Eyes on the Board of Education: December 13, 2018

By Karel Kilimnik

Educators and defenders of public education across the city were shocked to see Dr. Hite and the Mayor as guests at a press conference called last Wednesday by Philadelphia School Partnership Director Mark Gleason. Unknown to anyone but a few insiders, the Hite administration had entered into an agreement with PSP in which that private organization would direct applicants for teaching positions–district, charter and private–to a website created and controlled by PSP.

Why is the Superintendent of a public school system handing over control of one of its most important functions to a private organization? Is the District Office of Talent now accountable to the Board of PSP?  PSP was created in order to carry out the privatization and charterization of the district. The news media unquestioningly repeats PSP’s identification of itself as a “non-profit” that funds schools.  PSP is on record as saying the district’s teachers make too much money. PSP lobbied then-Governor Corbett to WITHHOLD funds from the School District unless PFT members took a substantial pay cut and surrendered long-held collective bargaining rights. Did the Board of Education give its OK for this move? We’ll be asking that and other questions about this latest PSP power grab at this meeting.

The Board’s website continues to present hurdles.  The Agenda may number each Action Item, but click on it and you are delivered to a page  bearing no identifying number. Whenever an additional Action Item is posted, it automatically changes the numbers of all of the Action Items below it. The SRC at least would add a Resolution with an entirely new number. They also listed the Resolutions according to topic (e.g., Operations, Donations).  Hopefully the Board will change this practice. Each Action Item needs its own number and every reference must include that number. We await the return of Contract Summaries as posted in August and September, then discontinued for some reason, as the Board continues its journey into becoming more transparent.

Seeking Equity Across the District

While the Hite administration invokes the term “equity” in City Council and Board meetings, the ongoing issue is the lack of equity.  Some schools have Home & School Councils (Action Items # 42 and #43) able to raise large sums of money.  Philadelphia retains its position as the poorest of the country’s ten largest cities. Our rate of deep poverty (those living at 50% of the poverty line or less) has actually risen. Given these statistics, what is the District’s Plan to ensure that every school gets support, not just those in more affluent neighborhoods? How is the District planning to level the playing field for all schools? The SGS initiative has targeted  “underperforming” schools with long histories of lost resources, leaving them with no choice but to accept unrequested professional development services from businesses with a foothold in the district. In the past two years, SGS schools have seen the imposition of vendors and the forcing of all teachers to reapply for their positions without due cause–things no parents have said they wanted.  This only leads to destablization of already struggling schools without providing resources the school’s community has said they need.

The APPS articles on the SGS Focus Schools provide a detailed list of what parents, staff, and community members at the three schools in this year’s SGS cohort have said they want for their schools. As we review this month’s  Action Items we see other ways of providing financial support to individual schools such as contracts with non-profits (Action Items # 44–Steppingstones and # 30–Playworks) and/ or universities (# 29 and # 38–Drexel).

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Ears on the Board of Education: November 15, 2018

by Diane Payne

Eight of the nine Board members were present as were the two student representatives.  Member Chris McGinley was absent. Once again, the Board failed to provide adequate copies of written materials including the Action Items to be voted on;  a few copies were available at the back of the room, on a separate table, in binders. Board President Wilkerson displayed on the large screen how members of the public can view meeting information on their smartphones or tablets. Even if community members have the technology, which many do not,  attempting to view pages of material and attachments is close to impossible on a small screen. When the Board is spending millions and making decisions affecting students and staff, all members of the public should be able to have easy access to all meeting materials. APPS members sent a letter to the Board after the October meeting asking the Board to address these and other issues.

The Board approved minutes from the October 18, 2018 Action Meeting.

The meeting opened with a lovely student performance from a Frankford High School musical group.  Six student musicians and their teacher went to considerable effort to perform at this meeting which took place during the first snowstorm of the season.  Most surrounding public school districts dismissed early in order to ensure the safety of students and staff in treacherous conditions. Not only did the District fail to dismiss students early but made the questionable decision not to postpone this meeting, despite dangerous travel conditions being reported on TV and radio. Even more disturbing was the Board’s decision not to send the student musicians home. Couldn’t they have been rescheduled for the December meeting?  President Wilkerson’s attempt at humor fell flat when she commented about getting the meeting started so that everyone could “begin their 3-hour commute home”.

Superintendent’s Remarks

Dr. Hite’s remarks began with extolling the expansion of the arts programs in schools. Since 2013, he said, there have been steady increases in arts programs in the schools; there are  450 art teachers, and every K-8 school now has instrumental music. Hite stated that all students now have access to “the arts” and that research supports the importance of this to student achievement.  Remember that 2013 was the year of the “Doomsday Budget” when the Hite administration cut art and music, librarians, counselors, secretaries, NTAs, and foreign languages from schools across the district. Is it really an accomplishment that 5 years later some of that was given back to our students?

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Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting: November 1, 2018

by Diane Payne

Leticia Egea-Hinton and Lee Huang co-chaired the meeting; also present were Committee members Wayne Walker and Joyce Wilkerson. Board members Julia Danzy and Chris McGinley attended as part of the audience.  The Committee approved minutes of their last meeting. (All committee meetings are eventually posted on the Board’s web page. The agendas and PowerPoints are also available online. APPS members were not present for the meeting but several members viewed the livestream.)

There were four reports from District staff: Termination Pay Process Update, Guaranteed Energy Savings Agreement Project Status, Surplus Property Plans Update, and Facilities Renovation and Remediation Update.

Huang announced nine “North Star” guiding principles the Board will follow:

  • Safety
  • Quality in Service
  • Efficiency
  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Reality
  • Community
  • Dignity
  • Advocacy

    The complete report may be read here.

Student Achievement and Support Committee: November 8, 2018

by Lynda Rubin

The Student Achievement and Support Committee was called to order by Co-chair Angela McIver.  Also present were Co-chair Chris McGinley and Committee members Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix-Lopez, and Maria McColgan. Non-voting Student Board Representatives Julia Frank and Alfredo Praticò sat in.  Members of the public who had not signed up to speak were invited to do so at the beginning of the meeting. The Committee voted to adopt Minutes for the last two meetings, September 13, 2018 and October 11, 2018. (Approved minutes are posted on the District website.) Dr. McIver announced that the next meeting of this Committee will be held December 6, 2018 at 5 PM, one week earlier than previously posted.

Focus Topic: Proposed District-wide Comprehensive Plan  

Chief Schools Officer Shawn Bird presented the District’s Comprehensive Plan, a 3-year plan that will be in effect from 2019 until 2022.  The Plan is posted for public review and feedback. You can access the Plan and the feedback forms here: https://www.philasd.org/teachingandlearning/2018/11/06/districts-comprehensive-plan/

Dr. McGinley asked whether district staff was notified of the Plan.  Dr. Bird responded that the district sent letters to all district staff for their review and response; they have 16 responses so far.  Dr. Bird said that the letters went out late so additional time will be given for staff to respond. McIver asked where the feedback is housed.  Bird replied that it is housed on a Google document that is not visible to the public. He said he would send a link to the document to the Board members.

Three district teachers narrated a power-point on “The Curriculum Engine and the Instructional Core” and discussed how to use it to plan instruction.  Teachers can access standards, resources and curriculum maps using the Curriculum Engine.

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