by Diane Payne
February 26, 2018
All five commissioners were present for this action meeting. Eight members of APPS spoke on behalf of public education at this meeting; to view their testimony, go to APPSPhilly.net.
Four additional community members spoke in opposition to resolutions A-7 and B-12. Resolution A-7 proposed a $9,549,665 contract with NCS Pearson for “integrated web access. Resolution B-12 spent a whopping $10 million for various vendors providing online courses and adaptive software. (This is in addition to the $10 million the SRC set aside for blended learning last year).
There were two wonderful performances by students from Franklin Learning Center High School (FLC). Two students (piano and voice) beautifully performed the moving song, Strange Fruit, and another student gave a “Little Black Girl” spoken word performance.
SRC Staff Answers Questions
In his remarks, Dr. Hite addressed the millions going to web access and blended learning in Resolutions A-7 and B-12. He assured the audience of privacy protections and gave what some interpreted as lip service to teachers being primary to children’s education.
Teacher Vanessa Baker, in speaking against Resolutions A-7 and B-12, reported on recent events around the city in which business leaders and social impact investors have met behind closed doors–leaving out students, parents or educators– to discuss the direction of education. On January 29th, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce held a ticketed, closed-door event for members of the business community on Roadmap for Growth: Exploring Business Engagement in Philadelphia’s Schools. On February 7th, Comcast sent a busload of “Impact Investors” to Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Hite addressed Baker after her remarks to assure her that the attendees at Feltonville were only there to observe and see what is happening at the school. So, when the fox circles the henhouse during the day to see what is happening, does the farmer feel secure going to bed that night that his chicks will be safe?
Another recent exercise in exclusion of community stakeholders is that of the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF), whose CEO is SRC Commissioner Farah Jimenez. (Yes, APPS has asked why this isn’t considered a conflict of interest, to no avail.) Since Commissioner Jimenez has taken the helm at PEF, meetings about public education that were always open to the public have become closed-door events with preference to PEF donors. Jimenez has banned some individuals, including APPS co-founder Lisa Haver, from PEF meetings, and has refused to give any reason despite several communications with her and the PEF board. Discussions among business and nonprofits about the future of our schools now shut out the very people whose lives are most affected by them.
APPS members (and apparently some other members of the community) had submitted written questions to the SRC prior to this meeting about the ongoing approval of expenditures with no supporting evidence or explanation of their benefit. Interestingly, the staff presentations and Superintendent Hite’s remarks addressed some of these questions. Coincidence or public pressure forcing the minimum of explanation? In addition, the SRC staff provided written answers to questions which was made available to the public just prior to the meeting.