by Karel Kilimnik
Welcome back from summer vacation. School starts later this month with a new governing body at the helm. The new Board of Education will be steering our District through the Straits of Unequal Funding. They will have to reverse the lack of trust in the District, with decisions imposed without stakeholder participation, and start rebuilding District staff and student supports, which will mean stopping the shoveling of money into the pockets of outside vendors. A significant change in this month’s Action List Summary indicates a first step in increasing transparency: for the first time in memory, the District is publishing Capital Programs Contract Modification summaries. What we still need to see posted are the contracts for vendors receiving contracts this month, including One Bright Ray, Camelot, EBS Healthcare, Progressus, and Lakeside Global Institute.
At the inaugural Board meeting last month, many new BOE members declared themselves staunch advocates of transparency and community involvement. We look forward to their implementing policies and practices that reflect their words. Thus far they have set up four committees: Finance and Facilities (meeting monthly); Student Achievement and Support (meeting monthly); Policy (meeting quarterly); and District Partnerships and Community Engagement (meeting quarterly). Thus far, only the Finance Committee has announced its first meeting (September 6 at 10 a.m. at 440). For a description of each committee’s responsibilities, scroll down the Action Item Summary. The Philadelphia Public School Notebook has posted committee co-chairs along with members.
As a rule, the SRC simply accepted any information presented by Superintendent Hite, whom they hired in 2012. The SRC renewed his 5-year contract before his initial term expired. At the July BOE meeting, representatives from several school communities testified about being informed about decisions made by Dr. Hite after the fact. There had been no community meetings and no way for the community to have a say in major decisions affecting students and parents. There has been ongoing pushback by Strawberry Mansion High School supporters since learning of Dr Hite’s decision to effectively close this neighborhood comprehensive high school after years of starving the school of programs and staff. Across town, parents of kindergarten and first graders at the Mayfair School were shocked to learn, in May, that their children will be bused to Austin Meehan Middle School beginning in August and for the foreseeable future. They have major objections and concerns for the safety of their young children, both on the bus and being housed in a middle school in desperate need of repair. The latest voices came from public school parents in East Mt. Airy after the SRC approved Resolution SRC-8 in May to allow Ad Prima Charter School to relocate from Frankford to East Mt. Airy—without informing neighbors. Ad Prima was denied this request to relocate a year before due to a lack of community involvement. Yet the lame-duck SRC saw fit to approve this move without telling the very people to be affected. (APPS member Lisa Haver asked the SRC in May why the East Mt. Airy community was not informed or given any opportunity to testify about the proposed move. Commissioner Bill Green answered that as long as the charter parents were OK with the move, the District had no obligation to inform the E. Mt. Airy community.) The dominoes began to fall, thus enabling the deeply flawed Deep Roots Charter School to open in the newly vacant former Ad Prima building. Ad Prima deemed it unsatisfactory—but there was no explanation of why it would be suitable for Deep Roots students.
Will this Board listen to stakeholders instead of simply rubber-stamping decisions made by the Hite administration about the restructuring of the District? His six-year tenure has opened District doors to vendors marketing their product—such as TNTP and the unaccredited Relay Graduate School of Education. The BOE must question the practice of targeting schools for the Turnaround Network (now renamed the Acceleration Network), forcing out teachers and principals and creating unnecessary trauma for the students. BOE members must attend the next round of Priority School community meetings; maybe then the parents and students will actually be heard about what their schools need, instead of ending up with outside contractors and consultants. APPS members have attended every Priority School meeting for the past two years. We have heard teachers, parents, and students ask for what their schools actually need—more teachers and staff, smaller class size, fixing crumbling and toxic buildings—then witnessed the imposition of entities such as ISA and Jounce upon school communities that never asked for them.
Strawberry Mansion Community Continues Fight to Save High School
Teachers and staff return to school on August 20 with students following a week later. At the July 31 community meeting, District staff, once again, were unable or unwilling to answer questions raised by concerned stakeholders. Action Item A-15 refers to one of those unanswered questions: when One Bright Ray’s Daytime school (co-located on the fifth floor of Mansion) would admit and dismiss students daily. With less than a month before school opens, the Hite administration also failed to provide a tentative roster, to address the concerns around high school students co-located with overage students, or even acknowledge that there are still five teaching vacancies. How does this create stability in an under-resourced school? (Action Items A-18 and B-8 also deal with SMHS issues.) The BOE should take a step back and revoke the SRC decision to eliminate the 9th grade and ensure that ninth graders are admitted the following school year to attend the already existing comprehensive high school. Every time there is pushback, District representatives—first the “Strawberry Mansion Task Force”, now the “Strawberry Mansion Planning Committee”—respond with another attempt of appeasement.
Hopefully the BOE will provide opportunities for all school communities to be included in the initial planning stage of any significant change.
BOE Must Reverse Outsourcing Trend
Before the BOE agrees to further outsourcing (Action Items A-2; A-8 ) it must consider the following: whether a business whose job it is to make money can do better than a public system with no profit motive, and the fact that companies usually pay less than the District as well as forbid workers from negotiating fair salaries and benefits and safe working conditions.
The SLA network continues to grow as the original school prepares to move into Ben Franklin High School in 2019/20 and SLAMS relocates to another Drexel-based location. CEO Chris Lehman oversees three schools that receive generous donations from the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP). (See Action Items A-11and B-13).
Next BOE meeting:
Thursday September 20, 2018 at 5 p.m. Call 215.400.4180 by 3p.m. the day before in order to register to speak. Please consider attending even if you are not speaking to support defenders of public education.