower-than-usual enrollments. Educators have expressed concerns that the hardest hits in teacher losses will occur in the most vulnerable communities where parents may not be able to navigate online registration.
The district has not released school-by-school kindergarten enrollment counts, but Hite has said that there are wide variations across the city. As of last week, the kindergarten enrollment was at about three-quarters the level it was this time in 2019, 6,800 students compared to 9,300, officials said.
Before meeting with the principals, Hite announced a new districtwide equity initiative in which all segments of the district will confront policies of systemic racism. He said, he wants to make sure students are not denied opportunities because of “where they live or who their parents are.”