The School District of Philadelphia this year had a 20 percent reduction in the number of its schools defined as "persistently dangerous" under federal law, according to a preliminary report obtained by The Inquirer.
Twenty of the district's 265 schools were tagged dangerous last school year, down from 25 in 2008-09, according to the list, scheduled to be released by the state later in the month. The district has until Friday to appeal the results of any school on the list.
Nine schools came off the list: University City, Germantown, Northeast, West Philadelphia, Kensington Culinary, Kensington Business, and William Penn High Schools, and Roosevelt and Harding Middle Schools.
For Germantown and West Philadelphia, it was the first time since the No Child Left Behind Law began requiring states to identify dangerous schools in 2002-03 that they had not been on the list.
However, four schools - Roberto Clemente and Shaw Middle Schools, and Gratz and Sayre High Schools - were added, as their reported violent incidents rose. It is Sayre's first time on the list.
Schools are judged dangerous based on the number of violent incidents that occurred in the previous three school years relative to the size of the student body.
Dangerous incidents include weapons possession, murder, kidnapping, robbery, sexual offenses, and assaults. Only incidents that result in arrest are counted under Pennsylvania's criteria.
"We believe the School District is moving forward in a very positive way on this issue," district spokesman Fernando Gallard said, "but we all agree it's not fast enough."
Tomas Hanna, associate superintendent of academic supports, declined to say whether the district would appeal. He also would not release incident numbers on schools that came on or off the list, or elaborate on why.
Hanna and Myron Patterson, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's newly appointed chief safety executive, said the district is assessing the schools on the list and those that came off, and will come up with a plan soon on how to address safety issues in the district.
"We're putting together a comprehensive strategy," said Patterson, who came on the job 21/2 weeks ago, replacing James Golden.
Some are critical of the "dangerous" designation, questioning the accuracy of reporting.
"It's smoke and mirrors," said Michael Lodise, president of the school police officers union. Some schools report incidents more aggressively than others, he said.
The Rev. LeRoi Simmons, coordinator of the Germantown Clergy Initiative involved at Germantown High, was pleased to hear the school came off, but also questioned the numbers.
"I don't trust the reporting from the district anymore at all," he said.
The school improved dramatically under the leadership of Jose Lebron and Ozzie Wright in 2008-09, but lost ground last year under principal Margaret Mullen-Bavwidinsi, he said. The school continues to receive large numbers of students returning from disciplinary schools, he added.
Germantown reported 48 assaults and 14 weapons incidents through May 31, according to data obtained by The Inquirer.
Schools identified as dangerous are required to notify parents, who have the right to transfer their children to other schools with district transportation provided, usually in the form of a Transpass. District officials Thursday night said they did not have numbers on how many students used the provision last school year.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, was pleased to hear that schools such as West Philadelphia came off.
"However, until every school is safe for children to learn and for teachers to teach, we've got a ways to go," he said.
West Philadelphia was previously recognized for improving student behavior and overall environment under former principal Saliyah Cruz. Earlier this year, Ackerman removed Cruz from the helm, citing lack of academic progress. Cruz currently heads Communications Technology High School.
"I'm thrilled," said Cruz, who had heard preliminarily in June that her school might lose the designation. "I always thought the label never really reflected what was happening in the building."
Cruz said building teacher and student leadership and creating more positive relationships between students and teachers led to the improvement.
West Philadelphia reported 17 assaults and two weapons incidents through May 31.
Two schools - Lincoln and Overbrook Highs - have remained on the list since 2002-03.
Lincoln last school year reported 71 assaults and 12 weapons incidents through May 31, while Overbrook recorded 49 assaults and five weapons incidents.
South Philadelphia High, which was rocked by racial violence last year and has been the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation, also remained on the list.
Through May 31, the school reported 69 assaults, the majority in the first half of the year before an outcry over the violence resulted in a safety overhaul. It also had 10 weapons incidents.
Edison High had the highest number of assaults last year of any school on the list: 78. It also reported 22 weapons incidents.
Criteria for landing on the list vary from state to state. To make the list in Pennsylvania, a school with an enrollment of 250 or less must have at least five incidents; a school between 251 to 1,000, a number of incidents equal to at least 2 percent of enrollment; a school over 1,000, 20 or more incidents.
Olney East High
Olney West High
South Philadelphia High
Strawberry Mansion High
Roberto Clemente Middle