Students air issues of violence, leadership at West Philly High

West Philadelphia High School. (David Maialetti / Staff)
West Philadelphia High School. (David Maialetti / Staff) (Lissa Atkins)
Posted: October 21, 2010

West Philadelphia High School students told the School Reform Commission yesterday that poor leadership and disorganization sparked a resurgence of violence at the school.

"We've had three principals since the beginning of the school year," senior Marie Hines, 17, told commission members yesterday. "Half of the students don't know the principal's name."

Interim Principal John Chapman, a retired principal often called in to help troubled schools, was appointed Monday, Tomas Hanna, an associate superintendent, told the group of nine students.

Chapman, 63, replaces Ozzie Wright, another retired principal who was named in July, along with LaVerne Wiley, as co-principals at West, at 48th and Walnut streets.

However, Wiley was transferred to Clymer Elementary School on Oct. 4, and Wright announced last week that he was taking a leave for medical reasons.

The two replaced former principal Saliyah Cruz, who was popular with both students and the community. But she was reassigned by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who cited the schools' poor academic achievement.

Students at West have scored low in state tests in math and reading.

But the students said the school had "structure and good leadership" under Cruz. And they credited her with eliminating the fighting and small fires of four years ago.

"Over the last three years, the climate improved to the point where we got off the persistently-dangerous list," Hines said.

"Over the last month and a half, there were more fights than all last year, which will probably put us back on the list," Hines said. "So in my opinion you rushed to make changes and everything we worked for is falling apart."

After they spoke out, Hanna called the students into a private meeting with Chapman.

Chapman said he would have small-group meetings with students and he plans to bring in more retired principals to help.

* In other news: Michael Masch, the district's chief financial officer, had good and bad news about the district's budget picture. The good news was that the district will have a balanced budget at the end of the current 2010-2011 fiscal year next June. Masch credited federal stimulus money as well as money from the federal education jobs bill for millions in extra money for both last year and this year.

He also credited the Philadelphia Parking Authority for sharing $7.2 million with the district this year, $3 million more than projected last May, when the budget was adopted. But Masch said the district will have to find a way to replace the federal funding or face major budget cuts in the next fiscal year, in 2011-2012.

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