Branch Libraries are not School Libraries


On October 29, 2015, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook published the article READ! by 4th director explains goals of campaign, which includes an interview with Jenny Bogoni of the Philadelphia Free Library and READ! by 4th’s Executive Director. She explains the mission of the campaign to ensure that all children are reading on grade level by the time they enter 4th grade.

The article raises issues about where, and by whom, Philadelphia’s schoolchildren should be taught to read. While the campaign is laudable in its recognition that children are not receiving the needed reading instruction, APPS is disturbed at the acceptance of the starvation of the public schools of resources such as libraries due to lack of funding. We have concerns that the public/private partnership of the “Read by 4th campaign does nothing to address the loss of almost all school libraries staffed by a certified librarian. If a political fight is not waged to change this situation, this could become a permanent condition that will defeat the very goal that READ! by 4th is trying to address.

On April 29, 2014, one of our members, Barbara McDowell Dowdall, had a letter published in the Philadelphia Daily News that addresses this concern:

Branch libraries are not school libraries

I totally agree with your editorial, “No Mere Words,” that libraries are important and that every school child in Philadelphia should have and utilize a library card. As the proud holder of four Vacation Reading Club certificates from the Free Library of Philadelphia (1956-1959), as the daughter of a decade-long head of the Falls of Schuylkill branch, as a retired English teacher who walked entire classes across the parking lot from Rush Middle School to the Katharine Drexel branch, as a retired English department head at A. Philip Randolph Technical High School who regularly invited the local branch librarian to freshman orientation to sign up students for cards, and as now a board member of the Friends of the Free Library, I would, under normal conditions, applaud the motive and action of awarding member cards to every student in the city.

Your acknowledgment, however, that “the school budget cuts have led to a decimation of school libraries, with few school librarians left in the system,” and the news that “[Superintendent] Hite and library president Siobhan Reardon are working to see how the Free Library can help fill the void” fills me with renewed sadness and even alarm.

Branch libraries, wonderful as they are, are not school libraries. Public libraries cannot, and should not, be asked to serve the essential and unique function of a fully-supplied and certified teacher/librarian-staffed school library, where materials are selected and suited to students and the curriculum, where librarian and teachers can collaborate in developing student research skills, where students are able to access the full attention of their librarian in lessons attuned to their grade level and where utilization is certain and woven into the school day. Rather than assume, somehow, that every one of the newly-equipped 98,000 student card holders will now be regularly reporting to her or his local branch library for leisure-reading materials and individualized guidance in research projects, we should instead be intent on restoring the cruelly-excised school libraries and librarians that no suburban or private school has been asked to do without.

Let us remember the words of Dr. Harold Howe, U.S. Commissioner of Education in the Johnson administration: “What a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it feels about education.”

Tolerating one hundred eighty-seven schools devoid of libraries speaks volumes about what Philadelphia thinks.

Barbara McDowell Dowdall

Member of the Alliance for

Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS)

Rushed reforms fail our schools

This column by APPS co-founder Lisa Haver was published by the Philadelphia Daily News on Wednesday, October 21, 2015.

Lisa Haver

The school formerly known as Roosevelt Middle School in East Germantown landed at the bottom of the list of Philadelphia schools’ Pennsylvania System of School Assessment reading-proficiency scores this year. Math-proficiency scores are 0.3 percent. It pains me to say that, because I taught there for four years in the ’90s. It wasn’t a bad school then. We had a good principal who respected teachers, many of whom had been there almost 20 years. There was a full-time librarian, a full-time nurse and two full-time counselors. A committee of teachers developed a series of innovative project-based curricula.

Roosevelt has made it through serial budget cuts and district neglect. But the most recent, perhaps fatal, wound was inflicted by the School Reform Commission’s decision two years ago to convert it to a K-8. When community members protested that three schools in the same area – Germantown High School, Fulton Elementary and Roosevelt – were on the list of 24 neighborhood schools to be closed in 2013, the SRC came up with a last-minute scheme to add six lower grades in a matter of months. The district provided little support during the transition.

It appears, though, that disruption and failure are not a deterrent to repeating mistakes in the School District of Philadelphia. Superintendent William Hite unveiled a plan earlier this month to reform 15 district schools at an estimated cost of $15 million to $20 million. Some will be part of the Hite-created Transformation Program, in which curricular and personnel changes, including forcing out the entire faculty, can be imposed with no public hearings or vote by the SRC. Others will be placed into the Renaissance Network, which is the administration’s way of giving up on a school it has done little to improve and kicking it to the curb for a private company to pick up. Some will have several grades added at once, as Roosevelt did, changing its mission and climate overnight. Contrary to promises made by Hite at public meetings, two schools will be closed permanently. Enrollment and class size in nearby schools will almost certainly increase.

The hurried approval process will give parents little chance to have any say in the future of their children’s schools. Teachers and staff have been shut out of the process altogether, even though many will be forced out of schools whose communities they have been part of for years. But since the decisions about which schools will be overhauled, and how, have already been made at the top, what purpose do these meetings serve other than window-dressing – until the inevitable rubber-stamping by the SRC?

 Are these radical changes worth the financial and emotional costs to be extracted from those school communities? Looking at the latest standardized-test scores clearly shows that these rushed overhauls do not work.

Hite cites reading and math proficiency scores, which hover around 30 percent, as justification for placing three more schools into the Renaissance program. But the latest PSSA scores show that none of the 21 current elementary or middle Renaissance schools achieved a math score over 20 percent; only eight topped 30 percent in reading. Three have come up for nonrenewal proceedings in the past year alone. The School Performance Rating of Audenried High School, placed in the Renaissance program in 2011, was among the lowest in the state.

If Hite’s plan represented real reforms, maybe it would be worth the $20 million price tag. But the facts show they are not. Overnight expansion has been a disaster for Roosevelt and other schools. Transformation schools, so far, show little more than cosmetic changes. Data on Renaissance schools clearly show that the whole program should be scrapped. Hite is a lifelong educator, and he knows what real reform entails: smaller class size; one-on-one reading interventions; a library in every school; full support staff including classroom aides for students with special needs, English language learners and kindergarten. They have always been worth investing in.

Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.


APPS testimony at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission – October 15, 2015

In order of appearance.
Click the picture to view the video.

Karel Kiliminik

This video is of APPS member Karel Kilimnik testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commissionn meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Karel’s testimony.

Diane Payne

This is video of APPS member Diane Payne testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Diane’s testimony.

Lisa Haver

This is video of APPS member Lisa Haver testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Lisa’s testimony.

Barbara Dowdall

This is video of APPS member Barbara Dowdall testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Barbara’s testimony.

Deb Grill

This is video of APPS member Deborah Grill testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Deborah’s testimony.

Peg Divine

This is video of APPS supporter school nurse Peg Devine testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

Robin Roberts

This is video of APPS supporter parent Robin Roberts testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

Lies, Lies,Lies: Wister School is another Chapter in Privatization and Locking out Parent, Teacher, Community Voice

9-17-15 SRC

by Karel Kilimnik
October 8, 2015

Let me start by saying we now have more confirmation that this District is being led by snake oil salespeople. Wister is one of the three schools slated to be turned into Renaissance Charter Schools by the School Reform Commission. Wednesday night, October 7th was the first “Meeting with Wister Families”. It should have been “First sales pitch to Wister families”. District staff were there to sell, not listen.

Wister parents and school staff were informed that the meeting would be held at a location in the 6700 block of Germantown Avenue. I arrived to find parents, children, and school staff milling around waiting for District personnel to arrive. One of the District Charter School staff ambled up just as we learned that the meeting was being held at another location. He brushed me off when I asked if he knew about this bait and switch. People ran to their cars and took off.

We walked into a small meeting room that barely held everyone. Leading the sales pitch for the evening was Karen Kolsky, Assistant Superintendent of Neighborhood Network 6. Audience members allowed Kolsky to drone on until she introduced a parent from Mastery Cleveland Charter School. Exhibit Number One in the selling of Why Wister Parents Should Be Drooling Over The Possibility of Becoming A Renaissance Charter.

Parents were respectful to the speaker and then the frustration and anger spilled over. The Wister principal stepped up to say that her own children attended Cleveland way before it was taken over by Mastery. They had a great education. Her daughter is a doctor and her son works as a long-distance trucker.

Kolsky was peppered with concerns about special needs students, preschool children, loss of teachers, loss of their beloved Wister community. Questions about lack of transparency, lack of any real choice, the list went on. These parents were articulate, well informed, and had valid concerns that were brushed aside by Kolsky and her team.

At one point SRC spokesperson Evelyn Sample-Oates rose from the back to say that, “The recommendation is from the superintendent for what should happen to this school.” My eyes were rolling around in my head. Parents pushed back saying why are we here as the decision has already been made. The Charter School staff member tried to allay fears about continuation of Wister’s regional special education programs by saying that “they would be taken into consideration”. Someone pointed out that his statement was meaningless so he added that it would “be written into the contract”.

Principal Smith was totally amazing. She talked about how Wister made AYP from 2008-2011 when she had the resources. She encouraged parents to use their voices and be heard.  She and others raised the issue of charter operators getting more money that should be put into their school now!

Parents and Grandparents at the meeting spoke lovingly about teachers and other parents and how much love, care, and respect there was for their children. One parent said charter school teachers are all about the money. Our Wister teachers don’t make that much and they’re all about loving our children.

Kendra Brooks, who led the organizing at Steele School to defeat turning their school over to a charter operator, spoke briefly about how they’ve changed the rules this time around so that parents do not have a choice.

Kolsky reminded parents that they would be there (I asked in this same place or are you going to change it?) for weekly meetings until Nov. 24th. Charter management companies can apply for Request for Qualifications on Oct. 15th. The District is offering visits to other Renaissance charters starting the week of Oct. 12th. Parents were handed a schedule of visits that included – Birney Prep Academy (Oct. 13 ,20, 27 & 28) Mastery Pastorius (Oct. 14), Mastery Harrity (Oct. 16); Hite will announce the proposed school/charter provider on Dec. 14th and the SRC votes on Jan. 21.

I can’t write anymore. They are too disgusting. Sounds like Cooke parents had a similar experience and have pushed back and seems like Wister is pushing back too. They have a really solid principal who wants to fight back and keep their school. We shall see.

The next Wister Community Meeting is Wed. Oct. 14 at 6 to 7:30 at Center In The Park. Please come out and support the Wister School Community as they fight for their school.

The same games are being played at Jay Cooke Elementary:

Philadelphia School District Deceives Parents at Jay Cooke Charter School Hearing | Raging Chicken Press