School Climate & Safety

Edison School in Phila. Faces Safety Concerns

By Rhea R. Borja — November 30, 2004 3 min read
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Philadelphia schools chief Paul G. Vallas pressured Edison Schools last month to remove an Edison-hired middle school principal, after one student allegedly raped another student inside the middle school.

The New York City-based Edison Schools Inc., a for-profit education management company, reassigned Sergio Rodriguez, the principal of John B. Stetson Middle School, pending a school district investigation of the incident.

Mr. Rodriguez was unavailable for comment. Edison Schools began managing 20 of the 190,000-student district’s schools in 2002. (“Takeover Team Picked in Phila.,” April 3, 2002.)

Naomi Rodriguez has two children attending Stetson Middle School.

A 6th grade boy allegedly attacked and sexually assaulted another 6th grade boy in a third-floor stairwell in the middle of the school day Nov. 16, according to a district spokesman. The district has expelled the suspect, who was charged with “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.” The other boy has been reassigned to another district school.

The incident has roiled already heightened tensions both within the community and at the 925-student school, which was recently taken off the state’s “persistently dangerous schools” list, a feature of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that allows parents to transfer their children out of schools described that way. The Pennsylvania education department bases its determination of “persistently dangerous” on arrests involving weapons possession or violent incidents such as homicide and aggravated assault. (“States Report Few Schools As Dangerous,” Sept. 24, 2003.)

Edison faces strong resistance from teachers inside the school, and parents outside the school, said Mr. Vallas, the district’s chief executive officer.

“There is mistrust that Edison needs to bridge both within the faculty and outside the school in the community,” he said in an interview last week. “The bottom line is that we can’t tolerate school climate problems.”

Still Supportive

Mr. Vallas said he would continue to strongly support Edison Schools’ efforts in the city despite discipline problems at Stetson.

“So far, they’ve done a good job,” he said. “There’s been very strong growth in reading and math test scores [in Edison schools]. Edison is making headway.”

Fifth and 8th graders in Edison-managed schools in the city, for instance, scored a 10.2-percentage-point average gain on the 2004 state reading test, while the average gain in math was 9.6 percentage points. Before Edison’s management, students at those schools had posted only half-point gains, on average, in reading and math, according to Adam Tucker, an Edison Schools spokesman.

Mr. Tucker said the company is responsible for all aspects of its schools, but listens closely to input from Mr. Vallas.

“The principals are our responsibility—they are our hires,” he said. “We also have a strong partnership with the school district. So absolutely, when Paul Vallas makes a recommendation, we take that seriously.”

Edison Schools placed Yvonne Savior, a veteran middle school principal and a member of Edison’s administrative team in the district, as the school’s interim principal.

The discipline problems at Stetson Middle School were bad before Edison Schools took over, and they seem to have gotten worse, said Jerry Jordan, the vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

“If you’re not consistent in enforcing the rules . . . you very quickly lose control,” Mr. Jordan said. “The children will realize that the adults are not in charge.”

Since the alleged assault, the district has added several district police officers to the school, as well as an interfaith coordinator prominent within the community.

A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2004 edition of Education Week as Edison School in Phila. Faces Safety Concerns

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