by Lisa Haver
On Wednesday, June 24, APPS sent an email to Board of Education member Angela McIver, copied to Board President Joyce Wilkerson, about possible conflicts of interest arising from McIver’s math curriculum business Trapezium. District parent and teacher Zoe Rooney, active with APPS and Parents United for Public Education, had posted a thread on social media after she discovered recent interviews with McIver on Good Morning America and in a business magazine in which McIver spoke about her business and the struggle to maintain it during the quarantine. APPS members attend all Board Action and Committee meetings, and none of us could recall her ever publicly mentioning, since her appointment two years ago, that she operated any type of education business. In our letter, we asked that McIver respond to questions not about the social media postings but about comments made by her in those interviews. (See the letter below. As of this posting on June 29, we have received no reply.)
Before giving her report Thursday as Chair of the Student Achievement Committee, McIver read a prepared statement (time stamp 1:21:58) in which she described a social media thread about her business activities as “incredibly misleading” and “highly inaccurate”.
Without naming Rooney, McIver stated that the “author” of the thread conveniently leaves out one piece of critical information–”that I am Black.” McIver went on to say, “She erased my blackness.” Actually, Rooney’s social media posts included links to both the video segment in which McIver appeared and the news article which prominently featured her picture. McIver accused Rooney, who identifies as biracial, of perpetrating “an insidious form of racism” with “the unspoken belief that our children are not capable of achieving.” She attributed motives to Rooney, saying that her posts were “deliberately designed to advance an agenda that will keep students from achieving at the highest levels.” McIver did not mention that parents pay almost $600 to participate for one day each week in her semester-long after school program. She did not explain how this is not a conflict or why she never mentioned it in her two years on the Board.
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by Karel Kilimnik
The people of Philadelphia continue their struggle to survive, personally and financially, under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic. We witness the social upheaval as people demand an end to police brutality and systemic racism. But at 440, not much has changed. The Board, despite public demands for months, continues to conduct non-essential business in remote meetings with a minimum of public participation. At its June Committee meeting, most Board members offered personal statements about what Black Lives Matter meant to them. But as APPS members reminded them in their testimony, how the Board votes will prove whether these statements carry any weight. At the June 11 Joint Committee meeting, few substantial questions were raised about District business by these eight government officials. Almost no deliberation took place about the Items to be voted on at this Action meeting. Planning the next school year is fraught with obstacles never faced in our lifetimes. District families will be dealing with even higher rates of unemployment and evictions. All of these issues must be addressed with genuine parent, staff, and community engagement–not just the perfunctory distribution of surveys. Surveys often raise more questions than they resolve. As District parent and activist Cecelia Thompson has told the Board at its last two meetings, parents and community members have issues that are not addressed in surveys. The District’s commitment to engagement with stakeholders has reached a new low after years of eliminating positions for community liaison officers and NTAs. The Board’s (soon to be defunct) Community Engagement Committee has held no public meetings for over a year and has no plans to schedule any. Schools will look very different next year no matter what type of format is put into place. District educators and parents should be heard on this, not just be asked to fill out surveys. The corona virus provides cover for all kinds of changes–in public meetings and in how business is conducted. Could it lead to closing schools next year–without any real opportunity for the public to fight it? Remember that both Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney have stated publicly that they support closing more public schools.
At the June 11 Joint Committee meeting, Board Member Julia Danzy said, “This is not a sprint but a marathon. We cannot change by simply talking but by actions taken.” This Board needs to step up and lead the District as we make our way through these tumultuous times. Non-essential Items should be set aside while we focus on what all students need, not just those in some selected schools. “Watch how we vote, not what we say” truly applies to Item 59, Contract with “TBD” for Charter School Special Education Program Evaluation and Master. This Item is so vaguely written that APPS sent a letter asking for clarification. President Wilkerson informed us we would learn more from their discussion at the Joint Committee Meeting held on June 11. However, no such discussion occurred nor did any Board member ask about the missing information.
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by Lynda Rubin
All members of the Board were present for this remote combined meeting of the Student Achievement and Support Committee and the Finance and Facilities Committee: President Joyce Wilkerson, Vice President Leticia Egia-Hinton, Angela McIver, Julia Danzy, Mallory Fix Lopez, Maria McColgan, Lee Huang, Ameen Akbar. Board and District staff can be seen on screen during the remote meeting. Dr. Hite was present at the opening of the meeting and during the School Safety Update presentation. Several Board members and Dr. Hite made statements about the recent protests after the murder of George Floyd.
Student Board Representatives Doha Ibrahim and Imere Williams gave their final report. They spoke about finding “safe spaces” in schools, including clubs and classrooms. They took pride in being part of the successful campaign to have the Free Library drop late fees. Doha and Imere suggested sending notices of the Student Town Halls to all students in the school rather than having the principal select student leaders. This would give them a wider sampling of student voices and concerns. Doha also raised the possibility of virtual meetings.
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In 2015, APPS published research reports on the Philadelphia School Partnership in which we looked at board members, donors and political supporters.In the past five years, PSP’s influence has grown along with the organization’s programs. The School District of Philadelphia has accepted millions more in grants, along with the mandates and ideological directions that come with those funds.
White Suburbanites Make Funding Decisions about City’s Schools
When examining PSP’s outsized influence over District policies and practices, including targeted funding of certain schools, we begin with the handful of people making those decisions as PSP board members. PSP has insinuated itself into the District’s operations in a number of ways, including family communication and engagement, teacher recruitment, and training of educators and school administrators. PSP’s Board makes decisions about public schools in meetings that are closed to the public. Thus, the voices of public school families and the larger community are diminished. Until recently, PSP had eight board members, all of whom are white, six of whom live outside the city: Chair Michael G. O’Neill, Bill Marx, William McNabb III, Evie W. McNiff, Megan Maguire Nicoletti, Benjamin Persofsky, Kevin Shafer, and Janine Yass. In April 2020, PSP added two members: Colin Kelton, who is white and resides outside of the city, has worked in finance for 30 years at Vanguard. Sean Vereen, an African-American man who resides in the city, has some education background through Stepping Stone, Inc. Neither Vereen nor Kelton have any experience in classroom teaching. PSP’s Board now consists of ten members, nine white and one African-American; seven of whom reside outside of the city. In 2018, Mayor Kenney appointed Vereen to the Nominating Panel convened for the purpose of selecting Board of Education members.
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