Daily News: Penn Alexander School has 34 out-of-catchment students

January 27, 2014


The kindergarten registration line at Penn Alexander School in January, 2012. The school switched to a lottery last year. (Archive photo/West Philly Local)

The worst kept secret at Penn Alexander School (PAS) made the Daily News today. The neighborhood elementary school, which last year switched to a lottery from the first-come first-served kindergarten registration, has students who don’t live in the school’s neighborhood catchment.

The Daily News article focuses on a particular family who lives in Overbrook but has kids enrolled in PAS (you can read it here) thanks to connections with former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. The family’s name came up in comments on West Philly Local last year when the district implemented the kindergarten lottery.

Here are some other details from the Daily News piece:

• 34 students out of PAS’s 550-student enrollment are living outside the catchment, according to the school district.
• Not PAS administration, but former Philadelphia School District superintendents, including the most recent one, now deceased Arlene Ackerman, could and did use admission exceptions for out-of-catchment students for “an extenuating circumstance … that’s for the well-being and safety of the child,” according to Fernando Gallard, the school district’s spokesperson.
• Current superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has not used this privilege, Gallard told Daily News.
• The district won’t pull any children who live outside the catchment from the school to avoid disruption of their education. In the future, however, the district will allow only families living inside the school boundaries to attend the school, according to Gallard.


To read more about PAS and its recent enrollment issues, click here.

38 Comments For This Post

  1. Keith Says:

    Why not pull the kids from school after the school year ends? Do we really have to be that sensitive to “disrupting their education” that we don’t mind sending the message that it’s OK to break the rules? And what about fairness to parents who live in the catchment but didn’t get to send their kids to PAS as a result? I guess we just don’t care about them.

  2. suzanne Says:

    Do you think that’s needed if there are open seats?

  3. vceross Says:

    I think the problem is that there aren’t open seats any more, at least from what I’ve observed with friends who have been going through the Herculean set of tasks that qualify their kids simply to get into the lottery, only to find out that there were no seats and the whole exercise was something of a sleight of hand. I of course agree that kids shouldn’t be pulled out in the middle of the school year, but thereafter parents who can afford to buy property in the catchment and not live there, or who have the pull to get the Superintendent of Schools to break the rules and enroll their kids, likely have other options that should be exercised.

  4. guest Says:

    Actually, there are many open seats currently in the middle school, and I suspect that is where the bulk of the out of catchment students are located. I haven’t heard of any out of catchment kids in kindergarten or first grade, which is where the log-jam seems to be. Masterman has been bleeding off more and more PAS kids starting in 5th grade. If you check, that’s where the empty chairs are: starting- in the 5th grade. I caution people from making assumptions. Some of these outside of catchment middle school kids are under the table, but others are fully public about living out of catchment, and were given permission by the Principal to stay. Nothing underhanded. Just room in the grades, so why put out a kid who’s been going there to clear out a spot for no one waiting in line for it?

  5. vceross Says:

    I think you’re working with old news. PAS is starting to surpass Masterman I scores and quality of experience, and fewer are now leaving. I know of two people in the middle school who were turned away this year.

  6. Nok19143 Says:

    This test score assertion is demonstrably false if you look at the school profiles.
    And it is saddening that our community, which you would think would know better, puts such faith on standardized test scores in the first place.

  7. vceross Says:

    pfft — i’m not talking about PSSA scores. They’re a joke. Talking about PSAT and SAT scores that students who come through the two schools get. And if it’s so saddening and irrelevant, why are you so eagerly looking up and comparing scores anyway? Where are your values! 😉

  8. vceross Says:

    Also, in my experience, Masterman kids in terms of interpersonal and communication skills can’t hold a candle to PAS kids. And PAS isn’t a magnet school, so go figure!

  9. Charlie Says:

    But Masterman kids will benefit from the status that school has, networking, and existing connections to elite colleges.

  10. inthenameofreason Says:

    Okey-doke. Same comparison would hold true between, let’s say, an employee at Google and a staffer at a PR firm or a TV station, as a gross generalization. There’s really no need (or basis) to disparage Masterman kids in order to prop up PAS kids. The Masterman kids don’t deserve it. The PAS kids don’t need it.

  11. guest Says:

    vceross: Can you provide YOUR source for the SAT/PSAT comparison between the 2 schools, please?

  12. guest Says:

    Could be. I don’t expect there to be as many open slots in grades 5-8 in the near future. But there *are* open seats now. I say this because it’s good to know the facts. I’m not an expert, but I believe there is a correlation between enrollment and funding. PAS has to walk a very narrow line and if they keep some funding by allowing kids to remain in the grades that are under enrolled, who, exactly, is being harmed?

  13. anon Says:

    The article states that Mr. Johnson enrolled his youngest in 2012, actually. Many in-catchment families had to scramble that year for an alternate kindergarten spot, but his child was given one.

    I understand not pulling out the older children, but enrolling the younger child of someone with connections when in-catchment families are not guaranteed sibling preference for enrollment is a problem.

  14. AT Says:

    It does sound likely that the majority of out-of-catchment kids are in the upper grades where there is space, as several have suggestion. Verifying whether or not this is the case would be a good follow-up story…

  15. guest Says:

  16. vceross Says:

    PS: what are these open seats to which you refer? do advise us of your source, for I have friends who would love to get their kids into the middle school year classes. there were only a few open seats this year and they were rather mysteriously distributed, at least from what I heard, and not according to the prior year’s waiting list, either.

  17. guest Says:

    There are less than 50 kids in the 8th grade right now. That is not capacity.

  18. guest Says:

    vceross: The data source has been cited above, but I’ll provide it, again.

    I think it would be more helpful if you stuck to facts and not what you’ve heard from other people. There’s enough affect around this issue without people spreading disinformation.

  19. PAS parent Says:

    There are only two classes per grade in the middle school compared to three classes in the lower grades and this is the reason for the lower # of students. Not sure the rationale (expected attrition from Masterman?) for this but has always been the case.

  20. guest Says:

    But there ARE open seats. Look at this:

    Last school year here were the numbers:

    2012/13 K‐73 1st-72 2nd-72 3rd-72 4th-72 5th-51 6th-52 7th-45 8th-44

    As has historically been the pattern, there was a sharp drop off in 5th grade. The grade kids can transfer to Masterman or GAMP. So, the 4th grade had 72 students but the 8th grade at only 44. Why not let some of those 28(!) slots go to kids who hung in there after 4th grade?

  21. Abby Says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Talk about disrupting a child’a education, we live in the catchment yet my son has to start a new school every year. First Wilson and now Lea. Why is this system so corrupt and how do they just get away with it? So frustrating!

  22. suzanne Says:

    I think the issue is when students move out of the catchment as the years march on. In previous years there have always been open chairs in the upper grades, so when a kid starts at PAS IN catchment, but their family moves OUT of catchment, some have remained in PAS because of the empty seats. I don’t really see that as a problem.

  23. get Says:

    No, thats a problem!

  24. suzanne Says:

    How is it a problem? Sour grapes for the little kids who don’t get in? ” If my kid can’t go there, your kid can’t either?” I don’t understand why you think it’s a problem. What is the down-side?

  25. Regina Says:

    Nice reporting on the reporting. 🙂

  26. Becky Says:

    I knew of several families who actually rented and then sublet apartments so they would have an address inside the catchment area.

  27. Elaine Says:

    well, many of us knew families living outside of the catchment area whose kids attended–what we didn’t know was how many! Interesting message some parents sent their kids with the various ways they were breaking the rules in order to get them into PAS even if they didn’t really live in the catchment area…..

  28. darlene dackerman Says:

    kick the kids to the curb at the end of the term, then bill/ fire/ jail their cheating parents. this is disgusting and immoral.

    over to you, mr. hite.

  29. Clare Mulligan Says:

    Consider home schooling if you can.

  30. DarleneDackerman Says:

    Here’s where you can report fraud, waste and abuse to the School District of Philadelphia ––procedures

  31. GuestWP Says:

    Looking at the January 2013 school information, it looks like Johnson’s younger child was the mysterious kindergartener #73 when 1st-4th grades were capped at three classes of 24 for a total of 72. 5th-8th grades had significantly fewer students.

  32. Will Says:

    As someone who lives in the catchment, I certainly don’t blame other parents for trying to get in, I don’t feel my ability to afford to live here entitles my children to a superior education. The real tragedy is that’s exactly how the system is set up when it comes to education, and it has failed our children, especially those who cannot afford to live where the best schools are.

  33. get-out Says:

    so the district is corrupt, yes we know that, so lets clean house!
    I definitely agree that this should happen after the school year, its not the kids fault, but they should not return for fall 2014.
    this kind of thing happens all the time but when you get caught you must pay, so get out!

  34. April Says:

    To be CLEAR. There are ZERO open slots in 7th grade, unless Principal Sydnor is lying to people’s faces. My cousin who lives IN the catchment has been forced to send her child to Lea for 7th grade where he is having a very difficult time. She contacts PAS at least every couple weeks and they still say nope.

  35. fiveblocksaway Says:

    “forced”…when Lea is on a list of schools the state released in the revamped voluntary transfer process for students in “troubled” schools to transfer into. Only “fiveblocksaway” on the Same street, sigh…but perhaps they’d prefer Huey o_O.

  36. Name Says:

    After all the strife the school district caused to create a lottery (in which all children were eventually admitted), there are now open spots in kindergarten that are also not being filled. A number of families of children in kindergarten have since moved out of the neighborhood, including a family with twins.

  37. Me Says:

    I grew up across the street from PAS. I lived there before the school was built. When I grew up and got married I put our son on the waiting list as soon as he was born. He ended up going to a pre k program in the neighborhood. It all worked out fine until the school kept saying he was on the waiting list. I called the school district and they informed me there were 12 slots at the time, and my son should get a slot based on his place in the waiting list. The principal lied to my face several times. After looking at the test scores, and lack of hands on arts and music; I chose to enroll him in a school that stresses coeducation and the humanities. I am really glad I didn’t pursue it any further. Eight years later we are all happy. My child is well rounded and has a love of learning.

    This school has been a nightmare for the fabric of the community. Saddie Alexander would be shocked at what Penn has done to her gift to the community. The only decent school in the are was Powel in Powelton Village. The school was to serve the community for good, The folks who have moved in and felt so entitled to everything the neighborhood has to offer, in my opinion have changed to fabric of the community from liberal progressives to uptight fake liberals. BUt to each their own.

  38. Jm Says:

    Just wondering – does the district policy not to pull out of catchment kids apply to anyone who wants to move outside the catchment whose kids are already there?

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