District officials say Audenried High overhaul was based on years of poor performance

Posted: March 09, 2011

The Philadelphia School District's decision to overhaul Audenried High School is based on years of poor test scores, graduation rates, and attendance, officials said Tuesday, not just on the new school's performance.

In the face of community outrage over the district's decision to hand Audenried over to a charter organization and its move to fire teacher Hope Moffett, top district administrators struck back in a Tuesday news conference.

Members of the Grays Ferry community who oppose Audenried's takeover by Universal Cos. Inc. call it unfair to judge the new school by the old Audenried's problems. None of its students have taken state exams yet.

Known as "the prison on the hill," the old Audenried was closed after the 2004-05 school year and re-opened in a new, $60 million building, with new teachers and students, in 2008-09.

"Their data has nothing to do with us and should not be used in the decision," Moffett, the exiled teacher, said in an earlier interview.

But Assistant Superintendent David Weiner said that the move to turn Audenried and 17 other schools around was based on historical data, not just recent numbers, and that it was fair to consider the old school's performance when deciding the fate of the new one.

Weiner said that even in the last three years, Audenried's performance had been "absolutely unacceptable," with low attendance, a low percentage of students promoted out of the crucial ninth-grade year on time, and low recent test scores that predict how 11th graders will fare on state exams.

The neighborhood school's average daily attendance was 82 percent last year, low for similar high schools, and only half of Audenried freshmen were promoted to 10th grade.

According to the latest predictive exams, 38 percent of 11th graders will score at grade level in state reading exams and 38 percent in math. Districtwide in 2009-10, 42 percent of students met state standards in reading, and 36 percent met math goals.

"We have an absolute moral obligation to stop what's happening there," Weiner said. He said the district shared the blame for the school's failure.

Weiner acknowledged that Audenried had made progress, but he said it had come too slowly.

Weiner and Associate Superintendent Penny Nixon also addressed community concerns over Universal's educational track record. Under the district's old education-management organization model, Universal ran Vare Middle School, which was taken back into district control over student performance questions.

The district has said it will only hand Renaissance schools to organizations with track records in urban districts.

But Weiner said the old model was flawed, with confusion over who was in charge. The district did not hold Universal's management of Vare against it, he said. At Vare last year, 33 percent of students met state standards in reading, 35 percent in math.

"Universal has some charter schools in the community and around the country, and that's what we're basing our decision on," Weiner said.

Nixon also spoke publicly for the first time about Moffett's exile from Audenried. The third-year English teacher has been an outspoken critic of the Renaissance plan, but Nixon said that was irrelevant to her dismissal.

"This is really not about Miss Moffett's teaching performance. It's not about her views on the Renaissance process," Nixon said.

Moffett was removed from her classroom three weeks ago and sent to an administrative office known among teachers as the "rubber room" while the district investigated her. Officials say she endangered her students' welfare and safety.

They also took issue with her disclosing to reporters a document she was told to keep secret - the letter ordering her removal.

Moffett put her students in harm's way by giving an Audenried student leader transit tokens that were later used to transport other students to a Feb. 15 protest outside district headquarters, according to the district.

Nixon said that as a parent, she would be outraged if someone gave her child tokens to leave school grounds without parental permission.

"If one of those students had been injured or killed, we would be having a very different conversation today," Nixon said.

Associate Superintendent Linda Cliatt-Wayman has recommended that Moffett be fired. She met with Moffett and a union representative Tuesday; at a meeting Thursday, Nixon will likely sign off on the dismissal, which must be voted on by the School Reform Commission.

Union president Jerry Jordan said Moffett was being targeted for speaking out. He said the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers would fight to restore her to the classroom.

Several of Moffett's students said they were suffering without her, adding that they had had several substitute teachers since she was removed. Moffett said her students had told her they had struggled academically since she left.

District spokeswoman Elizabeth Childs said the students had had only one substitute, a certified English teacher and former Audenried teacher, Daniel Eppihimer. Eppihimer said last night he had substituted in Moffett's class, but not every day.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com.

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