School Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman is "not blaming parents" for the controversial delay in turning West Philadelphia High School into a Renaissance school.
The School Reform Commission last week delayed voting on choosing an outside provider to operate the school, at 47th and Walnut streets, for next school year, and the district said it would wait until the 2011-12 school year to turn West Philadelphia into a Renaissance school.
An advisory panel that included parents and community members had recommended Johns Hopkins University/Diplomas Now as the school's service provider.
Yesterday, SRC chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. said he'd learned hours before last week's SRC meeting that the Philadelphia Education Fund had paid four parents on the advisory panel $500 each for community outreach.
But Carol Fixman, the Education Fund's executive director, told the Daily News earlier this week that the parents had been paid to knock on doors to get parents involved in the schools.
Had Johns Hopkins been selected as the provider for West Philadelphia, the Education Fund was to be a support partner working along with Johns Hopkins.
Fixman said the Education Fund paid the parents $8 an hour for outreach work that had nothing to do with the selection of Johns Hopkins as the Renaissance provider.
But both Ackerman and Archie, in a meeting with reporters at school district headquarters yesterday, said the district wanted to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Ackerman said that she was aware that one parent on the advisory panel did part-time work for the Education Fund but that she'd thought the parent would recuse herself from voting.
It wasn't until just before last week's meeting that she learned about the three other parents on the advisory council who also worked for the Education Fund.
"I am not blaming parents," she said. "We could have dealt with this long before we got to this point. If I'd known [about the four parents], we could have said to recuse yourselves."
The district said this week that the high school would be an Empowerment school in the fall.
Also yesterday, West Philadelphia principal Saliyah Cruz said only 19 of the school's teachers had requested transfers to other schools when it was believed West would be a Renaissance school in September.
Now, some of those teachers might stay at West after all, Cruz said.
Under the Renaissance-school model, no more than half of a school's teachers are retained when an outside provider attempts to "turn around" a failing school.
The school is no longer on the state's list of "persistently dangerous" schools, Cruz said. But Ackerman said 88 percent of 11th-graders still score "below basic" in state assessment tests.
"I'm thrilled that it's improved in [school safety] climate," Ackerman said. "Now we have to make sure the students have what they need to make academic progress."